It seems from my non-expert knowledge of history that most societies are characterized by a privileged elite class exploiting an oppressed class to some degree.

Are there examples of societies where this was not the case and the society was characterized by the impartial distribution of privilege and punishment and all members of the society have equal status?

  • @MarkC.Wallace I agree that there are different definitions for these terms. That is why I defined them. I'll edit the question to remove the offending terms. – DQdlM Sep 28 '17 at 13:41
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    Sorry - your definitions were as good as they'll get - but no human society will ever meet the standard you set. "just" is a subjective term like "pretty" or "tall". You can answer whether you think I'm tall; so can Shaq and so can my girlfriend. All three are going to be right. But any discussion is going to be more discussion than answer; it is not possible to achieve an authoritative answer - and if you do, it is philosophy, not history. Perhaps ask this in the philosophy stack exchange? – Mark C. Wallace Sep 28 '17 at 13:43
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    Retracting my close vote and my criticism; the question as now stated is answerable (the answer is "no") - and there are multiple sources that can back that up - Hundreds of pages written by Marxists, thousands by anthropologists, economists & philosophers. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 28 '17 at 13:51
  • Do you have a definition of society in mind? There have been various small, short-lived communes that may meet your definition, for example. – Alex Sep 28 '17 at 14:08
  • @Alex I don't really but I was thinking of something large enough to be reasonably sovereign but it may be that the only thing that fits are short-lived communes. It would be interesting if they were short-lived because of the pressure to sustain the classlessness. – DQdlM Sep 28 '17 at 14:15

Given your role as an educator, can I assume you are sufficiently aware of the endless debates on social contract and this useful package on Rousseau? Obviously, we are not here to discuss Enlightenment philosophies but it provides a framework to view this answer (a certain perspective).

The short answer is: Yes, there were. The steppe nomads (semi-nomads, to be more precise). The caveat is you must agree with the work of Dr David Sneath because he made this argument in his book, The Headless State - Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia (Columbia University Press, 2007).

From the site introduction (same link above) of the book - emphasis mine:

Sneath argues that aristocratic power and statelike processes of administration were the true organizers of life on the steppe. Rethinking the traditional dichotomy between state and nonstate societies, Sneath conceives of a "headless state" in which a configuration of statelike power was formed by the horizontal relations among power holders and was reproduced with or without an overarching ruler or central "head." In other words, almost all of the operations of state power existed at the local level, virtually independent of central bureaucratic authority.

In essence, Sneath's argument is, from a perspective of nomadic feudalism, steppe-nomads were highly egalitarian and much depended on alliances that are highly adaptive to changing demands. Hence, the social control (or oppression, depending on which strata you're in) is minimal (did not exist?) but steppe culture/societies still functioned well (i'm over-simplifying the book).

NOTE: I should add that this book was not well-accepted, especially with established scholars (specialists in Central Asia) - see reviews from Barfield (anthropologist), Nikolay Kradin (anthropologist and archaeologist) and Peter B. Golden (historian).

In defence of Sneath, however, we should note that he has studied under (worked with?) the late Urgugne Onon, who had direct experience of nomadic life as well as translating Genghis Khan's Secret History of the Mongols.

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    The truth is I'm not fully-convinced by Sneath's book. However, this field is going through significant change with new finds, conferences ever so often ... so I've put it here to 'contribute' (as it were). – J Asia Sep 28 '17 at 15:20
  • Rejoinder by Sneath to critical reviews (in answer above). – J Asia Sep 28 '17 at 15:47

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