Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

to overcome these tendencies by attaining control over the aristocracy through his establishment and control of military estates.

Ghoshal's article on ancient Indian political institutions shows the implication of separation between state and religion for the exercise of power by the monarch. The political institutions in India were largely autonomous, yet their power was greatly restricted by the religious order and especially by the caste order.

The reign of the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, as presented by the selection from Rosenberg, exemplifies the success of the emperor in subjugating and directing the nobility for his own purposes. They succeeded in establishing a highly centralized bureaucracy, which operated according to universalistic criteria based on a competitive system of achievement. This bureaucracy was entirely committed to the emperor, and it formed a "new" high stratum. Its success compelled the nobility to try to enter bureaucratic service in order to maintain their position in society. This tendency was the basis of change into modernity and emphasized the growing importance of the middle classes and the establishment of a new type of secular center.

In the fifth section, two articles analyze some of the structure and orientation of various processes of change in the imperial system. Levy describes and analyzes the "Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion" during the last years of the Han dynasty. Lewis' article on the decline of the Ottoman Empire shows how uneven differentiation in various institutional spheres causes the decline of the imperialistic regime. The existence of a rather modern army in an economy with a small extent of differentiation raises problems which could not be solved in the institutional organizations of the Ottoman Empire. The far-reaching cleavage between the differentiated center and the undifferentiated periphery enhanced the processes of decline, as the periphery was unable to produce enough resources for the center.

All these passages show that the maintenance of equilibrium between the traditional orientations and the relatively limited "free-floating" resources was the major condition for the existence of these empires.


∥ a. THE BASIC SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CHARACTERISTICS
OF GREAT EMPIRES

33
Chinese Society: An Historical Survey1

Karl A. Wittfogel


I. Traditional China—A Hydraulic
("Oriental") Society2

Traditional China was an agrarian society which experienced a significant development of handicraft and commerce. In this respect, China was similar to medieval Europe and to certain pre-Hellenistic civilizations of the northern and western Mediterranean.

However, while these Western agrarian civilizations ultimately lost their societal identity, Chinese society perpetuated its basic features for millennia. And while medieval Europe saw a commercial and industrial revolution that led to the rise of an industrial society, traditional China never underwent such changes.

Obviously, when characterizing societal structures, it is not enough to speak of agriculture, handicraft, and trade in general. We must consider their ecological and institutional setting and the specific human relations involved in their operation.

____________________
From Karl A. Wittfogel, "Chinese Society: An Historical Survey," Journal of Asian Studies, XVI, No. 3 (May 1957), 343-344, 348-358. Copyright 1957 by the Association for Asian Studies, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

-264-

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