James Scott and the Art of Not Being Governed

Some time ago I read and admired James C. Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism, in which he pointed out how nowadays most Europeans and Americans are overly ready to obey authority.

I also read Scott’s Seeing Like a State, which is about how the modern world has been shaped by the desire of rulers to make their subjects legible, so that they can be more easily taxed, conscripted and controlled, and the disasters that have followed from rulers’ illusion that information is the same as understanding.

I haven’t yet got around to reading his other great book, The Art of Not Being Governed, which is about 100 million people in the uplands of southeast Asia who have successfully escaped the control of governments in the region.  This video is a good preview.

As Scott pointed out, the ungoverned people he studied were not primitives who had failed to catch up with civilization.  Rather they were the descendents of people who centuries before had escaped the control of governments of China, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries.

He noted that only during the last few centuries has it been possible to even argue that there is a  net benefit to being under the jurisdiction of a government.  Prior to that you were better off being a free hunter-gatherer.  All government did was tax you, conscript you, enslave you and possibly provide some protection for other governments.

[Added later]  I did eventually finish reading The Art of Not Being Governed.  Click on the link for my review.

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One Response to “James Scott and the Art of Not Being Governed”

  1. tashqueedagg Says:

    A great book. I used to use this very interview in my world history courses when discussing the origins of agricultural civilization. Students found it hard to imagine that some people would have rejected what they had traditionally been taught to be the foundation of civilization (writing, farming, cities, governments).

    What I like about Scott’s approach to anarchism is that it is always rooted in vernacular organizations and actions. In a sense, he shows we always have this tension in our life.

    Like

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