I cannot deny that I am a bit of a sucker for attractive matching books—bonus points if they are small—so this weekend when I found myself wandering among the essays published by Prickly Paradigm Press a couple of them followed me home. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology was for me.
David Graeber presents in this essay “a series of thoughts, sketches of potential theories, and tiny manifestos—all meant to offer a glimpse at the outline of a body of radical theory that does not actually exist, though it might possibly exist at some point in the future.” This means that over the course of 105 small pages he presents idea after idea, most of them very interesting, without so much time spent fleshing them out. But as he says, the radical theory he has in mind does not yet exist. Of the two general questions in the book, “What does anarchism have to offer anthropology?” and “What does anthropology have to offer anarchism?” the latter is of much more interest to me. His experience of living in and studying actual stateless communities is certainly fascinating in itself.
Graeber opens the essay by defining anarchism—sort of—and by defending utopianism and also defusing typical reactions to the idea of statelessness. I think he does a particularly good job at this. Discussing the problem of being asked to produce an example of real-life, functional anarchy, he comes to one of his best passages.
The dice are loaded. You can’t win. Because when the skeptic says “society,” what he really means is “state,” even “nation-state.” Since no one is going to produce an example of an anarchist state—that would be a contradiction in terms—what we’re really being asked for is an example of a modern nation-state with the government somehow plucked
Continue reading Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology by David Graeber