Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quotes of the Day: Scott on Anarchism

One day you will be called upon to break a big law in the name of justice and rationality. Everything will depend on it. You have to be ready. How are you going to prepare for that day when it really matters? You have to stay ‘in shape’ so that when the big day comes you will be ready. What you need is ‘anarchist calisthenics.’ Every day or so break some trivial law that makes no sense, even if it’s only jaywalking. Use your own head to judge whether a law is just or reasonable. That way, you’ll keep trim; and when the big day comes, you’ll be ready.

James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism
The link is to the site where I saw the quote.  A bit more context here.

Two Cheers is a forthcoming book, whose publication date is soon (Amazon listed it as today, but still lists it as forthcoming, so who knows).  I don't know much about it.  I've vaguely heard of Scott, but don't really know much about his work.  (Two dueling reviews of his most famous book, Seeing Like a State, can be found here (Brad DeLong for the prosecution) and here (Henry Farrell for the defense), with a follow-up post by Farrell here.))  But Two Cheers looks interesting, and in addition to that quote, several other things make me interested in reading it.  First and foremost, two cheers strikes me as just about the right number of cheers for anarchism.  Second, I read the preface, available as a preview at Princeton University Press's site (pdf link), and thought it was quite good.  Thirdly, Scott's notion of "the anarchist squint", as detailed here, strikes me as a good one.

Since the above quote gives a cheer, let me close by quoting a second passage (which I also liked), this time from Scott's preface, one which (so to speak) voices the lack of cheer number three:
The market measures influence in dollars, while a democracy, in principle, measures votes. In practice, at some level of inequality, the dollars infect and overwhelm the votes. Reasonable people can disagree about the levels of inequality that a democracy can tolerate without becoming an utter charade. My judgment is that we have been in the “charade zone” for quite some time. What is clear to anyone except a market fundamentalist (of the sort who would ethically condone a citizen’s selling himself— voluntarily, of course— as a chattel slave) is that democracy is a cruel hoax without relative equality. This, of course, is the great dilemma for an anarchist. If relative equality is a necessary condition of mutuality and freedom, how can it be guaranteed except through the state? Facing this conundrum, I believe that both theoretically and practically, the abolition of the state is not an option. We are stuck, alas, with Leviathan, though not at all for the reasons Hobbes had supposed, and the challenge is to tame it. That challenge may well be beyond our reach.

-- Preface, p. xvi
Link added, out of sheer self-promotion.

So yeah, it looks interesting. Perhaps, in the spirit of the first quote above (and with a tip of the empty wallet to Mr. Hoffman), I'll try to steal a copy once one becomes available.

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