Why I like Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism

I’ve been interested for a long time in thinkers—seemingly with little in common—who understand that the knowledge of policy-makers is inherently uncertain and incomplete, that knowledge is widely distributed in society, and that a well-ordered must be able to draw on that knowledge.

My list includes W. Edwards Deming, John Dewey, Jurgen Habermas, Friederich Hayek, Jane Jacobs, Karl Popper and the organizers of the Occupy Wall Street movement.   I have long been interested in libertarianism and anarchism because, even though I am neither a libertarian nor an anarchist, I believe they understand this central truth better than conservatives, liberals and socialists do.

twocheersThe newest addition to my list is James C. Scott.  In a previous post, I reviewed his book SEEING LIKE A STATE, which I like a lot.  But for people with limited time, which includes most people these days, I recommend TWO CHEERS FOR ANARCHISM in which Scott presented his ideas in a more readable form, as a series of vignettes and anecdotes.  I read it a few months ago, but I thought it so profound and wise that I re-read it.

He touched on many topics, ranging from everyday life to the nature of political and social change.  He celebrated common sense, local self-government and the creativity of ordinary people, and warned about how we modern Americans have been accustomed to obeying orders and submitting to hierarchies.

He gave two cheers for anarchism rather than three because he does not think that government and hierarchy are always wrong.  But he affirmed the anarchist values of individual freedom, voluntary co-operation and mutual aid and pointed out that even  justifiable restrictions on freedom come at a price.


If you don’t have time to obtain and read Scott’s book, which I completely understand, you might be interested in reading some of the following reviews and comments.

“An easy to read book that will illuminate the concept of anarchism” by Randy Rosenthal for The Coffin Factory.

The Well-Tempered Anarchist by Gene Callahan in The American Conservative.

“An uncritical condemnation of states” by Peter Stone in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

Practical Anarchy by Lucy Steigerwald for Reason magazine.

Disordered Liberty by Michael Weiss in the Wall Street Journal.

A little bit more anarchism would do us good, my earlier post.

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