Collectivist Experiment Goes Horribly Wrong, Or, The Story of the Incas

Richard M. Ebeling of the Mises Institute uses the Incas as an example of how collectivist states end badly in this article on


The Inca Empire emerged out of a small tribe in the Peruvian mountains in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Theirs was a military theocracy. The Inca kings rationalized their brutal rule on the basis of a myth that the Sun god, Inti, took pity on the people in those mountains and sent them his son and other relatives to teach them how to build homes and how to manufacture rudimentary products of everyday life. The later Inca rulers then claimed that they were the descendants of these divine beings and therefore were ordained to command and control all those who came under their power and authority

The Inca Empire of Conquest and Collectivism

The fourteenth and especially the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries saw the expansion of the Incas into a great imperial power with control over a territory that ran along the west coast of South America and included much of present-day Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and parts of Argentina and Colombia. The Incas were brought down in the 1530s by the Spanish conquest under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro.

The Inca kings, asserting to be both sons and priests of the Sun god, held mastery of all the people and property in his domains. And like most socialist systems throughout history they combined both privilege and egalitarianism. When the invading Spaniards entered the Inca capital of Cuzco, they were amazed by the grandeur of the palaces, temples, and homes of the Inca elite, as well as the system of aqueducts and paved roads.

But having an economy based on slave labor, there had been few incentives or profitable gains from the development of machines and tools to raise the productivity of the work force or reduce the amount of labor needed to perform the tasks of farming and manufacturing. Methods of production were generally primitively labor-intensive. Thus, the Spaniards, in comparison, were far better equipped with more advanced instruments of war to defeat the Incas.

The Inca Elite and the “Communism” of the Common People

The Inca society was rigidly constructed along hierarchical lines of power and privilege. The Incan ruling class, below the Inca Sun-god king, provided the membership for the bureaucratic administrators, the military officer corps, the priests and scholars. Beneath them were the Inca peasants, herdsmen and artisans; they also were used to settle newly conquered lands to assure Incan dominance over the defeated populations. And below them were the slaves, which according to Inca legend had originally been condemned to death, but out of mercy were reprieved from extermination to be lowly laborers in perpetual bondage.

The Inca rulers imposed on almost all in society a compulsory equalitarianism in virtually all things. In The Socialism Phenomena (1980), the Soviet-era dissident, Igor Shafarevich, (1923–2017) explained:

The complete subjugation of life to the prescriptions of the law and to officialdom led to extraordinary standardization: identical clothing, identical houses, identical roads. … As a result of this spirit of standardization, anything the least bit different was looked upon as dangerous and hostile, whether it was the birth of twins or the discovery of a strangely shaped rock. Such things were believed to be manifestations of evil forces hostile to society.

To what extent is it possible to call the Inca state socialist? … Socialist principles were clearly expressed in the structure of the Inca state: the almost complete absence of private property, in particular of private land; absence of money and trade; the complete elimination of private initiative from all economic activities; detailed regulation of private life; marriage by official decrees; state distribution of wives and concubines.
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The Ancient Incas and the Collectivist State

Examples of government control over social and economic life are as old as recorded history, and they always have features that are universal in their perverse effects regardless of time or place.

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Paul Gordon is the publisher and editor of iState.TV. He has published and edited newspapers, poetry magazines and online weekly magazines. He is the director of Social Cognito, an SEO/Web Marketing Company. You can reach Paul at

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