Menagerie of Happy Men: The Ancient Incas and the Bureaucratic State

Article excerpt

Examples of bureaucratic control over social life seem to be as old as recorded history, and they always have features that are universal in their perverse effects regardless of time or place. The French economist and historian Louis Baudin described some of these consequences in his classic work, A Socialist Empire: Tltc Incas of Pent (1927).

The Inca Empire emerged out of a small tribe in the Peruvian mountains in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The fourteenth and especially the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries saw their expansion into a great imperial power with control over a territory that ran along the west coast of South America and included much of present-day Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and parts of Argentina and Colombia. The Incas were brought down in the 153Os by the Spanish conquest under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro.

The Incas ruled through a cruel and pervasive system of command and control over everyday life. Baudin explained:

Every socialist system must rest upon a powerful bureaucratic administration. In the Inca Empire, as soon as a province was conquered, its population would be organized on a hierarchical basis, and the [imperial] officials would immediately set to work. ... They were in general in charge of the preparation of the statistical tables, the requisitioning of the supplies and provisions needed by their group [over whom they ruled] (seeds, staple foods, wool, etc.), the distribution of the production of the products obtained, the solicitation of assistance and relief in case of need, the supervision of the conduct of their inferiors, and the rendering of complete reports and accounts to their superiors. These operations were facilitated by the fact that those under their supervision were obliged to admit them to their homes at any moment, and allow them to inspect everything in their homes, down to the cooking utensils, and even to eat with the doors open. ...

The Inca bureaucracy cast its net over all those that it ruled and soon transformed them into docile and obedient subjects through a "slow and gradual absorption of the individual into the state . . . until it brought about the loss of personality. Man was made for the state, and not the state for the man," Baudin said. The Incas tried to banish "the two great causes of popular disaffection, poverty and idleness. . . . But by the same token, they dried up the two springs of progress, initiative and provident concern for the future." The Inca government did all the thinking and planning for their subjects, with the result that there was a "stagnation of commerce . . . lack of vitality and the absence of originality in the arts, dogmatism in science, and the rareness of even the simplest inventions."

This inertia was fostered through the institutions of the welfare state. "As for the provident concern for the future," Baudin asked, "how could that have been developed among a people whose public granaries were crammed with provisions and whose public officials were authorized to distribute them in case of need? There was never a need to think beyond the necessities of the moment."

In addition, the Inca welfare state undermined the motive for charity and any personal sense of responsibility for family or community:

But what is even more serious is that the substitution of the state for the individual in the economic domain destroyed the spirit of charity. The native Peruvian, expecting the state to do everything, no longer had to concern himself with his fellow man and had to come to his aid only if required by law. The members of a community were compelled to work on the land for the benefit of those who were incapacitated; but when this task had been performed, they were free from all further obligation. They had to help their neighbors if ordered to do so by their chiefs, but they were obliged to do nothing on their own initiative. That is why, by the time of the Spanish conquest, the most elementary humanitarian feelings were in danger of disappearing entirely. …