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Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/common-knowledge/article-pdf/27/1/111/867414/0270111.pdf by DEEPDYVE INC user on 30 March 2022 James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 312 pp. This insightful volume continues Scott’s campaign against states and their civ - ilizations. Scott prefers the apparently multiple “dark ages” during which the oppressed abandoned the ancient states. The latter emerged rather late (3100 BCE), only after the first crop of domestications and sedentism. Since then, their written and archaeological remains have brainwashed us into thinking that they represent progress. Scott asserts that no one, unless impelled by hunger or dan - ger, would willingly forsake hunting, foraging, or pastoralism for full- time, state- driven domesticated agriculture. The latter used the plow and fire to shape our anthropogenic world. Great walls were built not to keep out “barbarians” (non - state peoples) but to prevent the civilized from escaping their grain- collecting oppressors. To tax effectively, states generated written language and records while compelling their subjects to produce a measurable grain crop, which pro- moted varieties of forced labor and offered a “Noah’s Ark” for pests and parasites. Animal and human concentrations fostered hundreds of zoonotic diseases, esp- e cially from densely populated southern China. States were much less capable of imposing their authority on relatively well- nourished, healthy, and mobile hunt - ers, fishermen, and foragers. Since these groups waited for the flocks and schools of their prey to come to them, they had extensive periods of leisure, which agr- i culturalists enviously interpreted as indolence. Fishermen were especially fortu - nate, avoiding backbreaking agricultural toil by settling in proximity to marshes and riverine settings that offered easy and affordable means of nourishment and transportation. The earliest states did not end but, rather, organized the war of all against all and increased the most coercive forms of labor. When they could not subdue “barbarians,” they attempted to contract them as slave catchers and mercenaries. The medieval “Stadtluft macht frei” was inapplicable in Scott’s antiquity. Freedoms remained, but only outside states and their civilizations. Still, Scott’s defense of “barbarians” and “tribes” may itself express, by ignoring individu - als, at least one attitude of statist civilization. The most positive and necessary role of the state is to defend individuals against oppressive groups and dangerous creatures. — Michael Seidman doi 10.1215/0961754X-8723153 L i t t l e R e v i e w s 111 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott

Common Knowledge , Volume 27 (1) – Jan 1, 2021

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Copyright © 2021 Duke University Press
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0961-754X
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1538-4578
DOI
10.1215/0961754x-8723153
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Abstract

Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/common-knowledge/article-pdf/27/1/111/867414/0270111.pdf by DEEPDYVE INC user on 30 March 2022 James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 312 pp. This insightful volume continues Scott’s campaign against states and their civ - ilizations. Scott prefers the apparently multiple “dark ages” during which the oppressed abandoned the ancient states. The latter emerged rather late (3100 BCE), only after the first crop of domestications and sedentism. Since then, their written and archaeological remains have brainwashed us into thinking that they represent progress. Scott asserts that no one, unless impelled by hunger or dan - ger, would willingly forsake hunting, foraging, or pastoralism for full- time, state- driven domesticated agriculture. The latter used the plow and fire to shape our anthropogenic world. Great walls were built not to keep out “barbarians” (non - state peoples) but to prevent the civilized from escaping their grain- collecting oppressors. To tax effectively, states generated written language and records while compelling their subjects to produce a measurable grain crop, which pro- moted varieties of forced labor and offered a “Noah’s Ark” for pests and parasites. Animal and human concentrations fostered hundreds of zoonotic diseases, esp- e cially from densely populated southern China. States were much less capable of imposing their authority on relatively well- nourished, healthy, and mobile hunt - ers, fishermen, and foragers. Since these groups waited for the flocks and schools of their prey to come to them, they had extensive periods of leisure, which agr- i culturalists enviously interpreted as indolence. Fishermen were especially fortu - nate, avoiding backbreaking agricultural toil by settling in proximity to marshes and riverine settings that offered easy and affordable means of nourishment and transportation. The earliest states did not end but, rather, organized the war of all against all and increased the most coercive forms of labor. When they could not subdue “barbarians,” they attempted to contract them as slave catchers and mercenaries. The medieval “Stadtluft macht frei” was inapplicable in Scott’s antiquity. Freedoms remained, but only outside states and their civilizations. Still, Scott’s defense of “barbarians” and “tribes” may itself express, by ignoring individu - als, at least one attitude of statist civilization. The most positive and necessary role of the state is to defend individuals against oppressive groups and dangerous creatures. — Michael Seidman doi 10.1215/0961754X-8723153 L i t t l e R e v i e w s 111

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2021

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