Anarchy is already here, and it works great. Or so the Yale anthropologist and political scientist James C. Scott suggests in Two Cheers for Anarchism, a slight but engaging book that mostly relays life lessons on how choice and freedom make the world better in just about every sphere you can imagine. But before Scott gets down to describing the practical effects of a little anarchy on schools, roads, speeches, playgrounds, and politics, he has to disappoint the purists.
Scott, the author of Seeing Like a State and The Art of Not Being Governed, doesn’t want to burn the mother down and raise the black flag. He likes the idea of “cooperation without hierarchy or state rule,” and he writes that in the 5,000-odd years that governments have existed, “only in the last two centuries or so has even the possibility arisen that states might occasionally enlarge the realm of human freedom.” But he believes the actual elimination of the state would be impossible, impractical, and perhaps even unwanted. Economic inequality and the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful make “a cruel sham” of the notion of an entirely stateless freedom, Scott writes, so “we are unfortunately stuck with Leviathan.” He points to the 101st Airborne’s role in integrating Little Rock schools to refute the notion that a state can never be used to protect individuals.
In most of his discussions of the modern world, though, Scott sounds like an anarchist again. He detests public schooling, for example: not just in this post–No Child Left Behind, standardized test–heavy era (and not just in Jim Crow Little Rock), but in general. Public schools, he writes, were developed to create good, hard-working citizens “whose loyalty to the nation will trump regional and local identities of language, ethnicity, and religion.” Furthermore, “it starts out fundamentally on the wrong foot as a compulsory institution, with all the alienation that this duress implies, especially as children grow older.” Scott isn’t interested in telling that alienated student to work hard and embrace the social contract. And he certainly isn’t advocating more government spending. He seems simply to object to the institution altogether.
CONTINUED at Reason. Written by Lucy Steigerwald.