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The Pipe Dream of Anarcho-Populism

Two weeks ago I was interviewed by BBC for their show Analysis that was aired on Feb. 3. You can listen to it here. A good summary is on the Equality by Lot blog.

In the show Jeremy Cliffe examines the philosophy of Russell Brand, an English comedian and actor who gave the most watched political interview of 2013, the Brand-Paxman interview. If you want to read what Brand has to say, check out his article in the New Statesman.

Brand’s views got such attention not just because he is a celebrity, but because he has clearly touched a nerve. Many young and quite a lot of not-so-young people think that our world is developing in the wrong direction. One of the best ways of expressing it that I saw was a young Greek anarchist exclaiming, “It’s not right that our generation has it worse than our parents!”

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And he is right. The generation who are currently 20-30 year old has certainly got a worse deal than my generation. This is true no matter how you measure it: by worsening employment prospects, by declining real wages, by the exploding proportion living with their parents (because they cannot support themselves), by the plunging proportion never married (because they live with the parents and can’t afford to set up an independent household). I have gathered much of this evidence in my forthcoming book.

There is a basic tension in Russell Brandon’s passionate diatribe. He is aware of it, and tries to address it, but never resolves it in a satisfactory way. His critique is directed at the elites, but the irony, of course, is that he is a member of the elites himself. Remember that I use ‘elites’ in its sociological sense – they are the small proportion of population (typically 1, 2, or 3 percent) who concentrate the bulk of social power in their hands. Social power comes in four basic varieties, and while Brand does not wield any coercive or political/administrative kinds, he has an abundance of economic and ideological power, as he is extremely rich and glamorous. His wealth and fame put him not just into the 1 percent, but probably into 0.01 percent.

An elite status, however, should not disqualify him from being able to mount an effective critique against the present social order. It would only seem so if we were to agree with him and other ‘anarcho-populists,’ whom Cliffe interviewed in his quite excellent program. The anarchist idea is that our societies should dispense with the state and the ruling elites, and then everything will be right in the world.

Sorry, folks, but this is just a pipe dream. It goes against everything we know about how real human societies are organized and coordinated; how social cooperation operates in large-scale societies, such as ours.

Sure, humans can function very well in stateless and elite-less societies. For 90 percent of our evolutionary history that’s how we lived. But those were small-scale societies. Typical hunter-gatherer groups number in a few dozen. In such societies everybody knows everybody else. They also know who is honest, who is a cheat. They remember what John did to me, and what John did to Susan. And how David reacted. About every member of the band. Such ‘social intelligence’ takes a lot of processing power, which is probably why our oversized and energetically expensive brains evolved (no, it was not to prove theorems).  The problem is that even our remarkable brains (still more powerful than any existing computer) are overwhelmed by the complexity of keeping track of social interactions in groups larger than 100–200 individuals (this is the famous Dunbar number). You can go up in social scale to a few thousand people, and still have such egalitarian face-to-face sociality working, but not much beyond that. Certainly, once you get societies above a million people, a hierarchical organization is inevitable.

We are not ants. Social insects can cooperate in ‘heterarchical’ (non-hierarchical) societies of millions of individuals because they have such nifty means of coordinating everything as pheromones.

As an aside, I remember a remarkable book by Frank Herbert (the author of Dune, about which I had written before). In Hellstrom’s Hive, a splinter of humanity evolves into an ant-like socium. When a federal agent from the outside penetrates the Hive, they feed him a lunch laden with pheromones, and he is suddenly converted, becoming one of them, and cooperating with the Hive, rather than the United States of America.

Wow! A great yarn; pure science fiction. In real life humans learned to cooperate in humongous societies of today (in two cases counting more than 1 billion individuals) by using a variety of cultural mechanisms, one of the most important ones being the hierarchical organization.

There are no known large-scale (say, a million or more members) society today or in history, which was not organized hierarchically. Think about it this way. There is no large-scale society that doesn’t have full-time administrators devoted to make it run smoothly. We all hate bureaucrats, but the truth is that we cannot live without a bureaucracy. The same is true for the elites.

So, is it possible to dispense with the hierarchy (and bureaucracy) by going back to small-societies? In theory, yes. But, as I pointed out in my BBC interview, think of the consequences. Let’s say that we somehow manage to get a society of a few thousand to work on a purely egalitarian basis. Theoretically this is possible. But there are more than 7 billion people on this Earth. So dividing them into small-scale societies of a few thousand will produce at least a million of such societies!

What’s going to happen next? One of them will decide to use violence to achieve its goals. Warfare will spread and eventually all societies will become warlike, because pacifist societies will be selected out (in other words, destroyed in competition with warlike neighbors). So, in the absence of an overarching political authority capable of restraining and punishing aggressors, we will inevitably end up with a war of all small-scale societies against all others. That’s the way it was in prehistory, except there were many fewer people on the Earth, and they had much more buffer space between their societies.

Things are actually going to be even worse, because modern production of food and other vitally needed things requires social organization in large-scale societies. In short, going back to small-scale societies will mean an apocalypse in which more than 99 percent of people will have to disappear by hunger, war, and disease.

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In the next blog I discuss how social hierarchies evolved, and how they were tamed by cultural group selection, although this taming process has been woefully incomplete. Also, what we could do about it (but that may require yet another blog – stay tuned).

26 Comments

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26 Comments

  1. Right on.
    The only problem is that there are hierarchies and hierarchies. Hitler’s Germany and modern Scandinavia both have hierarchies, but there the similarity ends. The world cannot afford top-down, autocratic,dictatorial hierarchies any more. Finland, organized on anarcho-syndicalist principles (MUCH compromised in the face of reality, but still there), is arguably the world’s best-off country now; if not Finland, other Scandinavian societies with similar organizations. Basically, grassroots democracy with a balance of private and public sectors. At the other extreme in the modern world are China and North Korea, with their totalitarian hells.
    Brand is far from the only elite who makes money and gets attention by slamming “the elite.” Consider Noam Chomsky. One always has to be suspicious when elites fall all over themselves to be anti-establishment. The obvious suspicion is that they are poised to take over, like the generals in old China who brought down old dynasties to start their own.
    At best, these individuals clearly have some game afoot.
    As to the fact that the young are worse off than the old: The world is full. No spare land or resources any more. And the elites (including, one fears, the “anarchist” ones) have seen the handwriting on the wall, and are hogging every bit of resources they can get, while the hogging is good. It won’t be good long; ecological reality is already closing in on China.

    • Peter Turchin says:

      Gene, that’s precisely the the theme of the next blog. There are good hierarchies, and there are bad hierarchies. So the trick is not to throw all hierarchies out, but to evolve ones that are responsive to the needs and desires of the majority of the population, and not just the selfish elites at the top. In short, we need prosocial elites. Sounds like wishful thinking? Not so, as history and variation between different societies show.

  2. Human “small-scale” societies are generally quite a bit larger than the “Dunbar Number”, which to my reading of the ethnographic literature does not pick out a natural unit. Hunter-gather bands, numbering something like 50 people, are typically open, fluid residential units. A typical person lives in several bands over the course of a lifetime. The society as a whole is made up of 10 or more bands typically called a tribe or ethnolinguistic unit. The whole society comprises 500 to a few thousand people. Such societies are usually “acephalous” in that there is no hierarchy of political offices. Leadership roles are assumed expediently for whatever purpose is at hand. Such leaders seldom have any coercive authority. People do vary in their prestige and hence in their influence on the consensus decisions that people make.

    Non-anthropologists sometimes miss the fact that acephalous societies are not disorderly anarchies. Rather, they have a system of simple institutions that vary widely from society to society but always impose a good deal of order on everyday life. Societies can grow far beyond the face-to-face scale using institutions without evolving hierarchical, coercive leadership.

    The largest acephalous societies I know of are those supported by animal herding. The Nuer tribes of the Southern Sudan ranged up to 10,000 or so people in the ethnographer Evans-Prichard’s time. The Turkana of Northern Kenya today number several hundred thousand.

    The late Elinor Ostrom and her husband Vincent were well known among political scientists for their proposal that the governance of complex societies is “polycentric.” Most complex societies leave room for multiple centers of power, including the ability of small-scale units to evolve solutions to problems from the bottom up. Modern federal states like the US and Switzerland formalize some parts of this. The Ostroms did their early work in California where we organize “special districts” to deal with all sorts of local problems from water supply and wastewater management to mosquito abatement and cemeteries. To many political scientists, this looked very messy and inefficient and many academic reformers suggested that things be organized in a neater more hierarchical way. The Ostroms claimed that ad hoc special districts made a lot of sense and generally functioned well, thank you.

    Coercive top-down political systems often try to suppress polycentric features fearing them as foci for rebellion and resistance Thus, the Chinese Communist Party keeps a tight grip on churches and went to a lot of trouble to suppress Falun Gong. The Party apparently greatly fears the ability of village and neighborhood level groups to self-organize protests against corruption and other abuses. In fact the CCP itself seems to be rife with regional power centers that cannot be entirely controlled from the top down.

    My sense is that the amount of polycentricity that a state tolerates varies over the course of the structural-demographic cycles that you study. In high asabiyya phases of the cycles, central authorities trust that local power centers will pull for the common good with minimal need for supervision. As elites become more extractive in the low asabiyya phases, local and central elites come into conflict over limited resources, trust evaporates and local elites may indeed become leaders of rebellions.

    This is a recent review of how simple hunter-gatherer societies function based upon modern quantitative studies:

    Hill, K. R., Walker, R. S., Božičević, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., . . . Wood, B. (2011). Co-residence patterns in hunter-gatherer societies show unique human social structure. Science, 331(6022), 1286-1289. doi: 10.1126/science.1199071

    This is an interesting take on how human societies can grow beyond the limits of face-to-face reltionships:

    Moffett, M. W. (2013). Human identity and the evolution of societies. Human Nature. doi: DOI 10.1007/s12110-013-9170-3

    • Peter Turchin says:

      Damn, Pete – there are so many things to respond to in your reply! You’ve got to start posting these as guest blogs. But to reflect on a couple of the points you raise.

      1. I also wonder about the salience of the Dunbar number (150). However, Robin really is thinking of a hierarchy of nested groups, starting from very small ones (3-5) to large ones, like the ethno-linguistic group of many hundreds or a few thousands that you mention. So in my arithmetic example I imagine how many acephalous groups integrated by shared ethnicity there might be, and come up with a million of them. Chaos! Imagine a UN with 1 million reps…

      2. The Nuer and Turkana are remarkable examples of rather large-scale societies that somehow managed to stay acephalous. It’s a puzzle. Still, they do not break through my threshold of 1 million of people. Additionally, there is an overarching state, even if a not terribly efficient one, in each case. Well, in the case of South Sudan now, the state is pretty much defunct, due to the Nuer and Dinka falling out.

      One other thought is that Mark Moffett is visiting with me in April. He has a standing invitation to write a guest blog developing his ideas further.

  3. Edward says:

    Does Russell Brand actually qualify as an Anarcho-Populist? In the Paxman interview he calls for heavy taxes and a government of “Admin Bods.” I’m not sure he’s thought much about what he’s for but knows absolutely what he’s against: the establishment.

    He’s a comedian with a gift for expressing the superiority the lower classes feel over what they view as the inbred, ignorant, out-of-touch upper classes. In much the same way liberal Americans look down on rednecks, traditional liberal and labour voters look down on toffs.

    Anyway, why is the politician-comedian enough of an established trend that Russell Brand – and those like him – have become political heavyweights?

    I thought the successful politician stereotype was a lawyer who had the rhetorical skills to appear to say something without saying anything and never give a straight question a straight answer because the stakes were so high he’d be out of a job if he didn’t. Be as dull as possible was the rule.

    Now it’s more important to either blatantly lie about WMDs, say something outrageous about seas boiling off, or tell a joke.

    Current examples –

    link to huffingtonpost.co.uk

    Italy – Beppe Grillo
    France – Dieudonné M’bala M’bala
    USA – Al Franken
    UK – John O’Farrell
    UK – Ayesha Hazarika
    UK – Eddie Izzard
    UK – Russell Brand
    UK – Boris Johnson could be the British next Prime Minister. He has frequently appeared as a panellist on the British satirical news show “Have I Got News For You.”

    • O.Voron says:

      How about professional boxers turned to politics (Klitchko of Ukraine)?:) Any better than comedians?

    • Peter Turchin says:

      Wasn’t there also an anarchist candidate in Greece, who did very well? But yes, Edward, well noted – antisystemic candidates are certainly doing quite well in elections.

  4. Richard says:

    I should direct all those libertarians living in fantasyland over to this post.

  5. Yoram Gat says:

    Peter,

    Indeed, scale is a crucial factor. Elections, for example, make sense a democratic mechanism at the small scale, but become oligarchical as the scale grows (as was recognized by political theory in the Ancient World, but is usually.denied by modern theory).

    But, then, assuming that large scale organization is necessary, how is it to be done in a way that is democratic?

    What do you think of the original democratic mechanism – sortition – as a way of mapping the large scale into the small scale, while maintaining the statistical properties of the population?

    • Peter Turchin says:

      As I understand, sortition is basically choosing representatives by lot. This could be useful in some situations (juries are essentially selected in this way). But in most situations requiring expertise and ability, I think this would be a disaster.

      • Peter Turchin says:

        Elections by lot worked in ancient Athens. But it was a pretty small-scale society. And it did not work so well – their popular assemblies had a distressing tendency to execute leaders or even philosophers (Socrates).

        • Yoram Gat says:

          I don’t think the merit (or shortcomings) of sortition should be assessed based on a single 2300 year old system. However, if you find the Athenian system interesting, I think you should examine it more carefully. Your description above is standard dogma, bearing little resemblance to the historical facts.

  6. The internet seems to have ate a number of my attempts to post so I apologise if this ends up being a multi-post.

    Nice article and I think you are spot on about the fundamental nature of hierarchy to the establishment of large scale societies. I also can’t shake the feeling that the communist state experiments in the 20th Century already provided a very good illustration of what happens when you set out with the (admirable) goal of eliminating existing inequalities and hierarchies in a modern society i.e. you simply create new hierarchies and inequalities.

    I think part of the appeal of Brand’s ‘philosophy’ comes from the fact that what he is actually advocating remains strikingly vague. In fact for an anti-politician he seems remarkably adept at employing the infamous political strategy of opposition parties i.e. responding to the questions of “What do you stand for? & How would you solve the problem?” with the answer, “Well, let me tell you what I don’t stand for and what I definitely would not do!” Sadly, his rhetoric of promoting ‘not voting’ as a political statement (and its popularity amongst young/left wing people) while unlikely to generate some utopian revolution, does alternatively offer the possibility of an electoral boon for right wing parties across Europe.

    Finally, in regards to Dunbar’s number, while it is a useful heuristic based on solid analysis, I feel somewhat pessimistic about its typical utility in evolutionary discussions. As it seems like it tends to be presented as either 1) an easy-to-knockdown strawman of a 150 person limit to group size- when it is better represented, as in your article, as a range or alternatively, 2) something of an unfalsifiable theory as any group size can be accommodated into the additional larger and smaller social circles that ‘Dunbar’s number’ groups are now recognised to function within. I also feel that there is a sort of historical numerology at play in many of the discussions surrounding the examples presented from the ‘real world’. Still a useful heuristic though…

  7. Edward says:

    Could anarchists be from those members of the establishment facing pressures of downward social mobility?

    They consider themselves part of the upper classes so are not “anti-establishment” like a Russell Brand coming up from below. Russell Brand wants wealth redistribution as a high priority which requires government and heavy taxation (which he called for in the Paxman interview).

    Instead the establishment drop-outs want a political system where they can maintain their still relatively elevated social position from rivals within the state hierarchy who have the power to sacrifice them to the vox populi to maintain their own privileges. Since these are moneyed families who can survive without the state that means an anarchist philosophy.

    this story of bank-robbing anarchists came up in a google search for Greek anarchists and fits the upper class profile. note that the parents in the story are totally supportive of their expensively-raised criminals. “The aspect of the story that’s most shocked the Greek public is the social profile of the four anarchists: All of them are 25 years old or younger, and they all hail from upper-middle-class families and have attended the country’s finest private schools.” link to vice.com

  8. Yoram Gat says:

    By the way, how are anarcho-populists different from plain anarchists? As far as I can tell, anarchists have always aimed at “populist” goals.

    • Anarchism is a label that covers a lot of different tendencies.

      The classical anarchists of the 19th century – Bakunin, Kropotkin and the related movements – were socialists and essentially proposed a government of federated workers’ councils or a federation of communes, depending on their disposition.

      A federation of workers’ councils would be something like the original soviets that grew up in revolutionary Russia in 1905 and 1917. That, incidentally, is one reason anarchists get so annoyed at the Bolsheviks abandoning old school Marxism (or Social Democracy as it was then known) and placing all their chips on the soviets: old Lenin and Trotsky were stealing their strategy.

      These classical anarchists argued that such a federation would not be a state because it was not enforcing minority rule. Lenin, on the other hand, argued that the soviet power, even before the civil war escalated, was a state because it was one class, the proletariat, suppressing another class, the bourgeoisie.

      A largely semantic and therefore fruitless debate on the definition of the state then ensues between anarchists and their revolutionary opponents.

      Things get a little bit complicated because Bakunin and, if I recall correctly, Kropotkin, also advanced a more historical argument, namely that the State qua State arose in Europe after the end of the Middle Ages. Kropotkin didn’t really view the medieval communes as States. So they wanted to abolish what Marxists (and maybe others) called the absolutist States, e.g. the Hohenzollern and Romanov dynasties that arose in that period.

      But anyway, when the classical anarchists are proposing anti-state socialism, they are not proposing the absence of all social control, just an idiosyncratic method of carrying it out, one that doesn’t leave much, if any, room for nested hierarchies, but which isn’t as obviously unworkable as the anarcho-populists’ utterly vague approach.

      Speaking of which. Fairly quickly after the demise of the First International due to the differences between the Marxists and the Anarchists, different tendencies began to emerge within anarchism. Amongst some of them, the anti-authoritarian rhetoric used against Marx in that fight began to be generalised to all areas of life and amongst them the workerist rhetoric and association with the labour movement faded.

      In its place vague sentiments against hierarchy, representation, elites, and authority became the norm. This tendency was quite heavily influenced by the rugged individualism of the US version of anarchism. (Fun fact, the word libertarian originally referred to the socialist anarchists, in particular the French of the 1890s. I think it was Murrary Rothbard who started a long-running and now successful campaign to appropriate the term for his strange right-wing version).

      There’s long been a blurry line between the classical anarchists and the anarcho-populists, with the latter gaining in strength since the 1960s. The classical anarchists were holed below the water line by the Bolshevik success (sic) and their failure in the Spanish Civil War.

      Think of the relationship between the two as a spectrum, with some on the extreme liberal wing decrying the old workerism of the class struggle anarchists, while the latter despise the identity liberalism of the populists. But nowadays there’s a large portion in the middle who mix up the two approaches.

      • Yoram Gat says:

        James, thanks for the historical survey. I must confess, however, that I didn’t get a clear picture of what anarcho-populism is supposedly about.

        The alternative to anarcho-populism, as you describe things, is “workerist” anarchism which IIUC advocates worker and neighborhood councils and some sort of a federation between those units. But do we have any indication that, say, Graeber, or any other of the people presented in the show as anarcho-populists are against such ideas? Not as far as I am aware. And even if they are, how does that make them populists? As Graeber points out, it seems like “populists” is simply some sort of a generic derogatory term for people demanding democratic reforms.

  9. Anarcho populism is one of those terms that its critics rather than its advocates use; I hadn’t heard it before, but I have come across it before, if you know what I mean 🙂

    It’s harder to give a clearer picture of Anarcho-populism (sic) than the classical variety because it’s a fuzzy confluence of politics whereas the old school version, or least the one deriving from Bakunin had some clear ideas of what it was about. If it was less fuzzy the modern anarchism would probably embrace classical anarchism.

    The trend of fuzzy anarchism is, as I mentioned above, towards vague sentiments against hierarchy, representation, elites, and authority, and more recently towards embracing consensus decision making and a politics revolving around various identities (gender, sexuality, ethnicity etc).

    Further, whereas the classicals formed labour unions (the CGT in France, the CNT in Spain) and at least attempted to be big and to persist through time, the moderns rarely create anything bigger than a few dozen people.

    When its sentiments (against hierarchy etc) do gain traction, as they did in the Occupy thing a couple of years back, they are incapable of persisting through time. These streets protests come and go with no discernible effect in the advanced capitalist countries.

    In order to effect significant social influence in a way that pushes society towards its goals (a free, egalitarian world), they need to have a very significant capacity to organise large numbers of people for long periods of time. That would at least hold open the possibility that their organisations would be subject to selective pressures that would lead to the development of plausible methods of achieving their goals.

    Unfortunately they are against on principle some of the necessary conditions of mass organisations, e.g. a dedicated administrative apparatus.

    In lieu of that the most they can do is protest and in the absence of a plausible, superior economic system to capitalism or of a superior political system to representative democracy, let alone the capacity to mobilise the millions of people necessary to implement these non-existent alternatives, the protests must end in failure. (Such protests can be successful in societies still in the transition to capitalism and/or liberal democracy).

    Anarcho-populists, therefore, could well be enthusiastic supporters for modern day soviets or decentralised communes. But as long as they are so prone to anti-organisational practice that remains a purely idealist position, on a par with the belief in the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven on earth, itself advocated by revolutionary communists of yore.

    • Yoram Gat says:

      I completely agree that the attempt to avoid any kind of large scale organization is a fatal flaw.

      It seems to me, however, that a generalized disapproval of large-scale organization is inherent to Anarchism, not a characteristic of a faction within it. Of course, this disapproval is not without justification, in the sense that keeping a large organization democratic is difficult. I have never heard a credible Anarchist program for how this can be done, including from people who should be able to provide one like Chomsky (whom I have great respect for – this is a rare point of weakness, IMO).

  10. Eric says:

    I agree with some of the commenters here that Brand’s position has been mischaracterized, and they state it perfectly: without a platform he wishes to go TO, he cannot be characterized as an Anarchist, or even a Populist except by accident, as he hasn’t said anything at all about his wishes. I believe the reason for this is quite clear: in the present political environment, pointing out facts, or any real non-straw-man criticism is entirely taboo. Therefore, although HE may well know his own solution, he’s only taking the first necessary step of <> within society, as well as between classes.

    I’m not sure which generation he fits into (X probably) but to bring in a bit of pop science, in that way he is being the voice of the Millennial Generation, the main group with whom the criticism resounded. Their method is to say, “We’re having a problem down here and we’d like to talk to you about it before we do anything rash, so please lower the drawbridge.” To which—and not withstanding the advice of Tsar Alex–was heard peals of riotous laughter. This is more or less what happened with Occupy in the US (and possibly elsewhere). They came out, stated their case, heard the response, and therefore knew which way the wind blew, which as per Kennedy’s quote about peaceful revolution, will determine what happens next. As you can see in Greece, for example, where they rioted for police corruption and overreach months or years before the main crisis. …If only reforms had started then. Or now.

    So you may be missing Brand altogether, and I believe him to be extremely media-savvy, where he knows if he offers a solution he’ll be pigeonholed and jumped on with brickbats and made to represent another non-different political choice, whereas if he only presents the points we can all agree upon, his message can get out and we can collectively discuss what we need.

    Speaking of mischaracterizations, Brand isn’t well-known at all by world standards, being a passing comedian, once dated a pop star, and had an interview. Natively, he’d disappear in the next pop cycle like 95% of other comedians. So he doesn’t have any real social capital, not in the States anyway, where except for this Interview and Katy Perry, no one has any idea who he is. As far as the fabulous money you’d make being a passing actor or comedian, he must surely rank as the poorest 1% ever. If he was a millionaire, he’d be several thousand times poorer than the lowest billionaire. There are 1,426 (visible) Billionaires, having a net worth equal to the GDP of the bottom 152 countries. –It illustrates that “the 1%” is a poor but catchy term, asking people to riot on doctors and franchise-owners. The (visible) 1% in the US makes $11M/yr, and there are 140,000 such families. Although Brand could possibly scratch into the 1%, the present war in the US appears to be the Billionaires wiping out the Millionaires, no surprise for a country with the greatest income disparity. So “the 1%” is so 1980. The Millionaires don’t have any remaining power here. The real split is now the 0.1% or 0.01%, which I could prove but would take its own paper.

    Points: Brand, not an anarchist, only a critic. Unlikely a 1%, either socially or economically. Therefore, something of straw-man argument for something neither he, nor seemingly any of the other protesters have said. Are they rioting in Greece under banners of Anarchy? No. Worldwide under the banners of nationalism and reform so that the people can recover their participation in government and return society to an even keel. And that’s odd, actually, because social outbursts are generally messy.

  11. Eric says:

    Words HTML pulled out between the <> were “Start a Discussion” within society.

  12. David Vognar says:

    I think you’re envisioning the anarchist state(s) without much imagination. Your language is indicative of a state-planner (“So dividing them into small-scale societies of a few thousand will produce at least a million of such societies!”), whereas in reality anarchism could function very well in the cast of the United States as it is. Simply allow people copious opportunities to vote, using a second internet if possible but if not at a 24-hour voting center, and anytime you have to trust someone with a position of authority, make everything about that process as transparent as possible. People think the burden of proof is on anarchism to prove that it can work. As Chomsky has written, Anarchism “assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them.” link to alternet.org

    • Yoram Gat says:

      The idea that more voting will democratize government is baseless. Elections are an inherently oligarchical institution. By the time people vote, all the important decisions have been made by elite actors – the agenda was set and the allowable alternatives were enumerated. This is true whether people vote for politicians or laws.

      Yes – any government structure has to be justified, but the assumption that there is an easy default alternative in which there is no government or in which power is distributed equally is a myth. As I wrote above, Chomsky makes very many good points, but he (or any other Anarchist as far as I am aware) has yet to offer a promising democratic alternative to electoralism.

      I do believe such an alternative exists – but it has nothing to do with voting.

  13. Roger says:

    “The generation who are currently 20-30 year old has certainly got a worse deal than my generation. This is true no matter how you measure it…”

    Sorry for such a late comment, Peter, but this statement is wrong in a crucial way. Worldwide data shows that the current generation is substantially better off than their parents and in an unprecedentedly large way. I assume you are familiar with worldwide data on inequality, average incomes, life expectancy, education, percent in extreme poverty, political freedom and so on. Globally, this is as good as it has ever been, by a long shot, and the trajectory continues to look rosy.

    The point is that expanding markets have introduced competition in previously privileged markets. When markets expand, it is normal that those previously immune to competition suffer relatively. Over time the markets adjust and consumers in general benefit.

    Said another way. Our kids face international competition which our generation was protected from. The billion developing-nations kids previously unfairly locked out of markets are doing much, much better than their parents. Net, net this is a huge social gain and should be celebrated.

  14. Conrad says:

    Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest
    authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you share
    some stories/information. I know my audience would enjoy your work.
    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

    • Peter Turchin says:

      I am actually working on a popular book on these issues, which I plan to produce as an e-book. Once it is published, I would be interested in guest blogs at different venues. Hopefully this will take place before the end of the year.