Full Version: Marshall Sahlins: The Original Political Society
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Saw this a few months ago. What do you guys think?

«The state of nature has the nature of a state.» Sahlins's original political society helps explain Clastres's society against the state. (For those unfamiliar with it: Hobbes said the state was necessary to resist violence, whereas Clastres claimed that violence was necessary to resist the state.) Perhaps the most common retort to Clastres was questioning why societies would, and how societies could, reject something they hadn't even conceived of. But if the state of nature has the nature of a state, then they knew perfectly well what they were resisting.

I talked to David Græber about this, asking about the link I insinuate to Clastres above, and he said Sahlins was in fact incorporating that into the paper as we spoke.
I'll watch the video later, thanks for the post. Just to say with reference to Clastres' work. from what I understand his analysis was found to be concerned with indigenous groups who had, in the recent past, had an existential struggle with the nascent Spanish-Latin statelets. Therefore their resort to violence to prevent the rise of the State was not an endogenous mechanism but rather a reaction to the known violence of the State. To me this means that people can learn to resist the State, which is both exciting and necessary!
I tend to agree more with Clastres than with Sahlins, but still have differences with both. 
I wrote a large essay on the violence question for Black and Green Review no 4 called 'Society Without Strangers'. At over 27K words, it's too large to be posting online. I think there are a lot of misnomers in the whole question of violence. I agree with Clastres that violence can be a leveling mechanism, but Clastres did his field work with semi-sedentary horticulturalists, including the Yanomami. I think those societies are more befitting of the "primitive communism" label than the "primal anarchy" I think is more befitting of nomadic, immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies (The difference comes down to procurement versus production.).
Clastres was dealing with a society where warfare was both present and a primary preoccupation of society. They had tribal identities, war parties and social roles that nomadic hunter-gatherers simply didn't. So it's not exactly the kind of baseline that I would use, nor anyone looking at how societies differ in complexity might as well. But they used social leveling in the sense that the infrastructure for inequality and the surplus production to back it up. Having neither of those things within nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, the role of violence is better explained as the last resort when other methods of conflict resolution fail. Some societies that is rare to never, others it's far more apparent. I don't say that to judge which is more egalitarian, just that the larger role of violence within these societies is different in the sense of that both personal ability to avoid through nomadism and the individual nature of grievances rather than group-based is massively significant. 
In terms of Sahlins, I find a lot of his work interesting, but I personally see little authority in his conclusions. As a cultural materialist, his post-structuralist approach leaves a lot of questions unanswered or answered presumptively. 
That said, I have no qualms in stating that I do believe in human nature and that it's based in the nomadic hunter-gatherer life we've evolved with.