Accidental State

Can there be a society where we have no division between oppressors and oppressed, dominant, and dominated? Such a society appears to be too true to be real. A division less society appears to be apolitical. Yet French anthropologist Pierre Clastres presents such a society that is profoundly political as fruit of his ethnological studies. Besides, such a society does not require a well-defined state power to organize itself. Society is ordered with a non-hierarchical leadership and non-coercive state . Thus, such a society is totally different from the mainstream vision of society that emerged from the West, which privileged the power of the state and placed it at the evolutionary pinnacle of a society. Clastres contests such position of the state as universal and advocates a new and alternate society that is not state-centric.

Clastres presents a new model of political power. His critiques of nation state displaces the centrality of it and shows that a society can be organised without the coercive power of the state. Clastres’ work demystifies the assumption that features like the state and market are central to the organisation of any society. His findings point to a contra-Hobbesian society. This society does not need to enter a natural contract to avoid violence and war of all against all. He shows that it is in and through the war that communities under his scrutiny pass from animality to sociality.

Clastres thinks that it is not the economic base that controls our society, as Karl Marx taught us. He thinks that it is the political base that controls society. It is the fight against the state that produces equality among the members of the tribal society that he had studied. Political states in such societies are accidental and not indispensable for our social life. His position is not a stateless polity. But in true poststructuralist sense, he gives us a non-substancial idea of a state as well as the chief, warriors, husbands, and hunters. Each is haunted by a lack of full freedom. Thus, the chief is chief along as he/ she remains perpetually in debt to society. The warriors are continuously seeking war to earn prestige and honour . The husband have to be all the time ready to share their wives all the time with other consorts and so on. This kind of politics opens possibilities of some kind of loss that is running the engine of our society.

The individuals in such societies do not have essence-centric identities. All identities are fluid and are in the process of becoming. This dynamic becomings marks them as all equal, which is also symbolically marked on their bodies an initiation ceremony. Thus, this society is totally different from societies where identities are defined by essentialisms. These societies have fixed identities and put their institutions like state , democracy , and market on the highest level of the evolutionary scale. It is thought that human live their essence through these institutions . Clastres thinks in the opposite direction. He is a hard-core existentialist. To existence is prior to essence. Humans, through their dynamic becomings, actualize their essence. Such societies are different from societies centred and organised on the basis of a state. The presence of a state can be different. It can be accidental.

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