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CHAPTER XI Conclusion: The Shrinking World THE END OF ISOLATION THE OLD, autarchic village is now almost entirely extinct. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, peasants have greatly increased involvement outside their little communities. Vigilant lords and community organization now only infrequently apply effective sanctions against peas­ ants' widening the scope of their external participation. Rapid and socially destabilizing changes have affected all types of peasant villages, ranging from those which were freeholding to those with powerful lords. One reason for these changes stems from outside classes which have overwhelmed the peasantry. This is not unprece­ dented in peasant experience. Freeholding cultivators were reduced to peonage many times in the past by strong lords from the outside. At times, only brute force was used. In re­ cent centuries, however, more subtle methods have been add­ ed. Changes in land tenure systems in the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America, for example, enabled opportunistic outsiders to gain control of huge tracts of cultivable land. In many areas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, those from other classes who have overwhelmed weak peas­ ants have brought even greater dislocation than those in the past who had used brute force. There has been a shift in motivation from controlling land and people to garnering ever-growing profits. The result has been a search for more CONCLUSION productive methods of cultivation. In some cases, this has re­ sulted in a displacement of the peasantry for a cheap or slave labor force which could carry on plantation farming. Other areas have seen the demise of the peasantry through the in­ troduction of a highly capital-intensive agriculture. Both of these occurred most prominently in areas ecologically suited for such extensive cultivation. In short, new land tenure laws have made peasants defenseless. New techniques have made them uncompetitive. Besides being directly overwhelmed by those from other classes, a second set of factors has been responsible for vil­ lages' move from an inward- to an outward-orientation as well. These factors have had a dual effect: they have weak­ ened the personalistic bonds between lord and peasant, and they have undermined the stability of peasants' incomes and expenditures, causing household economic crises. Eric Wolf has subsumed this set of factors under the heading of capital­ ism.1 Certainly, capitalism has been in the forefront in intro­ ducing disequilibriating changes, but the causes go beyond capitalism alone. More generally, peasants have been the victims of a rapidly shrinking globe. Imperialism, especially during the nineteenth century, was the most prominent force which accelerated this shrinking process. Peasant incomes declined as cheap manu­ factured goods cut into the handicraft market. Improved administration enabled governments to make demands for money taxes. Lords' private domains were challenged by enterprising businessmen and political leaders, and the lords themselves were drawn to the profit-making techniques of the outside. Imperialism introduced capitalism's new forces of 1 Actually, Wolfs use of the word capitalism is somewhat broader, for he also includes land tenure changes. See Eric R. Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), pp. 279-280. Tilly identifies these factors under the rubric of "urban­ ization," quite a misleading word, given the factors we (and he) have identified. Charles Tilly, The Vendee, Science Editions (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1967), pp. 10-12. THE SHRINKING WORLD production. Simultaneously, however, it offered a second strand of technological improvement. New health techniques resulted in a growth of population. Families and villages grew so that the old methods of farming were simply inadequate to deal with their larger numbers. These factors, which have caused a decline in peasants' isolation, have remained in effect even though the colonial era has drawn to a close. The powerful capitalist states of the nineteenth century initiated a process which continues to gain momentum even in noncapitalist areas. Governments in the new states, whether socialistic or capitalistic, have continued to foster programs which undermine a subsistence-orientation and promote peasant entry into a larger social and economic world. New patterns of distribution of peasant products and, even more important, new patterns of production are demanded as money taxes are collected, as manufactured goods flood the market, and as population continues to soar. Innovative peas­ ants have joined those from other classes in taking advantage of any new opportunities arising from peasants' increased involvement with outside institutions. With each new innova­ tion, they profit. And with each new innovation, the large...


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