Worshiping Power: an Anarchist View of Early State Formation.

Author:Hansson, John-Erik
Position:Book review

Peter Gelderloos, Worshiping Power: an Anarchist View of Early State Formation

Oakland, CA/Edinburgh: AK Press, 2016; 277pp; ISBN 9781849352642

Having already tackled the question of the very possibility of anarchy in Anarchy Works and criticised dogmatic non-violence in How Nonviolence Protects the State and The Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos now presents us an anarchist theory of state formation. Building on the insights of radical anthropologists like Pierre Clastres and James C. Scott, he gives a distinctive spin to the literature on stateless societies to show some of the ways in which state power appears and solidifies itself, and what can be done about it. 'Learning', however, 'is only worthwhile if it helps us to fight, to live healthy, to live free' (p234). And thus Worshiping Power is at once a thought-provoking contribution to an anarchist anthropological theory of the state, a passionate call 'to trust again in our own [anti-statist and anti-authoritarian] histories and our own capacities for problem solving' (p245), and a restatement of the duty to resist the state and its tendency to coerce us into 'the adoration of leaders and the worship of power itself' (p244).

In building this anarchist theory of state formation, Gelderloos has four main targets in mind. The first--and perhaps weakest--is the old-fashioned evolutionary thesis, claiming 'that state formation was necessary to human progress and that states are an indispensable part of global society' (pp1-2), also declined in its anthropological variants (pp75, 111). His three further targets --'dialectical materialism, environmental determinism, and primitivism' (p4)--are more interesting insofar as they are more often wielded by political radicals. Over the course of the book, Gelderloos undermines these approaches by appealing to a dizzying range of empirical evidence from different points in time and space whose simple existence mounts an implacable challenge to the statist evolutionary thesis.

Changing targets, he challenges the standard Marxist model whereby one general form of economic organisation leads to one general form of political organisation by showing that the same economic order can be accompanied by both state and stateless societies, and that economic accumulation and the existence of a merchant class do not necessarily lead to state formation (Chapter VIII). Emphasising that societies existing in supposedly enabling environments can resist--and...

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