Fear of Famine–Does it Lead to Tyranny?

Currently, I’m reading a book called “The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism” by Joyce Appleby. According to Appleby, capitalism was an unusual system from the point of view of history, not a system that naturally evolved at all. She discusses resistance to change and how fear of famines that often occurred throughout history caused people to simultaneously become dependent on those in power while resistant to new ideas and change in general.

She writes:

“If we could go back in time, we would probably be most surprised by the widely shared resistance, not to say hostility, to change…. The effects of economic vulnerability radiated throughout old societies, encouraging suspicions and superstitions as well as justifying the conspicuous authority of monarchs, priests, landlords and fathers. Maintaining order, never a matter of indifference to those in charge of society, was paramount when the lives of so many people were at risk…” p. 6

She later writes:

“Customs, not incentives, regulated the flow of tasks that followed the calendar. Mix in a little ignorance, isolation and superstition, and you can see that changing this order would involve a complicated choreography of incentive, innovation, and pure chance…” p. 64

Social order, traditions, customs and conformity to them provided a sense of comfort to people made insecure by fear of famine.

Now, we Americans are notoriously ignorant of history. That, sadly, is well known.




However, most of our elected officials do have knowledge of history. They are well aware of the effect that fear of poverty can have on a population. Since politicians are in a position of power, they are also striving to preserve that power. What better way to wield power over the people then to make them feel vulnerable?



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