An excerpt from Andrew Bard Schmookler’s The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. pg. 280-281
‘The primacy of raw power in determining the balance of political power within societies is demonstrated by an interesting relationship: changes in the distribution of the capacity for violence tend to lead to changes in the distribution of political power. Lenski asserts the general proposition that “the greater the military importance of the peasant farmers, the better his economic and political situation tended to be, and conversely, the less his military importance, the poorer his economic and political situation” (1966, p. 275). It appears that within societies, also, as the Athenian instructed the Melians, justice is in question only among equals in power.
Historical substantiation for this view of the of the determinative role of raw power in the relations among social classes is found in Andrzejewski’s Military Organization and Society. In ancient Egypt, when the Hyksos conquest impelled the Egyptians to adopt the capital intensive (therefore scarce) military technology of chariots and armor, a professional soldiering class was established with the consequence of considerably widening social inequalities (1954, pp. 42-43). Similarly, in medieval Europe, where the armored knight was the indispensable military asset and where several years’ income of a whole village was necessary to equip a single knight, the “militarily useless” peasants “possessed no political rights” (p.59).
Conversely, history shows that where the means of force are widely distributed, creating mutual vulnerability, there tends also to be greater social equality. In classical Greece the change from armor and cavalry to the more generally available arms of infantry helped foster greater political democratization. In ancient China the introduction of the reflex bow helped ameliorate social inequalities. Creel wrote, in The Birth of China, that this powerful bow, which could penetrate armor, kept the Chinese aristocracy from enjoying the invulnerability of European knights (cited in Andrzejewski, 1954). As a consequence, says Andrzejewski, the Chinese masses “possessed the power of revolt” (1956, p. 48). And in more recent centuries, as has frequently been observed, the coming of firearms and subsequently of mass armies significantly contributed to the rise of modern democracy.
Raymond Aron, for example, writes: “In the golden age of chivalry knights encased in steel dominated the battlefields. The harquebusiers, who delivered death at a distance-much to the indignation of the nobility-prepared the way for the fall of feudalism, which was completed when fortified castles could be destroyed in a few days by the artillery of regular armies. That victory heralded the birth of democracy.”(1954, pp.85-86) ‘
– Lenski, Gerhard. Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification.
– Andrzejewski, Stanislaus. Military Organization and Society.
– Aron , Raymond. The Century of Total War