|This article does not cite any references or sources. (November 2011)|
11 May 1934|
|Died||29 July 1977
Gabriac, Lozère (in a car accident)
|Notable ideas||Society against the State · Powerless chief · Logic of prestige · Centripetal and centrifugal force|
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|Social and cultural anthropology|
Pierre Clastres (17 May 1934 – 29 July 1977) was a French anthropologist and ethnographer. He is best known for his fieldwork among the Guayaki, now better known as Aché, in Paraguay and his theory on stateless societies. Clastres took part in the events of May '68. He died, aged 43, in a car accident at Gabriac, Lozère.
Overview of theory
In his most famous work, Society Against the State (1974), Clastres criticizes both the evolutionist notion that the state would be the ultimate destiny of all societies, and the Rousseauian notion of man's natural state of innocence (the myth of the noble savage). Knowledge of power is innate in any society, thus the natural state for humans wanting to preserve autonomy is a society structured by a complex set of customs which actively avert, ward off and refuse the rise of despotic power. The state is seen as but a specific constellation of hierarchical power peculiar only to societies who have failed to maintain these mechanisms which prevent separation from happening. Thus, in the Guayaki tribes, the chief has only a representational role, being his people's spokesperson towards other tribes ("international relations"). Internally, the chief only holds a supposed, apparent form of power and, in fact, is constantly rendered powerless by the tribe. If he abuses his role as chief, he may be violently removed by his people, and the institution of "spokesperson" is never allowed to transform itself into a separate institution of authority. Pierre Clastres' theory thus was an explicit criticism of Marxist theories of economic determinism, in that he considered an autonomous sphere of politics, which existed in stateless societies as the active conjuration of authority. The essential question which Clastres sought to answer was: why would an egalitarian (e.g. foraging) society chose to subordinate itself to an external authority? He considered the appearance of the state to be due to the power disparities that arise when religion credits a prophet or other medium with a direct knowledge of divine power which is unattainable by the bulk of society. It is this upsetting of the balance of power that engendered the inequality to be found in more highly structured societies, and not an initial economic disparity as argued by the Marxist school of thought.
Influence in Anarcho-Nihilism
Following Clastres' theory of early societies having natural systems to prevent the centralization of power an anarcho-nihilist view of society emerges. Anarcho-Nihilism holds the belief that through Clastres' observations societies have both natural and rational ways to regulate power that do not conflict with either mutual self-interest or normal self-interest. As such Anarcho-Nihilism utilizes this theory in furthering views on Will to Power and the belief that societies originally regulated power disparities to prevent the rise of hierarchy, and should rationally return to this form of society. As opposed to authority rising from self-interest counter to Marxism anarcho-nihilism, like Clastres, argues that the freedom and self-interest of individuals instead prevents the rise of hierarchy and authority if individuals remain rational and guided by their own self-interest.
- « Liberté, malencontre, innommable » dans Étienne de La Boétie, Le Discours de la servitude volontaire
- Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians (Chronique des indiens Guayaki), 1972
- Society Against the State (La Société contre l'État), 1974
- Le Grand Parler. Mythes et chants sacrés des Indiens Guaraní, 1974
- French Marxists and their Anthropology (Les marxistes et leur anthropologie), 1978
- Recherches d'anthropologie politique, 1980
- Archeology of Violence (Archéologie de la violence. La guerre dans les sociétés primitives.)
- Bartholomew Dean: "Critical Re-vision: Clastres' Chronicle and the optic of primitivism", 2002 In Best of Anthropology Today, 1974-2000, ed. J. Benthall, with a preface by M. Sahlins. London: Routledge. . Comment: Jon Abbink, 'Doing justice to Clastres", in: Ibid., pp. 72-73.
- Clastres, Hélène: "The Land-without-Evil: Tupi-Guarani Prophetism." Urbana: University of Ilinois Press, 1995.
- Geertz, Clifford: "Deep Hanging Out", The New York Review of Books, Vol. XLV (1998), no. 16 (Oct 22), pp. 69– 72
- Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus, esp. "Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine", proposition II.
- Tiqqun, "Sorrows of the Civilised Warrior", from This is not a program