According to James C. Scott, in The Art of Not Being Governed, the resistance of Southeast Asian “hill peoples” to state subordination manifested itself in their deliberate abandonment of both sedentary agriculture and literacy. He argues that “tribality” (group-generated state evasion) is the polar opposite of “peasantry” (state-controlled agriculture). The hill peoples’ foraging and swiddening were thus political choices. Scott’s anthropological and geographical approach to these historical studies is admirable, but, despite his book’s subtitle (An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia), it lacks any reflection on the history of anarchism beyond the observation that tens of millions of persons wanted to avoid being bossed and taxed by the state. There is in the book, moreover, an absence of reflection on the oppressive nature of society: the state, Scott claims, is always repressive, whereas societies without a state are freer. This essay review asks whether the author shares with states, despite his criticism of them, a paucity of concern for the fates of individuals.

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