The Perils of State Power – The Good Fight with Yascha Mounk (James Scott)
I consider James Scott to be arguably the leading living anti-state scholar of the present era. He doesn’t say that much that radical scholars haven’t known for centuries, but he updates and modernizes the theoretical and analytical framework based on the most contemporary research.
However, he’s a little too much of an “anarcho-social democrat” for my tastes. In this interview, he acknowledges that all states through the mid-19th century amounted to slave states and that any “reforms” since them have come “at the point of a pistol” (his words) with the subjects holding a gun to the heads of their rulers. And, yet, he still can’t conceive of anything better than the Bismarckian welfare state.
Research shows that the core dividing line in the US “culture war” is education level rather than race or class. The culture war amounts to those who have been through the university system (seminaries) and believe in the “woke” bullshit and those who believe in “all the other kinds of bullshit.”
Similarly, I have noticed that a core dividing line between anarcho-social democrats and more radical anarchists is the degree of their connection to academia. Lifelong tenured academics like Chomsky and Scott tend to be anarcho-social democrats. The late David Graeber had a foot in both camps and, probably not coincidentally, he was fired from Yale. Ditto Ward Churchill.
On the other hand, John Zerzan dropped out of his Ph.D. program. Ted Kaczynski renounced academia for life in the woods. Lorenzo Komboa Ervin (who is a little too Marxist for my tastes) was hijacking planes when he was college-aged. Bookchin taught college classes but didn’t personally have a college degree. Karl Hess eschewed respectable life to be a tax resister. Even Murray Rothbard was a 100% consistent anti-imperialist despite his electoralist deviations, and, probably not coincidentally, he labored on the fringes of academia most of his life.
In my case, I seem to be a natural contrarian. I went to a fundamental/evangelical private school for 11 years and came out on the other side as an atheist. And then I went to a progressive state university for about the same amount of time and came out on the other side as an OCD-level anti-wokester.
If the state fails to improve the lives of its citizens, then what is it for? James Scott, the Sterling professor of political science and anthropology at Yale University, believes that modern states tend to impose social structures that are antithetical to human flourishing. In his seminal works, like Seeing Like a State, he argues that we should give two cheers for anarchism: while states are here to stay, we should forever remain vigilant about the ways in which they do violence to individuals and societies. In this week’s conversation, Yascha Mounk and James Scott discuss the case for anarchism, the need for a state, and the ongoing crisis in Myanmar.