Analytic theory Anarchism Asia Books Direct democracy Global Longue durée Statism - Representationism

Society against the State (1974)


Pierre Clastres


“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.

[…] 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.”

Pierre Clastres

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