Friday, February 05, 2010

Infamous Censuses Throughout World History

It is 2010 and that means it is time for another American census. As with any counting by a government some Americans have feelings ranging from reservation to out right fear about the upcoming census. Looking back on history I realize how lucky Americans are to have this upcoming census, even with some potential flaws in it, compared to the most infamous censuses in world history.

The Census of King David (~1000 BC)

According 2 Samuel 24, King David felt the urge to conduct a census in his realms of Israel and Judah. The primary motivation of the census was to count the number of available potential warriors and thus measure David's power. It was not a good time for a census; however, as the Hebrews' sinful actions were already offensive to God and David's thinking about his own power and not God's pushed the Lord over the edge. After repenting and haggling, David agreed to allow three days of pestilence which killed seventy thousand men. Only God's sorrow at the destruction stopped further deaths.

The story of David's census still causes groups of fundamentalists to deeply oppose any government counting.

The Census of Quirinius (~4 BC)

According to Luke 2:1-7, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus wanted better accounting of modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel for tax purposes. The governor Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was placed in charge of the necessary census. Hebrew custom required massive population movements as men traveled to their clan's home city. The movie Jesus of Nazareth did a good job capturing the cultural tension over the census between Roman and native leadership.

The census allowed Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. While David's census gave the Biblical impression of "census = death," Quirinius' census proved to be a Biblically necessary annoyance.

The Domesday Book aka Doomsday Book (AD 1086)

When the census is named after the Day of Judgement then the propaganda battle is already lost. The Domesday Book (modern-English translation being Doomsday Book) was the census conducted by the Norman conqueror William I of his new English realm. Land changes and lack of any census information since the Roman era, which had been lost, denied the king knowledge of what he owned and what he could tax. The book detailed land owning families, their property, and holdings including peasants. The book was declared the final word on property and tax issues with no possible appeal; hence it was given a title which referenced the Judgement Day book mentioned in Revelation 20: 12.

There are some stories of English peasants fearing the census was the beginning of the end of the world. There are even stories of resistance efforts agains the census though these appear later on in history. The Domesday Book actually brought law, order, and taxes back to England. Even in the twenty-first century it has been used to settle legal disputes over land claims. It can be viewed online here.

Soviet Census of 1937 and 1939

Adolf Hitler is commonly regarded as history's greatest monster but he only ranks third for genocidal leaders of the twentieth century. Number two is Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Stalin's combination constant purges, purposefully caused famines in Ukraine, population transfers, and criminal incompetence in collectivizing peasants killed at least fifteen million people.

By 1937 damage was already being done by Stalin and his fellow goons. Still, professional demographers both in and out of the Soviet Union estimated that the USSR's population would be between 170 and 172 million by 1937. However, the 1937 census showed that the population was only 162 million people. Stalin responded by suppressing the results and sending the census workers to gulags in Siberia. A new "census" was conducted in 1939 with the pre-determined result of 170.6 million.

Because of fear of upsetting the regime no Soviet census was conducted until 1959.

Parting Note

So despite debates over White House-control, the issue of counting illegal immigrants, and a suicide disguised as a murder motivated by the 2010 census the 2010 census does not look that bad. No God-made diseases, Soviet purges, Roman/Norman overlords are going to take advantage of this census.


clajoh said...

Please excuse my ignorance, but if Hitler was considered third worst and Stalin was the second worst of last century, who was #1?

Catholicgauze said...

Number one with around 50 million is Mao.

clajoh said...

Mao, of course.

Interesting article. Clearly, opinions on census-taking is correlated with the general populations trust of government. It's not the taxes themselves that should be valued as either good or evil, rather how they are collected and spent in regard to public opinion.

I'm pondering of there is ever a good time to implement a census in an area where there earlier hasn't been one. To institutionalize it on a scale such as in (for example) Sweden, where census is not just annual but continuos takes a long time.

Do you know of *any* relatively unbloody implementations of census in any part of the world?

Catholicgauze said...

Good points. Perhaps the British censuses of India? When it came to imperialist counting the Brtis seem to be the working model of how to do a census that does not involve killings.
The first Ottoman censuses were also peaceful... though these quickly led to nationalistic-driven genocide.

Travel Corporation India said...

sorry to disappoint you but Hitler was not a worst person.just go to the history and see what he had done for country in a very short period of time.he was a worst person for yahudi's and out of asian caste.

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