The Preface from James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play


Over at Princeton University Press:

The arguments found here have been gestating for a long time, as I wrote about peasants, class conflict, resistance, development projects, and marginal peoples in the hills of Southeast Asia. Again and again over three decades, I found myself having said something in a seminar discussion or having written something and then catching myself thinking, “Now, that sounds like what an anarchist would argue.” In geometry, two points make a line; but when the third, fourth, and fifth points all fall on the same line, then the coincidence is hard to ignore. Struck by that coincidence, I decided it was time to read the anarchist classics and the histories of anarchist movements. To that end, I taught a large undergraduate lecture course on anarchism in an effort to educate myself and perhaps work out my relationship to anarchism. The result, having sat on the back burner for the better part of twenty years after the course ended, is assembled here.

My interest in the anarchist critique of the state was born of disillusionment and dashed hopes in revolutionary change. This was a common enough experience for those who came to political consciousness in the 1960s in North America. For me and many others, the 1960s were the high tide of what one might call a romance with peasant wars of national liberation. I was, for a time, fully swept up in this moment of utopian possibilities. I followed with some awe and, in retrospect, a great deal of naiveté the referendum for independence in Ahmed Sékou Touré’s Guinea, the pan-African initiatives of Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah, the early elections in Indonesia, the independence and first elections in Burma, where I had spent a year, and, of course, the land reforms in revolutionary China and nationwide elections in India.

The disillusionment was propelled by two processes: historical inquiry and current events. It dawned on me, as it should have earlier, that virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew, a state that in turn was able to extract more resources from and exercise more control over the very populations it was designed to serve.