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CHAPTER IV Mechanisms of Survival INTRODUCTION THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, focusing on the economic and polit­ ical relationship between the peasantry and the classes above them, analyzed the reasons why freeholding communities were inward-oriented. What still remains to be explained is how freeholding communities were able to enforce this mini­ mization of outside ties, the inward-orientation. Unlike the situation in which a lord could call on outsiders or use his control of vital resources to apply sanctions, freeholding vil­ lages were composed of people much more equal in resources and power. This chapter explores the question of how such communi­ ties were able to prevent specific peasants from using a mo­ mentary advantage in order to form outside alliances and then to dominate their neighbors. In addition, the chapter will ana­ lyze the ways in which peasants in freeholding communities managed to meet their needs despite their withdrawal from reliance on outsiders. The precise forms of peasant social and political organiza­ tion varied in different cultures but not so much so that they cannot be compared in terms of their similar effects on peas­ ants' actions.1 Certainly, village institutions in each culture evolved in unique ways because of a variety of complex rea1 A similar point has been made in The Peasant: A Symposium Concerning the Peasant Way and View of Life, ed. F. G. Friedmann, no. 6 (February 1956), mimeo, p. 3. MECHANISMS OF SURVIVAL sons. Topography, land fertility, climate, and numerous other factors made distinct demands upon peasant life. The argu­ ment developed here, however, is that there were common cross-cultural characteristics of social and political organiza­ tion as well, which stemmed from peasants' subservience to other classes in the society and from the internal conditions such subservience produced. Such an analysis views the community's social and political organization as putting restraints on individual behavior. This is not to say that there was an iron law within the village which was followed to the letter by all. There was often a high degree of dissatisfaction, and some members' behavior stretched the limits of the community's tolerance. Some se­ cretly deviated from community norms, and peasants who had the resources to do so could even flout the village institutions openly. Yet, despite this element of choice of action, the com­ munity still was strong enough to act as an effective deterrent and was a guide for social behavior for the great majority of peasants. This book rejects the point of view that poor motivation or traditional values of individual peasants caused peasant eco­ nomic isolation (and related low productivity). Kalman Sil­ vert in his discussion of traditional peoples suggests this latter method of analysis. In a traditional society, he states, "the motivation for decision is ritualistic. ('What was good enough for my father is good enough for me.')"2 This type of analysis which views people's outmoded opin­ ions and values as preventing them fromdoing things the "bet­ ter way" is especially prevalent among writers concerned spe­ cifically with peasants. One author, Bertram Hutchinson, writes that the chief obstacle to economic change among peas­ ants was the social ethos that is inimical to it.3 Edward Banfield has canonized this idea in his widely read The Moral 2 Kalman H. Silvert, Man's Power: A Biased Guide to Political Thought and Action (New York: The Viking Press, 1970), p. 24. 3 Bertram Hutchinson, "The Patron-Dependant Relationship in Brazil: A Preliminary Examination," Sociologia Ruralis 6 (1966), 3. INWARD-ORIENTED VILLAGES Basis of a Backward Society, which is about peasants in a southern Italian village.4 Focus on peasant values and motivation certainly offers in­ sight into peasant life. Elevation of such findings to highly significant causal factors, rather than intervening variables, however, indicates an insufficient sensitivity to the broader physical, social, political, and economic realities to which peasants had to accommodate. The explanation here shows that certain types of social and political organization persisted as mechanisms that best coped with a hostile environment. SUBCOMMUNITY LEVEL SURVIVAL MECHANISMS In much the same way as peasants who were atomized by strong lords, peasants who did not experience such powerful or direct control placed great stress on the household as a mechanism to spread risks. The household ensured that re­ sponsibility for one's economic survival did not fall only on the individual. The following lengthy quotation of an Indian villager indicates the utter importance such domestic groups had in spreading risks and dividing labor. No...


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