Pierre Clastres

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Pierre Clastres
Born (1934-05-11)11 May 1934
Paris, France
Died 29 July 1977(1977-07-29) (aged 43)
Gabriac, Lozère, France
School Political anthropology
Main interests
Notable ideas
Society against the State  · Powerless chief  · Logic of prestige  · Centripetal and centrifugal force

Pierre Clastres (French: [klastʁ]; 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[edit]

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.


  • « 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.)

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