Scapegoat Kings and the Emergence of the State

Foreword by Mark Anspach to

Simon Simonse's Kings of Disaster

 

"Hour after hour––but no rain came down

And they caught the old rainmaker

––just as he was leaving town."

Hank Williams Jr., "The Rainmaker"

Epigraph to Kings of Disaster

 

Drought is the greatest scourge that can afflict the mountainous region of southeastern Sudan studied by Simon Simonse in this path-breaking work. Since the Rainmaker is thought to possess the power to cause or prevent drought, he is the most important king...

 

Once a Rainmaker has been designated, everyone else can hold that person responsible for an uninterrupted dry spell... The Rainmaker is destined to bear the brunt of collective resentment when times are bad. Suspicion and accusation will centre on the king...

 

[Simonse] shows that the adversarial relationship between king and people is strictly analogous to the adversarial relationship between rival groups... This means that a single organizing principle can elucidate the operation of both centralist and dualist political systems...

 

"In its simplest form," Simonse writes, "centralism is only a transformation of dualism with a different cast: one of the social segments is replaced with the king." This stunning insight is far-reaching in its consequences.

 

By reducing to a single principle two apparently distinct forms of interaction––that between king and people and that between antagonistic social segments––it lays the basis for something like a unified field theory of African political systems.

 

At the same time, it points the way to understanding the emergence of the state as one possible outcome of a dynamic process, the result of an irreversible shift of the balance of power in the direction of the king.

 

Finally, applied to Girardian theory, the same insight suggests the interchangeability of two alternative scapegoat scenarios: one focused on a central figure such as the Rainmaker, the other entailing a dualist opposition with an enemy group.

 

Modern politicians instinctively grasp this interchangeability: when faced with public wrath at home, their first reflex is often to stir hostilities against an enemy abroad. We never truly leave the shadow of dualism, centralism and the scapegoat king.

 

Read the full text of the Foreword here