Ancient social structures and repression

From: Donald R. Oddy <>
Date: Sat, 09 Dec 2000 02:08:28 GMT

>From: "Thomas McVey" <>
>There's a temptation to idealise the Ancient Celts as anarchic egalitarians,
>particularly as there are large gaps in our knowledge of them. Beresford Ellis
>does this idealisation, as do other writers (often from a Irish nationalist point
>of view, like Ellis). But from what's survived of Brehon law we know that some of
>the Celts had 12-odd distinct castes by birth. You don't need bureaucracy or
>police or tax collectors to have a repressive society.

Equally there seems to be an assumption that any society which doesn't match our modern "democratic" structure is repressive. At that time every society had classes or castes - Greek democracy was restricted to free males with a certain level of wealth. Truth is 90% of any group of people will do what's expected of them by that group. 90% of the rest will rebel in minor ways but follow the group line on important matters. That leaves 1% who may challenge the core of a society's behaviour. It's how society deals with that 1% that determines whether its repressive and a lot depends on how easy it is to opt out. Ancient societies *had* to treat people who didn't wish to be part of them harshly - you must be either in or out, if you're out - goodbye. The modern concept of repression comes from that same approach but nowhere for the outsider to go, something that has only really happened in the last century. Prior to that repression involved forcing someone to stay in a place where they were outsiders, something that requires a state which the Ancient Celts almost certainly didn't have.

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