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» babble   » walking the talk   » labour and consumption   » Pierre Clastres: Society Against the State

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Author Topic: Pierre Clastres: Society Against the State
Babbler # 12684

posted 12 October 2008 11:43 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote
(an excerpt from Clastres' Society Against the State)

Primitive societies are societies without a State. This factual judgment, accurate in itself, actually hides an opinion, a value judgment that immediately throws doubt on the possibility of constituting political anthropology as a strict science. What the statement says, in fact, is that primitive societies are missing something - the State - that is essential to them, as it is to any other society: our own, for instance. Consequently, those societies are incomplete; they are not quite true societies--they are not civilized--their existence continues to suffer the painful experience of a lack--the lack of a State--which, try as they may, they will never make up. Whether clearly stated or not, that is what comes through in the explorers' chronicles and the work of researchers alike: society is inconceivable without the State; the State is the destiny of every society. One detects an ethnocentric bias in this approach; more often than not it is unconscious, and so the more firmly anchored. Its immediate, spontaneous reference, while perhaps not the best known, is in any case the most familiar. In effect, each one of us carries within himself, internalized like the believer's faith, the certitude that society exists for the State. How, then, can one conceive of the very existence of primitive societies if not as the rejects of universal history, anachronistic relics of a remote stage that everywhere else has been transcended? Here one recognizes ethnocentrism's other face, the complementary conviction that history is a one-way progression, that every society is condemned to enter into that history and pass through the stages which lead from savagery to civilization. "All civilized peoples were once savages," wrote Ravnal. But the assertion of an obvious evolution cannot justify a doctrine which, arbitrarily tying the state of civilization to the civilization of the State, designates the latter as the necessary end result assigned to all societies. One may ask what has kept the last of the primitive peoples as they are.

There are strong ideas presented in that excerpt which I find hard to tackle with. Clastres argues strongly against the notion of a terrible subsistence lived by "primitive" societies, saying instead they meet their basic needs and then some and then chose to invest the rest of their time into leisure.

My mind then conjured up a dichotomy; either we live close to a state of nature, with a lot of leisure time and our needs being met; or we can "advance" to more technological levels at the expense of exploitation and workaholicism. My person vision of a utopia would be a hybrid between the two, and I am left wondering if a meeting at the middle is a stable configuration on which to run a society; or if things always collapse into minimizing production or maximizing production.

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