Nations of Shepherds

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Some of the most extensive conquests in the history of the world have been made by nations of shepherds:

An army of hunters, as Adam Smith has observed, and as we have seen exemplified in the case of the North American Indians, “can seldom exceed two or three hundred men. The precarious subsistence which the chase affords could seldom allow a greater number to keep together for any considerable time. An army of shepherds, on the contrary, may sometimes amount to two or three hundred thousand…. A nation of hunters can never be formidable to the civilized nations in their neighbourhood; a nation of shepherds may. Nothing can be more contemptible than an Indian war in North America; nothing, on the contrary, can be more dreadful than a Tartar invasion has frequently been in Asia.”

Adam Smith then proceeds to observe that the judgment of Thucydides, that no nation, either of Europe or Asia, could resist the Scythians united, has been verified by the experience of all ages. “The inhabitants,” he adds, “of the extensive but defenceless plains of Scythia and Tartary, have been frequently united under the dominion of the chief of some conquering horde or clan; and the havoc and devastation of Asia have always signalized their union. The inhabitants of the inhospitable deserts of Arabia, the other great nation of shepherds, have never been united but once — under Mahomet and his immediate successors. Their union, which was more the effort of religious enthusiasm than of conquest, was signalized in the same manner.”

Leave a Reply