A Very Exciting New Book

I’ve been extremely busy lately (meaning work until 4 am frequently, plus travel) and have been behind on some writing projects, but I am really, really pleased that I brought along on my trip to China James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed. It’s a remarkably interesting treatment (I’m only a bit more than 100 pages into it at present, so I’ve got more stimulating reading ahead of me) of the nature of “ungoverned” regions of the world, with a focus on various hill peoples of Asia. To put it in a nutshell, he argues that the traditional view of such ungoverned people is that they are holdovers from previous civilizations, or representatives of how people lived before states, etc., etc. Scott looks at them in a very different way: they live in ways that have enabled them to elude capture or domination by the state, and those ways of life (including agriculture, settlement patterns, kinship systems, religion, etc.) have been deeply influenced by the proximity of predatory states. They have, in effect, evolved in ways that elude being ruled by states. When you think about it for a few minutes, it certainly seems a more fruitful way of understanding such peoples and their ways of life than the dominant mode. And it should tell us something, as well, about the likely success of the Pakistani government in extending its writ throughout the Northwest Frontier Province or of the Afghan government extending its writ from border to border of the territory of Afghanistan. (That said, Scott’s thesis should not be confused with fantasies or romantic notions about how the most wonderful thing imaginable is to live without a state; some — not all — forms of statelessness, such as those that have emerged among groups that have avoided being captured by states, are remarkably brutal and savage, and there are some stateless populations [think contemporary southern Somalia] who are fare worse off by most criteria, including freedom, than people who live under relatively limited government.)

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>