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The Civilization of Guns August 2, 2012

Posted by Sobek in History.

A well-armed society is a polite society.

Back in 2007, a blogger named “the Munchkin Wrangler” wrote a wonderful, short essay explaining why the gun is civilization.  It’s only six paragraphs, and it’s also more interesting than what I’m writing, so if you have to choose between that or this, just follow the link.  So it’s not just that the well-armed society is a polite society, but that without arms there isn’t really “society” at all.

Munchin Wrangler’s focus is on individual interactions, though.  This post is about historic evidence supporting that thesis on a civilizational scale.  Specifically, it’s about Central Asian history.  The history of the Middle East, from the time of Cyrus the rise of Europe, can be summed up like this:

10.  City-folk build large, opulent cities.

20.  Nomadic barbarians invade, break stuff, pillage, hear the lamentations of women, etc.

30.  The nomads settle down in the newly-conquered territories.

40.  The nomads become city-folk.

50.  GOTO 10.

It happened over and over, like clockwork, every couple hundred years.  But then one day, it all changed.

Though the Kazakhs were a formidable military power, their dominance was undermined by several factors.  The settled centers in the north and south acquired new military technology in the form of muskets and cannons, thus canceling out the natural advantage of the pastoral nomads’ mobile cavalry forces.  The nomads occasionally acquired muskets too; but having no large settled urban centers or technology, they were unable to reproduce either firearms or gunpowder.

This developmental imbalance had very important consequences.  The nomadic khanates lost their military superiority over the armies of the settled centers.  Hence they lost an important source of revenue and material support in the form of the tributes, reparations and military resupply that they had exacted from their settled neighbors for centuries.

– The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of Central Asia, Rafis Abazov, Map 30.

See, the nice thing about a big city and strong, central government that patronizes the arts is that you get cool buildings, artwork, epic poetry, science, and so forth.  But the king who spends all his time on that will eventually decide he’d rather spend his time in lavish palaces than go on military campaign, because silk pillows in the harem are nicer than riding a horse all day and then sleeping in a tent.  So the barbarians got civilized, and in the process they got soft and weak.  The next wave of nomads still had their horses, their arrows, and most importantly their hardness.  That, plus it’s hard – if not impossible – to defend every border village, every remote town, from highly-mobile horse nomads who can move to attack the weak spots.  It’s not feasible for the imperial army to patrol every inch of the frontier all the time, and not feasible for dirt farmers to fight off determined raiders, so eventually the raiders win.

With the invention of guns, the empires finally had an advantage that the nomads couldn’t possibly overcome, and it stopped the cycle of conquest-conversion-decline.  Before that point, civilizations could exist, but they were always doomed as soon as the government lost its martial instincts.  With guns, the horse and arrow advantage disappears, those with foundries and technology can defend their property more easily, and the raiding finally stops (at least on the scale of massive armies sweeping across the Eurasian steppe).  Because there are guns, the artists, poets and architects are no longer a massive liability that will eventually kill your society.  Because there are guns, you can protect yourself from the men whose entire life is devoted to military skills that always proved so insuperably lethal for millennia past.


1. geoff - August 3, 2012

50. GOTO 10.

A plausible, though BASIC, recap of history.

2. daveintexas - August 3, 2012

I see what you did there.

3. geoff - August 3, 2012

Hey – who put “via geoff” on the link from Ace? I didn’t link it and I didn’t write it, so I’m getting undue credit.

4. Rich K - August 3, 2012

Is this the private AoS journolist location I hear about all the time?So fare thats all I see here so Im gonna go with Yes.

5. geoff - August 3, 2012

This is the home of the original Splitters, not the private AoSHQ journolist location, though several of them hang out here.

6. daveintexas - August 3, 2012


I fix.

7. geoff - August 3, 2012


8. daveintexas - August 3, 2012

With apologies to Sobek. Guess I was lookin at the first comment. I blacked out after that.

I gotta stop hittin the crack pipe at lunchtime.

9. lauraw - August 3, 2012

We’ve replaced the fine Columbian crack that Dave usually smokes, with crushed-up antihistamines and rock salt. Let’s see if he can tell the difference!

10. daveintexas - August 3, 2012

Why is Abraham Lincoln sitting out on the deck with me?

And what is all this “gargoyles at the movies” stuff he’s talkin about?

He seems quite upset about it.

11. Sobek - August 3, 2012

No worries, Dave, it’s a perfectly understandable mistake. Geoff’s the guy who usually posts here.

Plus, he’s always yammering on about medieval Central Asia …

12. Tushar - August 3, 2012

As long as it is rock salt and not bath salt.
We don’t want Dave munching on some hapless person’s visage.

13. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse - August 4, 2012

There is a serious flaw in this argument and in the article referred to.

The reality is that none of us need to worry about marauding Khazaks and we have much less to fear from big individuals wishing to beat us up or even groups of rednecks wanting to beat us up than we have to fear that our government(s) might decide that they need to persecute us or even kill us.

After all, ask those who died at Waco or Ruby Ridge.

So, yes, an armed society is more polite than an unarmed society, but the biggest bully out there is the government, and there is little you can do with a handgun or a rifle against a Hellfire missile launched at you from a Predator drone.

14. geoff - August 4, 2012

The reality is that none of us need to worry about marauding Khazaks…

This fellow apparently \ hasn’t been to a Moron meetup.

15. Michael - August 4, 2012

there is little you can do with a handgun or a rifle against a Hellfire missile launched at you from a Predator drone.

All you need to do is hold up an iPad and deflect the missile.

16. Michael - August 4, 2012

Use the back side of the iPad so the screen does not get scratched.

17. geoff - August 4, 2012

The reality is that none of us need to worry about marauding Khazaks and we have much less to fear from big individuals wishing to beat us up or even groups of rednecks wanting to beat us up than we have to fear that our government(s) might decide that they need to persecute us or even kill us.

But seriously, I think you missed Sobek’s point, which was that you would be worrying about marauding Khazaks had man not invented weapons requiring a fixed base for manufacturing. This is a history lesson, not a current policy statement.

Although the increasing violence along our southern border is reminiscent of the predations of Khazaks and such.

18. lauraw - August 4, 2012

In areas with restrictive gun laws, which is not where the rednecks live, genius, you do certainly in the current day worry about marauders.

Funny, that.

19. daveintexas - August 4, 2012

See, England: Yobs.

20. geoff - August 4, 2012

Also: the “Knockout Game.”

21. Sobek - August 4, 2012

See, Detroit: Insane Clown Posse.

But those examples are more in line with Munchkin Wrangler’s argument, which is about interpersonal reactions. Geoff’s right, my post is a history lesson, about how guns fundamentally and permanently altered the balance between barbarian and civilization, in favor of civilization.

Also, anyone who thinks small arms can’t be effective against a government army don’t know anything about Afghanistan, Syria, or Red Dawn.

22. Sobek - August 4, 2012

I’d also observe that the body count of Ruby Ridge (3 humans and a dog) + Waco (86) doesn’t come anywhere close to the homicides in Chicago 2011 (just to pick one example), which was 423.

So to argue that we have more to fear from government than from gangs, thugs, yobs, or Harry Reid’s unchecked pederasty-and-murder-spree is to misunderstand something pretty important about statistics.

23. Sobek - August 4, 2012

You can change those numbers around a little bit, of course, by adding in other government-related casualties, for example from SWAT teams hitting the wrong house or cops using excessive force, and the Chicago homicide rate I cited for last year assuredly did not only cover gang violence, or murders related to robbery or burglary.

But you’re never going to get the numbers close, especially if I add in D.C., Detroit, New York, L.A., New Orleans, etc.

I’m not saying you should trust the government, and especially don’t trust a Senator who refuses to comment on serious allegations that he molested and murdered an unknown number of children.

24. daveintexas - August 4, 2012

I didn’t know Reid killed his victims.

When, when will justice prevail?

25. Sobek - August 4, 2012
26. daveintexas - August 4, 2012

*recoils, in utter, moral horror*

27. Michael - August 4, 2012

I strongly recommend that you not plan a vacation in Somalia or Detroit, Michigan.

28. Michael - August 4, 2012

Michelle Obama sent me this message:

Hi —

Today is Barack’s 51st birthday, and the girls and I are pulling together his birthday card.

Last call for names: Want to sign it?

Clicking on the link below will add your name to Barack’s card automatically:


This election’s only going to get tougher, so I know it would mean a lot to Barack to know he has your support on his birthday.



I tried to sign the SCOAMF’s birthday card, but it turned out that you had to donate at least $3 to do so.

29. lauraw - August 4, 2012

How are they going to do the card thing? Are they going to generate an actual, physical card with all those names printed on it, or is it just a webpage somewhere?

30. Matt Hicks - August 4, 2012

This is at least the third website which I have visited that has mentioned the serious allegations that Harry Reid is a pederast. Disconcerting to say the least.

Why has Harry Reid not yet proven his innocence?

31. geoff - August 4, 2012

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Harry Reid is going to have to work hard to clear himself of these very grave charges. I mean, what are the odds that he’s innocent?

32. xbradtc - August 4, 2012

geoff, can you toss me a link to the original instance of The Graph? I mean, where you first presented it to the public. Or IB. Whatever.

33. geoff - August 4, 2012

The very first time I mentioned that graph was here, in February 2009 (at Uncommon Misconceptions). In April I did the first plot, but nobody saw it.

I moved it over to IB the next month, and it went viral.

34. geoff - August 4, 2012

The next month (the May report, which was posted at the beginning of June) was the one that went super-viral. That’s when the GOP and Beck and people like that picked it up.

35. Michael - August 4, 2012

The next month (the May report, which was posted at the beginning of June) was the one that went super-viral.

I get all the credit for that because I discouraged your ugly use of triangles.

36. News of the Week (October 8th, 2017) | The Political Hat - October 8, 2017

[…] The Civilization of Guns A well-armed society is a polite society. […]

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