In last week’s “Lightning Round” I summarized Titus Quinctius’ recent Three Types of Societies, and if you have not read his essay, you should at least read my two-paragraph summary of it. I will not repeat myself here, but I will consider his two accounts of ethnogenesis in more detail.
I have described these two accounts as “diachronic” and “synchronic”. If it is not clear from the roots, diachronic refers to the consideration of a object or system as it changes across time, whereas synchronic refers to the consideration of an object/system at a given point in time. (The distinction is most useful in fields that make heavy, but not exclusive, use of equilibrium analysis. The synchronic approach looks at why the system is in equilibrium at time t, whereas the diachronic approach tries to explain why the system moves from an initial equilibrium at time t1 to a new equilibrium at time t2.)
The Diachronic Model
TQ’s diachronic vision of an expanding parent populations spreading out, and then splitting into daughter populations as the total size of the territory it occupies outstrips the mobility of its members, looks something like this:
• Initial Parent Stock
• Population growth; emigration enlarges territory inhabited by Parent Stock
• Parent population, by now widely-dispersed, starts to split into multiple nodes which mostly interact within the local region, rather than with sister-nodes
• (Also, some regions within the parent population’s expanded territory may interact with aboriginal inhabitants, amalgamating them into their node)
• Linguistic drift within each regional node no longer shared across population. Non-coordinated drift across regions leads to regional dialects.
• >>> Dialect distinctions reinforce interaction with local node
• Cultural drift within dialect-regions no longer as easily shared across population (due to need for translation). Non-coordinated drift across dialects leads to regional cultures.
• >>> Cultural distinctions reinforce interaction with local node
• >>> Cultural traditions (epics, ballads, rituals) reinforce authority of local dialect
• Biological drift within cultural regions no longer as easily shared across population (due to restriction of out-marriage). Non-coordinated drift across cultures leads to distinct genetic subpopulations.
• >>> (And iterate)
The Synchronic Model
The synchronic model, on the other hand, starts from the premise that at any given time, an inhabitant of the territory settled by the parent population lives a certain distance from the frontier, and that all people living equidistant from the frontier will face similar situations which are the direct and indirect consequences of that position. Those who are actually on the extreme frontiers of the population may well be beyond the border of the area which their population is able to control reliably. (In this context we can take “reliable control” to mean a level of power adequate to the suppression of external enemies and the enforcement of some code of law.)
Nested within this peripheral frontier lie the regions which are defended and governed; but still, the outer parts of this region are at the marches (the official border the population defends) or close to it, which means that they are on the front lines of any conflict, the most exposed to any raid, and have the most at stake should defeat by foreign enemies lead to a re-drawing of the borders. They must prepare for war both in the positive sense (for example, building fortifications, maintaining military discipline) and in the negative sense (no use making any fancy improvements that are just going to get burnt down in the next war, or having more possessions in your house than you can bury quickly).
Nested within this second layer is a third, central region, which — because of the protection/insulation the border regions offer it — does not need to occupy itself so much with warfare. Furthermore, the inhabitants of the core have the security and stability to undertake investments which would be too hazardous in a less defensible region: larger (more elaborate, more ornate) buildings, denser cities, complex institutions, specialized workshops which serve a purpose only within a convoluted entrepreneurial network.
Is There A Synthetic Model?
TQ’s diachronic model and his synchronic model are not mutually contradictory, but they are in tension. To put it succinctly, they present dueling models of ethnogenesis which suggest two different sources of ethnic differences and thus different filiation processes and different possible outcomes. The diachronic model suggests something like a tree structure of emerging ethnea, whereas the synchronic model suggests that the outcome of ethnogenesis will be (a) tripartite and (b) nested.
I do not want to belabor the incompatibilities between the two models, but if you are having trouble playing around with the two in your head, consider: in a hypothetical population expanding outwards from its point of origin, the diachronic model predicts that two points on opposite ends of the territory will be maximally distinct (ethnic sub-division corresponds to distance) while the synchronic model predicts that they will be more similar to each other than to any point not on/near the frontier (ethnic sub-division corresponds to specialization of function).
And I do not want to present this as an accusation or a criticism of TQ. I do not know how closely my interpretation of his two model matches his own (I have not asked him), but it clear enough that he is sensitive to the tension. When for example he notes that core groups “often hail from the urheimat of their clade”, he lightly touches on a point of convergence between the two models (if the parent stock expands out from its urheimat in all directions, then this starting point will also end up in the protected interior, inhabited by a core group) without either affirming or denying the illusion that the synchronic typology is an effect of the diachronic process of growth and expansion.
This is the very stuff from which great writing is made; but still, it raises the question of whether any general model that synthesizes the two perspectives is possible, and what it would look like. This is my best attempt:
i. Initial Parent Stock in urheimat
ii. Population growth: population pressure grows in future core-areas.
iia. Populous (but pressured) Parent Stock uses its manpower to challenge neighboring clades for control of those clades’ border regions; successful (re)conquest immediately creates nucleus of a marcher-group when conquerors garrison or settle in the region.
iib. Superfluous/discontented individuals diffuse outward from safe/familiar but densely-settled urheimat to underpopulated but unsafe/unfamiliar settlement-regions; selection for those who are most eager to accept this trade-off and the actual conditions in the new region combine to create the nucleus of pioneer-groups.
iii. Consolidation of initial expansion:
iiia. As the process of conquest/diffusion continues, feudalization ensues in:
• … conquered regions which, after long-term occupation, have become a permanent military frontier between the expanding population and an unconquerable rival
• … frontier regions which have gradually increased in density (and in safety/familiarity) to the point that pioneer mores are creating an anarchic situation.
iiib. Meanwhile urbanization occurs both in the urheimat (if there has been equivalent expansion in all directions) and in the original regions of conquest, if these have been left deep in the interior by further conquest and settlement.
But this is just one possibility, and I am not entirely confident that it is a uniquely “typical” possibility.
(Tomorrow or Friday I’ll discuss the ambiguities which the equivocation between demographic branching and specialization of function permits, as well as the substantive conclusions that TQ draws from his ethnonationalist typology. Update, 6/16: Just kidding, I still haven’t finished the critical comments and when I do have more time for blogging I’ll probably work on several other things first.)