Causes of the Birth, Rise and Fall of the Great Mongol Empire.
The personality of the leader and conqueror, Genghis Khan, is something that continues to intrigue historians to this day. All the major events related to Genghis Khan’s life and empire, when, how and in what order he carried out his many conquests, have been exceedingly well-researched. An abundance of ancient Uighur, Arab, Middle Asian, Persian and particularly Chinese written documents exists which describe these events in some detail. But that was the thirteenth century!
Historians today tussle over the issue of the ethnicity of the khagan and his descendants. In the vast expanse of the Russian Internet, you will find many different types of articles on Genghis Khan. Some are written in the traditional style of Russian historiography and describe the catastrophic “Tatar-Mongol” invasion which destroyed much of the nation and saw the onset of the almost three-hundred-year Mongol Yoke, responsible for holding Russia back for centuries. Others vary in theme ranging from claims that the invasion was a fake to the life of Genghis Khan and his grandson Batuhan, to the Russian princes and the period of their reign described as being one of great prosperity for Russia.
Often the authors of such articles make reference to portraits painted by Europeans which they themselves have never seen. I remember seeing portraits and sculptures in Central Asian, Caucasian and Slavic style, depicting Vladimir Lenin with the same ethnic features as the artists and sculptors who created them. That’s not to mention those who left to conquer China, Central Asia, Caucasia, Misr (Egypt), Syria and Persia.
Kazakh historians claim rights to Genghis Khan referring to the “concrete” argument of the khan’s tribal affiliation. Apparently, the khan, along with his entourage and entire army (which according to Chinese sources consisted entirely of representatives of the clans and tribes which survive to this day in the Middle and Senior “zhuz” (Kazakh tribal divisions) belonged to a uniquely kazakh tribe of direct Genghizid-Tore descendants. Naturally, the Mongolian people, who share the same name as the invasion, cannot but claim affiliation to Genghis Khan. That said, their historians have not yet been able to successfully respond to their opponents’ argument that the term “Mongol” did not exist prior to the birth of Genghis Khan and was invented by him personally. The historians of many nations that may or may not once have been part of the Mongol Empire claim relatedness to Genghis Khan. Among them, the most surprising is perhaps the Japanese claim.
I don’t intend to get caught up in the arguments of professional historians, however. My goal is simply to provide answers, as far as that is possible, to my childhood questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’.
How were Genghis Khan and his descendants able to create the largest empire in the history of mankind in just fifty years, even though they started with nothing?
Why is it, that despite the fact that there are documented incidents in which whole towns and their inhabitants were annihilated, the conquered peoples were generally willing to accept Genghis Khan’s rule and lived peacefully within the Mongol Empire right up until its decline?
Why did the Mongol Empire rule for less than three centuries before disintegrating and finally disappearing when historical records show no significant attack either from external enemies or local uprisings? Why did a similar historical scenario repeat itself seven centuries later in the same geographic area in the form of the Soviet Union, which existed for just 70 years before its own decline?
With rare exceptions, why have none of the peoples inhabiting the areas of the former Mongol Empire achieved the democratic gains of Western countries, despite the fact that some of them have survived civilisations of the past that were in their time more sophisticated than the contemporary civilisation of Europe.
I’ll try and answer some of these questions from the point of view of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
First of all, it is worth remembering which historical time and circumstances surrounded the formation of the identity of the legendary conqueror, Genghis Khan. It was a time when in most of Eurasia, ferocious war was ongoing aimed only at destruction. Everyone was at war with everyone else. Extensive farming methods dictated the need for new pasture and arable lands. War raged not only between nations but between tribes and kin. The Chinese Three Kingdoms were fighting amongst themselves, as well as dozens of individual principalities of Rus’, all the proto-Kazakh tribes and everyone else as well… There was all-out human destruction throughout the vast territory of Eurasia. It was as if every human being believed that the only way to preserve their own gene was to annihilate that of their neighbour.
Ironically, the greatest earthly crime against the Law of Gene Preservation was committed in its name. Someone had to put an end to the bloody feast and history saw fit to call on Genghis Khan.
The young Genghis Khan, at that time still called Temujin, lost his father and all his senior male relatives to war and ended up a head of his family line when he was still a child. The young Genghis Khan had the sole aim of putting an end to the constant conflict, at least in his immediate environment, in order to save his family and prevent his genes from being totally wiped out. Displaying the remarkable abilities of warrior, diplomat and organiser, he quickly achieved his goal by uniting the free herders of clans close to his own and subjecting to his rule neighbouring tribes and their lands. However, fearing imminent clashes with new and more powerful distant neighbours, he had no choice but to continue running campaigns against them. From then on things developed according to the internal logic characteristic of all imperial conquests, revolutions and wars, which ultimately takes control of their leaders, sometimes even against their will.
Once an army of shepherds, who have since forgotten their nomadic livelihood, becomes a professional military force, growing in number, it has to be fed and given a share of the spoils of war. To maintain the army, the empire is forced to continually expand. So then followed the conquering of the Kingdoms of China, the Central Asian khanates, the Russian principalities and later, the countries of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The first question that must be answered is how Genghis Khan was able to conquer such enormous territories with a population ten times, if not hundreds of times larger than that of the Turkic-Mongol tribes that followed him? Military professionalism and the fearlessness and valour of the steppe nomads could not have been sufficient. We know that Genghis Khan’s army was able to resist the well-equipped professional armies of local kings, princes and khans, but why has history left almost no trace of widespread popular resistance to the foreign invader? The only exception might be the battle of the Kalka River, where the Western proto-Kazakh tribes and the Russian princes and their ‘druzhinas’ attempted to resist two ‘tumen’ of Jebe and Subutai the Valiant, which consisted mainly of members of the tribes of the Eastern proto-Kazakhs.
I am convinced that the main “secret” of Genghis Khan’s victories and his success in maintaining peace with his conquered peoples lay in the style of governance that his administration applied on occupied territory.
Marco Polo writes: “Conquering an area, he did not punish the population or violate their property rights. He simply instated a few of his own men among them, and then left with the rest for further conquests in distant lands. And when the people of the conquered land realised that he would protect them from all their neighbours and that they suffered no evil under his rule, and when they saw his generosity as emperor, they became loyal to him in body and soul, and went from former enemy to faithful servant.”
For example, during the period of the Tatar Yoke not one church was destroyed in Rus’. On the contrary, thousands of churches and hundreds of monasteries were built. I should add, that the Mongols refrained from interfering in the way of life of their conquered peoples as a matter of principle. Neither did they interfere in the economy, religion or rites and customs of these peoples. They levied a reasonable tax of ten percent on all types of income and took upon themselves the responsibility of protecting the perimeters of the territory from external threat. It has to be said that the Tatar-Mongols fulfilled their obligation quite conscientiously, one example being the well-known battle at Chudsk Lake against the German knights. The protection of the perimeter was not only a matter of guarding borders; it meant staunch isolation of the peoples of the empire from any external relations and was a method borrowed by local kings and khans and again later under Communist regimes.
As a result, the peoples of the Mongol Empire were virtually cut off from the developing outside world for eight centuries right up until the end of the twentieth century. Any sign of internecine feud was punishable by death. This was not for the sake of the conquered peoples of course, but for the sake of peaceful rule and tax collection. With the same aim of streamlining the taxation system, the Mongols built roads and initiated the postal service. They basically pioneered the process of forcibly globalising conquered peoples by administratively uniting disparate concentrations of single ethnic groups. They laid the foundation for the creation of powerful future states, such as the unified state of China formed from the Three Kingdoms and a unified Russia, from dozens of autonomous principalities. This fact was openly acknowledged by the grateful Chinese in the creation of their seventeen-part serial film “Genghis Khan”.
Expressed in the language of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”, the Mongols created the ideal conditions for the realisation of the Law of Gene Preservation for the empire’s entire population, which had not existed under the previous rule of tzars, khans and princes. In my opinion, this explains the lack of serious popular revolt against the Tatar Yoke, a fact to which other historians have paid relatively little attention. There is evidence to show, that during the relatively calm and peaceful period of the Tatar Yoke, the Russian and Chinese ethnoses who came under the protection of the Mongol army, increased in size transforming later into the continental ‘superethnoses’.
Although the Western and Eastern proto-Kazakh tribes clashed tragically once again after the battle on the Kalka River near Ain-Zhalta (now Israel) in the armies of the Egyptian Mamluks and the Mongolian troops, it was nonetheless, during the reign of the Mongol Empire that their rapprochement began, a rapprochement that should have culminated in the formation of a single Kazakh ethnos after the collapse of the Empire.
The slogan the leaders of the Mongol Empire gave to their people sounded thus: “Be fruitful, multiply, work, pay the tithe and don’t meddle in things that don’t concern you!”. It is basically a slogan that is still used to this day.
With regard to Freedom of Choice, levels of personal freedom were low even among the conquerors. The individual need for Freedom of Choice was generally low during this historical period. It was the traders and merchants who were realistically able to expand their Freedom of Choice. The merchants were permitted to move freely, and most importantly, safely with their goods throughout the entire gigantic territory of the Mongol Empire. Having banned the people from building armies and administrative systems based on the principles of familial kinship and ethnic affinity, Genghis Khan made the inhabitants of the empire equal in their civil rights. Each individual had equal opportunity to advance their career within the empire’s own social and political structures. In other words, he gave equal rights to Freedom of Choice, albeit at a very limited level and this undoubtedly facilitated the strengthening of the Empire.
In fairness, similar reforms were made in all “successful” empires both prior to the Mongol Empire and subsequently. At least, this was the case in the Roman, Napoleonic and Ottoman empires. In contrast, empires that have tried to found their power on the principles of giving precedence to one particular group, such as the racial principle in the case of the German Nazi’s, and the class principle in the case of the Soviet Communist’s, have all met an early death. Whereas the German Empire, in which a person was physically incapable of overcoming the racial barrier, lasted for just twelve years, the Soviet empire, lasted for seventy due to the fact that it gave its more unprincipled members the opportunity to “change” their class nature and “accept” the Communist ideology.
In all fairness, there was one act that mitigated the very low levels of Freedom of Choice in the Soviet Empire which extended the period of its existence, and that is the fact that education was universally accessible to all.
So why did the Mongol Empire collapse? The answer lies, once again, in the nature of the two laws: Gene Preservation and Freedom of Choice, or rather, in their contradiction.
Time passed, aggressive territorial campaigns were brought to an end and life began to adopt a more peaceful course. The Mongolian elite on the ground, who were granted unlimited power, became maddened by the endless possibilities of huge Freedom of Choice. Driven by the Gene Preservation instinct, they embraced the compulsion for unlimited wealth and increased personal power, naively believing that they could keep their riches for eternity, leaving it all to their descendants. Where are they today, the descendants of that elite and their wealth?
Blinded by power and looting, not only negating the general moral principles that had developed by that time, but also rejecting the direct admonitions of Genghis Khan’s ‘Great Yasa’, his descendants began a relentless fratricidal war. In the madness of the greed for personal wealth, even Genghis Khan’s original purpose was forgotten: the accumulation of wealth for the sake of posterity, in other words, for the sake of fulfilling the Law of Gene Preservation. Explicit and implicit father-child-brother and son-in-law killings became common in the courts of crown princes throughout the empire. Is not a similar scenario taking place today among the presidential families who inhabit the former lands of the Mongol Empire?
The collapse of the Empire became inevitable. The strict power vertical created by Genghis Khan, the likes of which, had never been seen before, finally crumbled and other independent state formations appeared in its place. Palace coups were also plotted, as a result of which, power fell to the hands not only of the Chingizids, as was the case in Central Asia, but also to representatives of the comprador elite, such as those who ruled in Russia and China, who had previously served the Mongolian authorities in collecting taxes and controlling the population. Whatever their original status, all who claimed the title of king, khan and emperor, installed a totalitarian form of government in the Mongol Empire, and immediately set about building local power verticals in the style of Genghis Khan but which were much more ferocious in relation to the local community and their neighbours. At the same time, the law of serfdom was finally being written and consolidated in Rus’. The new rulers continued to mercilessly rob and oppress their own people, who, never having tasted Freedom of Choice, took it all without so much as a murmur. The spirit of slavery created by the Mongols stuck for centuries.
It is hardly surprising then, that five hundreds years later, the communist dictators who came to power throughout the lands of the former Mongol Empire chose the same totalitarian (or at best authoritarian) ideology and form of government, and displayed the same predatory and contemptuous attitude towards their people. In the Soviet Union, which took seventy years to accept the total inefficiency of the communist economy, the leaders of socialism, continued to take a firm grip on power and backtracking, installed in their countries equally inefficient principles of oligarchic, state-directed capitalism.
According to the Law of Humandynamics, the level of Freedom of Choice in the world is increasing. Is the law is effective though on the territories of the former Mongol Empire? Yes! I have total confidence that it is. It might be slow, creeping along with creaks and groans, but it is working. One hundred and fifty years have passed since the abolition of serfdom. We no longer see the communist kolkhoz and Sovkhoz state farms that brought with them Holodomor that took the lives of millions. The Marxist-Leninist ideology no longer lives to justify the annihilation of millions of innocent people. Among other rights that have appeared since those times, we now have a right to own property, to leave the country and to re-enter it when we choose. So, yes, there is evidence that the Law of Humandynamics is effective in lands of the former Mongol Empire.
Can one also say, that the peoples who inhabit the former territory of the Mongol Empire today are free? With the exception of South Korea, absolutely not! There is no genuine freedom of speech or freedom of the press in these areas of the world. These states have no independent electoral courts, no free elections and in a word, no Freedom of Choice. The ruling elite, continues to educate its population in an authoritarian and paternalistic spirit, intimidating them with the threat of what the outside world would do to them if it weren’t for the “father of the nation” – their only real support in an uncertain and ever-changing world. Even the Russian saying, ‘the sheep led by a lion is stronger than lions led by a sheep’, has been hammered into our heads since those times.
The ruling elite will always strive for wealth without limits. They will always push to consolidate and expand their position of power, in other words, their own Freedom of Choice. It would be foolish to think that one could appeal to the conscience of the elite and request that they moderate their appetites. The elite will never take the initiative to change this pattern. It will continue to focus on increasing its own wealth at any cost, like fermenting bacteria continue to absorb sugar from grape juice, transforming it into alcohol until there is no sugar left and the concentration of alcohol destroys it completely. It is more efficacious to remind the rest of society that they are justified in protecting their two sacrosanct rights to Gene Preservation and Freedom of Choice.
The behaviour of the elite is just as natural as a business that strives to expand, merge and swallow up other businesses. In democratic societies, people have learned to oppose this tendency by creating anti-monopoly laws and multi-party systems, in other words, by creating and protecting Freedom of Choice. I will never forget times in the Soviet Union when the sum total of the Freedom of Choice Communist leaders granted to the people was the right to choose between drinking vodka in the kitchen or watching football on television.
The more that freedoms are usurped by the elite and denied to the rest of society, and the lower the general level of Freedom of Choice among a people, the deeper corruption will go and the quicker (peacefully or otherwise) the Law of Humandynamics will kick in, obliged as it is to raise the level of Freedom of Choice in society as a whole.
Brexit, Trump and Burkinis.
To conclude, it is worth considering two minor fluctuations in Freedom of Choice that have taken place recently in countries with high levels of Freedom of Choice: Brexit in Great Britain and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
In Britain and America, the fluctuations occurred due to the choices made by the less educated portion of the population, mainly living in provincial areas – roughly half the country’s population. The establishment and more progressive portion of the population, who mainly live in large cities and who have enjoyed more Freedom of Choice thanks to the technological revolution of recent decades, “forgot” about those who have been left out of the process and were quite taken back by the results of the elections in the USA and Britain’s referendum. The vote of the more ‘backward’ portion of the population was more a vote of protest that a vote explicitly in favour of Brexit or Trump.
As a result of Brexit, Britain is already anticipating a drop in Freedom of Choice among large and medium-sized businesses since the free marketing of their products throughout Europe will become limited. British pensioners will no longer enjoy the free and affordable choice of residence on the warm seashores of France, Spain and Italy that they had before. And British youth will be much more limited in their choice of university in Europe. As it is not clear how those who did vote for Brexit will experience more Freedom of Choice, one can only expect resistance towards Brexit to increase.
When, earlier this year, local authorities imposed a ban on wearing a burkini in some French départements, I predicted that it could not hold. The Freedom of Choice of French Muslim women did indeed drop, but the ban did not lead to an increase in Freedom of Choice for any other portion of the French population. Consequently, the overall level of Freedom of Choice in France fell and the ban on burkinis quietly disappeared into history as an example of the stupidity of local officials. Similarly, it is difficult to see exactly how Freedom of Choice can increase for the portion of the British population, who voted in favour of Brexit, except perhaps for those who live by outmoded slogans of independence. I have no doubt that the British establishment is secretly wishing that they could ‘quietly forget’ about the referendum just as officials quietly forgot about the burkini ban in France.
The potential consequences of Trump’s election in America are less obvious. If he does actually implement the promises he made in the run-up to the election, then Freedom of Choice in America will fall for a huge army of Afro-Americans, Muslims and immigrants. Women will feel the effects as well. On the other hand, if Trump succeeds in significantly and quickly reducing levels of unemployment and raising the economy through tax cuts, which in turn leads to a higher standard of living (in other words, if he increases opportunities for Gene Preservation among the majority of the population) then anti-Trump protestors may well calm down temporarily. If however, those who voted for Trump don’t feel any personal growth in Freedom of Choice that would promise increased living standards, then the protests will be revived on a national level.
As we can see, whatever the time, whatever the place, measures that increase Freedom of Choice for anything less than the majority of the population lead to revolutionary change. Those changes may be peaceful if, as in democratic countries, they come as a result of referendums and elections. Change that occurs in countries where the population does not have political freedom may, on the other hand, be catastrophic.
Karmak Bagisbayev, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
Translated from Russian original by Joanna Dobson.