James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism. 978-0691161037
Karl Marx, Selected Writings. 978087220218 

Two Cheers for /tnarchism

Two Cheers for fnarchism

Six Easy Pieces
on Autonomy,

and Meaningful
Work and Play


Princeton University Press

Princeton & Oxford

Copyright© 2012 by Princeton University Press

Published by Princeton University Press, 41 W illiam Street,
Princeton, New Jersey 08540

In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 6 Oxford Street,

Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 I TW


AU Rights Reserved

Scott, James C.

Two cheers for anarchism : six easy pieces on autonomy, dignity, and

meaningful work and play I James C. Scott.

p. em.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-691-15529-6 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Anarchism. I.


HX826.S35 2012


British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available

This book has been composed in Garamond Pro

Printed on acid-free paper. oo

Printed in the United States of America

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2


Illustrations vii

Preface ix

one The Uses of Disorder and “Charisma” 1

tw o Vernacular Order, Official Order 30

thr e e Th e Production of Human Beings 57

f our Two Cheers for the Petty Bourgeoisie 84

fiv e For Politics 1 0 1

six Particularity and Flux 1 29

Notes 143

Acknowledgments 151

Index 153


Frontispiece. ii

1.1. Memorial for the Unknown Deserter, by
Mehmet Aksoy, Potsdam. 8

1 . 2. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his last
sermon, Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968. 26

2.1. Scientific forest, Lithuania. 38

2.2. Edgar Anderson’s drawings for the Vernacular
Garden, Guatemala.
{a) An orchard garden. 50
{b) Detailed glyphs identifying the plants and

their categories in the garden. 5 1

3.1. Playground constructions, Emdrup, Denmark. 59

3.2. V ietnam Memorial, Washington, D.C. 63

3.3. lwo Jima Memorial, Washington, D.C. 64

6.1. North Korean military parade. 140


The arguments found here have been gestating for a long time,
as I wrote about peasants, class conflict, resistance, develop ­
ment proj ects, and marginal peoples in the hills of Southeast
Asia . Again and again over three decades, I found myself hav­
ing said something in a seminar discussion or having written
something and then catching myself thinking, “Now, that
sounds like what an anarchist would argue.” In geometry, two
points make a line ; but when the third, fourth, and fifth points
all fall on the same line, then the coincidence is hard to ignore.
Struck by that coincidence, I decided it was time to read the
anarchist classics and the histories of anarchist movements. To
that end, I taught a large undergraduate lecture course on an­
archism in an effort to educate myself and perhaps work out
my relationship to anarchism. The result, having sat on the
back burner for the better part of twenty years after the course
ended, is assembled here.

My interest in the anarchist critique of the state was born
of disillusionment and dashed hopes in revolutionary change.
This was a common enough experience for those who came
to political consciousness in the 1 9 60s in North America. For


me and many others, the 1960s were the high tide of what one
might call a romance with peasant wars of national liberation.
I was, for a time, fully swept up in this moment of utopian pos­
sibilities. I followed with some awe and, in retrospect, a great
deal of naivete the referendum for independence in Ahmed
Sekou Toure’s Guinea, the pan-African initiatives of Ghana’s
president, Kwame Nkrumah, the early elections in Indonesia,
the independence and first elections in Burma, where I had
spent a year, and, of course, the land reforms in revolutionary
China and nationwide elections in India.

The disillusionment was propelled by two processes : his­
torical inquiry and current events. It dawned on me, as it
should have earlier, that virtually every major successful revo ­
lution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one
it overthrew, a state that in turn was able to extract more re­
sources from and exercise more control over the very popula­
tions it was designed to serve. Here, the anarchist critique of
Marx and, especially, of Lenin seemed prescient. The French
Revolution led to the Thermadorian Reaction, and then to
the precocious and belligerent Napoleonic state. The Octo ­
ber Revolution in Russia led to Lenin’s dictatorship of the
vanguard party and then to the repression of striking seamen
and workers (the proletariat ! ) at Kronstadt, collectivization,
and the gulag. If the ancien regime had presided over feudal
inequality with brutality, the record of the revolutions made
for similarly melancholy reading. The popular aspirations that
provided the energy and courage for the revolutionary victory
were, in any long view, almost inevitably betrayed.

Current events were no less disquieting when it came to
what contemporary revolutions meant for the largest class
in world history, the peasantry. The Viet Minh, rulers in the
northern half of Vietnam following the Geneva Accords of


1954, had ruthlessly suppressed a popular rebellion of small­
holders and petty landlords in the very areas that were the
historical hotbeds of peasant radicalism. In China, it had be­
come clear that the Great Leap Forward, during which Mao,
his critics silenced, forced millions of peasants into large
agrarian communes and dining halls, was having catastrophic
results . Scholars and statisticians still argue about the human
toll between 1958 and 1962, but it is unlikely to be less than
35 million people. While the human toll of the Great Leap
Forward was being recognized, ominous news of starva­
tion and executions in Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge
completed the picture of peasant revolutions gone lethally

It was not as if the Western bloc and its Cold War policies
in poor nations offered an edifying alternative to “real existing
socialism.” Regimes and states that presided dictatorially over
crushing inequalities were welcomed as allies in the struggle
against communism. Those familiar with this period will re ­
call that it also represented the early high tide of development
studies and the new field of development economics. If revo ­
lutionary elites imagined vast projects of social engineering in
a collectivist vein, development specialists were no less certain
of their ability to deliver economic growth by hierarchically
engineering property forms, investing in physical infrastruc­
ture, and promoting cashcropping and markets for land, gen­
erally strengthening the state and amplifying inequalities. The
“free world,” especially in the Global South seemed vulnerable
to both the socialist critique of capitalist inequality and the
communist and anarchist critiques of the state as the guaran­
tor of these inequalities.

This twin disillusionment seemed to me to bear out the
adage of Mikhail Bakunin : “Freedom without socialism is


privilege and injustice ; socialism without freedom is slavery
and brutality.”

An Anarchist Squint, or Seeing Like an Anarchist

Lacking a comprehensive anarchist worldview and philoso ­
phy, and in any case wary of nomothetic ways of seeing, I am
making a case for a sort of anarchist squint. What I aim to
show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the
history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics,
and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that
are obscured from almost any other angle. It will also become
apparent that anarchist principles are active in the aspira­
tions and political action of people who have never heard of
anarchism or anarchist philosophy. One thing that heaves
into view, I believe, is what Pierre-Joseph Proudhon had in
mind when he first used the term “anarchism,” namely, mu­
tuality, or cooperation without hierarchy or state rule. Another
is the anarchist tolerance for confusion and improvisation
that accompanies social learning, and confidence in sponta­
neous cooperation and reciprocity. Here Rosa Luxemburg’s
preference, in the long run, for the honest mistakes of the
working class over the wisdom of the executive decisions of
a handful of vanguard party elites is indicative of this stance.
My claim, then, is fairly modest. These glasses, I think, offer
a sharper image and better depth of field than most of the
alternatives .

In proposing a “process-oriented” anarchist view, or what
might be termed anarchism as praxis, the reader might reason­
ably ask, given the many varieties of anarchism available, what
particular glasses I propose to wear .


My anarchist squint involves a defense of politics, conflict,
and debate, and the perpetual uncertainty and learning they
entail. This means that I rej ect the major stream of utopian
scientism that dominated much of anarchist thought around
the turn of the twentieth century. In light of the huge strides
in industry, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and transporta­
tion, it was no wonder that high modernist optimism on the
right and the left led to the belief that the problem of scar­
city had, in principle, been solved. Scientific progress, many
believed, had uncovered the laws of nature, and with them the
means to solve the problems of subsistence, social organiza­
tion, and institutional design on a scientific basis. As men be­
came more rational and knowledgeable, science would tell us
how we should live, and politics would no longer be necessary.
Figures as disparate as the comte de Saint-Simon, J. S. Mill,
Marx, and Lenin were inclined to see a coming world in which
enlightened specialists would govern according to scientific
principles and “the administration of things” would replace
politics. Lenin saw in the remarkable total mobilization of the
German economy in World War I a vision of the smoothly
humming machine of the socialist future ; one had only to
replace the G erman militarists at the helm of state with the
vanguard party of the proletariat, and administration would
make politics beside the point. For many anarchists the same
vision of progress pointed the way toward an economy in
which the state was beside the point. Not only have we subse ­
quently learned both that material plenty, far from banishing
politics, creates new spheres of political struggle but also that
statist socialism was less “the administration of” things than
the trade union of the ruling class protecting its privileges.

Unlike many anarchist thinkers, I do not believe that the state
is everywhere and always the enemy of freedom. Americans


need only recall the scene of the federal ized National Guard
leading black children to school through a menacing crowd of
angry whites in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1 957 to realize that
the state can, in some circumstances, play an emancipatory role.
I believe that even this possibi lity has arisen only as a result
of the establishment of democratic citizenship and popular
suffrage by the French Revolution, subsequently extended
to women, domestics, and minorities. That means that of the
roughly five-thousand-year history of states, only in the last
two centuries or so has even the possibility arisen that states
might occasionally enlarge the realm of human freedom. The
conditions under which such possibilities are occasionally re­
alized, I believe, occur only when massive extra-institutional
disruption from below threatens the whole political edifice.
Even this achievement is fraught with melancholy, inasmuch
as the French Revolution also marked the moment when the
state won direct, unmediated access to the citizen and when
universal conscription and total warfare became possible
as well.

Nor do I bel ieve that the state is the only institution that
endangers freedom. To assert so would be to ignore a long and
deep history of pre-state slavery, property in women, warfare,
and bondage. It is one thing to disagree utterly wi th Hobbes
about the nature of society before the existence of the state
(nasty, brutish, and short) and another to believe that “the
state of nature” was an unbroken landscape of communal
property, cooperation, and peace.

The last strand of anarchist thought I definitely wish to
distance myself from is the sort of libertarianism that toler­
ates (or even encourages) great differences in wealth , property,
and status. Freedom and (small “d”) democracy are, in condi-


tions of rampant inequality, a cruel sham as Bakun in under­
stood. There is no authentic freedom where huge differences
make voluntary agreements or exchanges nothing more than
legalized plunder. Consider, for example, the case of interwar
China, when famine and war made starvation common. Many
women faced the stark choice of either starving or selling their
children and living. For a market fundamentalist, selling a
ch ild is, after all, a voluntary choice, and therefore an act of
freedom, the terms of which are val id (pacta sunt servanda) .
The logic, of course, is monstrous. It is the coercive structure
of the situation in this case that impels people into such cata­
strophic choices.

I have chosen a morally loaded example, but one not all
that uncommon today. The international trade in body parts
and infants is a case in point. Picture a time-lapse photograph
of the globe tracing the worldwide movement of kidneys, cor­
neas, hearts, bone marrow, lungs, and babies. They all move
inexorably from the poorest nations of the globe, and from
the poorest classes within them, largely to the rich nations of
the North Atlantic and the most privileged within them. Jon­
athan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” was not far off the mark . Can
anyone doubt that this trade in precious goods is an artifact
of a huge and essentially coercive imbalance of life chances in
the world , what some have called, entirely appropriately, in my
view, “structural violence”?

The point is simply that huge disparities in wealth, prop­
erty, and status make a mockery offreedom. The consolidation
of wealth and power over the past forty years in the United
States, m imicked more recently in many states in the Global
South following neoliberal policies, has created a situation
that the anarchists foresaw. Cumulative inequalities in access


to political influence via sheer economic muscle, huge (state­
like) oligopolies, media control, campaign contributions, the
shaping of legislation (right down to designated loopholes) ,
redistricting, access to legal knowledge, and the like have al­
lowed elections and legislation to serve largely to amplify ex­
isting inequalities. It is hard to see any plausible way in which
such self-reinforcing inequalities could be reduced through
existing institutions, in particular since even the recent and
severe capitalist crisis beginning in 2008 failed to produce
anything like Roosevelt’s New Deal. Democratic institutions
have, to a great extent, become commodities themselves, of­
fered up for auction to the highest bidder.

The market measures influence in dollars, while a democ­
racy, in principle, measures votes. In practice, at some level
of inequality, the dollars infect and overwhelm the votes.
Reasonable people can disagree about the levels of inequal­
ity that a democracy can tolerate without becoming an utter
charade. My judgment is that we have been in the “charade
zone” for quite some time. What is clear to anyone except a
market fundamentalist (of the sort who would ethically con­
done a citizen’s selling himself-voluntarily, of course-as a
chattel slave) is that democracy is a cruel hoax without rela­
tive equality. This, of course, is the great dilemma for an an­
archist. If relative equality is a necessary condition of mutu­
ality and freedom, how can it be guaranteed except through
the state ? Facing this conundrum, I believe that both theo­
retically and practically, the abolition of the state i s not
an option. We are stuck, alas, with Leviathan, though not
at all for the reasons Hobbes had supposed, and the chal­
lenge is to tame it. That challenge may well be beyond our


The Paradox of Organization

Much of what anarchism has to teach us concerns how po­
litical change, both reformist and revolutionary, actually hap ­
pens, how we should understand what is “political,” and finally
how we ought to go about studying politics.

Organizations, contrary to the usual view, do not generally
precipitate protest movements. In fact, it is more nearly cor­
rect to say that protest movements precipitate organizations,
which in turn usually attempt to tame protest and turn it into
institutional channels. So far as system-threatening protests
are concerned, formal organizations are more an impediment
than a facilitator. It is a great paradox of democratic change,
though not so surprising from behind an anarchist squint, that
the very institutions designed to avoid popular tumults and
make peaceful, orderly legislative change possible have gener­
ally failed to deliver. This is in large part because existing state
institutions are both sclerotic and at the service of dominant
interests, as are the vast majority of formal organizations that
represent established interests . The latter have a chokehold on
state power and institutionalized access to it.

Episodes of structural change, therefore, tend to occur only
when massive, noninstitutionalized disruption in the form of
riots, attacks on property, unruly demonstrations, theft, arson,
and open defiance threatens established institutions. Such
disruption is virtually never encouraged, let alone initiated,
even by left-wing organizations that are structurally inclined
to favor orderly demands, demonstrations, and strikes that can
usually be contained within the existing institutional frame­
work. Opposition institutions with names, office bearers,
constitutions, banners, and their own internal governmental


routines favor, naturally enough, institutionalized conflict, at
which they are specialists. 1

As Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward have con­
vincingly shown for the Great Depression in the United
States, protests by unemployed and workers in the 1930s, the
civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and
the welfare rights movement, what success the movements en­
joyed was at their most disruptive, most confrontational, least
organized, and least hierarchic aU It was the effort to stem the
contagion of a spreading, noninstitutionalized challenge to
the existing order that prompted concessions. There were no
leaders to negotiate a deal with, no one who could promise
to get people off the streets in return for concessions. Mass
defiance, precisely because it threatens the institutional order,
gives rise to organizations that try to channel that defiance
into the flow of normal politics, where it can be contained.
In such circumstances, elites turn to organizations they would
normally disdain, an example being Premier Georges Pompi­
dou’s deal with the French Communist Party (an established
“player”) promising huge wage concessions in 1 968 in order to
split the party loyalists off from students and wildcat strikers.

D isruption comes in many wondrous forms, and it seems
useful to distinguish them by how articulate they are and
whether or not they lay claim to the moral high ground of
democratic politics. Thus, disruption aimed at realizing or
expanding democratic freedoms-such as abolition, women’s
suffrage, or desegregation- articulate a specific claim to oc­
cupy the high ground of democratic rights. What about mas­
sive disruptions aimed at achieving the eight-hour workday or
the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, or, more nebulous,
opposition to neoliberal globalization ? Here the obj ective is
still reasonably articulated but the claim to the moral high


ground is more sharply contested. Though one may deplore
the strategy of the “black bloc” during the “Battle in S eattle”
around the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999,
smashing storefronts and skirmishing with the police, there
is little doubt that without the media attention their quasi­
calculated rampage drew, the wider antiglobalization, anti­
WTO, anti-International Monetary Fund, anti-World Bank
movement would have gone largely unnoticed.

The hardest case, but one increasingly common among
marginalized communities, is the generalized riot, often with
looting, that is more an inchoate cry of anger and alienation
with no coherent demand or claim. Precisely because it is
so inarticulate and arises among the least organized sectors
of society, it appears more menacing ; there is no particular
demand to address, nor are there any obvious leaders with
whom to negotiate. Governing elites confront a spectrum
of options. In the urban riots in Britain in the late summer
of 2011, the Tory government’s first response was repression
and summary justice. Another political response, urged by La­
bour figures, was a mixture of urban social reform, economic
amelioration, and selective punishment. What the riots unde­
niably did, however, was get the attention of elites, without
which most of the issues underlying the riots would not have
been raised to public consciousness, no matter how they were
disposed of

Here again there is a dilemma. Massive disruption and
defiance can, under some conditions, lead directly to au­
thoritarianism or fascism rather than reform or revolution.
That is always the danger, but it is nonetheless true that extra­
institutional protest seems a necessary, though not sufficient,
condition for major progressive structural change such as the
New Deal or civil rights .


Just as much of the politics that has historically mattered
has taken the form of unruly defiance, it is also the case that
for subordinate classes, for most of their history, politics has
taken a very different extra-institutional form. For the peas­
antry and much of the early working class historically, we
may look in vain for formal organizations and public mani­
festations. There is a whole realm of what I have called “in­
frapolitics” because it is practiced outside the visible spectrum
of what usually passes for political activity. The state has his­
torically thwarted lower-class organization, let alone public
defiance. For subordinate groups, such politics is dangerous.
They have, by and large, understood, as have guerrillas, that
divisibility, small numbers, and dispersion help them avoid

By infrapolitics I have in mind such acts as foot-dragging,
poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absen­
teeism, squatting, and flight. Why risk getting shot for a failed
mutiny when desertion will do just as well ? Why risk an open
land invasion when squatting will secure de facto land rights ?
Why openly petition for rights to wood, fish, and game when
poaching will accomplish the same purpose quietly ? In many
cases these forms of de facto self-help flourish and are sus­
tained by deeply held collective opinions about conscription,
unjust wars, and rights to land and nature that cannot safely
be ventured openly. And yet the accumulation of thousands
or even millions of such petty acts can have massive effects on
warfare, land rights, taxes, and property relations. The large­
mesh net political scientists and most historians use to troll
for political activity utterly misses the fact that most subor­
dinate classes have historically not had the luxury of open po­
litical organization. That has not prevented them from work­
ing microscopically, cooperatively, complicitly, and massively


at political change from below. As Milovan Djilas noted long

The slow, unproductive work of disinterested millions,
together with the prevention of all work not considered
“socialist”, is the incalculable, invisible, and gigantic waste
which no communist regime has been able to avoid.3

Who can say precisely what role such expressions of disaffec­
tion (as captured in the popular slogan, “We pretend to work
and they pretend to pay us”} played in the long-run viability
of Soviet bloc economies ?

Forms of informal cooperation, coordination, and action
that embody mutuality without h ierarchy are the quotidian
experience of most people. Only occasionally do they embody
implicit or explicit opposition to state law and institutions.
Most villages and neighborhoods function precisely because
of the informal, transient networks of coordination that do
not require formal organization, let alone hierarchy. In other
words, the experience of anarchistic mutuality is ub iquitous.
As Colin Ward notes, “far from being a speculative vision of
a future society, it is a description of a mode of human experi­
ence of everyday life, which operates side-by-side with , and in
spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society.”4

The big question, and one to which I do not have a defini­
tive answer, is whether the existence, power, and reach of the
state over the past several centuries have sapped the indepen­
dent, self-organizing power of individuals and small commu­
nities. So many functions that were once accomplished by
mutuality among equals and informal coordination are now
state organized or state supervised. As Proudhon, anticipating
Foucault, famously put it,


To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, reg­
ulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off,
estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about by creatures
without knowledge and without virtues. To be ruled is at
every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, regis­
tered , counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed,
redressed, corrected.5

To what extent has the hegemony of the state and of formal,
hierarchical organizations undermined the capacity for and
the practice of mutuality and cooperation that have histori­
cally created order without the state ? To what degree have the
growing reach of the state and the assumptions behind action
in a liberal economy actually produced the asocial egoists that
Hobbes thought Leviathan was designed to tame ? One could
argue that the formal order of the liberal state depends funda­
mentally on a social capital of habits of mutuality and coop ­
eration that antedate it, which it cannot create and wh ich, in
fact, it undermines. The state, arguab ly, destroys the natural
initiative and responsibility that arise from voluntary coop ­
eration. Further, the neoliberal celebration of the individual
maximizer over society, of individual freehold property over
common property, of the treatment of land (nature) and labor
(human work life) as market commodities, and of monetary
commensuration in, say, cost-benefit analysis (e.g., shadow
pricing for the value of a sunset or an endangered view) all
encourage habits of social calculation that smack of social

I am suggesting that two centuries of a strong state and lib­
eral economies may have socialized us so that we have largely
lost the habits of mutuality and are in danger now of becom­
ing precisely the dangerous predators that Hobbes thought


populated the state of nature. Leviathan may have given birth
to its own justification.

An Anarchist Squint at the Practice
of Social S cience

The populist tendency of anarchist thought, with its belief in
the possibilities of autonomy, self-organization, and coopera­
tion, recognized, among other things, that peasants, artisans,
and workers were themselves political thinkers. They had their
own purposes, values, and practices, which any political sys­
tem ignored at its peril. That basic respect for the agency of
nonelites seems to have been betrayed not only by states but
also by the practice of social science. It is common to ascribe to
elites particular values, a sense of history, aesthetic tastes, even
rudiments of a political philosophy. The political analysis of
nonelites, by contrast, is often conducted, as it were, behind
their backs. Their “politics” is read off their statistical profile :
from such “facts” as their income, occupation, years of school­
ing, property holding, residence, race, ethnicity, and religion.

This is a practice that most social scientists would never
j udge remotely adequate to the study of elites. It is curiously
akin both to state routines and to left-wing authoritarianism in
treating the nonelite public and “masses” as ciphers of their so­
cioeconomic characteristics, most of whose needs and world­
view can be understood as a vector sum of incoming calories,
cash, work routines, consumption patterns, and past voting
behavior. It is not that such factors are not germane. What is
inadmissible, both morally and scientifically, is the hubris that
pretends to understand the behavior of human agents without
for a moment listening systematically to how they understand


what they are doing and how they explain themselves. Again,
it is not that such self-explanations are transparent and nor are
they without strategic omissions and ulterior motives-they
are no more transparent that the self-explanations of elites.

The job of social science, as I see it, is to provide, provision­
ally, the best explanation of behavior on the basis of all the
evidence available, including especially the explanations of the
purposive, deliberating agents whose behavior is being scruti­
nized. The notion that the agent’s view of the situation is ir­
relevant to this explanation is preposterous. Valid knowledge
of the agent’s situation is simply inconceivable without it. No
one has put the case better for the phenomenology ofhuman
action than John Dunn :

If we wish to understand other people and propose to claim
that we have in fact done so, it is both imprudent and rude
not to attend to what they say . . . . What we cannot proper­
ly do is to claim to know that we understand him [an agent]
or his action better than he does himself without access to
the best descriptions which he is able to offer.6

Anything else amounts to committing a social science crime
behind the backs of history’s actors.

A Caution or Two

The use of the term “fragments” within the chapters is in­
tended to alert the reader to what not to expect. “Fragments”
is meant here in a sense more akin to “fragmentary.” These
fragments of text are not like all the shards of a once intact pot
that has been thrown to the ground or the pieces of a j igsaw


puzzle that, when reassembled, will restore the vase or tab ­
leau to its original, whole condition. I do not, alas, have an
elaborately worked-out argument for anarchism that would
amount to an internally consistent political philosophy start­
ing from first principles that might be compared, say, with that
of Prince Kropotkin or Isaiah Berlin, let alone John Locke or
Karl Marx. If the test for calling myself an anarchist thinker is
having that level of ideological rigor, then I would surely fail it.
What I do have and offer here is a series of aper�us that seem
to me to add up to an endorsement of much that anarchist
thinkers have had to say about the state, about revolution, and
about equality.

Neither is this book an examination of anarchist thinkers
or anarchist movements, however enlightening that might po­
tentially be. Thus the reader will not find a detailed examina­
tion of, say, Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta, S ismondi, Tolstoy,
Rocker, Tocqueville, or Landauer, though I have consulted
the writing of most theorists of anarchy. Nor, again, will the
reader find an account of anarchist or quasi-anarchist move­
ments : of, say, Solidarnosc in Poland, the anarchists of Civil
War Spain, or the anarchist workers of Argentina, Italy, or
France-though I have read as much as I could about “real
existing anarchism” as about its major theorists.

“Fragments” has a second sense as well. It represents, for me
at any rate, something of an experiment in style and presen­
tation. My two previous books (Seeing Like a State and The
Art of Not Being Governed) were constructed more or less
like elaborate and heavy siege engines in some Monty Python
send-up of medieval warfare . I worked from outlines and dia­
grams on many sixteen-foot rolls of paper with thousands of
minute notations to references. When I happened to mention
to Alan MacFarlane that I was unhappy with my ponderous


writing habits, he put me on to the techniques of essayist Laf­
cadio Hearn and a more intuitive, free form of composition
that begins like a conversation, starting with the most arrest­
ing or gripping kernel of an argument and then elaborating,
more or less organically, on that kernel. I have tried, with far
fewer ritual bows to social science formulas than is custom­
ary, even for my idiosyncratic style, to follow his advice in the
hope that it would prove more reader-friendly-surely some­
thing to aim for in a book with an anarchist bent .

Two Cheers for /tnarchism

The Uses of Disorder and “Charisma”

S cott’s Law of Anarchist Calisthenics

I invented this law in Neubrandenburg, G ermany, in the late
summer of 1990.

In an effort to improve my barely existing German-language
skills before spending a year in Berlin as a guest of the Wissen­
schaftskolleg, I hit on the idea of finding work on a farm rather
than attending daily classes with pimply teenagers at a Goethe
Institut center. Since the Wall had come down only a year ear­
lier, I wondered whether I might be able to find a six-week
summer job on a collective farm (landwirtschaftliche Produk­
tionsgenossenschaft, or LPG) , recently styled “cooperative,” in
eastern Germany. A friend at the Wissenschaftskolleg had, it
turned out, a close relative whose brother-in-law was the head
of a collective farm in the tiny village of Pletz. Though wary,
the brother-in-law was willing to provide room and board in
return for work and a handsome weekly rent.

As a plan for improving my German by the sink-or-swim
method, it was perfect; as a plan for a pleasant and edifying
farm visit, it was a nightmare. The villagers and, above all, my


host were suspicious of my aims. Was I aiming to pore over the
accounts of the collective farm and uncover “irregularities'” ?
Was I an advance party for Dutch farmers, who were scouting
the area for land to rent in the aftermath of the socialist bloc’s
collapse ?

The collective farm at Pletz was a spectacular example of
that collapse. Its specialization was growing “starch potatoes.'”
They were no good for pommes frites, though pigs might eat
them in a pinch ; their intended use, when refined, was to pro ­
vide the starch base for Eastern European cosmetics. Never
had a market flaclined as quickly as the market for socialist
bloc cosmetics the day after the Wall was breached. Mountain
after mountain of starch potatoes lay rotting beside the rail
sidings in the summer sun.

Besides wondering whether utter penury lay ahead for
them and what role I might have in it, for my hosts there was
the more immediate question of my frail comprehension of
German and the danger it posed for their small farm. Would
I let the pigs out the wrong gate and into a neighbor’s field ?
Would I give the geese the feed intended for the bulls ? Would
I remember always to lock the door when I was working in
the barn in case the Gypsies came ? I had, it is true, given them
more than ample cause for alarm in the first week, and they
had taken to shouting at me in the vain hope we all seem to
have that yelling will somehow overcome any language bar­
rier. They managed to maintain a veneer of politeness, but the
glances they exchanged at supper told me their patience was
wearing thin. The aura of suspicion under which I labored, not
to mention my manifest incompetence and incomprehension,
was in turn getting on my nerves.

I decided, for my sanity as well as for theirs, to spend one
day a week in the nearby town of Neubrandenburg. Getting


there was not simple. The train didn’t stop at Pletz unless you
put up a flag along the tracks to indicate that a passenger was
waiting and, on the way back, told the conductor that you
wanted to get off at Pletz, in which case he would stop spe­
cially in the middle of the fields to let you out. Once in the
town I wandered the streets, frequented cafes and bars, pre­
tended to read German newspapers {surreptitiously consult­
ing my little dictionary) , and tried not to stick out.

The once-a-day train back from Neubrandenburg that
could be made to stop at Pletz left at around ten at night.
Lest I miss it and have to spend the n ight as a vagrant in this
strange city, I made sure I was at the station at least half an
hour early. Every week for six or seven weeks the same intrigu­
ing scene was played out in front of the railroad station, giving
me ample time to ponder it both as observer and as partici­
pant. The idea of “anarchist calisthenics” was conceived in the
course of what an anthropologist would call my participant

Outside the station was a major, for Neubrandenburg at
any rate, intersection. During the day there was a fairly brisk
traffic of pedestrians, cars, and trucks, and a set of traffic lights
to regulate it. Later in the evening, however, the vehicle traf­
fic virtually ceased while the pedestrian traffic, if anything,
swelled to take advantage of the cooler evening breeze. Regu­
larly between 9 :00 and 10:00 p.m. there would be fifty or sixty
pedestrians, not a few of them tipsy, who would cross the in­
tersection. The lights were timed, I suppose, for vehicle traffic
at midday and not adjusted for the heavy evening foot traf­
fic. Again and again, fifty or sixty people waited patiently at
the corner for the light to change in their favor : four minutes,
five minutes, perhaps longer. It seemed an eternity. The land­
scape of Neubrandenburg, on the Mecklenburg Plain, is flat


as a pancake. Peering in each direction from the intersection,
then, one could see a mile of so of roadway, with, typically, no
traffic at all. Very occasionally a single, small Trabant made its
slow, smoky way to the intersection.

Twice, perhaps, in the course of roughly five hours of my
observing this scene did a pedestrian cross against the light,
and then always to a chorus of scolding tongues and fingers
wagging in disapproval. I too became part of the scene. If l had
mangled my last exchange in German, sapping my confidence,
I stood there with the rest for as long as it took for the light to
change, afraid to brave the glares that awaited me if I crossed.
If, more rarely, my last exchange in German had gone well and
my confidence was high, I would cross against the light, think­
ing, to buck up my courage, that it was stupid to obey a minor
law that, in this case, was so contrary to reason.

It surprised me how much I had to screw up my courage
merely to cross a street against general disapproval. How little
my rational convictions seemed to weigh against the pressure
of their scolding. Striding out boldly into the intersection
with apparent conviction made a more striking impression,
perhaps, but it required more courage than I could normally

As a way of justifying my conduct to myself, I began to re­
hearse a little discourse that I imagined delivering in perfect
G erman. It went something like this. “You know, you and es­
pecially your grandparents could have used more of a spirit of
lawbreaking. One day you will be called on to break a big law
in the name of justice and rationality. Everything will depend
on it. You have to be ready. How are you going to prepare for
that day when it really matters ? You have to stay ‘in shape’ so
that when the big day comes you will be ready. What you need
is ‘anarchist calisthenics.’ Every day or so break some trivial


law that makes no sense, even if it’s only j aywalking. Use your
own head to judge whether a law is just or reasonable. That
way, you’ll keep trim ; and when the big day comes, you’ll be

Judging when it makes sense to break a law requires careful
thought, even in the relatively innocuous case of jaywalking.
I was reminded of this when I visited a retired Dutch scholar
whose work I had long admired. When I went to see him, he
was an avowed Maoist and defender of the Cultural Revolu­
tion, and something of an incendiary in Dutch academic poli­
tics. He invited me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant near his
apartment in the small town of Wageningen. We came to an
intersection, and the light was against us. Now, Wageningen,
like Neubrandenburg, is perfectly flat, and one can see for
miles in all directions. There was absolutely nothing coming.
Without thinking, I stepped into the street, and as I did so,
Dr. Wertheim said, “James, you must wait.” I protested weakly
while regaining the curb, “But Dr. Wertheim, nothing is com­
ing.” “James; he replied instantly, “It would be a bad example
for the children.” I was both chastened and instructed. Here
was a Maoist incendiary with, nevertheless, a fine-tuned, dare
I say Dutch, sense of civic responsibility, while I was the Yan­
kee cowboy heedless of the effects of my act on my fellow citi­
zens. Now when I j aywalk I look around to see that there are
no children who might be endangered by my bad example.

Toward the very end of my farm stay in Neubrandenburg,
there was a more public event that raised the issue oflawbreak­
ing in a more striking way. A little item in the local newspaper
informed me that anarchists from West Germany (the country
was still nearly a month from formal reunification, or Einheit)
had been hauling a huge papier-mache statue from city square
to city square in East G ermany on the back of a flatbed truck .


It was the silhouette of a running man carved into a block of
granite. It was called Monument to the Unknown Deserters of
Both World Wars (Denkmal an die unbekannten Deserteure der
heiden Weltkriege) and bore the legend, “This is for the man
who refused to kill his fellow man.”

It struck me as a magnificent anarchist gesture, this con­
trarian play on the well-nigh universal theme of the Unknown
Soldier : the obscure, “every-infantryman” who fell honorably
in battle for his nation’s obj ectives. Even in Germany, even
in very recently ex-East G ermany (celebrated as “The First
Socialist State on German Soil”) , this gesture was, however,
distinctly unwelcome. For no matter how thoroughly progres­
sive G ermans may have repudiated the aims ofNazi Germany,
they still bore an ungrudging admiration for the loyalty and
sacrifice of its devoted soldiers. The Good Soldier Svejk, the
Czech antihero who would rather have his sausage and beer
near a warm fire than fight for his country, may have been a
model of popular resistance to war for Bertolt Brecht, but for
the city fathers of East Germany’s twilight year, this papier­
mache mockery was no laughing matter. It came to rest in
each town square only so long as it took for the authorities
to assemble and banish it. Thus began a merry chase : from
Magdeburg to Potsdam to East Berlin to B itterfeld to Halle
to Leipzig to Weimar to Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) to Neu­
brandenburg to Rostock, ending finally back in the then fed­
eral capital, Bonn. The city-to -city scamper and the inevitable
publicity it provoked may have been precisely what its origina­
tors had in mind.

The stunt, aided by the heady atmosphere in the two years
following the breach in the Berlin Wall, was contagious. Soon,
progressives and anarchists throughout Germany had created
dozens of their own municipal monuments to desertion. It


was no small thing that an act traditionally associated with
cowards and traitors was suddenly held up as honorable and
perhaps even worthy of emulation. Small wonder that Ger­
many, which surely has paid a very high price for patriotism
in the service of inhuman obj ectives, would have been among
the first to question publicly the value of obedience and to
place monuments to deserters in public squares otherwise
consecrated to Martin Luther, Frederick the Great, Bismarck,
Goethe, and Schiller.

A monument to desertion poses something of a conceptual
and aesthetic challenge. A few of the monuments erected to
deserters throughout Germany were of lasting artistic value,
and one, by Hannah Stuetz Menzel, at Ulm, at least managed
to suggest the contagion that such high-stakes acts of disobe­
dience can potentially inspire (fig. 1. 1 ) .

On the Importance oflnsubordination

Acts of disobedience are of interest to us when they are exem­
plary, and especially when, as examples, they set off a chain re­
action, prompting others to emulate them. Then we are in the
presence less of an individual act of cowardice or conscience­
perhaps both-than of a social phenomenon that can have
massive political effects. Multiplied many thousandfold, such
petty acts of refusal may, in the end, make an utter shambles
of the plans dreamed up by generals and heads of state. Such
petty acts ofinsubordination typically make no headlines. But
just as millions of anthozoan polyps create, willy-n illy, a coral
reef, so do thousands upon thousands of acts of insubordina­
tion and evasion create an economic or political barrier reef of


Figure 1.1. Memorial for the Unknown Deserter, by Mehmet Aksoy,
Potsdam. Photograph courtesy of Volker Moerbitz, Monterey Institute
oflnternational Studies

their own. A double conspiracy of silence shrouds these acts
in anonymity. The perpetrators rarely seek to call attention to
themselves; their safety lies in their invisibility. The officials,
for their part, are reluctant to call attention to rising levels of
disobedience ; to do so would risk encouraging others and call
attention to their fragile moral sway. The result is an oddly
complicitous silence that all but expunges such forms of in­
subordination from the historical record.

And yet, such acts of what I have elsewhere called “everyday
forms of resistance” have had enormous, often decisive, effects
on the regimes, states, and armies at which they are implic­
itly directed. The defeat of the Confederate states in America’s


great Civil War can almost certainly be attributed to a vast ag­
gregation of acts of desertion and insubordination. In the fall
of 1862, little more than a year after the war began, there were
widespread crop failures in the South. Soldiers, particularly
those from the non-slave-holding backcountry, were getting
letters from famished families urging them to return home.
Many thousands did, often as whole units, taking their arms
with them. Having returned to the hills, most of them actively
resisted conscription for the duration of the war.

Later, following the decisive Union victory at Missionary
Ridge in the winter of 1 863, the writing was on the wall and
the Confederate forces experienced a veritable hemorrhage of
desertions, again, especially from small-holding, up-country
recruits who had no direct interest in the preservation of slav­
ery, especially when it seemed likely to cost them their own
lives. Their attitude was summed up in a popular slogan of the
time in the Confederacy that the war was “A rich man’s war
and a poor man’s fight,” a slogan only reinforced by the fact
that rich planters with more than twenty slaves could keep
one son at home, presumably to ensure labor discipline. All
told, something like a quarter of a million eligible draft-age
men deserted or evaded service altogether. To this blow, ab­
sorbed by a Confederacy already overmatched in manpower,
must be added the substantial numbers of slaves, especially
from the border states, who ran to the Union lines, many of
whom then enlisted in the Union forces. Last, it seems that
the remaining slave population, cheered by Union advances
and reluctant to exhaust themselves to increase war produc­
tion, dragged their feet whenever possible and frequently ab­
sconded as well to refuges such as the Great Dismal Swamp,
along the Virginia-North Carolina border, where they could
not be easily tracked. Thousands upon thousands of acts of


desertion, shirking, and absconding, intended to be unobtru­
sive and to escape detection, amplified the manpower and in­
dustrial advantage of the Union forces and may well have been
decisive in the Confederacy’s ultimate defeat.

Napoleon’s wars of conquest were ultimately crippled by
comparable waves of disobedience. While it is claimed that
Napoleon’s invading soldiers brought the French Revolution
to the rest of Europe in their knapsacks, it is no exaggeration
to assert that the limits of these conquests were sharply etched
by the disobedience of the men expected to shoulder those
knapsacks. From 1794 to 1796 under the Republic, and then
again from 18 12 under the Napoleonic empire, the difficulty
of scouring the countryside for conscripts was crippling. Fam­
ilies, villages, local officials, and whole cantons conspired to
welcome back recruits who had fled and to conceal those who
had evaded conscription altogether, some by severing one or
more fingers of their right hand. The rates of draft evasion and
desertion were something of a referendum on the popularity
of the regime and, given their strategic importance of these
“voters-with-their-feet” to the needs of Napoleon’s quarter­
masters, the referendum was conclusive. While the citizens of
the First Republic and ofNapoleon’s empire may have warmly
embraced the promise of universal citizenship, they were less
enamored of its logical twin, universal conscription.

S tepping back a moment, it’s worth noticing something
particular about these acts : they are virtually all anonymous,
they do not shout their name. In fact, their unobtrusiveness
contributed to their effectiveness. Desertion is quite different
from an open mutiny that directly challenges military com­
manders. It makes no public claims, it issues no manifestos ; it
is exit rather than voice. And yet, once the extent of desertion
becomes known, it constrains the ambitions of commanders,



who know they may not be able to count on their conscripts.
During the unpopular U.S . war in Vietnam, the reported “frag­
ging” (throwing of a fragmentation grenade) of those officers
who repeatedly exposed their men to deadly patrols was a far
more dramatic and violent but nevertheless still anonymous
act, meant to lessen the deadly risks of war for conscripts. One
can well imagine how reports offragging, whether true or not,
might make officers hesitate to volunteer themselves and their
men for dangerous missions. To my knowledge, no study has
ever looked into the actual incidence of fragging, let alone the
effects it may have had on the conduct and termination of the
war. The complicity of silence is, in this case as well, reciprocal.

Quiet, anonymous, and often complicitous, lawbreak­
ing and disobedience may well be the historically preferred
mode of political action for peasant and subaltern classes, for
whom open defiance is too dangerous. For the two centuries
from roughly 1 650 to 1 8 50, poaching (of wood, game, fish,
kindling, fodder) from Crown or private lands was the most
popular crime in England. By “popular ” I mean both the most
frequent and the most heartily approved of by commoners.
Since the rural population had never accepted the claim of the
Crown or the nobility to “the free gifts of nature” in forests,
streams, and open lands (heath , moor, open pasture) , they
violated those property rights en masse repeatedly, enough to
make the elite claim to property rights in many areas a dead
letter. And yet, this vast conflict over property rights was con­
ducted surreptitiously from below with virtually no public
declaration of war. It is as if villagers had managed, de facto,
defiantly to exercise their presumed right to such lands with­
out ever making a formal claim. It was often remarked that the
local complicity was such that gamekeepers could rarely find
any villager who would serve as state’s witness .


In the historical struggle over property rights, the antago ­
nists on either s ide of the barricades have used the weap ­
ons that most suited them. Elites, controlling the lawmak­
ing machinery of the state, have deployed bills of enclosure,
paper titles, and freehold tenure, not to mention the police,
gamekeepers, forest guards, the courts, and the gibbet to es­
tablish and defend their property rights. Peasants and subal­
tern groups, having no access to such heavy weaponry, have
instead relied on techniques such as poaching, pilfering, and
squatting to contest those claims and assert their own. Unob ­
trusive and anonymous, like desertion, these “weapons of the
weak” stand in sharp contrast to open public challenges that
aim at the same objective. Thus, desertion is a lower-risk alter­
native to mutiny, squatting a lower-risk alternative to a land
invasion, poaching a lower-risk alternative to the open asser­
tion of rights to timber, game, or fish. For most of the world’s
population today, and most assuredly for subaltern classes his­
torically, such techniques have represented the only quotidian
form of politics available. When they have failed , they have
given way to more desperate, open confl icts such as riots, re­
bellions, and insurgency. These bids for power irrupt suddenly
onto the official record, leaving traces in the archives beloved
of historians and sociologists who, having documents to bat­
ten on, assign them a pride of place all out of proportion to the
role they would occupy in a more comprehensive account of
class struggle. Quiet, unassuming, quotidian insubordination,
because it usually flies below the archival radar, waves no ban­
ners, has no officeholders, writes no manifestos, and has no
permanent organization, escapes notice. And that’s just what
the practitioners of these forms of subaltern politics have in
m ind : to escape notice. You could say that, historically, the
goal of peasants and subaltern classes has been to stay out of


the archives. When they do make an appearance, you can be
pretty sure that something has gone terribly wrong.

If we were to look at the great bandwidth of subaltern poli­
tics all the way from small acts of anonymous defiance to mas­
sive popular rebellions, we would find that outbreaks of riskier
open confrontation are normally preceded by an increase in
the tempo of anonymous threats and acts of violence : threat­
ening letters, arson and threats of arson, cattle maiming, sabo­
tage and nighttime machine breaking, and so on . Local elites
and officials h istorically knew these as the likely precursors of
open rebellion ; and they were intended to be read as such by
those who engaged in them. Both the frequency of insubor­
dination and its “threat level” (pace the Office of Homeland
Security) were understood by contemporary elites as early
warning signs of desperation and political unrest. One of the
first op-eds of the young Karl Marx noted in great detail the
correlation between, on the one hand, unemployment and de­
clining wages among factory workers in the Rhineland, and
on the other, the frequency of prosecution for the theft of fire ­
wood from private lands.

The sort of lawbreaking going on here is, I think, a special
subspecies of collective action. It is not often recognized as
such, in large part because it makes no open claims of this kind
and because it is almost always self-serving at the same time.
Who is to say whether the poaching hunter is more interested
in a warm fire and rabbit stew than in contesting the claim of
the aristocracy to the wood and the game he has j ust taken ? It
is most certainly not in his interest to help the historian with
a public account of his motives. The success of his claim to
wood and game lies in keeping his acts and motives shrouded.
And yet, the long-run success of this lawbreaking depends on
the complicity of his friends and neighbors who may believe


in his and their right to forest products and may themselves
poach and, in any case, will not bear witness against him or
turn him in to the authorities.

One need not have an actual conspiracy to achieve the
practical effects of a conspiracy. More regimes have been
brought, piecemeal, to their knees by what was once called
“Irish democracy,” the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal,
and truculence of millions of ordinary people, than by revolu­
tionary vanguards or rioting mobs.

More on Insubordination

To see how tacit coordination and lawbreaking can mimic
the effects of collective action without its inconveniences and
dangers, we might consider the enforcement of speed limits.
Let’s imagine that the speed limit for cars is 55 miles per hour.
Chances are that the traffic police will not be much inclined
to prosecute drivers going 56 , 57, 58 . . . even 60 mph, even
though it is technically a violation. This “ceded space of dis­
obedience” is, as it were, seized and becomes occupied terri­
tory, and soon much of the traffic is moving along at roughly
60 mph. What about 6 1, 62, 63 mph ? Drivers going just a mile
or two above the de facto limit are, they reason, fairly safe.
Soon the speeds from, say, 60 to 6 5mph bid fair to become
conquered territory as well. All of the drivers, then, going
about 65 mph come absolutely to depend for their relative im­
munity from prosecution on being surrounded by a veritable
capsule of cars traveling at roughly the same speed. There is
something like a contagion effect that arises from observation
and tacit coordination taking place here, although there is no


“Central Committee of Drivers” meeting and plotting mas­
sive acts of civil disobedience. At some point, of course, the
traffic police do intervene to issue fines and make arrests, and
the pattern of their intervention sets terms of calculation that
drivers must now consider when deciding how fast to drive.
The pressure at the upper end of the tolerated speed, however,
is always being tested by drivers in a hurry, and if, for whatever
reason, enforcement lapses, the tolerated speed will expand
to fill it. As with any analogy, this one must not be pushed
too far. Exceeding the speed limit is largely a matter of conve­
nience, not a matter of rights and grievances, and the dangers
to speeders from the police are comparatively trivial. (If, on
the contrary, we had a 5 5-mph speed limit and, say, only three
traffic police for the whole nation, who summarily executed
five or six speeders and strung them up along the interstate
highways, the dynamic I have described would screech to a
halt ! )

I ‘ve noticed a similar pattern in the way that what begin
as “shortcuts” in walking paths often end up becoming paved
walkways. Imagine a pattern of daily walking traj ectories that,
were they confined to paved sidewalks, would oblige people
to negotiate the two sides of a right triangle rather than strik­
ing out along the (unpaved) hypotenuse. Chances are, a few
would venture the shortcut and, if not thwarted, establish
a route that others would be tempted to take merely to save
time. If the shortcut is heavily trafficked and the groundskeep ­
ers relatively tolerant, the shortcut may well, over time, come
to be paved. Tacit coordination again. Of course, virtually all
of the lanes in older cities that grew from smaller settlements
were created in precisely this way; they were the formalization
of daily pedestrian and cart tracks, from the well to the mar­
ket, from the church or school to the artisan quarter-a good


example of the principle attributed to Chuang Tzu, “We make
the path by walking.”

The movement from practice to custom to rights inscribed
in law is an accepted pattern in both common and positive
law. In the Anglo-American tradition, it is represented by the
law of adverse possession, whereby a pattern of trespass or sei­
zure of property, repeated continuously for a certain number
of years, can be used to claim a right, which would then be
legally protected. In France, a practice of trespass that could be
shown to be of long standing would qualify as a custom and,
once proved, would establish a right in law.

Under authoritarian rule it seems patently obvious that
subjects who have no elected representatives to champion
their cause and who are denied the usual means of public
protest (demonstrations, strikes, organized social movement,
dissident media) would have no other recourse than foot­
dragging, sabotage, poaching, theft, and, ultimately, revolt.
Surely the institutions of representative democracy and the
freedoms of expression and assembly afforded modern citi­
zens make such forms of dissent obsolete. After all, the core
purpose of representative democracy is precisely to allow dem­
ocratic majorities to realize their claims, however ambitious,
in a thoroughly institutionalized fashion.

It is a cruel irony that this great promise of democracy is
rarely realized in practice. Most of the great political reforms
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been accompa­
nied by massive episodes of civil disobedience, riot, lawbreak­
ing, the disruption of public order, and, at the limit, civil war.
Such tumult not only accompanied dramatic political changes
but was often absolutely instrumental in bringing them about.
Representative institutions and elections by themselves, sadly,
seem rarely to bring about major changes in the absence of


the force majeure afforded by, say, an economic depression
or international war. Owing to the concentration of prop ­
erty and wealth in liberal democracies and the privileged ac­
cess to media, culture, and political influence these positional
advantages afford the richest stratum, it is little wonder that,
as Gramsci noted, giving the working class the vote did not
translate into radical political change. 1 Ordinary parliamen­
tary politics is noted more for its immobility than for facilitat­
ing major reforms.

We are obliged ; if this assessment is broadly true, to con­
front the paradox of the contribution of lawbreaking and dis­
ruption to democratic political change. Taking the twentieth­
century United States as a case in point, we can identify two
major policy reform periods, the Great Depression of the
1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1 960s. What is
most striking about each, from this perspective, is the vital
role massive disruption and threats to public order played in
the process of reform.

The great policy shifts represented by the institution of un­
employment compensation, massive public works proj ects, so ­
cial security aid, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act were, to
be sure, abetted by the emergency of the world depression. But
the way in which the economic emergency made its political
weight felt was not through statistics on income and unem­
ployment but through rampant strikes, looting, rent boycotts,
quasi-violent sieges of relief offices, and riots that put what
my mother would have called “the fear of God” in business
and political elites. They were thoroughly alarmed at what
seemed at the time to be potentially revolutionary ferment.
The ferment in question was, in the first instance, not insti­
tutionalized. That is to say, it was not initially shaped by po ­
litical parties, trade unions, or recognizable social movements .


It represented no coherent policy agenda. Instead it was genu­
inely unstructured, chaotic, and full of menace to the estab ­
lished order. For this very reason, there was no one to bar­
gain with , no one to credibly offer peace in return for policy
changes. The menace was directly proportional to its lack of
institutionalization. One could bargain with a trade union or
a progressive reform movement, institutions that were geared
into the institutional machinery. A strike was one th ing, a
wildcat strike was another : even the union bosses couldn’t call
off a wildcat strike. A demonstration, even a massive one, with
leaders was one thing, a rioting mob was another. There were
no coherent demands, no one to talk to.

The ultimate source of the massive spontaneous militancy
and disruption that threatened public order lay in the radi­
cal increase in unemployment and the collapse of wage rates
for those lucky enough still to be employed. The normal con­
ditions chat sustained routine policies suddenly evaporated.
Neither the routines of governance nor the routines of insti­
tutionalized opposition and representation made much sense.
At the individual level, the deroutinization took the form of
vagrancy, crime, and vandalism. Collectively, it took the form
of spontaneous defiance in riots, factory occupations, violent
strikes, and tumultuous demonstrations. What made the rush
of reforms possible were the social forces unleashed by the De­
pression, which seemed beyond the ability of political el ites,
property owners, and, it should be noted, trade unions and left­
wing parties to master. The hand of the elites was forced.

An astute colleague of mine once observed that liberal de­
mocracies in the West were generally run for the benefit of
the top, say, 20 percent of the wealth and income distribution.
The trick, he added, to keeping th is scheme running smoothly
has been to convince, especially at election time, the next 30 to



35 percent of the income distribution to fear the poorest half
more than they envy the richest 20 percent. The relative suc­
cess of this scheme can be judged by the persistence of income
inequality-and its recent sharpening-over more than a half
century. The times when this scheme comes undone are in cri­
sis situations when popular anger overflows its normal chan­
nels and threatens the very parameters within which routine
politics operates. The brutal fact of routine, institutionalized
liberal democratic politics is that the interests of the poor are
largely ignored until and unless a sudden and dire crisis cata­
pults the poor into the streets . As Martin Luther King,Jr., noted,
“a riot is the language of the unheard.” Large-scale disruption,
riot, and spontaneous defiance have always been the most po ­
tent political recourse of the poor. Such activity is not with­
out structure. It is structured by informal, self-organized, and
transient networks of neighborhood, work, and family that lie
outside the formal institutions of politics. This is structure al­
right, just not the kind amenable to institutionalized politics.

Perhaps the greatest failure of liberal democracies is their
historical failure to successfully protect the vital economic
and security interests of their less advantaged citizens through
their institutions. The fact that democratic progress and re­
newal appear instead to depend vitally on major episodes of
extra-institutional disorder is mass ively in contradiction to
the promise of democracy as the institutionalization of peace ­
ful change. And i t i s just as surely a failure of democratic polit­
ical theory that it has not come to grips with the central role of
crisis and institutional failure in those major episodes of social
and political reform when the political system is relegitimated .

It would be wrong and, in fact, dangerous to claim that
such large-scale provocations always or even generally lead
to major structural reform. They may instead lead to growing


repression, the restriction of civil rights, and, in extreme cases,
the overthrow of representative democracy. Nevertheless, it is
undeniable that most episodes of major reform have not been
initiated without major disorders and the rush of elites to
contain and normalize them. One may legitimately prefer the
more “decorous” forms of rallies and marches that are com­
mitted to nonviolence and seek the moral high ground by ap ­
pealing to law and democratic rights. Such preferences aside,
structural reform has rarely been initiated by decorous and
peaceful claims.

The job of trade unions, parties, and even radical social
movements is precisely to institutionalize unruly protest
and anger. Their function is, one might say, to try to trans­
late anger, frustration, and pain into a coherent political pro ­
gram that can be the basis of policy making and legislation.
They are the transmission belt between an unruly public and
rule-making elites. The implicit assumption is that if they
do their jobs well, not only will they be able to fashion po­
litical demands that are, in principle, digestible by legislative
institutions, they will, in the process, discipline and regain
control of the tumultuous crowds by plausibly representing
their interests, or most of them, to the policy makers. Those
policy makers negotiate with such “institutions of transla­
tion” on the premise that they command the allegiance of
and hence can control the constituencies they purport to
represent. In this respect, it is no exaggeration to say that or­
ganized interests of this kind are parasitic on the spontane­
ous defiance of those whose interests they presume to repre­
sent. It is that defiance that is, at such moments, the source of
what influence they have as governing elites strive to contain
and channel insurgent masses back into the run of normal


Another paradox: at such moments, organized progressive
interests achieve a level of visibility and influence on the basis
of defiance that they neither incited nor controlled, and they
achieve that influence on the presumption they will then be
able to discipline enough of that insurgent mass to reclaim it
for politics as usual. If they are successful, of course, the para­
dox deepens, since as the disruption on which they rose to in­
fluence subsides, so does their capacity to affect policy.

The civil rights movement in the 1 960s and the speed with
which both federal voting registrars were imposed on the seg­
regated South and the Voting Rights Act was passed largely
fit the same mold. The widespread voter-registration drives,
Freedom Rides, and sit-ins were the product of a great many
centers of initiative and imitation. Efforts to coordinate, let
alone organize, this bevy of defiance eluded many of the ad
hoc bodies established for this purpose, such as the Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, let alone the older,
mainstream civil rights organizations such as the National As­
sociation for the Advancement of Colored People, the Con­
gress on Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leader­
ship Conference. The enthusiasm, spontaneity, and creativity
of the cascading social movement ran far ahead of the organi­
zations wishing to represent, coordinate, and channel it.

Again, it was the widespread disruption, caused in large part
by the violent reaction of segregationist vigilantes and public
authorities, that created a crisis of public order throughout
much of the South. Legislation that had languished for years
was suddenly rushed through Congress as John and Robert
Kennedy strove to contain the growing riots and demonstra­
tions, their resolve stiffened by the context of the Cold War
propaganda war in which the violence in the south could
plausibly be said to characterize a racist state. Massive disorder


and violence achieved, in short order, what decades of peace­
ful organizing and lobbying had failed to attain.

I began this essay with the fairly banal example of crossing
against the traffic l ights in Neubrandenburg. The purpose was
not to urge lawbreaking for its own sake, still less for the petty
reason of saving a few minutes. My purpose was rather to il­
lustrate how ingrained habits of automatic obedience could
lead to a situation that, on reflection, virtually everyone would
agree was absurd. Virtually all the great emancipatory move­
ments of the past three centuries have initially confronted
a legal order, not to mention police power, arrayed against
them. They would scarcely have prevailed had not a handful
of brave souls been willing to breach those laws and customs
(e.g., through sit-ins, demonstrations, and mass violations
of passed laws). Their disruptive actions, fueled by indigna­
tion, frustration, and rage, made it abundantly clear that their
claims could not be met with in the existing institutional and
legal parameters. Thus, immanent in their willingness to break
the law was not so much a desire to sow chaos as a compulsion
to instate a more just legal order. To the extent that our cur­
rent rule of law is more capacious and emancipatory than its
predecessors were, we owe much of that gain to lawbreakers.

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Riots and disruption are not the only way the unheard make
their voices felt. There are certain conditions in which elites
and leaders are especially attentive to what they have to say,
to their likes and dislikes. Consider the case of charisma. It is



common to speak of someone possessing charisma in the same
way he could be said to have a hundred dollars in h is pocket or
a BMW in his garage. In fact, of course, charisma is a relation­
ship; it depends absolutely on an audience and on culture. A
charismatic performance in Spain or Afghanistan might not
be even remotely charismatic in Laos or Tibet. It depends, in
other words, on a response, a resonance with those witness­
ing the performance. And in certain c ircumstances elites work
very hard to elicit that response, to find the right note, to
harmonize their message with the wishes and tastes of their
listeners and spectators. At rare moments, one can see this at
work in real time. Consider the case of Martin Luther King,
Jr., for certain audiences perhaps the most charismatic Ameri­
can public political figure of the twentieth century. Thanks
to Taylor Branch’s sensitive and detailed biography of King
and the movement, we can actually see this searching for the
right note at work in real time and in the call-and-response
tradition of the African American church. I excerpt, at length ,
Branch’s account of the speech King gave at the Holt Street
YMCA in December 1 955 , after the conviction ofRosa Parks
and on the eve of the Montgomery bus boycott:

“We are here this even ing-for serious business; he said,
in even pulses, rising and then falling in pitch. When he
paused, only one or two “yes” responses came up from the
crowd, and they were quiet ones. It was a throng of shout­
ers he could see, but they were waiting to see where he
would take them. [He speaks of Rosa Parks as a fine citizen . ]

“And I think I speak with-with legal authority-not
that I have any legal authority . . . that the law has never been
totally clarified.” This sentence marked King as a speaker
who took care with distinctions, but it took the crowd no-


where. “Nobody can doubt the height of her character, no

one can doubt the depth of her Christian commitment.”
“That’s right,” a soft chorus answered.
“And j ust because she refused to get up , she was arrest­

ed,” King repeated. The crowd was stirring now, following
King at the speed of a medium walk.

He paused slightly longer.

“And you know, my friends, there comes a time,” he
cried , “when people get tired of being trampled over by the
iron feet of oppression .”

A flock of “Yeses” was coming back at him when sud­
denly the individual responses dissolved into a rising cheer
and applause exploded beneath that cheer-all within the

space of a second. The startling noise ro lled on and on, like
a wave that refused to break, and just when it seemed that
the roar must finally weaken, a wall of sound came in from

the enormous crowd outdoors to push the volume still
higher. Thunder seemed to be added to the lower register­
the sound of feet stomping on the wooden floor- until the

loudness became something that was not so much heard as
sensed by vibrations in the lungs. The giant cloud of noise

shook the building and refused to go away. One sentence

had set it loose somehow, pushing the call-and-response of
the Negro church past the din of a political rally and on to

someth ing else that King had never known before. There
was a rabbit of enormous proportions in those bushes. As
the noise finally fell back, King’s voice rose above it to fire

again . “There comes a time, my friends, when people get
tired of being thrown across the abyss of humiliation, when
they experience the bleakness of nagging despair,” he de­

clared. “There comes a time when people get tired of get­
ting pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July, and



left standing amidst the piercing chill of an Alpine Novem­
ber. There-” King was making a new run, but the crowd
drowned him out. No one could tel l whether the roar came
in response to the nerve he had touched or simply out of
pride in the speaker from whose tongue such rhetoric
rolled so easily. “We are here-we are here because we are
tired now:’ King repeated [fig. 1 .2 V

The pattern Branch so vividly depicts here is repeated in the
rest of this particular speech and in most of King’s speeches.
Charisma is a kind of perfect pitch. King develops a number
of themes and a repertoire of metaphors for expressing them.
When he senses a powerful response he repeats the theme in
a slightly different way to sustain the enthusiasm and elabo­
rate it. As impressive as his rhetorical creativity is, i t i s utterly
dependent on finding the right pitch that will resonate with
the deepest emotions and desires of his listeners. If we take a
long view of King as a spokesman for the black Christian com­
munity, the civil rights movement, and nonviolent resistance
(each a somewhat different audience) , we can see how, over
time, the seemingly passive listeners to his soaring oratory
helped write his speeches for him. They, by their responses,
selected the themes that made the vital emotional connection,
themes that King would amplify and elaborate in his unique
way. The themes that resonated grew ; those that elicited little
response were dropped from King’s repertoire. Like all charis­
matic acts, it was in two -part harmony.

The key condition for charisma is listening very carefolly
and responding. The condition for listening very carefully is
a certain dependence on the audience, a certain relationship
of power. One of the characteristics of great power is not hav­
ing to listen . Those at the bottom of the heap are, in general ,


Figure 1.2. D r. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his last sermon,
Memphis, Tennessee, Apri l 3, 1 968. Photograph from blackpast.org

better listeners than those at the top . The daily quality of the
lifeworld of a slave, a serf, a sharecropper, a worker, a domes­
tic depends greatly on an accurate reading of the mood and
wishes of the powerful, whereas slave owners, landlords, and
bosses can often ignore the wishes of their subordinates. The
structural conditions that encourage such attentiveness are
therefore the key to this relationship. For King, the attentive­
ness was built into being asked to lead the Montgomery bus
boycott and being dependent on the enthusiastic participa­
tion of the black community.

To see how such counterintuitive “speechwriting” works
in other contexts, let’s imagine a bard in the medieval mar­
ketplace who sings and plays music for a living. Let’s assume


also, for purposes of illustration, that the bard in question is a
“downmarket'” performer-that he plays in the poor quarters
of the town and is dependent on a copper or two from many
of his listeners for his daily bread. Finally, let’s further imagine
that the bard has a repertoire of a thousand songs and is new
to the town.

My guess is that the bard will begin with a random selec­
tion of songs or perhaps the ones that were favored in the pre­
vious towns he visited . Day after day he observes the response
of his listeners and the number of coppers in his hat at the end
of the day. Perhaps they make requests. Over time, surely, the
bard, providing only that he is self-interestedly attentive, will
narrow his performance to the tunes and themes favored by
his audience-certain songs will drop out of his active reper­
toire and others will be performed repeatedly. The audience
will have, again over time, shaped his repertoire in accordance
with their tastes and desires in much the way that King’s audi­
ence, again over time, shaped his speeches. This rather skel­
etal story doesn’t allow for the creativity of the bard or orator
constantly trying out new themes and developing them or for
the evolving tastes of the audience, but it does illustrate the
essential reciprocity of charismatic leadership.

The illustrative “bard'” story is not far removed from the
actual experience of a Chinese student sent to the country­
side during the Cultural Revolution. Being of slight build
and having no obvious skills useful to villagers, he was at first
deeply resented as another mouth to feed while contributing
nothing to production. Short of food themselves, the villagers
gave him little or nothing to eat, and he was gradually wasting
away. He discovered, however, that the villagers liked to hear
his late evening recitations of traditional folktales, of which
he knew hundreds. To keep him reciting in the evening, they


would feed him small snacks to supplement his starvation ra­
tions. His stories literally kept him alive. What’s more, his rep ­
ertoire, as with our mythical bard, came over time to accord
with the tastes of his peasant audience. Some of his tales left
them cold, and him unfed. Some tales they loved and wanted
to have told again and again. He literally sang for his supper,
but the villagers, as it were, called the tune. When private
trade and markets were later allowed, he told tales in the dis­
trict marketplace to a larger and different audience. Here, too,
his repertoire accommodated itself to his new audience.4

Politicians, anxious for votes in tumultuous times when
tried-and-true themes seem to carry little resonance, tend, like
a bard or Martin Luther King, Jr. , to keep their ears firmly to
the ground to assess what moves the constituents whose sup ­
port and enthusiasm they need. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s
first campaign for the U.S. presidency, at the beginning of the
Great Depression, is a striking case in point. At the outset of
the campaign, Roosevelt was a rather conservative Democrat
not inclined to make promises or claims that were radical. In
the course of the campaign, however, which was mostly con­
ducted at whistle-stops, owing to the candidate’s paralysis, the
Roosevelt standard speech evolved, becoming more radical
and expansive. Roosevelt and his speechwriters worked fever­
ishly, trying new themes, new phrasings, and new claims at
whistle-stop after whistle-stop, adjusting the speech little by
little, depending on the response and the particular audience.
In an era of unprecedented poverty and unemployment, FDR
confronted an audience that looked to him for hope and the
promise of assistance, and gradually his stump speech came
to embody those hopes . At the end of the campaign, his oral
“platform” was far more radical than it had been at the outset.
There was a real sense in which, cumulatively, the audience at



the whistle-stops had written {or shall we say “selected”) his
speech for him. It wasn’t just the speech that was transformed
but Roosevelt himself, who now saw himself embodying the
aspirations of millions of his desperate countrymen.

This particular form of influence from below works only
in certain conditions. If the bard is hired away by the local
lord to sing him praise songs in return for room and board,
the repertoire would look very different. If a politician lives
or dies largely by huge donations designed as much to shape
public opinion as to accommodate it, he or she will pay less
attention to rank-and-file supporters. A social or revolution­
ary movement not yet in power is likely to have better hearing
than one that has come to power. The most powerful don’t
have to learn how to carry a tune. Or, as Kenneth Boulding
put it, “the larger and more authoritarian an organization [or
state ] , the better the chance that its top decision-makers will
be operating in purely imaginative worlds.”5

Vernacular Order, Official Order

Vernacular and Official Ways of” Knowing”

I live in small inland town in Connecticut called Durham,
after its much larger and better-known English namesake.
Whether out of nostalgia for the landscape left behind or a
lack of imagination, there is scarcely a town in Connecticut
that does not simply appropriate an English place-name. Na­
tive American landscape terms tend to survive only in the
names of lakes and rivers, or in the name of the state itself. It
is a rare colonial enterprise that does not attempt to rename
the landscape as a means of asserting its ownership and mak­
ing it both familiar and legible to the colonizers. In settings as
disparate as Ireland, Australia, and the Palestinian West Bank,
the landscape has been comprehensively renamed in an effort
to smother the older vernacular terms.

Consider, by way of illustration, the vernacular and official
names for roads. A road runs between my town of Durham
and the coastal town of Guilford, some sixteen miles to the
south. Those of us who live in Durham call this road (among


ourselves) the “Guilford Road” because it tells us exactly
where we’ll get to if we take it. The same road at its Guilford
terminus is naturally called the “Durham Road” because it
tells the inhabitants of Guilford exactly where they’ll get to if
they take it. One imagines that those who live midway along
the road call it the “Durham Road” or the “Guilford Road”
depending on which way they are heading. That the same road
has two names depending on one’s location demonstrates the
situational, contingent nature of vernacular naming practices ;
each name encodes valuable local knowledge-perhaps the
most important single thing you would want to know about
a road is where it leads. Vernacular practices not only produce
one road with two names but many roads with the same name.
Thus, the nearby towns of Killingworth, Haddam, Madison,
and Meriden each have roads leading to Durham that the local
inhabitants call the “Durham Road.”

Now imagine the insuperable problems that this locally
effective folk system would pose to an outsider requiring a
unique and definitive name for each road. A state road repair
crew sent to fix potholes on the “Durham Road” would have
to ask, “Which Durham Road ?” Thus it comes as no surprise
that the road between Durham and Guilford is re incarnated
on all state maps and in all official designations as “Route 77.”
The naming practices of the state require a synoptic view, a
standardized scheme of identification generating mutually ex­
clusive and exhaustive designations. As Route 77, the road no
longer immediately conveys where it leads ; the sense of Route
77 only springs into view once we spread out a road map on
which all state roads are enumerated. And yet the official
name can be of vital importance. If you are gravely injured in
a car crash on the Durham-Guilford Road, you will want to


tell the state-dispatched ambulance team unambiguously that
the road on which you are in danger of bleeding to death is
Route 77.

Vernacular and official naming schemes jostle one another
in many contexts. Vernacular names for streets and roads en­
code local knowledge. Some examples are Maiden Lane (the
Lane where five spinster s isters once lived and walked, single
file, to church every Sunday), Cider Hill Road (the road up
the h ill where the orchard and cider mill once stood) , and
Cream Pot Road (once the site of a dairy, where neighbors
bought m ilk, cream, and butter) . At the time when the name
became fixed, it was probably the most relevant and useful
name for local residents, though it might be mystifying to
outsiders and recent arrivals. Other road names m ight refer
to geographic features : Mica Ridge Road, Bare Rock Road,
Ball Brook Road. The sum of roads and place-names in a small
place, in fact, amounts to something of a local geography and
history if one is familiar with the stories, features, episodes,
and family enterprises encoded within them. For local peo ­
ple these names are rich and meaningful; for outsiders they
are frequently illegible. The nonlocal planners, tax collectors,
transportation managers, ambulance dispatchers, police offi­
cers, and firefighters, however, find a higher order of synoptic
legib ility far preferable. G iven their way, they tend to prefer
grids of parallel streets, consecutively numbered (First Street,
Second Street), and compass directions (Northwest First
Street, Northeast Second Avenue). Washington, D.C., is a
particularly stunning example of such rational planning. New
York City, by contrast, is a hybrid. Below Wall Street (mark­
ing the outer wall of the original Dutch settlement), the c ity is
“vernacular” in its tangle of street forms and names, many of
them originally footpaths; above Wall Street it is an easily leg-


ible, synoptic grid city of Cartesian simplicity, with avenues
and streets at right angles to one another and enumerated,
with a few exceptions, consecutively. Some midwestern towns,
to relieve the monotony of numbered streets, have instead
named them consecutively after presidents. As a bid for leg­
ibility, it is l ikely to appeal only to quiz show fans, who know
when to expect “Polk; “Van Buren; “Taylor,” and “Cleveland”
streets to pop up ; as a pedagogical tool, there is something to
be said for it.

Vernacular measurement is only as precise as it needs to be
for the purposes at hand. It is symbolized in such expressions
as a “pinch of salt,” “a stone’s throw; “a book of hay,” “within
shouting distance.” And for many purposes, vernacular rules
may prove more accurate than apparently more exact systems.
A case in point is the advice given by Squanto to white set­
tlers in New England about when to plant a crop new to them,
maize. He reportedly told them to “plant corn when the oak
leaves were the size of a squirrel’s ear.” An eighteenth-century
farmer’s almanac , by contrast, would typically advise planting,
say, “after the first full moon in May,” or else would specify
a particular date. One imagines that the almanac publisher
would have feared, above all, a killing frost, and would have
erred on the side of caution. Still, the almanac advice is, in its
way, rigid : What about farms near the coast as opposed to
those inland ? What about fields on the north side of a hill
that got less sun, or farms at h igher elevations ? The almanac’s
one-size-fits-all prescription travels rather badly. Squanto’s
formula, on the other hand, travels well. Wherever there are
squirrels and oak trees and they are observed locally, it works.
The vernacular observation, it turns out, is closely correlated
with ground temperature, which governs oak leafing. It is
based on a close observation of the sequence of spring events


that are always sequential but may be early or delayed, drawn
out or rushed, whereas the almanac relies on a universal calen­
drical and lunar system.

Official Knowledge and Landscapes of Control

The order, rationality, abstractness, and synoptic legibility of
certain kinds of schemes of naming, landscape, architecture,
and work processes lend themselves to hierarchical power. I
think of them as “landscapes of control and appropriation.” To
take a simple example, the nearly universal system of perma­
nent patronymic naming did not exist anywhere in the world
before states found it useful for identification. It has spread
along with taxes, courts, landed property, conscription, and
police work-that is, along with the development of the state .
It has now been superseded by identification numbers, photog­
raphy, fingerprints, and DNA testing, but it was invented as
a means of supervision and control. The resulting techniques
represent a general capacity that can be used as easily to deliver
vaccinations as to round up enemies of the regime. They cen­
tralize knowledge and power, but they are utterly neutral with
respect to the purposes to which they are put.

The industrial assembly line is, from this perspective, the re­
placement of vernacular, artisanal production by a division of
labor in which only the designing engineer controls the whole
labor process and the workers on the floor become substitut­
able “hands.” It may, for some products, be more efficient than
artisanal production, but there is no doubt that it always con­
centrates power over the work process in those who control
the assembly line. The utopian management dream of perfect


mechanical control was, however, unrealizable not just be­
cause trade unions intervened but also because each machine
had its own particularities, and a worker who had a vernacu­
lar, local knowledge of this particular milling or stamping ma­
chine was valuable for that reason. Even on the line, vernacu­
lar knowledge was essential to successful production.

Where the uniformity of the product is of great concern
and where much of the work can be undertaken in a setting
specifically constructed for that purpose, as in the building of
Henry Ford’s Model T or, for that matter, the construction
of a Big Mac at a McDonald’s, the degree of control can be
impressive. The layout, down to the minutest detail at a Mc­
Donald’s franchise, is calculated to maximize control over the
materials and the work process from the center. That is, the dis­
trict supervisor who arrives for an inspection with his handy
clipboard can evaluate the franchise according to a protocol
that has been engineered into the design itself. The coolers
are uniform and their location is prescribed. The same goes
for the deep fryers, the grills, the protocol for their cleaning
and maintenance, the paper wrappers, etc ., etc. The platonic
form of the perfect McDonald’s franchise and the perfect
Big Mac has been dreamed up at central headquarters and
engineered into the architecture, layout, and training so that
the clipboard scoring can be used to judge how close it has
come to the ideal. In its immanent logic, Fordist production
and the McDonald’s module is, as E. F. Schumacher noted
in 1 973, “an offensive against the unpredictability, unpunc­
tuality, general waywardness and cussedness of living nature,
including man.” 1

It is no exaggeration, I think, to view the past three cen­
turies as the triumph of standardized, official landscapes of
control and appropriation over vernacular order. That this


triumph has come in tandem with the rise of large-scale hi­
erarchical organizations, of which the state itself is only the
most striking example, is entirely logical. The list of lost ver­
nacular orders is potentially staggering. I venture here only the
beginning of such a list and invite readers, if they have the ap ­
petite, to supplement it. National standard languages have re­
placed local tongues. Commoditized freehold land tenure has
replaced complex local land-use practices, planned communi­
ties and neighborhoods have replaced older, unplanned com­
munities and neighborhoods, and large factories and farms
have replaced artisanal production and smallholder, mixed
farming. Standard naming and identification practices have
replaced innumerable local naming customs. National law has
replaced local common law and tradition. Large schemes of
irrigation and electricity supply have replaced locally adapted
irrigation systems and fuel gathering. Landscapes relatively re­
sistant to control and appropriation have been replaced with
landscapes that facilitate hierarchical coordination.

The Resilience of the Vernacular

It is perfectly clear that large-scale modernist schemes of im­
perative coordination can, for certain purposes, be the most
efficient, equitable, and satisfactory solution. Space explora­
tion, the planning of vast transportation networks, airplane
manufacture, and other necessarily large-scale endeavors may
well require huge organizations minutely coordinated by a
few experts. The control of epidemics or of pollution requires
a center staffed by experts receiving and digesting standard in­
formation from hundreds of reporting units .


Where such schemes run into trouble, sometimes cata­
strophic trouble, is when they encounter a recalcitrant nature,
the complexity of which they only poorly comprehend, or
when they encounter a recalcitrant human nature, the com­
plexity of which they also poorly comprehend.

The troubles that have plagued “scientific” forestry, in­
vented in the German lands in the late eighteenth century,
and some forms of plantation agriculture typify the encoun­
ter. Wanting to maximize revenue from the sale of firewood
and lumber from domain forests, the originators of scientific
forestry reasoned that, depending on the soil, either the Nor­
way spruce or the Scotch pine would provide the maximum
cubic meters of timber per hectare. To this end, they clear-cut
mixed forests and planted a single species simultaneously and
in straight rows (as with row crops ) . They aimed at a forest
that was easy to inspect, could be felled at a given time, and
would produce a uniform log from a standardized tree (the
Normalbaum) . For a while-nearly an entire century-it
worked brilliantly. Then it faltered. It turned out that the first
rotation had apparently profited from the accumulated soil
capital of the mixed forest it had replaced without replenish­
ment. The single-species forest was above all a veritab le feast
for the pests, rusts, scales, and blights that specialized in
attacking the Scotch pine or the Norway spruce. A forest of
trees all the same age was also far more susceptible to cata­
strophic storm and wind damage. In an effort to simplify
the forest as a one-commodity machine, scientific forestry
had radically reduced its diversity. The lack of tree species
diversity was replicated at every level in this stripped-down
forest : in the poverty of insect species, of b irds, of mam­
mals, of lichen, of mosses, of fungi, of flora in general . The
planners had created a green desert , and nature had struck


Figure 2. 1 . Scientific forest, Lithuania. Photograph © Alfas Pliura

back. In little more than a century, the successors of those
who had made scientific forestry famous in turn made the
terms “forest death” ( Waldsterben) and “restoration for­
estry” equally famous (fig. 2 . 1 ) .

Henry Ford, bolstered by the success of the Model T and
wealth beyond imagining, ran into much the same problem
when he tried translating his success in building cars in facto ­
ries to growing rubber trees in the tropics. He bought a tract
of land roughly the size of Connecticut along a branch of the
Amazon and set about creating Fordlandia. If successful, his
plantation would have supplied enough latex to equip all his
autos with tires for the foreseeable future. It proved an unmiti­
gated disaster. In their natural habitat in the Amazon basin,
rubber trees grow here and there among mixed stands of great
diversity. They thrive amid this variety in part because they are


far enough apart to minimize the buildup of diseases and pests
that favor them in this, their native habitat. Transplanted to
Southeast Asia by the Dutch and the British, rubber trees did
relatively well in plantation stands precisely because they did
not bring with them the full complement of pests and en­
emies. But concentrated as row crops in the Amazon, they
succumbed in a few years to a variety of diseases and blights
that even heroic and expensive efforts at triple grafting (one
canopy stock grafted to another trunk stock, and both grafted
to a different root stock) could not overcome.

In the contrived and man-made auto -assembly plant in
River Rouge, built for a single purpose, the environment
could, with difficulty, be mastered. In the Brazilian tropics,
it could not. After millions had been invested, after innumer­
able changes in management and reformulated plans, after
riots by the workforce, Henry Ford’s adventure in Brazil was

Henry Ford started with what h is experts judged to be the
best rubber tree and then tried to reshape the environment to
suit it. Compare this logic to its mirror image : starting with
the environmental givens and then selecting the cultivars that
best fit a given niche. Customary practices of potato cultiva­
tion in the Andes represent a fine example of vernacular, arti­
sanal farming. A high-altitude Andean potato farmer might
cultivate as many as fifteen small parcels, some on a rotating
basis. Each parcel is distinct in terms of its soil, altitude, ori­
entation to sun and wind, moisture, slope, and history of cul­
tivation. There is no “standard field.” Choosing from among a
large number of locally developed landraces, each with differ­
ent and well-known characteristics, the farmer makes a series
of prudent bets, planting anywhere from one cultivar to as
many as a dozen in a single field. Each season is the occasion


for a new round of trials, with last season’s results in terms of
yield, disease, prices, and response to changed plot condi­
tions carefully weighed. These farms are market-oriented
experiment stations with good yields, great adaptability,
and reliabil ity. At least as important, they are not merely
producing crops ; they are reproducing farmers and com­
munities with plant-breeding skills, flexible strategies, eco ­
logical knowledge, and considerable self-confidence and

The logic of scientific extension agriculture in the Andes is
analogous to Henry Ford’s Amazonian plantations. It begins
with the idea of an “ideal” potato, defined largely but not en­
tirely in terms of yield. Plant scientists then set about breed­
ing a genotype that will most closely approximate the desired
characteristics. That genotype is grown in experimental plots
to determine the conditions that best allow it to flourish. The
main purpose of extension work, then, to retrofit the entire en­
vironment of the farmer ‘s field so as to realize the potential of
the new genotype. This may require the application of nitro ­
gen fertilizer, herb icides, and pesticides, special field and soil
preparation, irrigation, and the timing of cultivation (plant­
ing, watering, weeding, harvesting) . As one might expect,
each new “ideal” cultivar usually fails within three or four years
as pests and diseases gain on it, to be replaced in turn with a
newer ideal potato and the cycle begins again. To the degree
that it succeeds, it turns the fields into standard fields and the
farmers into standard farmers, just as Henry Ford standard­
ized the work environment and workers in River Rouge. The
assembly line and the monoculture plantation each require,
as a condition of their existence, the subjugation of both the
vernacular artisan and of the diverse, vernacular landscape .


The Attractions of the Disorderly City

It turns out that it is not only plants that seem to thrive best
in settings of diversity. Human nature as well seems to shun a
narrow uniformity in favor of variety and diversity.

The high tide of modernist urban planning spans the first
half of the twentieth century, when the triumph of civil en­
gineering, a revolution in building techniques and materials,
and the political ambitions to remake urban life combined
to transform cities throughout the West. In its ambitions, it
bears more than a family resemblance to scientific forestry and
plantation agriculture . The emphasis was on visual order and
the segregation of function. Visually, a theme to which I shall
return, utopian planners favored “the sublime straight line,”
right angles, and sculptural regularity. When it came to spa­
tial layout, virtually all planners favored the strict separation
of diffferent spheres of urban activity: residential housing,
commercial retail space, office space, entertainment, govern­
ment offices, and ceremonial space. One can easily see why
this was convenient for the planners. So many retail outlets
serving so many customers could be reduced to something of
an algorithm requiring so many square feet per store, so many
square feet of shelf space, planned transportation links, and so
forth ; residences required so many square feet of living space
per (standardized) family, so much sunlight, so much water,
so much kitchen space, so many electric outlets, so much ad­
jacent playground space. Strict segregation of functions mini­
mized the variables in the algorithm : it was easier to plan,
easier to build, easier to maintain, easier to police, and, they
thought, easier on the eye. Planning for single uses facilitated


standardization, while by comparison, planning a complex,
mixed-use town in these terms would have been a nightmare.

There was one problem. People tended to hate such cities
and shunned them when they could. When they couldn’t,
they found other ways to express their despair and contempt.
It is said that the postmodern era began at precisely 3 p.m.
on March 16, 1972, when the award-winning Pruitt-Igoe
high-rise public housing proj ect in St. Louis was finally and
officially dynamited to a heap of rubble. Its inhabitants had,
in effect, reduced it to a shell. The Pruitt-Igoe buildings were
merely the flagship for an entire fleet of isolated, single-use,
high-rise public housing apartment blocks that seemed de­
grading warehouses to most of their residents and that have
now largely been demolished.

At the same time that these housing proj ects, sailing under
the banner of “slum clearance” and the elimination of “urban
blight,” were being constructed, they were subjected to a com­
prehensive and ultimately successful critique by urbanists like
Jane Jacobs, who were more interested in the vernacular city:
in daily urban life, and in how the city actually functioned
more than in how it looked. Urban planning, like most official
schemes, was characterized by a self-conscious tunnel vision.
That is, it focused relentlessly on a single obj ective and design
with a view to maximizing that objective. If the obj ective was
growing corn, the goal became growing the most bushels per
acre ; if it was Model Ts, it was producing the most Model Ts
for the labor and input costs ; if it was health care delivery, a
hospital was designed solely for efficiency in treatment; if it
was the production of lumber, the forest was redesigned to be
a one-commodity machine.

Jacobs understood three things that these modernist
planners were utterly blind to. First, she identified the fatal


assumption that in any such activity there is only one thing
going on, and the obj ective of planning is to maximize the ef­
ficiency of its delivery. Unlike the planners whose algorithms
depended on stipulated efficiencies-how long it took to
get to work from home, how efficiently food could be de­
livered to the city-she understood there were a great many
human purposes embedded in any human activity. Mothers
or fathers pushing baby carriages may simultaneously be talk­
ing to friends, doing errands, getting a bite to eat, and look­
ing for a book. An office worker may find lunch or a beer
with co -workers the most satisfying part of the day. Second,
Jacobs grasped that it was for this reason, as well as for the
sheer pleasure of navigating in an animated, stimulating, and
varied environment, that complex, mixed-use districts of the
city were often the most desirable locations. Successful urban
neighborhoods-ones that were safe, pleasant, amenity-rich,
and economically viable-tended to be dense, mixed-use
areas, with virtually all the urban functions concentrated and
mixed higgledy-piggledy. Moreover, they were also dynamic
over time. The effort to specify and freeze functions by plan­
ning fiat Jacobs termed “social taxidermy.”

Finally, she explained that if one started from the “lived,”
vernacular city, it became clear that the effort by urban plan­
ners to turn cities into disciplined works of art of geometric ,
visual order was not just fundamentally misguided, it was an
attack on the actual, functioning vernacular order of a success­
ful urban neighborhood.

Looked at from this angle, the standard practice of urban
planning and architecture suddenly seems very bizarre indeed.
The architect and planners proceed by devising an overall vi­
sion of the building or ensemble of buildings they propose.
This vision is physically represented in drawings and, typically,


in an actual model of the buildings proposed. One sees in the
newspapers photographs of beaming city officials and archi­
tects looking down on the successful model as if they were in
helicopters, or gods. What is astounding, from a vernacular
perspective, is that no one ever experiences the city from that
height or angle. The presumptive ground-level experience of
real pedestrians-window-shoppers, errand-runners, aim­
lessly strolling lovers-is left entirely out of the urban-planning
equation. It is substantially as sculptural miniatures that the
plans are seen, and it is hardly surprising that they should be
appreciated for their visual appeal as attractive works of art :
works of art that will henceforth never be seen again from that
godlike vantage point, except by Superman.

This logic of modeling and miniaturization as a character­
istic of official forms of order is, I think, diagnostic. The real
world is messy and even dangerous. Mankind has a long his­
tory of miniaturization as a form of play, control, and manipu­
lation. It can be seen in toy soldiers, model tanks, trucks, cars,
warships and planes, dollhouses, model railroads, and so on.
Such toys serve the entirely admirable purpose of letting us
play with representations when the real thing is inaccessible
or dangerous, or both. But miniaturization is very much a
game for grown-ups, presidents, and generals as well. When
the effort to transform a recalcitrant and intractable world is
frustrated, elites are often tempted to retreat to miniatures,
some of them quite grandiose. The effect of this retreat is to
create small, relatively self-contained utopian spaces where
the desired perfection might be more nearly realized. Model
villages, model cities, military colonies, show projects, and
demonstration farms offer politicians, administrators, and
specialists a chance to create a sharply defined experimental
terrain where the number of rogue variables and unknowns is


minimized. The limiting case, where control is maximized but
impact on the external world is minimized, is the museum or
theme park . Model farms and model towns have, of course, a
legitimate role as experiments where ideas about production,
design, and social organization can be tested at low risk and
scaled up or abandoned, depending on how they fare. Just as
often, however, as with many “designer” national capitals (e.g.,
Washington, D.C., St. Petersburg, Dodoma, Brasilia, Islam­
abad, New Delhi, Ahuja) , they become stand-alone architec­
tural and political statements at odds, and often purposely so,
with their larger environment. The insistence on a rigid visual
aesthetic at the core of the capital city tends to produce a
penumbra of settlements and slums teeming with squatters ,
people who, as often as not, sweep the floors, cook the meals,
and tend the children of the elites who work at the decorous,
planned center. Order at the center is in this sense deceptive,
being sustained by nonconforming and unacknowledged
practices at the periphery.

The Chaos behind Neatness

Governing a large state is like cooking a small fish.

Tao Te Ching

The more highly planned, regulated, and formal a social or
economic order is, the more likely it is to be parasitic on in­
formal processes that the formal scheme does not recognize
and without which it could not continue to exist, informal
processes that the formal order cannot alone create and main­
tain. Here language acquisition is an instructive metaphor .


Children do not begin by learning the rules of grammar and
then using these rules to construct a successful sentence. They
learn to speak the way they learn to walk : by imitation, trial ,
error, and endless practice. The rules of grammar are the regu­
larities that can be observed in successful speaking, they are
not the cause of successful speech.

Workers have seized on the inadequacy of the rules to ex­
plain how things actually run and have exploited it to their
advantage. Thus, the taxi drivers of Paris have, when they were
frustrated with the municipal authorities over fees or new
regulations, resorted to what is known as a greve de zele. They
would all , by agreement and on cue, suddenly begin to fol­
low all the regulations in the code routier, and, as intended,
this would bring traffic in Paris to a grinding halt. Knowing
that traffic circulated in Paris only by a practiced and judi­
cious disregard of many regulations, they could, merely by
following the rules meticulously, bring it to a standstill. The
English-language version of this procedure is often known
as the “work-to -rule” strike. In an extended work-to -rule ac­
tion against the Caterpillar Corporation, workers reverted to
following the inefficient procedures specified by engineers,
knowing that it would cost the company valuable time and
quality, rather than continuing the more expeditious practices
they had long ago devised on the job. The actual work process
in any office, on any construction site, or on any factory floor
cannot be adequately explained by the rules, however elabo­
rate, governing it ; the work gets done only because of the ef­
fective informal understandings and improvisations outside
those rules.

The planned economies of the socialist bloc before the
breach in the Berlin Wall in 1989 were a striking example of
how rigid production norms were sustained only by informal


arrangements wholly outside the official scheme. In one typi­
cal East German factory, the two most indispensable employ­
ees were not even part of the official organizational chart. One
was a “j ack-of-all trades” adept at devising short-term, jury­
rigged solutions to keep machines running, to correct pro ­
duction flaws, and to make substitute spare parts. The second
indispensable employee used factory funds to purchase and
store desirable nonperishable goods (e.g. , soap powder, quality
paper, good wine, yarn, medicines, fashionable clothes) when
they were available. Then, when the factory absolutely needed
a machine, spare parts, or raw material not available through
the plan to meet its quotas and earn its bonuses, this employee
packed the hoarded goods in a Trabant and went seeking to
barter them for the necessary factory supplies. Were it not for
these informal arrangements, formal production would have

Like the city official peering down at the architect’s pro­
posed model of a new development site, we are all prone to
the error of equating visual order with working order and
visual complexity with disorder. It is a natural and, I believe,
grave mistake, and one strongly associated with modernism.
How dubious such an association is requires but a moment’s
reflection. Does it follow that more learning is taking place
in a classroom with uniformed students seated at desks ar­
ranged in neat rows than in a classroom with un-uniformed
students sitting on the floor or around a table ? The great critic
of modern urban planning, Jane Jacobs, warned that the intri­
cate complexity of a successful mixed-use neighborhood was
not, as the aesthetic of many urban planners supposed, a rep­
resentation of chaos and disorder. It was, though unplanned,
a highly elaborated and resilient form of order. The apparent
disorder of leaves falling in the autumn, of the entrails of a


rabbit, of the interior of a j et engine, of the city desk of a major
newspaper is not disorder at all but rather an intricate func­
tional order. Once its logic and purpose are grasped, it actually
looks different and reflects the order of its function.

Take the design of field crops and gardens. The tendency
of modern “scientific” agriculture has favored large, capital­
intensive fields, with a single crop, often a hybrid or clone for
maximum uniformity, grown in straight rows for easy tillage
and machine harvesting. The use of fertilizers, irrigation, pes­
ticides, and herbicides serves to make the field conditions as
suitable to the single cultivar and as uniform as possible. It is a
generic module of farming that travels well and actually works
tolerably well for what I think of as “proletarian” production
crops such as wheat, corn, cotton, and soybeans that tolerate
rough handling. The effort of this agriculture to rise above,
as it were, local soils, local landscape, local labor, local imple­
ments, and local weather makes it the very antithesis of ver­
nacular agriculture. The Western vegetable garden has some,
not all, of the same features . Though it contains many culti­
vars they are typically planted in straight rows, one cultivar to
a row, and look rather like a military regiment drawn up for
inspection at a parade. The geometric order is often a matter of
pride. Again, there is a striking emphasis on visual regularity
from above and outside.

Contrast this with, say, the indigenous field crops of tropi­
cal West Africa as encountered by British agricultural exten­
sion agents in the nineteenth century. They were shocked.
Visually, the fields seemed a mess : there were two , three, and
sometimes four crops crowded into the field at a time, other
crops were planted in relays, small bunds- embankments-of
sticks were scattered here and there, small hillocks appeared


to be scattered at random. S ince to a Western eye the fields
were obviously a mess; the assumption was that the cultivators
were themselves negligent and careless. The extension agents
set about teaching them proper, “modern” agricultural tech­
niques. It was only after roughly thirty years of frustration and
failure that a Westerner thought to actually examine, scientifi­
cally, the relative merits of the two forms of cultivation under
West African conditions. It turned out that the “mess” in the
West African field was an agricultural system finely tuned to
local conditions. The polycropping and relay cropping en­
sured there was ground cover to prevent erosion and capture
rainfall year-round ; one crop provided nutrients to another or
shaded it; the bunds prevented gully erosion ; cultivars were
scattered to minimize pest damage and disease.

Not only were the methods sustainable, the yields com­
pared favorably with the yields of crops grown by the West­
ern techniques preferred by the extension agents. What the
extension agents had done was erroneously to associate vi­
sual order with working order and visual disorder with inef­
ficiency. The Westerners were in the grip of a quasi-religious
faith in crop geometry, while the West Africans had worked
out a highly successful system of cultivation without regard to

Edgar Anderson, a botanist interested in the h istory of
maize in Central America, stumbled across a peasant garden
in Guatemala that demonstrated how apparent visual disorder
could be the key to a finely tuned working order. Walking by
it on his way to the fields of maize each day, he at first took
it to be an overgrown, vegetable dump heap. Only when he
saw someone working in it did he realize that it was not just
a garden but a brilliantly conceived garden despite, or rather


Figure 2.2. Edgar Anderson’s drawings for the Vernacular Garden,
Guatemala. (a) Above An orchard garden. (b) Right Detailed glyphs
identifying the plants and their categories in the garden. Reprinted
from Plants, Man, and Life, by Edgar Anderson, published by the Uni­
versity of California Press ; reprinted with permission of the University
of California Press

because of, its visual disorder from a Western gardening per­
spective. I cannot do better than to quote him at length about
the logic behind the garden and reproduce his diagrams of its
layout (fig. 2 .2) .


*Spondi«� • Qui”” Cam.s

• M011U11illa • O�!fu As””

FiD * DahliA

Plum. • PbinJtttrit

@ RPsnrwy

Prath • llnti?NI!J

! .. “: &«TTS ‘ .. · ‘

I t ‘/
)’ •:-.- Squash

: /�� ,,.,,,…;.,, ,•, .• \.

0 Corn ·- -� �’- · ‘ … ?(, Chayon

J , …..
� Cmutalk …


Though at first sight there seems little order; as soon as we
started mapping the garden, we realized that it was planted
in fairly definite cross-wise rows. There were fruit trees, na­

tive and European in great variety : annonas, cheromoyas,
avocados, peaches, quinces, plums, a fig , and a few coffee
bushes. There were giant cacti grown for their fruit. There
was a large plant of rosemary, a plant of rue, some poin­

settias, and a semi-climbing tea rose. There was a whole
row of the native domesticated hawthorn, whose fruit like

yellow, doll-sized apples make a delicious conserve. There
were two varieties of corn, one well past bearing and now


serving as a trellis for climbing string beans which were just
coming into season, the other, a much taller sort, which
was tasseling out. There were specimens of a little banana

with smooth wide leaves which are the local substitute for
wrapping paper, and are also used instead of cornhusks in
cooking the native variant of hot tamales. Over it all clam­

bered the luxuriant vines of various cucurbits. Chayote,
when finally mature has a nutritious root weighing several
pounds. At one point there was a depression the size of a

small bathtub where a chayote root had recently been ex­
cavated; this served as a dump heap and compost for waste

from the house. At one end of the garden was a small bee­
hive made from boxes and tin cans. In terms of our Ameri­
can and European equivalents, the garden was a vegetable

garden, an orchard, a medicinal garden, a dump heap, a
compost heap, and a beeyard. There was no problem of
erosion though it was at the top of a steep slope; the soil

surface was practically all covered and apparently would be
during most of the year. Humidity would be kept during
the dry season and plants of the same sort were so isolated

from one another by intervening vegetation that pests and
diseases could not readily spread from plant to plant. The
fertility was being conser ved ; in addition to the waste from

the house, mature plants were being buried in between the
rows when their usefulness was over.

It is frequently said by Europeans and European Ameri­
cans that time means nothing to an Indian. This garden

seemed to me to be a good example of how the Indian,
when we look more than superficially into his activities,

is budgeting time more efficiently than we do. The garden
was in continuous production but was taking only a little
effort at any one time: a few weeds pulled when one came


down to pick the squashes, corn and bean plants dug in be­
tween the rows when the last of the climbing beans was
picked, and a new crop of something else planted above
them a few weeks later. 2

Th e Anarchist’s Sworn Enemy

Over the past two centuries, vernacular practices have been
extinguished at such a rate that one can, with little exaggera­
tion, think of the process as one of mass extinction akin to
the accelerated disappearance of species. And the cause is also
analogous : the loss of habitat. Many vernacular practices have
made their final exit, and others are endangered.

The principal agent behind their extinction is none other
than the anarchists’ sworn enemy, the state, and in particular
the modern nation-state . The rise of the modern and now he­
gemonic political module of the nation-state displaced and
then crushed a host of vernacular political forms : stateless
bands, tribes, free cities, loose confederations of towns, ma­
roon communities, empires. In their place stands everywhere
a single vernacular : the North Atlantic nation-state, codified
in the eighteenth century and masquerading as a universal.
It is, if we run back several hundred yards and open our eyes
in wonder, nothing short of amazing that one can travel any­
where in the world and encounter virtually the same institu­
tional order: a national flag, a national anthem, national the­
aters, national orchestras, heads of state, a parliament (real or
fictitious ) , a central bank, a league table of similar ministries
similarly organized, a security apparatus, and so on. Colonial


empires and “modernist” emulation played a role in propa­
gating the module, but its staying power depends on the fact
that such institutions are the universal gears that integrate a
political unit into the established international systems. Until
1989 there were two poles of emulation. In the socialist bloc
one could go from Czechoslovakia to Mozambique, to Cuba,
to Vietnam, to Laos, to Mongolia and find roughly the same
central planning apparatus, collective farms, and five-year
plans. Since then, with few exceptions, a single standard has

Once in place, the modern (nation-) state set about ho­
mogenizing its population and the people’s deviant, vernacu­
lar practices. Nearly everywhere, the state proceeded to fabri­
cate a nation: France set about creating Frenchmen, Italy set
about creating Italians.

This entailed a great project of homogenization. A huge va­
riety of languages and dialects, often mutually unintelligible,
were, largely through schooling, subordinated to a standard­
ized national language-often the dialect of the dominant re­
gion. This led to the disappearance oflanguages ; oflocal litera­
tures, oral and written ; of music ; oflegends and epics ; of whole
worlds of meaning. A huge variety oflocal laws and customary
practices were replaced by a national system of law that was, in
principle at least, everywhere the same. A huge variety ofland­
use practices were replaced by a national system ofland tiding,
registration, and transfer, the better to facilitate taxation. A
huge number of local pedagogies-apprenticeships, tutoring
by traveling “masters,” healing, religious instruction, informal
classes-were typically replaced by a national school system
in which a French minister of education could boast that, as
it was 1 0:20 a.m., he knew exactly which passage of Cicero all
students of a certain form throughout France would be study-


ing. This utopian image of uniformity was seldom achieved,
but what these projects did accomplish was the destruction of

Beyond the nation-state itself, the forces of standardiza­
tion are today represented by international organizations. It
is the principal aim of institutions such as the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organiza­
tion, UNESCO, and even UNICEF and the World Court to
propagate normative (“best practice”) standards, once again
deriving from the North Atlantic nations, throughout the
globe. The financial muscle of these agencies is such that fail­
ure to conform to their recommendations carries substantial
penalties in loans and aid forgone. The process of institutional
alignment now goes by the charming euphemism of “harmo­
nization.” Global corporations are instrumental as well in this
proj ect of standardization. They too thrive in a familiar and
homogenized cosmopolitan setting where the legal order, the
commercial regulations, the currency system, and so on are
uniform. They are also, through their sales of goods, services,
and advertising, constantly working to fabricate consumers,
whose needs and tastes are what they require.

The disappearance of some vernaculars need hardly be
mourned. If the standardized model of the French citizen be­
queathed to us by the Revolution replaced vernacular forms of
patriarchal servitude in provincial France, then surely this was
an emancipatory gain. If technical improvements like matches
and washing machines replaced flint and tinder and wash­
boards, it surely meant less drudgery. One would not want to
spring to the defense of all vernaculars against all universals.

The powerful agencies of homogenization, however, are
not so discriminating. They have tended to replace virtually
all vernaculars with what they represent as universal, but let us


recall again that in most cases it is a North Atlantic cross­
dressed vernacular masquerading as a universal. The result is a
massive diminution in cultural, political, and economic diver­
sity, a massive homogenization in languages, cultures, prop ­
erty systems, political forms, and above all modes of sensibility
and the lifeworlds that sustain them. One can look anxiously
ahead to a time, not so far away, when the North Atlantic busi­
nessman can step off a plane anywhere in the world and find
an institutional order-laws, commercial codes, ministries,
traffic systems, property forms, land tenure-thoroughly fa­
miliar. And why not ? The forms are essentially his own. Only
the cuisine, the music, the dances, and native costumes will
remain exotic and folkloric . . . and thoroughly commercial­
ized as a commodity as well.


The Production of Human Beings

The great Way is very smooth

But people love by-paths.

Tao Te Ching

Play and Openness

In the unpromising year of 1 943 in Copenhagen, the archi­
tect for a Danish workers’ housing cooperative at Emdrup
had a new idea for a playground. An experienced landscape
architect who had laid out many conventional playgrounds,
he noticed that most children were tempted to forsake the
limited possibilities of the swings, seesaws, carousels, and slid­
ing boards for the excitement in the street and to steal into
actual building sites or vacant buildings and use the materials
they found there for purposes they invented on the spot. His
idea was to design a raw building site with clean sand, gravel,
lumber, shovels, nails, and tools, and then leave it to the kids.
It was hugely popular. Despite the site being crowded day
after day, the possib ilities were so endless and absorbing that


there was far less fighting and screaming than in the classical

The runaway success of the “adventure playground” at Em­
drup led to efforts to emulate it elsewhere : in “Freetown” in
Stockholm, “The Yard” in Minneapolis, other “building play­
grounds” in Denmark itself, and “Robinson Crusoe” play­
grounds in Switzerland, where children were given the tools
to make their own sculptures and gardens {fig. 3 . 1 ) .

“The Yard,” shortly after it began, ran into trouble. Much
of the lumber and many of the tools were hoarded and hid­
den in the competition to build the largest shack as quickly as
possible. Quarreling and a number of raids to plunder tools
and material broke out. It appeared, as paralysis gripped the
playground, that it would now have to be taken over and run
by adult park employees. But after only a few days many of
the youngsters, who knew where most of the material was
hoarded, organized a “salvage drive” to recover the materials
and set up a system for sharing the tools and lumber. They had
not only solved the practical problem of securing the mate­
rial they needed but had, in doing so, created something of a
new community. It should be added that this wildly popular
playground satisfied the creative urges of most of the children,
but it by no means satisfied the standards for visual order and
decorum that the custodians of such urban spaces expected.
It was a case of working order trumping visual order. And of
course, its shape changed daily ; it was being torn down and
rebuilt continually. The adventure playground, Colin Ward,

is a kind of parable of anarchy, a free society in miniature,
with the same tensions and ever-changing harmonies, the


Figure 3. 1 . Playground constructions, Emdrup, Denmark. Photo ­
graph © Tim R. Gill

same diversity and spontaneity, the same unforced growth
of co-operation and release of individual qualities and
communal sense, which lie dormant. 1

I recall visiting the slum housing project of an NGO in
Bangkok that used essentially the same insight not only to cre ­
ate housing for squatters but also to build a political movement
around it. The NG O began by persuading the municipality to
deed it a tiny parcel of land in a squatter area. The organizers
then identified no more than five or six squatter families who
wanted to band together to build a tiny settlement. The squat­
ters chose the materials, selected the basic layout, designed the
structures, and agreed on a work plan together. Each family
was responsible for an equal amount of sweat equity over the


two- or three-year process of (spare-time) building. No family
knew what section of the attached structures they would oc­
cupy when it was finished; all thus had an equal interest in the
quality and care that went into each stage of the building. The
squatters also designed a tiny, shared common ground that
was built into the scheme. By the time the building was up, a
structure of work and cooperation (not without tensions, to
be sure) was already in place. Now the families had property
they had built with their own hands to defend and they had,
in the process, acquired the practice of working successfully
together. They, and other groups like them, became the insti­
tutional nodes of a successful squatter movement.

The magnetism of the Emdrup playground, obvious in ret­
rospect, perhaps, flowed from its openness to the purposes,
creativity, and enthusiasm of the children who played there.
It was deliberately incomplete and open. It was meant to be
completed by the unpredictable and changing designs of its
users. One could say that its designers were radically mod­
est about their knowledge of what was on children’s minds,
what they would invent, how they would work, and how their
hopes and dreams would evolve. Beyond the premise that chil­
dren wanted to build, based on observation of what actually
interested children, and that they needed the raw material to
do so, the playground was open and autonomous. There was
minimal adult supervision.

Almost any human institution can be evaluated in these
terms. How open is it to the purposes and talents of those who
inhabit it ? There are only a certain number of things one can
do with a swing or a seesaw, and children have explored them
all ! An open building site offers a veritable buffet of possibili­
ties by comparison. Dormitory rooms of standard layout and
painted the same color, with bunk beds and desks screwed to


the wall or floor, are, well, closed structures that resist the im­
press of student imagination and design. Rooms or apartments
with movable partitions, variable furniture and color schemes,
and spaces that can be used for various purposes are, by com­
parison, more open to the inspiration of their users. In some
cases it is possible to design with a view to accommodating the
choices of users. A large open grassy area at a major university
was deliberately left for a time without walkways. Over time,
footpaths were traced by the actual daily movements of thou­
sands of pedestrians. Those tracings were then paved to reflect
what seemed required. This procedure is another illustration
ofChuang Tzu’s adage, “We make the path by walking.”

The test of openness is the degree to which the activity or
institution-its form, its purposes, its rules-can be modified
by the mutual desires of the people pursuing and inhabiting it.

A brief example comparing war memorials may be helpful.
The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., is surely one
of the most successful war memorials ever built, if one is to
judge from the quantity and intensity of the visits it receives.
Designed by Maya Lin, the memorial consists simply of a gen­
tly undulating site marked (not dominated) by a long, low,
black marble wall listing the names of the fallen. The names
are deliberately not listed alphabetically or by military unit
or rank but rather chronologically, in the order in which they
fell-thus grouping those who fell on the same day and often
in the same engagement. No larger claim is made about the
war either in prose or in sculpture-a muteness that is not sur­
prising, in view of the stark political cleavages the war still in­
spires. What is most remarkable, however, is the way the Viet­
nam Memorial works for those who visit it, particularly those
who come to honor a comrade or loved one. They must first
search out the name they seek; then they typically run their


fingers over the name incised on the wall, make rubbings, and
leave artifacts and mementos of their own-everything from
poems, a woman’s high-heeled shoe, or a glass of champagne
to a full-house, aces-high, poker hand. So many of these trib ­
utes have been left that a separate museum has been created to
house them. The scene of many people together at the wall,
touching the names of particular loved ones who fell in the
same war, has moved observers regardless of their position on
the war itself.

I believe that a great part of the memorial’s symbolic power
is its capacity to honor the dead with an openness that allows
all visitors to impress on it their own unique meanings, their
own histories, their own memories. The monument, one could
say, virtually requires participation to complete its meaning.
Although one would not compare it to a Rorschach test, the
memorial nevertheless does achieve its meaning more by what
citizens bring to it than by what it imposes. (A truly cosmo­
politan monument to the war would, of course, list all Viet­
namese civilian and military war dead, together with Ameri­
cans in the order in which they had fallen. Such a monument
would require a wall many times longer than the current one.)

We may compare the Viemam Memorial to a very different
American war memorial : the sculpture depicting the raising of
the American flag on the summit of Mount Suribachi on lwo
Jima in World War I I . Moving in its own right, referring as it
does to the final moment of a victory gained at an enormous
cost in lives, the lwo Jima statue is manifestly heroic. Its patrio ­
tism, symbolized by the flag, its theme of conquest, its larger­
than-life scale, and its implicit theme of unity in victory leave
little room for the viewer to add anything. Given the virtual
unanimity with which that war is viewed in the United States,
it is hardly surprising that the lwo Jima Memorial should be


Figure 3.2. Vietnam Memorial, Washington, D.C. Photograph © Lee
Bennett, Jr. I www.ATPM.com

monumental and explicit. Although not exactly “canned,” the
lwo Jima Memorial is more symbolically self-sufficient, as are
most war memorials . Visitors can stand in awe, gazing on an
image that through photographs and sculpture has become
an icon of the war in the Pacific, but they receive its message
rather than complete it (fig. 3 .3 ) .

The example of play invoked earlier may seem trivial by
comparison with war and death. After all, play has no purpose
at all beyond the pleasure and enjoyment of play itself. It is
successful, even efficient, to the degree to which those who are
playing judge it to be more fun than other things they might
be doing. And yet play is deeply instructive, for it turns out
that open, unstructured play of this kind, looked at broadly, is
serious business indeed .


Figure 3.3. lwo Jima Memorial, Washington, D.C. Photograph by
Dennis @ visitingDC.com

All mammals, but especially Homo sapiens, appear to spend
a great deal of time in apparently aimless play. Among other
things, it is through the apparent chaos of play, including
rough-and-tumble carousing, that they develop their physical
coordination and capacities, their emotional regulation, their
capacity for socialization, adaptability, their sense of belong­
ing and social signaling, trust, and experimentation. Play’s
importance is revealed above all in the catastrophic effects
of eliminating play from the repertoire of mammals, includ­
ing Homo sapiens sapiens. Denied play, no mammals become
successful adults. Among humans, those deprived of play are
far more prone to violent antisocial behavior, depression, and
pervasive distrust. The founder of the National Institute for
the Study of Play, Stuart Brown, began to suspect the impor-


tance of play when he first realized that what most violently
antisocial people had in common was a deep history of play
deprivation. Play, along with two other major apparently pur­
poseless human activities, sleeping and dreaming, turns out to
be foundational, both socially and physically.

It’s Ignorance, Stupid ! Uncertainty

and Adaptability

The concept of efficiency would appear to be at cross purposes
with the openness that characterizes play. Once the purpose
of an activity is sharply defined-making automobiles, paper
cups, plywood sheets, or electric light bulbs-there often
seems to be a single most efficient way to go about it, at least
under current conditions. If the task environment of an insti­
tution or factory remains repetitive, stable, and predictable,
a set of fixed routines may well prove exceptionally efficient
and, perforce, closed.

This view of “efficient” is deficient in at least two respects.
F irst and most obvious, in most economies and human af­

fairs generally, such static conditions are the exception rather
than the rule and, when conditions change appreciably, these
routines are likely to prove maladaptive. The larger the reper­
toire of skills a worker has and the greater her capacity to add
to that repertoire, the more adaptive she is likely to be to an
unpredictable task environment and, by extension, the more
adaptable an institution composed of such adaptable individ­
uals is likely to be. Adaptab ility and breadth serve as a personal
and institutional insurance policy in the face of an uncertain
environment. This was, in a larger sense, arguably the single


most important advantage Homo erectus had over its primate
competitors : an impressive capacity to adapt to a capricious
environment, and eventually to act on that environment.

The importance of adaptability and breadth was brought
home to me in a practical way by a brief article on nutrition in
my university’s health newsletter. It noted, reasonably enough,
that scientific research had in the past decade and a half dis­
covered a good many nutrients now understood to be essential
for good health. So far, so good. Then it made what I thought
was an original observation (which I paraphrase here) . “We
expect,” it went on, “that in the next decade and a half we will
uncover many new, essential elements in the diet of which we
are not now aware.” “In light of this,” it continued, “the best
advice we can give you is to eat the most varied diet of which
you are capable in the hope that you will have included them.”
Here, then, was advice that built in the postulate of our igno ­
rance about the future .

The second deficiency embedded in a static concept of effi­
ciency is that it ignores utterly the way in which the efficiency
of any process that involves human labor depends on what
those workers will tolerate. The Lordsville, Ohio, G eneral
Motors automobile assembly plant was, when it was built, the
absolute state of the art in terms of assembly lines. The steps
and movements in assembly had been broken down into thou­
sands of distinct steps and was a model of Fordist efficiency.
The buildings were well lighted and ventilated, the factory
floor was kept scrupulously clean, there was piped music to
counteract the mechanical noise, rest breaks were built into
the schedule. It was also, in the name of efficiency, the fastest­
moving assembly line ever devised, requiring a tempo of work
that was without precedent. The workers resisted the line
and found ways to stop it by inconspicuous acts of sabotage .


In their frustration and anger, they damaged many parts so
that the percentage of defective pieces that had to be replaced
soared. Eventually the line had to be redesigned and slowed to
a humane pace. For our purposes, what is crucial here is that
the resistance by the workforce to its inhuman speed actually
made the design inefficient. There is no such thing as labor
efficiency in neoclassical economics that does not implicitly
assume conditions that the workforce will accept and tolerate .
If workers refuse to conform to the discipline of the work plan
they can, by their own acts, nullify its efficiency.

G H P : Th e Gross Human Product

What if we were to ask a different question of institutions and
activities than the narrow neoclassical question of how effi­
cient they are in terms of costs (e.g., resources, labor, capital)
per unit of a given, specified product ? What if we were to ask
what kind of people a given activity or institution fostered ?
Any activity we can imagine, any institution, no matter what
its manifest purpose, is also , willy-nilly, transforming people.

What if we were to bracket the manifest purpose of an in­
stitution and the efficiency with which it is achieved and ask
what the human product was ? There are many ways of evaluat­
ing the human results of institutions and economic activities
and it is unlikely that we could devise a convincing compre ­
hensive measure of, say, G H P, for gross human product, that
would be comparable to the economists’ GDP, gross domestic
product, measured in monetary units

If, undaunted by these difficulties, we decided to make a
stab at it, we could, I think, identify two plausible approaches :


one that would gauge how a work process enlarged human
capacities and skills and one that took its bearings from the
judgments of the workers themselves about their satisfaction.
The former is, at least in principle, measurable, in ordinal
terms of “more or less.”

What if we were to apply the standard of human capaci­
ties and skills to the industrial assembly line ? After five or ten
years on the assembly line at Lordsville or River Rouge, what
are the odds that the capacities and skills of a worker would
have been substantially enlarged ? Vanishingly small, I would
suspect. In fact, the whole point of the time-and-motion anal­
ysis behind the division oflabor on the line was to break down
the work process into thousands of minute steps that could
easily be learned. It was deliberately designed to eliminate the
artisanal-craft knowledge, and the power this knowledge con­
ferred on workers, that characterized the carriage-making era.
The line was premised on a deskilled, standardized workforce
in which one “hand” could be easily substituted for another. It
depended, in other words, on what we might legitimately call
the “stupidification” of the workforce. If by chance a worker
did enlarge his capacities and skills, he either did it on his own
time or, perversely, by devising cunning strategies to thwart
the intentions of management, as at Lordsville. Nevertheless,
were we scoring assembly-line work by the degree to which it
served to enlarge human capacities and skills, it would receive
failing grades, no matter how efficient it was at producing cars.
More than a century and a half ago, Alexis de Tocqueville,
commenting on Adam Smith’s classic example of the division
of labor, asked the essential question : “What can be expected
of a man who has spent twenty years of his life making heads
for pins.”2


In economics there i s something called “Hicksian income,”
after the British economist John Hicks. It represented an
early version of welfare economics in which H icksian income
accrued only if the factors of production, land and labor in
particular, were not degraded in the process. If they were de­
graded, that meant that the next round of production would
begin with inferior factors of production. Thus, if a technique
of agricultural production depleted the soil nutrients (some­
times called “soil mining”) , that loss would be reflected in a
diminished Hicksian income. By the same token, any form of
production such as the assembly line that degraded the tal­
ents and capacities of the workforce would, to that degree, be
charged with losses in Hicksian income. The opposite also ap ­
plies. Cultivation practices that systematically built up soil nu­
trients and tilth or manufacturing practices that expanded the
skills and knowledge of the workforce would be reflected in
an increment to the farmer’s or firm’s Hicksian income. What
welfare economists term positive and negative externalities
were built into the Hicksian calculus, though rarely, of course,
appearing in the firm’s net profit.

The term “capacities” as we have used it here could be un­
derstood narrowly or broadly. Taken narrowly with respect to,
say, auto workers, it might refer to how many “positions” on
the line they had held, whether they had learned pop-riveting,
welding, tolerance adjustments, and so forth. Taken broadly,
it might mean whether they had been trained and qualified
for more skilled or management work, whether they had
gained cooperative experience in the organization of the work
process itself, whether their creativity was fostered, whether
they had learned the skills of negotiation and representation
on the job. If we were to apply the test of an enlarged capacity


for democratic citizensh ip, it is obvious that the assembly line
itself is a profoundly authoritarian environment where deci­
sions are in the hands of the engineers and the substitutable
units of the workforce are expected to do the work assigned
them more or less mechanically. It never quite works out that
way, but that’s the imminent logic of the line. The line as a
work process would have a negative “net democratic product.”

What if we asked the same questions of the school, the
major public institution of socialization for the young in
much of the world ? The query is all the more appropriate in
light of the fact that the public school was invented more or
less at the same time as the large factory under a single roof,
and the two institutions bear a strong family resemblance.
The school was, in a sense, a factory for the basic training of
the m inimal skills of numeracy and literacy necessary for an
industrializing society. Gradgrind, the calculating, hectoring
caricature of a headmaster in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, is
meant to remind us of the factory: its work routines, its time
discipline, its authoritarianism, its regimented visual order,
and, not least, th e demoralization and resistance of its pint­
sized, juvenile workers.

Universal public education is, of course, designed to do far
more than merely turn out the labor force required by indus­
try. It is as much a political as an economic institution. It is
designed to produce a patriotic citizen whose loyalty to the
nation will trump regional and local identities of language,
ethnicity, and religion. The un iversal citizenship of revolu­
tionary France had its counterpart in un iversal conscription.
Manufacturing such patriotic citizens through the school sys­
tem was accomplished less through the manifest curriculum
than through its language of instruction, its standardization,
and its implicit lessons in regimentation, authority, and order .


The modern primary and secondary school system has
been much altered by changing theories of pedagogy and,
most especially, by affluence and the “youth culture” itself.
But there is no mistaking its origins in the factory, if not the
prison . Compulsory universal education, however democra­
tizing in one sense, has also meant that, with few exceptions,
the students have to be there. The fact that attendance is not a
choice, not an autonomous act, means that it starts out funda­
mentally on the wrong foot as a compulsory institution, with
all the alienation that this duress implies, especially as children
grow older.

The great tragedy of the public school system, however, is
that it is, by and large, a one-product factory. This tendency
has only been exacerbated by the push in recent decades for
standardization, measurement, testing, and accountabili ty.
The resulting incentives for students, teachers, principals, and
whole school d istric ts have had the effect of bending all efforts
toward fashioning a standard product that satisfies the criteria
the auditors have established.

What is this produc t ? It is a certain form of analytical intel­
ligence, narrowly conceived, which can, it is assumed, be mea­
sured by tests. We know, of course, that there are many, many
skills that are valuable and important for a successful society
that are not even remotely related to analytical intelligence,
among them, artistic talent, imaginative intell igence, mechan­
ical intelligence (the kind that Ford’s early workers brought
with them from the farm ) , musical and dance skills, creative
intell igence, emotional intelligence, social skills, and ethical
intelligence. Some of these aptitudes find a place in extracur­
ricular activi ties, especially sports, but not in the measured
and graded activities on which so much now depends for stu­
dents, teachers, and schools. This monochromatic flattening


of education is brought to a kind of apotheosis in educational
systems like those in France, Japan, China, and Korea, where
the exercise culminates in a single examination on which one’s
future mobil ity and life’s chances substantially depend. Here
the scramble to get into the best-regarded schools, to find
extra-hours tutoring, and to attend special exam-preparation
cram courses reaches a fever pitch.

How ironic it is that I, who write this, and virtually any­
one who reads it, are the beneficiaries, the victors, of this rat
race. It reminds me of a graffito I once saw in a Yale toilet stall .
Someone had written, “Remember, even if you win the rat
race, you’re still a rat !” Be low, in a different hand, someone
else had riposted, “Yeah, but you’re a winner.”

Those of us who “won” this race are the lifetime beneficia­
ries of opportunities and privileges that would not likely oth­
erwise have come our way. We are also are l ikely to carry a l ife­
time sense of entitlement, superiority, accomplishment, and
self-esteem that comes from this victory. Let us bracket, for
the moment, the question of whether this d ividend is justified
and what it actually means in terms of our value to ourselves
and others, and merely note that it represents a fund of social
capital that adjusts the odds of financial and status mobility
radically in our favor. This is a lifetime privilege extended to
perhaps one-fifth at most of those the system turns out.

And what of the rest ? What of the, say, 80 percent who in
effect lose the race ? They carry less social capital ; the odds are
adjusted against them. Perhaps as important is the fact that
they are likely to carry a lifelong sense of having been de­
feated, of being less valued, of thinking that they are inferior
and slow-witted. This system effect further adjusts the odds
against them. And yet, have we any rational reason to credit
the judgments of a system that values such a narrow band-


width of human talents and measures achievement within this
band by the ability to sit successfully for an exam?

Those who do poorly on tests of analytical intelligence may
be incredibly talented at one or more of the many forms of in­
telligence that are neither taught nor valued by the school sys­
tem. What sort of a system is it that wastes these talents, that
sends four-fifths of its students away with a permanent stigma
in the eyes of society’s gatekeepers, and perhaps in their own
eyes as well ? Are the dubious benefits of the privileges and op ­
portunities accorded a presumed “analytical intelligence elite”
by this pedagogical tunnel vision worth so much social dam­
age and waste ?

A Caring Institution

A chilling encounter with a “caring” institution twenty years
ago brought me up short. Two of my aunts, both widowed and
without surviving children, were living in a retirement home
in West Virginia not far from where they had taught school.
It was a small retirement home for about twenty women, who
were expected to dress themselves and walk under their own
power to meals in the common dining room. They were in
their mid-eighties, and one of them had recently sustained a
fall, requiring a hospital stay that was somewhat prolonged
because she had to demonstrate to the retirement home that
she was up and walking before it would take her back.

Realizing that, as they became frailer, they would have to
leave the retirement home and enter a convalescent home pro ­
viding more intensive care, my aunts asked me, their closest
relative among the next generation, to come and survey the


convalescent homes so they might choose the best care they
could afford.

I arrived on a Friday, and by the time we sat down to dinner
at their retirement home on Saturday, I had visited two con­
valescent homes that seemed acceptable, though one seemed
a bit friendlier and better scrubbed, with less of the smell that
permeates even the best of them. Wanting to know what the
residents themselves thought of each place, I had conducted
something of an informal survey by going from room to room
introducing myself, explaining my aunts’ situation, and listen­
ing to what the residents had to say. The evaluations were very
positive : they praised the care they received, the attention of
the staff, the food, and the weekly activities and small outings
afforded them.

I set out again on Sunday to “bag” two more convalescent
homes nearby, hoping to see six in all before I had to fly back.
That morning I began, as on Saturday, talking to the staff
and then to the residents. On the floor nearest the reception
area, there appeared to be only one nurse, who then took me
around the facility, explaining things as she went. When she
had finished, I said I would like to talk to a few residents, and
she, knowing I was looking on behalf of my two aunts, took
me first to a room shared by sisters who had arrived together
the year before.

After introducing myself and explaining why I wanted to
hear about their experience, I listened as they praised their
care with animation and some enthusiasm. “Another suit­
able place,” I began to think. Just then, the phone could be
heard ringing faintly in the distance at the nurses’ station. The
nurse excused herself, explaining that they were always a bit
shorthanded on Sunday, and sped down the hall to answer the
phone. The moment she was well out of hearing distance, one


of the sisters put her finger to her lips and with great feeling
said, “Whatever you do, don’t send your aunts here !” “They
treat us terribly.” “If we complain about anything or ask for
extra help, they shout at us and tell us to shut up.” They ex­
plained how some of the staff would delay bathing them or
bringing their food or personal effects if they displeased them
in any way. At this point, as the nurse’s footsteps could be
heard approaching the room, one of the sisters put her finger
to her mouth again and we resumed an innocuous conversa­
tion as the nurse entered.

As I drove off to inspect a fourth convalescent home, it
dawned on me that I had just wimessed the operation of a re­
gime of low-level terror. To judge by this experience, the resi­
dents, constantly dependent on the staff for their basic needs,
were afraid to say anything other than what they thought the
staff expected from them, lest they be punished. My aunts,
particularly the lifelong English and debate teacher with a
Napoleon complex, would not fare well under this regime. I
also realized that until this last incident I had always spoken
with the residents with a staff member constantly at my side.
Henceforth, when I visited the four additional convalescent
homes on my list, I insisted that I be allowed to walk on my
own through most of the facility and talk with those I met.
If this request was refused, as it was in three of the four, I left

In the end, I found other grounds on which to make a
choice. At one place, when I described my aunts as teachers,
one head nurse asked me who they were and then exclaimed,
“Oh, Miss Hutchinson ! I remember her; she was my high
school English teacher. She was strict, but I remember how
she would invite us all out to her farm in Sandyville.” It seemed
to me that as long as my aunt was “Miss Hutchinson, our


English teacher:’ and not merely an anonymous frail person in
her eighties, I had reason to hope for better and more personal
care that, ideally, would extend to her roommate and sister as
well. I only hoped that my Aunt Elinore’s Napoleon complex
was not so memorable that her student would want to make a
St. Helena of her convalescence.

What was so demoralizing to me was to envision my two
aunts, who had long been figures of power and authority to
conjure with, reduced in the last stage of their life to such ser­
vility, fear, and silence. Nor could one ignore the infantilizing
terms of address that prevailed among the overburdened staff
when they spoke to their charges: “Now, dearie, it’s time to
take our pills like a good little girl.”

It’s not difficult to imagine how quickly and how thor­
oughly conditions of such abj ect bodily dependence for
the most basic needs on a hard-pressed and underpaid staff
might induce an “institutional personality,” how infantiliza­
tion might produce elderly infants. The convalescent home,
not unlike the prison, the cloister, and the barracks, is some­
thing of a “total” institution of such comprehensive power
that the pressures to adapt to its institutional norms are nearly

Pathologies of the Institutional Life

We live most of our lives in institutions: from the family to
the school, to the army, to the business enterprise. These insti­
tutions to some considerable degree shape our expectations,
our personalities, and our routines. Recognizing that these
institutions are varied and that they are not static , can we nev-


ertheless say something about the aggregate effects of such in­
stitutions in shaping us ?

I believe we can, in a rough-and-ready way. The first thing
to notice is that since the Industrial Revolution and headlong
urbanization, a vastly increasing share of the population has
become propertyless and dependent on large, hierarchical or­
ganizations for their livelihood. The household economy of
the small farmer-peasant or shopkeeper may have been just
as poverty-stricken and insecure as that of the proletarian. It
was, however, decidedly less subj ect to the quotidian, direct
discipline of managers, bosses, and foremen. Even the tenant
farmer, subj ect to the caprice of his landlord, or the small­
holder, deeply in debt to the bank or moneylenders, was in
control of his working day: when to plant, how to cultivate,
when to harvest and sell, and so forth. Compare this to the
factory worker tied to the clock from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., tied
to the rhythm of the machine, and closely monitored person­
ally or electronically. Even in the service industries the pace,
regulation, and monitoring of work are far beyond what the
independent shopkeeper experienced in terms of minute

The second thing to notice is that these institutions are,
with very few exceptions, profoundly hierarchical and, typi­
cally, authoritarian. Training, one might say, in the habits of
hierarchy begins, in both agrarian and industrial societies,
with the patriarchal family. While family structures in which
children, women, and servants are treated virtually as chat­
tel have become less authoritarian, the patriarchal family still
thrives and could not exactly be called a training ground for
autonomy and independence, except perhaps for the male
head of household. The patriarchal family historically was
rather a training in servitude for most of its members and a


train ing ground of authoritarianism for its male heads of
household and its sons-in-training. When the experience of
servitude within the family is reinforced by an adult working
life lived largely in authoritarian settings that further abridge
the workers’ autonomy and independence, the consequences
for the G H P are melancholy.

The implications of a life lived largely in subservience for
the quality of citizenship in a democracy are also ominous. Is
it reasonable to expect someone whose waking life is almost
completely lived in subservience and who has acquired the
habits of survival and self-preservation in such settings to sud­
denly become, in a town meeting, a courageous, independent­
thinking, risk-taking model of individual sovereignty ? How
does one move directly from what is often a dictatorship at
work to the practice of democratic citizenship in the civic
sphere ? Authoritarian settings do, of course, shape personali ­
ties in profound ways. Stanley Milgram famously found that
most subj ects would administer what they imagined were se­
vere, even life-threatening electric shocks to experimental sub­
j ects when directed by authorities in wh ite coats to do so. And
Philip Zimbardo found that subjects assigned to role-play
prison guards in a psychology experiment were so quick to
abuse this power that the experiment had to be aborted before
more harm was done.3

More generally, political philosophers as varied as Etienne
de La Boetie and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were deeply con­
cerned about the political consequences of hierarchy and au­
tocracy. They believed that such settings created the personali­
ties of subj ects rather than citizens. Subj ects learned the habits
of deference. They were apt to fawn on superiors and put on
an air of servility, dissembling when necessary and rarely ven­
turing an independent opinion, let alone a controversial one .


Their general demeanor was one of caution. While they may
have had views of their own, even subversive ones, they kept
such views to themselves, avoiding public acts of independent
judgment and moral direction.

Under the most severe forms of “institutional ization” (the
term itself is diagnostic) , such as prisons, asylums for the men­
tally ill , orphanages, workhouses for the poor, concentration
camps, and old-age homes, there arises a personality disorder
sometimes called “institutional neurosis.” It is a direct result
oflong-term institutionalization itself. Those suffering from it
are apathetic, take no initiative, display a general loss of inter­
est in their surroundings, make no plans, and lack spontaneity.
Because they are cooperative and give no trouble, such insti­
tutional subj ects may be seen by those in charge in a favorable
light, as they adapt well to institutional routines. In the sever­
est cases they may become childish and affect a characteristic
posture and gait ( in the Nazi concentration camps, such pris­
oners, near death from privation, were called by other prison­
ers ” Musselmiinner”) and become withdrawn and inaccessible.
These are institutional effects produced by the loss of contact
with the outside world, the loss offriends and possessions, and
the nature of the staff’s power over them.

The question I want to pose is this : Are the authoritarian
and hierarch ical characteristics of most contemporary life­
world institutions-the family, the school, the factory, the of­
fice, the worksite-such that they produce a mild form of in­
stitutional neurosis ? At one end of an institutional continuum
one can place the total institutions that routinely destroy the
autonomy and initiative of their subjects. At the other end of
this continuum lies, perhaps, some ideal version of Jefferso­
nian democracy composed of independent, self-reliant, self­
respecting, landowning farmers, managers of their own small


enterprises, answerable to themselves, free of debt, and more
generally with no institutional reason for servility or defer­
ence. Such free-standing farmers, Jefferson thought, were the
basis of a vigorous and independent public sphere where citi­
zens could speak their mind without fear or favor. Somewhere
in between these two poles lies the contemporary si tuation
of most citizens of Western democracies : a relatively open
public sphere but a quotidian institutional experience that is
largely at cross purposes with the implicit assumptions behind
this public sphere and encouraging and often rewarding cau­
tion, deference, servility, and conformity. Does this engender
a form of institutional neurosis that saps the vitality of c ivic
dialogue ? And, more broadly, do the cumulative effects of life
within the patriarchal family, the state, and other hierarchi­
cal institutions produce a more passive subj ect who lacks the
spontaneous capacity for mutuality so praised by both anar­
chist and liberal democratic theorists.

If it does, then an urgent task of public policy is to foster
institutions that expand the independence, autonomy, and ca­
pacities of the citizenry. How is it poss ible to adjust the insti­
tutional lifeworld of citizens so that it is more in keeping with
the capacity for democratic citizenship ?

A Modest, Counterintuitive Example : Red

Light Removal

The regulation of daily life is so ubiquitous and so embedded
in our routines and expectations as to pass virtually unnoticed.
Take the example of traffic lights at intersections. Invented in
the United States after World War I, the traffic light substi-


tuted the judgment of the traffic engineer for the mutual give­
and-take that had prevaUed historically between pedestrians,
carts, motor vehicles, and bicycles. Its purpose was to prevent
accidents by imposing an engineered scheme of coordination.
More than occasionally, the result has been the scene in Neu­
brandenburg with which I opened the book: scores of people
waiting patiently for the light to change when it was perfectly
apparent there was no traffic whatever. They were suspending
their independent judgment out of habit, or perhaps out of a
civic fear of the ultimate consequences of exercising it against
the prevaUing electronic legal order.

What would happen if there were no electronic order at
the intersection, and motorists and pedestrians had to exer­
cise their independent judgment ? Since 1 999, beginning in
the city of Drachten, the Netherlands, this supposition has
been put to the test with stunning results, leading to a wave of
“red light removal” schemes across Europe and in the United
States.4 Both the reasoning behind this small policy initiative
and its results are, I believe, diagnostic for other, more far­
reaching efforts to craft institutions that enlarge the scope for
independent judgment and expand capacities.

Hans Moderman, the counterintuitive traffic engineer who
first suggested the removal of a red light in Drachten in 2003,
went on to promote the concept of”shared space,” which took
hold quickly in Europe. He began with the observation that,
when an electrical faUure incapacitated traffic lights, the result
was improved flow rather than congestion. As an experiment,
he replaced the busiest traffic-light intersection in Drachten,
handling 22,000 cars a day, with a traffic circle, an extended
cycle path, and a pedestrian area. In the two years following
the removal of the traffic light, the number of accidents plum­
meted to only two, compared with thirty-six crashes in the



four years prior. Traffic moves more briskly through the inter­
section when all drivers know they must be alert and use their
common sense, while backups and the road rage associated
with them have virtually disappeared. Monderman likened it
to skaters in a crowded ice rink who manage successfully to
tailor their movements to those of the other skaters. He also
believed that an excess of signage led drivers to take their eyes
off the road, and actually contributed to making junctions less

Red light removal can, I believe, be seen as a modest training
exercise in responsible driving and civic courtesy. Monderman
was not against traffic lights in principle, he simply did not
find any in Drach ten that were truly useful in terms of safety,
improving traffic flow, and lessening pollution. The traffic
circle seems dangerous : and that is the point. He argued that
when “motorists are made more wary about how they drive,
they behave more carefully; and the statistics on “post-traffic
light” accidents bear him out. Having to share the road with
other users, and having no imperative coordination imposed
by traffic lights, the context virtually requires alertness – an
alertness abetted by the law, which, in the case of an accident
where blame is hard to determine, presumptively blames the
“strongest” (i.e., blames the car driver rather than the bicyclist,
and the bicyclist rather than the pedestrian.)

The shared space concept of traffic management relies on
the intelligence, good sense, and attentive observation of driv­
ers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. At the same time, it arguably,
in its small way, actually expands the skills and capacity of
drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to negotiate traffic without
being treated like automata by thickets of imperative signs
(Germany alone has 648 valid traffic symbols, which accu­
mulate as one approaches a town) and signals. Monderman


believed that the more numerous the prescriptions, the more
it impelled drivers to seek the maximum advantage within the
rules : speeding up between signals, beating the light, avoid­
ing all unprescribed courtesies. Drivers had learned to run the
maze of prescriptions to their maximum advantage. Without
go ing overboard about its world-shaking significance, Moder­
man’s innovation does make a palpable contribution to the
gross human product.

The effect of what was a paradigm shift in traffic manage­
ment was euphoria. Small towns in the Netherlands put up
one sign boasting that they were “Free of Traffic Signs” (Ver­
keersbordvrij) , and a conference discussing the new philoso­
phy proclaimed “Unsafe is safe.”

Two Cheers for the Petty Bourgeoisie

Introducing a Maligned Class

No increase in material wealth will compensate . . .

for arrangements which insult their self-respect

and impair their freedom.

R. H Tawney1

It is time someone put in a good word for the petite bour­
geoisie. Unlike the working class and capitalists, who have
never lack for spokespersons, the petite bourgeoisie rarely, if
ever, speaks for itself. And while capitalists gather in industrial
associations and at the Davos World Economic Forum, and
the working class congregates at trade union congresses, the
one and only time, as near as I can tell, the petite bourgeoisie
gathered in its own name was at the 1 90 1 First International
Congress of the Petite Bourgeoisie in Brussels. There was no
Second Congress.


Why take up the cudgels for a class that remains relatively
anonymous and is surely not, in the Marxist parlance, a class
for sich? There are several reasons. First and most important,
I believe that the petite bourgeoisie and small property in
general represent a precious zone of autonomy and freedom
in state systems increasingly dominated by large public and
private bureaucracies. Autonomy and freedom are, along with
mutuality, at the center of an anarchist sensibility. S econd, I
am convinced that the petite bourgeoisie performs vital social
and economic services under any political system.

Finally, given any reasonably generous definition of its class
boundaries, the petite bourgeoisie represents the largest class
in the world. If we include not only the iconic shopkeepers
but also smallholding peasants, artisans, peddlers, small inde­
pendent professionals, and small traders whose only property
might be a pushcart or a rowboat and a few tools, the class
balloons. If we include the periphery of the class, say, tenant
farmers, ploughmen with a draft animal, rag pickers, and itin­
erant market women, where autonomy is more severely con­
strained and the property small indeed, the class grows even
larger. What they all have in common, however, and what dis­
tinguishes them from both the clerk and the factory worker is
that they are largely in control of their working day and work
with little or no supervision. One may legitimately view this
as a very dubious autonomy when it means, as a practical mat­
ter, working eighteen hours a day for a remuneration that may
only provide a bare subsistence. And yet it is clear, as we shall
see, that the desire for autonomy, for control over the work­
ing day and the sense of freedom and self-respect such control
provides, is a vastly underestimated social aspiration for much
of the world’s population .


Th e Etiology of Contempt

Before we start heaping praise on the petite bourgeoisie, we
might well pause to consider why it has, as a class, such a bad
press. The Marxist contempt for the petite bourgeoisie is in
part structural. Capitalist industry created the proletariat, and
therefore it is only the proletariat whose emancipation entails
the transcending of capitalism as a system. Curiously, but logi­
cally, Marxists have a grudging admiration for capitalists who
transcended feudalism and unleashed the enormous produc­
tive forces of modern industry. They set the stage, as it were,
for the proletarian revolution and the triumph of communism
amid material plenty. The petite bourgeoisie, by contrast, are
neither fish nor fowl ; they are mostly poor but they are poor
capitalists. They may, from time to time, ally with the Left, but
they are fair-weather friends ; their allegiance is fundamentally
unreliable as they have a foot in both camps and desire them­
selves to become large capitalists.

The direct translation of the French “petite” into English
as “petty” rather than, say, “small” does further damage. Now
it seems not just to mean small but also contemptibly trivial,
as in “pettifoggery,” “petty cash; and just plain “petty.” And
when it is compounded into “petty-bourgeoisie,” it joins the
contempt of Marxists, the intelligentsia, and the aristocracy
for the philistine tastes and crass concern for money and prop ­
erty of the nouveau arrive . After the Bolshevik Revolution a
petty bourgeoisie label could mean prison, exile, or death. The
contempt for the petty bourgeoisie was joined to the germ
theory of disease in terms foreshadowing Nazi anti-S emitism.
Bukharin, stigmatizing the striking workers and sailors, at
Kronstadt noted that “the petty bourgeois infection had spread


from the peasantry to a segment of the working class.”2 Those
small peasants who resisted collectivization were castigated in
similar terms : “the real danger of bourgeois miasma and petty
bourgeois bacilli still remains-disinfection is necessary.”3 In
th is last case, the bacilli in question were almost entirely small­
holding farmers with a modest surplus who might, at harvest,
hire a few laborers. And, of course, the vast majority of the
petty bourgeoisie are relatively poor, hardworking, and own
barely enough property to make ends meet; the exploitation
they practice is largely confined to the patriarchal family­
what one writer has termed “auto -exploitation.”4

The distaste for the petty bourgeoisie also has, I believe, a
structural source : one that is shared by the erstwhile social­
ist bloc and large capitalist democracies. The fact is, almost
all forms of small property have the means to elude the state’s
control : small property is hard to monitor, tax, or police ; it
resists regulation and enforcement by the very complexity, va­
riety, and mobility of its activities. The crisis of 1 929 that led
to Stalin’s headlong campaign to co llectivize was precisely the
failure to appropriate sufficient grain from the smallholding
peasantry. As a general rule, states of virtually all descriptions
have always favored units of production from which it is easier
to appropriate grain and taxes. For this reason, the state has
nearly always been the implacable enemy of mobile peoples­
Gypsies, pastoral ists, itinerant traders, sh ifting cultivators,
migrating laborers-as their activities are opaque and mobile,
flying below the state’s radar. For much the same reason states
have preferred agribusiness, collective farms, plantations, and
state marketing boards over smallholder agriculture and petty
trade. They have preferred large corporations, banks, and
business conglomerates to smaller-scale trade and industry.
The former are often less efficient than the latter, but the fiscal


authorities can more easily monitor, regulate, and tax them.
The more pervasive the state ‘s fiscal grasp, the more likely that
a “gray” or “black” informal and unreported economy will
arise to evade it. And it goes without saying that the sheer size
and deep pockets of the largest institutions guarantee them a
privileged seat in the councils of power.

Petty Bourgeois Dreams: Th e Lure o f Property

To make a very long story very short, Homo sapiens has been
around for someth ing like 200,000 years. States were only
“invented” roughly five thousand years ago, and until about a
thousand years ago most of humankind l ived outside anything
that could be called a state. Most of those who did live within
those states were small property owners (peasants, artisans,
shopkeepers, traders) . And, when certain rights of representa­
tion developed from the seventeenth century on, they were
accorded on the basis of status and property. The large bureau­
cratic organizations that characterize the modern era may be
originally modeled on the monastery and the barracks, but
they are essentially a product of the last two and a half centu­
ries. This is another way of saying that there is a long history
of life outside the state and that life inside the state until the
eighteenth century sharply d istinguished between a formally
unfree population (slaves, serfs, and dependents) , on the one
hand, and a large smallholder population on the other that
disposed, in theory and often in practice, of certain rights to
found families : to hold and inherit land, to form trade asso ­
ciations, to choose local village leaders, and to petition ru lers.
Relative autonomy and independence for subordinate classes


thus came in two forms: a life on the margins, outside the
state’s reach, or a life inside the state with the minimal rights
associated with small property.

I suspect that the tremendous desire one can find in many
societies for a piece of land, one’s own house, one’s own shop
owes a great deal not only to the real margin of independent
action, autonomy, and security it confers but also to the dig­
nity, standing, and honor associated with small property in
the eyes of the state and of one’s neighbors. For Thomas Jeffer­
son, independent, smallholding cultivation promoted social
virtues and was the bedrock of a democratic citizenry :

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens, they
are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most vir­
tuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its
liberty of interest by the most lasting bonds.5

In the course of l iving in and reading about peasant soci­
eties, I found it impossib le to ignore the incredible tenacity
with wh ich many marginal smallholders clung to the small­
est patch of land. When pure economic logic suggested they
would be far better off seeking a profitable tenancy or even
moving to town, they held on by their fingernails as long as
they possibly could. Those who had no land of their own to
farm sought long-lease tenancies, preferably from relatives,
that represented the next best th ing, in terms of status, to
owning one’s own fields. Those who had neither their own
land nor a viable tenancy and who were reduced to working
for others hung on to their house lot in the village to the bitter
end. In terms of sheer income, a good many tenant farmers
were better off than smallholders, and a good many laborers
were better off than small tenants. For the peasantry, however,


the difference in autonomy, independence, and hence social
standing was decisive . The smallholder, unlike the tenant, de­
pended on no one for land to farm and the tenant, and unlike
the laborer, had at least land for the season and control over
his or her working day, while the laborer was cast into what
was viewed as a demeaning dependence on the good will of
neighbors and relatives. The final humiliation was to lose that
last physical symbol of independence, the house lot.

Each of the descending rungs of the village class system rep­
resented a loss of economic security and independent status.
The substance of the petty bourgeois dream, however, was not
some abstract calculation of income security but rather the
deep desire for full cultural citizenship in their small commu­
nity. What property meant was the ab ility to celebrate mar­
riages, funerals, and, in a small Malay village, the feast at the
end of Ramadan, in a way that gave social expression to their
worth and standing. The secure “middle peasants” with the
steady wherewithal to celebrate these rituals were not only the
most influential villagers but also the models to emulate and
aspire to. Falling far short of this standard was to become a
second-class cultural citizen .

Thwarted petty bourgeois dreams are the standard tinder of
revolutionary ferment. “Land to the tiller,” in one form or an­
other, has been the effective rallying cry of most agrarian revo ­
lutions. The rural revolution in Russia in 1 9 1 7 was accelerated
by the rush of Russian conscripts, defeated on the Austrian
front, to return home and participate in the land seizures tak­
ing place. For many of the so-called “bare sticks” (unattached,
“surplus”) , landless laborers in prerevolutionary China, the
People’s Revolutionary Army represented the precious chance
to have land of their own, found a (patriarchal ) family, and


achieve a passionately desired cultural citizenship that, among
other things, meant an honorable burial. The key (bait ? ) to
the enthusiastic participation of the peasantry in virtually all
twentieth-century revolutions has been the prospect of land
ownership and the standing and independence that came with
it. When land reform was succeeded by collectivization, it was
experienced and resisted by most of the peasantry as a betrayal
of their aspirations.

Petty bourgeois dreams infuse the imagination of the in­
dustrial proletariat as well. The reddest of the red proletar­
ians, the militant coal miners and steelworkers of the Ruhr in
1 9 1 9 , on whom Lenin reposed his revolutionary hopes, are
a striking case in point.6 When asked what they wished for,
their desires were remarkably modest. They wanted higher
wages, a shorter day, and longer rests, as one might expect. But
beyond what Marxists would disparagingly call “trade-union
consciousness,” they yearned to be treated honorably by their
bosses (and be called “Herr X”) and aspired to have a small
cottage with a garden to call their own. It is hardly surpris­
ing that a newly industrialized proletariat would retain social
aspirations from their village origins, but their demand for the
amenities of social respect and for the cultural trappings of an
independent life on the land ill fit either the stereotype of an
“economistic” working class with both eyes fixed on the loot
or that of a revolutionary proletariat.

Over the past several decades, standard opinion polls in
the United States have asked industrial workers what kind
of work they would prefer to factory work.? An astonish­
ingly high percentage pines to open a shop or a restaurant or
to farm. The unifying theme of these dreams is the freedom
from close supervision and autonomy of the working day


that, in their mind, more than compensates for the long hours
and risks of such small businesses. Most, of course, never
act on this wish, but its tenacity as a fantasy is indicative of
its power.

For those who have known real slavery as opposed to “wage
slavery,” the possibility of an independent subsistence, how­
ever marginal , was a dream come true.8 Slaves throughout the
Confederate states, once emancipated, took to their heels and
settled on the frontiers of plantation agriculture, making a bare
independent livelihood off the unclaimed commons. With a
shotgun, a mule, a cow, a fishhook, a few chickens, geese, and a
plow, it was finally possible to live independently and to work
rarely for “the man,” and then only so long as to satisfy the tern­
porary need for cash. Poor whites lived from the commons in
much the same way, avoiding a degrading dependence on their
wealthier neighbors. The result was the end of the plantation
economy, which was only restored, in greatly modified form,
with the enactment of the “fence laws” throughout the South
from the 1 880s on and explicitly designed to close the com­
mons to independent blacks and whites and drive them back
into the labor market. The notorious share-cropping system,
the closest thing the United States has ever had to serfdom,
was the result.

The desire for autonomy seems so powerful that it can
take quite perverse forms. In factory settings, where the as­
sembly line is fine-tuned to reduce autonomy to the vanish­
ing point, workers manage nonetheless to steal back autono ­
mous time for “horseplay” as an expression of independence.9
Auto workers on the line at River Rouge rush to get ahead so
they can find a corner to doze in or read or to play a danger­
ous game of rivet hockey. Workers in socialist Hungary stole
time to make “homers” -small lathe pieces for themselves-


even when they had no earthly use for them. In a system of
work devised to exterminate “play; the workers refuse this
obj ectification and boredom, asserting their autonomy in
creative ways.

Modern agribusiness has, almost diabolically, managed
to exploit the desire for small property and autonomy to its
own advantage. The practice of contract farming in poultry­
raising is a diagnostic example. 1° Knowing that huge confine­
ment operations are epidemiologically dangerous, the larg­
est firms subcontract the raising of fryers to “independent”
farmers. The subcontractor is solely responsible for building
the large shed required according to the detailed specifica­
tions laid down by Tyson or other agribusiness corporations
and is responsible for the mortgage needed to finance it. The
agribusiness delivers the young chicks and minutely speci­
fies in the contract the feeding, watering, medication, and
cleaning regimen, for which it sells the necessary supplies. A
subcontractor’s daily performance is then closely monitored,
and he or she is paid at the end of the contract according
to the animals’ weight gain and survival rate, with payment
calibrated to shifting market conditions. Often the contract
will be renewed repeatedly, but there is no guarantee that
it will be.

What is perverse about this system is that it preserves a
simulacrum of independence and autonomy while emptying
out virtually all of its substantive content. The subcontrac­
tor is an independent landowner (and mortgage owner) , but
his workday and movements are nearly as choreographed as
those of the assembly-line worker. There is no one immedi­
ately breathing down his neck, but if the contract is not re­
newed, he is stuck with a mortgage as large as his shed. The
agribusiness in effect transfers the risks of landownership,


of capital on credit, and of managing a large workforce- a
workforce that would demand benefits-while reaping
most of the advantages of close supervision, standardiza­
tion, and quality control that the modern factory was origi­
nally designed to achieve . And it works ! The desire to hold on
to the last shred of dignity as an independent property owner
is so powerful that the “farmer” is willing to forfeit most of
its meaning.

Whatever else they may have missed about the human con­
dition, the anarchists’ belief in the drive for the dignity and
autonomy of small property was a perceptive reading of the
popular imaginary. The petty bourgeois dream of indepen­
dence, though less attainable in practice, did not die with the
Industrial Revolution. Rather, it gained a new lease on life .U

The Not So Petty Social Functions

of the Petty Bourgeoisie

From the Diggers and the Levellers of the English Civil War
to the Mexican peasants of 1 9 1 1 , to the anarchists of Spain
for nearly a century, to a great many anticolonial movements,
to mass movements in contemporary Brazil, the desire for
land and the restoration of lost land has been the leitmotif
of most radically egalitarian mass movements. Without ap ­
pealing to petty bourgeois dreams, they wouldn’t have had
a chance.

Marx’s contempt for the petite bourgeoisie, second only to
his contempt for the Lumpenproletariat, was based on the fact
that they were small property holders and therefore petty cap –


italists. Only the proletariat, a new class brought into being by
capitalism and without property, could be truly revolution­
ary ; their liberation depended on transcending capitalism .
However sound this reasoning in theory, the h istorical fact
is that in the West right up until the end of the nineteenth
century, artisans-weavers, shoemakers, printers, masons,
cart makers, carpenters-formed the core of most radical
working-class movements. As an old class, they shared a com­
munitarian tradition, a set of egalitarian practices, and a local
cohesiveness that the newly assembled factory labor force
was hard put to match. And, of course, the massive changes
in the economy from the 1 830s onward threatened their very
existence as communities and as trades ; they were fighting a
rear-guard action to preserve their autonomy. As Barrington
Moore, echo ing E. P. Thompson, put it,

the chief social basis of radicalism has been the peasants
and the smaller artisans in the towns. From these facts one
may conclude that the wellsprings of human freedom lie
not only where Marx saw them, in the aspirations of classes
about to take power, but perhaps even more in the dying
wail of classes over whom the wave of progress is about to
roll . 1 2

Throughout the Cold War, the standard counterrevolution­
ary option was preemptive land reform, though it was as often
as not blocked by elites. Only after the collapse of the socialist
bloc in 1 989 did the neoliberal consensus in organizations l ike
the World Bank delete land reform from their policy agenda .
While it is also true that beleaguered small property has given
rise to more than one right-wing movement, it would be


impossible to write the history of struggles for equality with­
out artisans, small peasants, and the ir passion for the indepen­
dence of small property near the center of attention. 0

There is also a strong case to be made for the indispens­
able economic ro le of the petty bourgeois ie in invention
and innovation. They are th e p ione ers, if not usually the
ultimate b enefic iaries, of the great majority of new pro ­
cesses, mach ines, tools , produc ts, foods, and ideas. No ­
where is th is more evident than in the modern software
industry, where virtually al l the novel ideas have been cre ­
ated by individuals or smal l partnerships and then pur­
chased or absorb ed by larger firms. The role of larger firms
has essential ly b ecome one of “scouting” the terrain of
innovation and then appropriating, by employing, poach­
ing, or buying out, any potential ly promising (or threat­
ening ) idea. The competitive advantage of large firms l ies
largely in their capi talization, marketing musc le , lobbying
power, and vertical integration, not in their original id eas
and innovation. And wh i le it is true that the petty bour­
geo is ie canno t send a man to the moon, bui ld an airplane,
dril l for o il in deep water, run a hospital , or manufacture
and market a major drug or a mobi le phone, the capac­
ity of huge firms to do such th ings rests substantially on
their ab i l i ty to combine thousands of smaller inventions
and processes that they themselves did not and perhaps
cannot create. 1 4 This, too, of course, i s an important in­
novation in i ts own right. Nevertheless, one key to th e o l i ­
gopoly posit ion of the largest firms l ies precisely in their
power to e l im inate or swallow potential rivals . In doing so,
they undoubtedly stifle at least as much innovation as they
fac i l itate.


“Free Lunches” Courtesy of the Perry Bourgeoisie

If you can’t smile, don’t open a shop.

Chit�ese p1·overb

Not long ago I spent a few days with a friend in Munich at the
home of her aging parents whom she had gone to visit. They
were relatively frail and largely confined to their apartment,
but insistent on walking brieRy in the cool summer mornings
in their immediate neighborhood. For several days my friend
and I accompanied them on their morning shopping rounds,
and “rounds” they were. They went first to a small grocery,
where they bought a handful of vegetables and some non per­
ishables ; then they proceeded to a nearby shop that carried
butter, milk, eggs, and cheese ; then to a butcher for a small
pork loin ; then to a stall selling fruit ; and finally, after paus­
ing to watch children playing in a small park, to a newspaper
stand for a magazine and the local paper. It seemed a nearly
invariant routine, and at each shop there was always a conver­
sation, brief or extended, depending on the number of other
shoppers. There were comments on the weather or on a recent
traffic accident nearby, inquiries after mutual friends and rela­
tives, mentions of births in the neighborhood, questions on
how a son or daughter was getting on, reAections on the an­
noying traffic noise, and so on.

One could say the conversations were shallow and filled
with l ittle more than pleasantries, the small change of daily
life, but they were never anonymous; the discussants knew one
another’s name and a fair amount of each other’s family his­
tory. I was forc ibly struck by the easy if th in sociab ility that


prevailed and came to realize that these rounds were the soc ial
highlight of my friend’s parents’ day. They could easily have
done most of their shopping more efficiently at a larger store
no farther away. On a moment’s reflection, one sees that the
shopkeepers are unpaid social workers, providing brief but
amiable companionship to their steady cl ientele. “Unpaid” is,
of course, not quite right, inasmuch as their prices were surely
higher than at the larger outlets ; the shopkeepers understood
implicitly that the sm iles and pleasantries they offered were
one way in which they built up a steady and loyal clientele
and hence their business. Lest we become overly cynical about
the mask of shopkeeper smiles, however, it is worth noting
that such pleasantries may well also take the hard edge off a
day otherwise spent behind a counter cutting, weighing, and
counting money.

The petty bourgeoisie in this small setting perform a kind
of daily and reliable social service free of charge that would
be hard for a public official or agency to replicate. It is merely
one of many gratuitous services the small shopkeepers find it
in their own interest to provide in the course of doing busi­
ness. Jane Jacobs in her deep ethnographic insights into the
texture of neighborhoods and publ ic safety has catalogued
many of them. • s Her phrase “eyes on the street; a wholly
original observation in 1 960, has become a contemporary de­
sign principle for urban neighborhoods. It refers to the con­
stant informal monitoring of a neighborhood by pedestrians,
shopkeepers, and residents, many of whom are acquainted
with one another. Their presence, the animation of the street
scene, works to informally preserve public order, with little or
no need for intervention. The point for our purposes is that
“eyes on the street” requires a dense, m ixed-use neighborhood,
with many small shops, ateliers, apartments, and services that



ensure the steady foot traffic of people on errands, window­
shopping, or making deliveries. The anchors of this process
are the petty bourgeoisie shopkeepers, who are there most of
the day, who know their clients, and who keep an informal
eye on the street. Such neighborhoods are far safer than more
deserted locales with little foot traffic. Here again a valuable
service, in this case ensuring public safety, is provided as a by­
product of a combination of other activities and at no cost to
the public. Where such informal structures are absent, even
the police will find it d ifficult to maintain effective safety.

The petty bourgeoisie provided services, like the smile of
the shopkeeper, that simply cannot be purchased. Jacobs no ­
ticed that on virtually every block there was at least one shop­
keeper with long hours whom residents asked to hold their
apartment keys for out-of-town relatives and friends who
would be using their apartment briefly while they were away.
The shopkeeper provided this service when asked as a courtesy
to h is customers. It is impossible to imagine a service like this
being provided by a public agency.

It is surely the case that “b ig box” stores can, owing again to
their clout as buyers, deliver a host of manufactured goods to
consumers at a cheaper price than the petty bourgeoisie. What
is not so clear, however, is whether, once one has factored in
all the public goods {the positive externalities) the petty bour­
geoisie provides-informal social work, public safety, the aes­
thetic pleasures of an animated and interesting streetscape, a
large variety of social experiences and personalized services,
acquaintance networks, informal ne ighborhood news and
gossip, a building block of social solidarity and public action,
and { in the case of the smallholding peasantry) good steward­
ship of the land-the petty bourgeoisie might not be, in a
full accounting, a far better bargain, in the long run, than the


large, impersonal capitalist firm. And, although they might
not quite measure up to the Jeffersonian democratic ideal of
the self-confident, independent, land-owning yeoman farmer,
they approach it far more closely that the clerk at Wal-Mart or
Home Depot.

One final fact is worth noting. A society dominated by
smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to
popular ownership of the means of production than any eco ­
nomic system yet devised .

For Politics

Debate and Quality: Against Quantitative

Measures of Qualities

Louisa had been overheard to begin a conversation with her brother

one day, by saying, “Tom, I wonder,” -upon which Mr. Gradgrind,

who was the person overhearing, stepped into the light and said,

“Louisa, never wonder.”

Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating

the reason, without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and

affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multipli­

cation, and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder.

Charles Dickcm, Hard Times

The strength of private enterprise lies in its terrify­

ing simplicity . . . it fits perfectly into the modern

trend towards total quantification at the expense

of the appreciation of qualitative differences ; for

private enterprise is not concerned with what it

produces but with what it gains from production.

E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful


Mia Kang stared at the test sheet on her desk.
It only was practice. Teachers call it a “field test” to

give them an idea of how students will perform on the
Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

But instead of filling in the bubbles and making her
teacher happy, Mia, a freshman at MacArthur High
School, used her answer sheet to write an essay that
challenged standardized testing and using test scores to
judge children and rank schools.

“I wrote about how standardized tests are hurting and
not helping schools and kids; said Mia, who looks and
acts older than her fourteen years. “I j ust couldn’t par­
ticipate in something that I ‘m completely opposed to.”

“These tests don’t measure what kids really need to
know, they measure what’s easy to measure,” she said.
“We should be learning concepts and skills, not j ust
memorizing. It’s sad for kids and it’s sad for teachers,

When the teaching and testing implications of No Child
Left Behind Act of 200 1 finally reached the classroom, there
was a flurry of student resistance, of which Mia Kang’s brave
stand was only a small example. Fifty-eight students at Dan­
vers High School in Massachusetts signed a petition against
being required to take the Massachusetts Comprehensive
Assessment System (MCAS) exam, and those who refused
to sit for the test were suspended from school. Students at
other high schools in the state joined them. What might be
called “elements of refusal” popped up throughout the coun-


try: large numbers of Michigan students opted out of the
Michigan Educational Assessment Test, and Wisconsin’s high
school “exit exam” (a condition of graduation) was scrapped
owing to massive resistance from parents and students. In one
case, teachers who resented the test drills now required of
them protested by collectively refusing their own bonuses for
superior performance. Protests against the tests required of
early elementary pupils were organized on the pupils’ behalf
by parents. While understanding the need to guarantee that
children became literate and numerate early in their school­
ing, the parents obj ected to the “drill and kill” atmosphere in
the classroom, as did their children.

A great deal , though not all, of the resistance was provoked
by students who hated the “teaching to the test” drills that
greatly raised the never negligible quotient of boredom in the
classroom to new levels. The test preparation was not merely
alienated labor for students and teachers alike, it crowded out
the much of the time available for anything else-the arts ,
drama, history, sports, foreign languages, creative writing, po­
etry, field trips. Gone were many of the other goals that might
animate education: cooperative learning, a multicultural cur­
riculum, the fostering of multiple intelligences, discovery­
oriented science, and problem-based learning.

The school was in danger of being transformed into a “one­
product” factory, the product being students who could pass
standardized tests designed to measure a narrow bandwidth of
knowledge and test-takingskills. Here it is worth recalling once
again that the modern institution of the school was invented at
about the same time as the early textile factory. Each concen­
trated the workforce under one roof; each created time disci­
pline and task specialization so as to facilitate supervision and
evaluation; each aimed at producing a reliable, standardized


product. The contemporary emphasis on regional or national
standardized tests is based on the model of corporate manage­
ment by quantitative norms, norms that allow comparisons
across teachers, across schools, and across students so as to
differentially reward them on the basis of their performance
according to this criterion.

The question of the validity of the tests-whether they
measure what they purport to measure-is in great doubt.
That students can be trained to perform better by drills and
by cramming makes it unclear what underlying knowledge or
skills the tests measure. They have been shown to consistently
underpredict the subsequent performance of women, of Af­
rican Americans, and of pupils whose first language is not
English. Above all, the alienation that high-stakes, test-driven
education encourages threatens to give millions of youngsters
a lifelong vaccination against school learning altogether.

Those most seemingly in favor of standardized tests as a
management tool and a comparative measure of productivity
are those at the greatest distance from ground zero of the class­
room: superintendents of schools, city and state education of­
ficials, governors, and Department of Education policy mak­
ers. It gives them all an index, however invalid, of comparative
productivity and a powerful incentive system to impose their
pedagogical plans. It is most curious that the United States
should elect to homogenize its educational system when most
of the rest of the world is headed in the opposite direction.
Finland, for example, has no external tests and no ranking of
students or schools, but scores exceptionally well on all inter­
national measures of achievement. Many high-quality col­
leges and universities have stopped requiring or even encour­
aging students to take the nationally administered Scholastic
Achievement Test (previously the Scholastic Aptitude Test) .


Nations that have historically relied on a single national ex­
amination to allocate precious places in universities have been
rushing headlong to eliminate or deemphasize the tests in
order to foster “creativity,” often in what they take to be an
imitation of the American system !

Knowing that their fates and that of their schools depended
on test scores each year, many educators not only drilled their
students mercilessly but also cheated to ensure a successful
outcome. Throughout the nation there was a nationwide epi­
demic of falsifying results. One of the most recent exposures
was in Atlanta, G eorgia, where forty-four of fifty-six schools
investigated were found to have systematically forged student
answers by erasing wrong answers and substituting the correct
ones . 1 The Superintendent of Schools, named National Su­
perintendent of the Year in 2009 for her exceptional achieve­
ment in raising scores, was found to have created a climate of
fear by giving teachers three years to meet targets or be fired.
More than 1 80 educators were implicated in fixing the scores.
Like the “brightest people in the room” at Enron, who always
found a way to beat the quarterly targets and collect their bo­
nuses, the educators in Atlanta found a way to meet their tar­
gets as well, but not in the way anticipated. The stakes were
lower, but the collateral damage was equally devastating, and
the logic of “gaming the system” was basically the same.

What If . . . ? An Audit Society Fantasy

Would you please join me in a brieffantasy ? The year is 2020.
Richard Levin, president of Yale University, has just retired
after a long and brilliant tenure and has declared “2020 The


Year of Perfect Vision.” Every last building is rebuilt and shin­
ing, the students are even more precocious, accomplished,
and unionized than they were in 201 0, US News & World Re­
port and Consumer Reports (now merged ) have ranked Yale
University number 1 across the board-up there with the
very best hotels, luxury automobiles, and lawnmowers. Well,
nearly across the board. It seems that the quality of the faculty,
as reflected in the all-important rankings, has slipped. Yale’s
competitors are shaking their heads at the decline. Those who
know how to read between the lines of apparently serene
“Yale Corporation” pronouncements can detect a rising but
of course still decorous panic.

One sign of concern can be read from the selection of Pres­
ident Levin’s successor, Condoleezza Rice, the retired secre­
tary of state, who most recently led a no -nonsense, business­
like streamlining of the Ford Foundation. Yes, she is the first
woman of color to lead Yale. Of course, four other Ivy League
schools have already been headed by women of color. This is
not surprising, inasmuch as Yale has always followed the New
England farmer’s rule : “Never be the first person to try some­
thing new, nor the last.”

On the other hand, President Rice wasn’t chosen for the
symbolism; she was chosen for the promise she represented :
the promise of leading a thoroughgoing restructuring of the
faculty using the most advanced quality management tech­
niques, techniques perfected from their crude beginnings at
the Grandes Ecoles of Paris in the late nineteenth century;
embodied in Robert McNamara’s revolution at Ford and
later in his work at the Department of Defense in the 1 960s,
as well as in Margaret Thatcher’s managerial revolution in
British social policy and higher education in the 1 980s ; re-


fined by the development of numerical measures of produc­
tivi ty by individuals and un its in industrial management ;
further developed by the World Bank; and brought to near
perfection, so far as h igher education is concerned, by the
Big Ten un ivers ities and making their way, belatedly, to the
Ivy League.

We know from confidential sources among the members of
the Yale Corporation how Dr. Rice captivated them in her job
interview. She said she admired the judicious mix of feudal­
ism ( in its politics) and capitalism ( in its financial manage­
ment) that Yale had managed to preserve. It sui ted perfectly
the reforms she had devised-as did Yale’s long tradition of
what has come to be celebrated as “partic ipatory autocracy” in
faculty governance.

But it was her comprehensive plan for massively improving
the quality of the faculty-or, more accurately, improving its
standing in the national rankings-that convinced the corpo ­
ration that she was the answer to their prayers.

She excoriated Yale’s antiquated practices of h iring, pro­
moting, and tenuring faculty. They were, she said, subj ective,
medieval , unsystematic, capricious, and arb itrary. These cus­
toms, j ealously guarded by the aging-largely white male­
mandarins of the faculty, whose average age now hovered
around eighty, were, she claimed, responsible for Yale’s loss of
ground to the competition. They produced, on the one hand,
a driven, insecure junior faculty who had no way of know­
ing what the criteria of success and promotion were behind
the tastes and prejudices of the sen iors in their department
and, on the other hand, a self-satisfied, unproductive oligar­
chy of gerontocrats heedless of the long-run interests of the


Her plan, our sources tell us, was beguil ingly simple. She
proposed using the scientific techniques of quality evalua­
tion employed elsewhere in the academy but implementing
them, for the first time, in a truly comprehensive and trans­
parent fashion. The scheme hinged on the citation indices :
the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, the Social Sc ience
Citation Index, and, the granddaddy of them all, the Science
Citation Index. To be sure, these counts of how often one’s
work was cited by others in the field were already consulted
from time to time in promotion reviews, but as President
Rice, she proposed making this form of obj ective evalua­
tion systematic and comprehensive. The citation indices, she
stressed, l ike the machine counting of votes, play no favorites ;
they are incapable of conscious or unconscious bias ; they rep ­
resent the only impersonal metric for judgments of academic
distinction. They would henceforth be the sole criterion for
promotion and tenure. If she succeeded in breaking tenure,
it would also serve as a basis for automatically dismissing ten­
ured faculty whose slo th and dimness prevented them from
achieving annual citation norms (ACN, for short).

In keeping with the neoliberal emphasis on transparency,
full public d isclosure, and obj ectivity, President Rice proposes
a modern, high-tech, academic version of Robert Owens’s fac­
tory scheme at New Lanark. The entire faculty is to be outfit­
ted with digitalized beanies. As soon as they are designed- in
Yale’s distinctive blue-and-white color scheme- and can be
manufactured under humane, nonsweatshop conditions,
using no ch ild labor, all faculty will be required to wear them
on campus. The front of the beanie, across the forehead, will
consist in a digital screen, rather like a taxi meter, on which
will be displayed the total citation count of that scholar in real
time. As the fully automated citation recording centers reg-


ister new citations, these citations, conveyed by satellite, will

be posted automatically to the digital readout on the beanie.

Think of a miniature version ofthe constantly updated world

population count once available in lights in Times Square.

Let’ s call it the Public Record of Digitally Underwritten Cita­

tion Totals, which produces the useful acronym P R O D U C T .

Rice conjures a vision of the thrill students will experience as

they listen, rapt, to the lecture of a brilliant and renowned

professor whose beanie, while she lectures, is constantly hum­

ming, the total citations piling up before their very eyes.

Meanwhile, in a nearby classroom, students worry as they con­

template the blank readout on the beanie of the embarrassed

professor before them. How will their transcript look when

the cumulative citation total of all the professors from whom

they have taken courses is compared with the cumulative total

of their competitors for graduate or professional school? Have

they studied with the best and brightest?

Students will no longer have to rely on the fallible hearsay

evidence of their friends or the prejudices of a course critique.

The numerical “quality grade” of their instructor will be there

for all to see and to judge. Junior faculty no longer need fear

the caprice of their senior colleagues. A single, indisputable

standard of achievement will, like a batting average, provide a

measure of quality and an unambiguous target for ambition.

For President Rice, the system solves the perennial problem of

how to reform departments that languish in the backwaters

of their disciplines and become bastions of narrow patronage.

This publicly accountable, transparent, impersonal measure of

professional standing shall henceforth be used, in place of pro­

motion and hiring committees.

Think of the clarity ! A blue-ribbon panel of distinguished

faculty (chosen by the new criterion) will simply establish


several citation plateaus : one for renewal, one for promotion to
term associate, one for tenure, and one for post-tenure perfor­
mance. After that, the process will be entirely automated once
the beanie technology is perfected. Imagine a much-quoted,
pace-setting political science professor, Harvey Writealot, lec­
turing to a packed hall on campus. Suddenly, because an ob­
scure scholar in Arizona has just quoted his last article in the
journal of Recent Recondite Research and, by chance, that very
citation is the one that puts him over the top, the beanie in­
stantly responds by flashing the good news in blue and white
and playing “Boola-Boola.” The students, realizing what has
happened, rise to applaud their professor’s elevation. He bows
modestly, pleased and embarrassed by the fuss, and continues
the lecture-but now with tenure. The console on the desk of
President Rice’s office in Woodbridge Hall tells her that Har­
vey has made it” into the magic circle on his own merits, and
she in turn sends him a message of congratulations broadcast
through the beanie by text and voice. A new, distinctive “ten­
ure beanie” and certificate will follow shortly.

Members of the corporation, understanding instantly how
much time and disputation this automated system could save
and how it could catapult Yale back into the faculty ratings
chase, set about refining and perfecting the technique. One
suggests having a time-lapse system of citation depreciation,
each year’s citations losing one-eighth of their value with each
passing year. An eight-year-old citation would evaporate, in
keeping with the pace of field development. Reluctantly, one
member of the corporation suggests that, for consistency, there
be a minimal plateau for retention, even of previously tenured
faculty. She acknowledges that the image of a bent professor’s
citation total degrading to the dismissal level in the middle of


a seminar is a sad spectacle to contemplate. Another suggests
that the beanie in such a case could simply be programmed to
go completely blank, though one imagines the professor could
read his fate in the averted gaze of his students.

My poking fun at quantitative measures of productivity in
the academy, however satisfying in its own right, is meant to
serve a larger purpose. The point I wish to make is that democ­
racies, particularly mass democracies like the United States
that have embraced meritocratic criteria for elite selection and
the distribution of public funds, are tempted to develop im­
personal, obj ective, mechanical measures of quality. Regard­
less of the form they take : the Social Science Citation Index,
the Scholastic Aptitude Test (renamed the Scholastic Assess­
ment Test and, more recently, the Scholastic Reasoning Test) ,
cost-benefit analysis-they all follow the same logic. Why?
The short answer is that there are few social decisions as mo­
mentous for individuals and families as the distribution of life
chances through education and employment or as momen­
tous for communities and regions as the distribution of pub ­
lic funds for public works projects. The seductiveness of such
measures is that they all turn measures of quality into mea­
sures of quantity, thereby allowing comparison across cases
with an apparently single and impersonal metric . They are
above all a vast and deceptive “antipolitics machine” designed
to turn legitimate political questions into neutral, obj ective
administrative exercises governed by experts. It is this depo­
liticizing sleight-of-hand that masks a deep lack of faith in the
possibilities of mutuality and learning in politics so treasured
by anarchists and democrats alike. Before arriving at “politics,”
however, there two other potentially fatal objections to such
techniques of quantitative commensuration .


Invalid and Inevitably Corrupt

The first and most obvious problem with such measures is that
they are often invalid ; that is, they rarely measure the quality
we believe to be at stake with any accuracy.

The Science Citation Index (SCI) , founded in 1 963 and
the granddaddy of all citation indices, was the brainchild of
Eugene Garfield. Its purpose was to gauge, to measure the
scientific impact of, say, a particular research paper, and by
extension a particular scholar or research laboratory, by the
frequency with which a published paper was cited by other
research scientists. Why not ? It sure beat relying on informal
reputations, grants, the obscure embedded hierarchies of es­
tablished institutions, let alone the sheer productivity of a
scholar. More than half of all scientific publications, after
all, seem to sink without a trace ; they aren’t cited at all, not
even once ! Eighty percent are only cited once, ever. The SCI
seemed to offer a neutral, accurate, transparent, disinterested,
and obj ective measure of a scholar’s impact on subsequent
scholarship. A blow for merit ! And so it was, at least initially,
compared to the structures of privilege and position it claimed
to replace.

It was a great success, not least because it was heavily pro­
moted; let’s not forget that this is a for-profit business ! Soon
it was pervasive : used in the award of tenure, to promote jour­
nals, to rank scholars and institutions, in technological analy­
ses and government studies. Soon the Social Science Citation
Index (SSCI) followed and, after that, could the Arts and Hu­
manities Citation Index be far behind ?

What precisely did the SCI measure ? The first thing to no­
tice is the computer-like mindlessness and abstraction of the


data gathering. S elf-citations counted, adding auto-eroticism
to the normal narcissism that prevails in the academy. Negative
citations, “X’s article is the worst piece of research I have ever
encountered,” also count. Score one for X! As Mae West said,
“There’s no such thing as bad publicity ; just spell my name
right!” Citations found in books, as opposed to articles, are
not canvassed. More seriously, what if absolutely NO ONE
EVER READS the articles in which a work was cited, as is
often the case ? Then there is the provincialism of the exercise ;
this is, after all a massively English-language, and hence Anglo­
American, operation. Garfield claimed that the provincialism
of French science could be seen in is failure to adopt English
as the language of science. In the social sciences, this is prepos­
terous on its face, but it is true that the translation and sale
of your work to a hundred thousand Chinese, Brazilians, or
Indonesian intellectuals will add nothing to your SSCI stand­
ing unless they record their gratitude in an English-language
journal or in one of the handful of foreign language journals
included in the magic circle.

Notice, too that the index must, as a statistical matter, favor
the specialties that are the most heavily trafficked, that is to
say mainstream research or, in Kuhn’s terms, “normal science.”
Notice finally that the “obj ectified subjectivity” of the SSCI
also i s supremely presentist. What if a current line of inquiry
is dropped as a sterile exercise three years hence ? Today’s wave,
and the statistical blip it creates, may still have allowed our
lucky researcher to surf to a safe harbor despite her mistake.
There is no need to belabor these shortcomings of the SSCI
further. They serve only to show the inevitable gap between
measures of this kind and the underlying quality they purport
to assess. The sorry fact is, many of these shortcomings could
be rectified by reforms and elaborations of the procedures by


which the index is constructed. In practice, however, the more
schematically abstract and computationally simple measure is
preferred for its ease of use and, in this case, lower cost. But
beneath the apparently obj ective metric of citations lies a long
series of “accounting conventions” smuggled into measure­
ments that are deeply political and deeply consequential.

My fun at the expense of the SSCI may seem a cheap shot.
The argument I ‘m making, however, applies to any quantita­
tive standard rigidly applied. Take the apparently reasonable
“two -book” standard often applied in some departments at
Yale in tenure decisions. How many scholars are there whose
single book or article has generated more intellectual energy
than the collected works of other, quantitatively far more
“productive,” scholars ? The commensurating device known as
the “tape measure” may tell us that a Vermeer interior and a
cow plop are both twenty inches across ; there, however, the
similarity ends.

The second fatal flaw is that even if the measure, when first
devised, was a valid measure, its very existence typically sets
in motion a train of events that undermines its validity. Let’s
call this a process by which “a measure colonizes behavior,”
thereby negating whatever validity it once had. Thus, I have
been told there are “rings” of scholars who have agreed to cite
one another routinely and thereby raise their citation rating !
Outright conspiracy of this kind is but the most egregious
version of a more important phenomenon. S imply know­
ing that the citation index can make or break a career exerts
a not-so-subtle influence on professional conduct: for exam­
ple, the gravitational pull of mainstream methodologies and
populous subfields, the choice of journals, the incantation of a
field’s most notable figures are all encouraged by the incentives
thereby conjured. This is not necessarily crass Machiavellian


behavior ; I ‘m pointing instead to the constant pressure at the
margin to act “prudently.” The result, in the long run, is a selec­
tion pressure, in the Darwinian sense, favoring the survival of
those who meet or exceed their audit quotas.

A citation index is not merely an observation ; it is a force
in the world, capable of generating its own observations. So­
cial theorists have been so struck by this colonization that they
have attempted to give it a lawlike formulation in Goodhart’s
law, which holds that “when a measure becomes a target it
ceases to be a good measure.”2 And Matthew Light clarifies :
”An authority sets some quantitative standard to measure a
particular achievement ; those responsible for meeting that
standard, do so, but not in the way which was intended.”

A historical example will clarify what I mean. The officials
of the French absolutist kings sought to tax their subjects’
houses according to size. They seized on the brilliant device of
counting the windows and doors of a dwelling. At the begin­
ning of the exercise, the number of windows and doors was
a nearly perfect proxy for the size of a house. Over the next
two centuries, however, the “window and door tax,” as it was
called, impelled people to reconstruct and rebuild houses so
as to minimize the number of apertures and thereby reduce
the tax. One imagines generations of French choking in their
poorly ventilated “tax shelters.” What started out as a valid
measure became an invalid measure.

But this kind of policy is not limited to windows or pre­
revolutionary France. Indeed, similar methods of audit and
quality control have come to dominate the educational sys­
tem throughout much of the world. In the United States, the
SAT has come to represent the technique of quantification
that serves to distribute higher educational opportunities in
an apparently obj ective fashion. We could just as easily take


up the “exam hell” that dominates the gateway to university
education, and thereby life chances, in any number of other

Let’s just say that with respect to education, the SAT is not
just the tail that wags the dog. It has reshaped the dog’s breed,
its appetite, its surroundings, and the lives of all those who
care for it and feed it. It’s a striking example of colonization.
A set of powerful quantitative observations, once again, cre­
ate something of a social Heisenberg Principle in which the
scramble to make the grade utterly transforms the observa­
tional field. “Quantitative technologies work best,” Porter re­
minds us, “if the world they aim to describe can be remade
in their own image:’3 It’s a fancy way of saying that the SAT
has so reshaped education after its monochromatic image that
what it observes is largely the effect of what it has itself con­
jured up.

Thus the desire to measure intellectual quality by standard­
ized tests and to use those tests to distribute rewards to stu­
dents, teachers, and schools has perverse colonizing effects. A
veritable multi-million-dollar industry markets cram courses
and techniques that purport to improve performance on tests
that were said to be immune to such stratagems. Stanley Ka­
plan’s empire of test preparation courses and workbooks was
built on the premise that one could learn to beat the test for
college, law school, medical school, etc. The all-powerful audit
criteria circle back, as it were, and colonize the lifeworld of ed­
ucation ; the measurement replaces the quality it is supposed
only to assess. There ensues something like an arms race in
which the test formulators try to outwit the test preparation
salesmen. The measurement ends by corrupting the desired
substance or quality. Thus, once the “profile” of a successful
applicant to an Ivy League school becomes known, the pos­
sibility of gaming the system arises. Education consultants are


hired by wealthy parents to advise their children, with one eye
on the Ivy League profile, about what extracurricular activities
are desirable, what volunteer work might be advantageous,
and so on. What began as a good faith exercise to make judg­
ments of quality becomes, as parents try to “position” their
children, a strategy. It becomes nearly impossible to assess the
meaning or authenticity of such audit-corrupted behavior.

The desire for measures of performance that are quantita­
tive, impersonal, and obj ective was, of course, integral to the
management techniques brought from Ford Motor Company
to the Pentagon by “whiz kid” Robert McNamara and applied
to the war in Indochina. In a war without clearly demarcated
battle lines, how could one gauge progress ? McNamara told
General Westmoreland, “G eneral, show me a graph that will
tell me whether we are winning or losing in Vietnam.” The re­
sult was at least two graphs : one, the most notorious, was an
index of attrition, in which the “body counts” of confirmed
enemy personnel killed in action were aggregated. Under enor­
mous pressure to show progress, and knowing that the figures
influenced promotions, decorations, and rest-and-recreation
decisions, those who did the accounting made sure the body
counts swelled. Any ambiguity between civilian and military
casualties was elided ; virtually all dead bodies became enemy
military personnel. Soon, the total of enemy dead exceeded
the known combined strength of the so -called Viet Cong and
the North Vietnamese forces troop levels. Yet in the field, the
enemy was anything but defeated.

The second index was an effort to take the measure of civil­
ian sympathies in the campaign to Win Hearts and Minds­
WHAM. The Hamlet Evaluation System was at its core :
every one of South Vietnam’s 1 2,000 hamlets was classified
according to an elaborate scheme as “pacified,” “contested,”
or “hostile .” Pressure to show progress was again unrelenting .


Ways were found : by fudging figures, by creating on paper
self-defense militias that would have made Tsarina Catherine’s
minister Grigory Potemkin proud, by statistically ignoring in­
cidents of insurgent activity, in order to have the graph show
improvement. Outright fraud, though not rare, was less com­
mon than the understandable tendency to resolve all ambigui­
ties in the direction the incentives for a favorable evaluation
and promotion led. Gradually, it seemed, the countryside was
being pacified.

McNamara had created an infernal audit system that not
only produced a mere simulacrum- a “command perfor­
mance,” as it were-of legible progress but also blocked a
wider-ranging dialogue about what might, under these cir­
cumstances, represent progress. They might have heeded a
real scientist’s words, Einstein’s : “Not everything that counts
can be counted and not everything that can be counted,

Finally, a more recent instance of this dynamic, with which
many American investors have become sadly familiar, is fur­
nished by the collapse of Enron Corporation. In the 1 960s,
business schools were preoccupied with the problem of how
to “discipline” corporate managers so that they would not
serve their own narrow interests at the expense of the inter­
ests of the company’s owners (aka shareholders) . The solution
they devised was to tie the compensation of senior manage­
ment to business performance, as measured by shareholder
value (aka share price) . As their compensation in stock op­
tions depended, usually quarterly, on the share price, manag­
ers quickly responded by devising techniques in collaboration
with their accountants and auditors to so cook the books that
they would meet their quarterly share-price target and receive
their bonuses. To boost the value of the company’s stock, they


inflated profits and concealed losses so that others would be
deceived into bidding up the share price. Thus, the attempt
to make executive performance completely transparent by
largely replacing salaries, given as a reward for labor and ex­
pertise, with stock option plans backfired. A similar “gaming
logic” was at work in the bundling of mortgages into complex
financial instruments implicated in the world financial col­
lapse of 2008 . Bond rating agencies, aside from being paid by
bond issuers, had, in the interest of transparency, made their
rating formulas available to investment firms. Knowing the
procedures, or better yet hiring away the raters themselves, it
became possible to reverse-engineer bonds with the formulas
in mind and thereby achieve top ratings (AAA) for financial
instruments that were exceptionally risky. Once again, the
audit was successful but the patient died.

Democracy, Merit, and the End of Politics

The great appeal of quantitative measures of quality arises, I
believe, from two sources: a democratizing belief in equality
of opportunity as opposed to inherited privilege, wealth, and
entitlement, on the one hand, and a modernist conviction that
merit can be scientifically measured on the other.

Applying scientific laws and quantitative measurement to
most social problems would, modernists believed, eliminate
sterile debates once the “facts” were known. This lens on the
world has, built into it, a deeply embedded political agenda.
There are, on this account, facts (usually numerical) that
require no interpretation. Reliance on such facts should re­
duce the destructive play of narratives, sentiment, prejudices,


habits, hyperbole, and emotion generally in public life. A cool ,
clinical, quantitative assessment would resolve disputes. Both
the passions and the interests would be replaced by neutral,
technical judgment. These scientific modernists aspired to
minimize the distortions of subjectivity and partisan politics
to achieve what Lorraine Daston has called “a-perspectival
obj ectivity,” a view from nowhere.4 The political order most
compatible with this view was the disinterested, impersonal
rule of a technically educated elite using its scientific knowl­
edge to regulate human affairs. This aspiration was seen as a
new “civilizing proj ect.” The reformist, cerebral Progressives in
early twentieth-century American and, oddly enough, Lenin
as well believed that objective scientific knowledge would
allow the “administration of things” to largely replace politics.
Their gospel of efficiency, technical training, and engineering
solutions implied a world directed by a trained, rational, and
professional managerial elite.

The idea of a meritocracy is the natural traveling compan­
ion of democracy and scientific modernism.5 No longer would
a ruling class be an accident of noble birth, inherited wealth,
or inherited status of any kind. Rulers would be selected, and
hence legitimated, by virtue of their skills, intelligence, and
demonstrated knowledge. (Here I pause to observe how other
qualities one might plausibly want in positions of power, such
as compassion, wisdom, courage, or breadth of experience,
drop out of this account entirely.) Intelligence, by the stan­
dards of the time, was assumed by most of the educated public
to be a measurable quality. Most assumed, furthermore, that
intelligence was distributed, if not randomly, then at least far
more widely than either wealth or title. The very idea of dis­
tributing, for the first time, position and life chances on the
basis of measurable merit was a breath of democratic fresh


air. It promised for society as a whole what Napoleon’s merit­
based “careers open to talent” had promised the new profes­
sional middle class in France more than a century earlier.

Notions of a measurable meritocracy were democratic in
still another sense : they severely curtailed the claims to dis­
cretionary power previously claimed by professional classes.
Historically, the professions operated as trade guilds, setting
their own standards, j ealously guarding their professional se­
crets, and brooking no external scrutiny that would overrule
their judgment. Lawyers, doctors, chartered accountants, en­
gineers, and professors were hired for their professional judg­
ment-a judgment that was often ineffable and opaque.

In Defense of Politics

The mistakes made by a revolutionary workers

movement are immeasurably more fruitful and

more valuable than the infallibility of any party.

Rosa Luxemburg

The real damage of relying mainly on quantitatively measured
merit and “obj ective” numerical audit systems to assess quality
arises from taking vital questions that ought to be part of a vig­
orous democratic debate off the table and placing them in the
hands of presumably neutral experts. It is this spurious depo ­
liticization of momentous decisions affecting the life chances
of millions of citizens and communities that deprives the pub ­
lic sphere of what legitimately belongs to it. If there is one con­
viction that anarchist thinkers and nondemagogic populists
share, it is a faith in the capacity of a democratic citizenry to


learn and grow through engagement in the public sphere. Just
as we might ask what kind of person a particular office or fac­
tory routine produces, so might we want to ask how a politi­
cal process might expand citizen knowledge and capacities. In
this respect, the anarchist belief in mutuality without hierar­
chy and the capacity of ordinary citizens to learn through par­
ticipation would deplore this short-circuiting of democratic
debate. We can see the antipolitics machine at work in the uses
of the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) , the Scholastic
Aptitude Test (SAT) , and in the now ubiquitous cost-benefit

The antipolitics of the SSCI consists in substituting a
pseudo -scientific calculation for a healthy debate about qual­
ity. The real politics of a discipline-its worthy politics, any­
way-is precisely the dialogue about standards of value and
knowledge. I entertain few illusions about the typical quality
of that dialogue. Are there interests and power relations at
play? You bet. They’re ubiquitous. There is, however, no sub ­
stitute for this necessarily qualitative and always-inconclusive
d iscussion. It is the lifeblood of a d iscipline’s character, fought
out in reviews, classrooms, roundtables, debates, and deci­
sions about curriculum, hiring, and promotion. Any attempt
to curtail that discussion by, for example, Balkanization into
quasi-autonomous subfields, rigid quantitative standards, or
elaborate scorecards tends simply to freeze a given orthodoxy
or division of spo ils in place.

The SAT system has, over the past half century, been open­
ing and closing possible futures for millions of students. It has
helped fashion an elite. Little wonder that that elite looks fa­
vorably on the system that helped it get to the front of the
pack. It is just open enough, transparent enough, and impar­
tial enough to allow elites and nonelites to regard it as a fair


national competition for advancement. More than wealth or
birth ever could, it allows the winners to see their reward as
merited, although the correlations between SAT scores and
socioeconomic status are enough to convince an impartial ob­
server that this i s no open door. The SAT, in effect, selected
an el ite that is more impartially chosen than its predecessors,
more legitimate, and hence better situated to defend and rein­
force the institution responsible for the naturalization of their

In the meantime, our political life is impoverished.
The hold of the SAT convinces many m iddle-class whites
that affirmative action is a stark choice between objective
merit, on the one hand, and rank favoritism on the other.
We are deprived of a publ ic dialogue about how educa­
tional opportunity ought to be allocated in a democratic
and plural society. We are deprived of a debate about what
qualities we might want in our el ites, individually in our
schools, insofar as curricula simply echo the tunnel vision of
the SAT.

An example drawn from a different field of public policy
illustrates the way in which debatable assumptions are smug­
gled into the very structure of most audits and quantitative
indices. Cost-benefit analysis, pioneered by the engineers of
the French Ecole des Ponts et Chausees and now applied by
development agencies, planning bodies, the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, and the World Bank for vir tually all their ini­
tiatives, is a striking case in po int. Cost-benefit analysis is a
series of valuation techniques designed to calculate the rate of
return for any given project (a road, a bridge, a dam, a port) .
This requires that al l costs and returns be monetized so that
they can be subsumed under the same metric . Thus the cost of,
say, the loss of a species of fish, the loss of a beautiful view, of


jobs, of clean air, ifit is to enter the calculus, must be expressed
in dollar terms. This requires some hero ic assumptions. For
the loss of a beautiful view, “shadow pricing” is used whereby
residents are asked how much they would be willing to add
to their taxes to preserve the view. The sum then becomes its
value ! If fishermen sold the fish extinguished by a dam, the
loss of sales would represent their value. If they were not sold,
then they would be valueless for the purpose of the analysis.
Osprey, otters, and mergansers might be disappointed at the
loss of their l ivelihood, but only human losses count. Losses
that cannot be monetized cannot enter the analysis. When,
say, an Indian tribe refuses compensation and declares that
the graves of their ancestors, shortly to be flooded behind a
dam, are “priceless beyond measure,” it defies the logic of cost­
benefit analysis and falls out of the equation.

Everything, all costs and benefits, must be made commen­
surate and monetized in order to enter the calculations for the
rate of return : a sunset view, trout, air quality, jobs, recreation,
water quality. Perhaps the most heroic of the assumptions
behind cost-benefit analysis is the value of the foture. The
question arises, how i s one to calculate future benefits-say,
a gradually improving water quality or future job gains ? In
general, the rule is that future benefits will be discounted at
the current or average rate of interest. As a practical matter th is
means that virtually any benefit, unless massive, more than
five years in the future will be negligib le once discounted in
th is fashion. Here, then, is a critical political dec ision about
the value of the future that is smuggled into the cost-benefit
formula as a mere accounting convention. Quite apart from
the manipulations to which cost-benefit analysis has always
been subj ect, the great damage it does, even when rigor-


ously applied, is its radical depolitic ization of public decision

Porter attributes the adoption of audit systems of this kind
in the United States to a “lack of trust in bureaucratic elites”
and suggests that the Un ited States “rel ies on rules to contro l
the exercise of official judgment to a greater extent than any
other industrialized democracy.”6 Thus, audit systems of this
kind with the aim of achieving total objectivity by suppress­
ing all discretion represent both the apotheosis of technocracy
and its nemesis.

Each technique is an attempt to substitute a transparent,
mechanical, explicit, and usually numerical procedure of eval­
uation for the suspect and apparently undemocratic practices
of a professional elite. Each is a rich paradox from top to bot­
tom, for the technique is also a response to political pressure :
the desire of a c lamorous public for procedures of decision and,
in effect, rationing that are explicit, transparent, and, hence,
in principle, accessible. Although cost-benefit analysis is a re­
sponse to public political pressure-and here is one paradox­
its success depends absolutely on appearing totally nonpoliti­
cal : objective, nonpartisan, and palpably scientific. Beneath
this appearance, of course, cost-benefit analysis is deeply po ­
l itical. Irs politics are buried deep in the techniques of calcula­
tion : in what to measure in the first place, in how to measure it,
in what scale ro use, in conventions of” discounting” and “com­
mensuration; in how observations are translated into numeri­
cal values, and in how these numerical values are used in deci­
sion making. While fending off charges of bias or favoritism ,
such techniques-and here is a second paradox-succeed bril­
liantly in entrenching a political agenda at the level of proce­
dures and conventions of calculation that is doubly opaque and



When they are successful politically, the techniques of
the SAT, cost-benefit analysis, and, for that matter, the Intel­
ligence Quotient appear as solid, objective, and unquestion­
able as numbers for blood pressure, thermometer readings,
cholesterol levels, and red blood cell counts. The readings are
perfectly impersonal and , so far as their interpretation is con­
cerned, “the doctor knows best.”

They seem to eliminate the capricious human element in
decisions. Indeed, once the techniques with their deeply em­
bedded and highly political assumptions are firmly in place,
they do limit the discretion of officials. Charged with bias, the
official can claim, with some truth , that ” I am just cranking
the handle” -of a nonpolitical dec ision-making machine. The
vital pro tective cover such antipolitics machines provide helps
explain why their validity is of less concern than their stan­
dardization, precision, and impartiality. Even if the SSCI does
not measure the quality of a scholar’s work, even if the SAT
doesn’t really measure intelligence or predict success in col­
lege, each constitutes an impartial, precise, public standard, a
transparent set of rules and targets. When such tools succeed,
they achieve the necessary alchemy of taking contentious and
high-stakes battles for resources, life chances, mega-project
benefits, and status and transmuting them into technical,
apolitical decis ions presided over by officials whose neutral­
i ty is beyond reproach. The criteria for decisions are explicit,
standardized, and known in advance. Discretion and politics
are made to disappear by techniques that are, at bottom, com­
pletely saturated with discretionary cho ices and political as­
sumptions, now shielded effectively from public view.

The widespread use of numerical indices is not limited to
any country, any branch of public policy, or indeed to the im­
mediate present. Its current vogue in the form of the “audit


society” obviously owes something to the rise of the large
corporation, whose shareholders seek to measure productiv­
ity and results, and to the neoliberal politics of the 1 970s and
1 980s, as exemplified by Thatcher and Reagan, Their empha­
sis on “value for money” in pub lic admin istration, borrow­
ing techniques from management science in the private sec­
tor, sought to establish scores and “league tables” for schools,
hospitals, police and fire departments, and so on. The deeper
cause, however, is, paradoxically again, democratization and
the demand for political control of administrative decisions.
The United States seems to be something of an outlier in its
embrace of audits and quantification. No other country has
embraced audits in education, war-making, public works, and
the compensation of business executives as enthusiastically as
has the United States. Contrary to their self-image as a nation
of rugged individualists, Americans are among the most nor­
malized and monitored people in the world.

The great flaw of all these administrative techniques is that,
in the name of equality and democracy, they function as a vast
“anti pol itics machine; sweeping vast realms oflegitimate pub ­
lic debate out of the public sphere and into the arms of techni­
cal , administrative committees. They stand in the way of po­
tentially bracing and instructive debates about social policy,
the meaning of intell igence, the selection of el ites, the value of
equity and diversity, and the purpose of economic growth and
development. They are, in short, the means by which techni­
cal and admin istrative elites attempt to convince a skeptical
public-while excluding that public from the debate-that
they play no favorites, take no obscure d iscretionary action,
and have no biases but are merely making transparent tech­
nical calculations. They are, today, the hallmark of a neolib­
eral political order in which the techniques of neoclassical


economics have, in the name of scientific calculation and ob­
jectivity, come to replace other forms of reasoning.7 When­
ever you hear someone say “I ‘m deeply invested in him/her”
or refer to social or human “capital” or, so help me, refer to the
“opportunity cost” of a human relationship, you’ll know what
I ‘m talking about.

Particularity and Flux

History is written by learned men, and so it is natural and agreeable

for them to think that the activity of their class supplies the basis of

the movement of all humanity.

Leo Tolstoy, T#lr and Peace

Retail Goodness and Sympathy

The heroism of the French town ofLe Chambon-sur-Lignon,
in the Haute-Loire, which managed to shelter, feed, and speed
to safety more than five thousand refugees in Vichy France,
many of them Jewish children, is by now enshrined in the an­
nals of resistance to Nazism. Books and films have celebrated
the many acts of quiet bravery that made this uncommon res­
cue possible.

Here I want to emphasize the particularity of these acts in
a way that, though it may diminish the grand narrative of re­
ligious resistance to anti-Semitism, at the same time enlarges
our understanding of the specificity of humanitarian gestures.

Many Le Chambon villagers were Huguenot, and their two
pastors were perhaps the most influential and respected voices
in the community. As Huguenots, they had their own collec-


tive memory, from at least the St. Bartholomew’s Day Mas­
sacre forward, of religious persecution and flight. Well before
the Occupation, they had manifested their sympathy for the
victims of fascism by sheltering refugees from Franco’s Spain
and Mussolini’s Italy. That is, they were well disposed both by
conviction and experience to sympathize with the plight of
refugees from authoritarian states, and with Jews in particular
as a biblical people. Translating that sympathy into practical
and, under Vichy, far more dangerous acts of assistance, how­
ever, was not so simple.

Anticipating the arrival of Jews, the Huguenot pastors
began trying to mobilize the clandestine shelter and food
they knew would be required of their parishioners. With the
abolition of the Free Zone in southern France, both pastors
were arrested and taken off to concentration camps. In this
menacing setting, the wives of the two pastors took up their
husbands’ work and set about lining up food and shelter for
Jews within their community. They asked their neighbors,
both farmers and villagers, if they would be willing to help
when the time came. The answers often were not encourag­
ing. Typically, those they asked expressed sympathy for the
refugees but were unwilling to run the risk of taking them in
and feeding them. They pointed out that they also had a duty
to protect their own immediate family and were fearful that
if they sheltered Jews, they would be denounced to the local
Gestapo, who would put them and their entire family at grave
risk. Weighing their obligations to their immediate family and
their more abstract sympathy for helping Jewish victims, fam­
ily ties prevailed, and the pastor’s wives despaired of organiz­
ing a network of refuge.

Whether they were ready or not, however, the Jews began
to arrive, and to seek help. What happened next is impor-



tant, and diagnostic for understanding the particularity of
social ( in this case, humanitarian) action. The pastors’ wives
found themselves with real, existing Jews on their hands, and
they tried again . They would, for example, take an elderly
Jew, thin and shivering in the cold, to the door of a farmer
who had declined to commit himself earlier, and ask, “Would
you give our friend here a meal and a warm coat, and show
him the way to the next village ?” The farmer now had a liv­
ing, breathing victim in front of him, looking him in the eye,
perhaps imploringly, and would have to turn him away. Or
the women would arrive at the farmhouse door with a small
family and ask, “Would you give this family a blanket, a bowl
of soup, and let them sleep in your barn for a day or two be­
fore they head for the Swiss border ?” Face-to -face with real
victims, whose fate depended palpably on their assistance, few
were willing to refuse them help, though the risks had not

Once the individual villagers had made such a gesture, they
typically became committed to helping the refugees for the
duration. They were, in other words, able to draw the conclu­
sions of their own practical gesture of solidarity-their actual
line of conduct-and see it as the ethical thing to do. They
did not enunciate a principle and then act on it. Rather, they
acted, and then drew out the logic of that act. Abstract prin­
ciple was the child of practical action, not its parent.

Francrois Rochat, contrasting this pattern with Hannah Ar­
endt’s “banality of evil; calls it “the banality of goodness.” 1 We
might at least as accurately call it the “particularity of good­
ness; or, to appropriate the Torah, an example of the heart
following the hand.

The particularity of identification and sympathy is a work­
ing assumption of journalism, poetry, and charitable work .


People don’t easily identify with or open their hearts or wal­
lets for large abstractions : the Unemployed, the Hungry, the
Persecuted, the Jews. But portray in gripping detail, with pho ­
tographs, a woman who has lost her job and is living in her
car, or a refugee family on the run through the forest living on
roots and tubers, and you are likely to engage the sympathy of
strangers. All victims cannot easily represent one victim, but
one victim can often stand for a whole class of victims.

This principle was powerfully at work in the most moving
memorial for Holocaust victims I have ever seen, an exhibi­
tion in the great town hall of Munster, where the Treaty of
Westphalia was signed in 1 648 , ending the Thirty Years’ War.
Street by street, address by address, name by name, the fate
of each and every Jewish family (some six thousand of them)
was depicted. There was usually a photograph of the house in
which the family lived (most still standing, as Munster was
largely spared Allied bombing) , the street address, sometimes
an identity card or a carte de visite, photographs of the family
individually and together (at a picnic , a birthday party, a fam­
ily photo -portrait) , and a note as to their fate : “murdered at
Bergen-Belsen,” “fled to France and then Cuba,” “migrated to
Israel from Morocco,” “fled to Lodz, Poland, fate unknown.”
In quite a few cases there were no photographs, just a dotted
rectangle indicating where a photograph would go.

It was, above all, a municipal exhibition for the citizenry of
Munster. They could stroll from street to street, as it were, and
see the Jews who had been their neighbors or those of their
parents and grandparents, their houses, their faces-often re­
flecting happier moments-beaming out at them. It was the
powerful particularity, the individuality, and its massive rep ­
etition that made it so memorable in the literal sense of the
word.2 How much more moving it was than many of the other


ubiquitous collective memorials to Jews, homosexuals (“On
this street corner, homosexuals were assembled for transport
to the concentration camps”) , handicapped, and Gypsies
(Roma and Sinti) !3

Perhaps the most stunning thing about this exhibition,
however, was the very process by which it was created. Hun­
dreds of Munster citizens had worked for more than a decade,
combing records, authenticating deaths, tracing survivors, and
writing personal letters to the thousands they could track, ex­
plaining the exhibition they were preparing and asking if the
respondents would be willing to complete the record and to
contribute a photograph or a note. Many, understandably, re­
fused; many others sent something, and a good many came
to Munster to see for themselves. The result spoke for itself,
but the process of tracing family histories, locating survivors
and their children, and writing them personal letters as star­
crossed neighbors across the void of history and death itself
was a cathartic, if not cleansing, recognition of a shared and
tragic history. Most of those preparing the exhibition were
not even born when the Jews were scourged, and one imagines
the thousands of painful conversations and recollections the
process touched off among the generations in Munster.

Bringing Particularity, Flux, and

Contingency Back In

The job of most history and social science is to summarize,
codify, and otherwise “package” important social movements
and major historical events, to make them legible and under­
standable. G iven this obj ective and the fact that the events


they are seeking to il luminate have already happened, i t i s

hardly surprising that historians and social scientists should

typically give short shrift to the confusion, flux, and tumultu­

ous contingency experienced by the historical actors, let alone

the ordinary by-standers, whose actions they are examining.

One perfectly obvious reason for the deceptively neat order

of these accounts is precisely because they are “history.” The

events in question simply turned out one way rather than an­

other, obscuring the fact that the participants likely had no

idea how they would turn out and that, under slightly differ­

ent circumstances, things might well have turned out very dif­

ferently. As the saying has it, “For want of a nail, the shoe was

lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse

the rider was lost; for want a rider the message was lost; for

want of the message the kingdom, was lost.”

Knowing what in fact happened, unlike the participants,

can’t help but infect the story and drain much of its actual

contingency. Think for a moment of someone who takes his

or her own life. It becomes almost impossible for the suicide’s

friends and relatives not to rewrite the dead persons biogra­

phy in a way that presages and accounts for the suicide. It is,

of course, entirely possible that a brief chemical imbalance, a

momentary panic, or an instant tragic insight may have led to

the act, in which case rewriting the entire biography as leading

up to suicide would be to misunderstand that life.

The natural impulse to create a coherent narrative to ac­

count for our own actions and lives, even when those lives

and actions defy any coherent account, casts a retrospective

order on acts that may have been radically contingent. Jean­

Paul Sartre gives the hypothetical example of a man torn be­

tween the obligation of staying and caring for his ill mother

or leaving for the front to defend his country . One could


substitute the decision to go on strike or stay in the factory,
the decision to join a demonstration, etc.) He can’t make up
his mind, but the day, like an on-rushing train, arrives, and he
must do one thing or the other, though he sti l l hasn’t decided.
Let’s say he stays with his sick mother. The next day, Sartre
writes, he will be able to tell h imself and others why he is the
kind of man who would chose to stay with his sick mother.
He must, having acted, find a narrative that accounts for what
he did. This does not, however, explain why he did what he
did ; rather, i t retrospectively makes sense of-creates a satis­
fying narrative for-an act that cannot be explained in any
other way.

The same could be said for the momentous, contingent
events that have shaped history. Much history as well as popu­
lar imagination not only erases their contingency but implic­
itly attributes to historical actors intentions and a conscious­
ness they could not possibly have had. The historical fact of
the French Revolution has, understandably, recast virtually all
of French eighteenth-century history as leading inexorably to
1 789 . The Revolution was not a single event but a process ; it
was contingent on weather, crop failures, and the geography
and demography of Paris and Versailles far more than on the
ideas scribbled by the philosophes. Those who stormed the Bas­
tille to free prisoners and seize arms could not possibly have
known (much less intended ) that they would bring down the
monarchy and aristocracy, let alone that they were partici­
pating in what later would come to be known as “the French

Once a significant historical event is codified, it travels as
a sort of condensation symbol and, unless we are very care­
ful , takes on a false logic and order that does a grave injustice
to how it was experienced at the time. The townsmen of Le


Chambon-sur-Lignon, now held up as moral exemplars, ap ­
pear, more or less monolithically, as acting on Huguenot reli­
gious principles to aid the persecuted, when, as we saw, their
bravery had more complex and instructive wellsprings. The
Russian Revolution, the American Revolution, the Thirty
Years’ War (who knew in year five that it would last another
twenty-five years ? ) , the 1 87 1 Commune of Paris, the U.S. civil
rights movement, Paris in 1 968, Solidarnosc in Poland, and
any number of other complex events are subject to the same
qualifications. Their radical contingency tends to be erased,
the participants’ consciousness is flattened and too ofi:en inoc­
ulated with a preternatural knowledge of how things turned
out, and the tumult of different understandings and motives
is stilled.

What “history” does to our understanding of events is akin
to what a television broadcast does to our understanding of a
basketball or ice hockey game. The camera is placed above and
outside the plane of action, rather like a helicopter hovering
above the action. The effect of this bird’s-eye view is to distance
the viewer from the play and apparently slow it down. Even
then, lest the viewer miss a crucial shot or pass, actual slow
motion is used to further slow the action and allow the viewer
to see it in detail again and again. Combined, the bird’s-eye
perspective and slow motion make the players’ moves seem
deceptively easy to viewers, who might fantasize mastering
such moves themselves. Alas, no actual player ever experiences
the actual game from a helicopter or in slow motion. And
when, rarely, the camera is placed at floor level and close to the
action in real time, one finally appreciates the blinding speed
and complexity of the game as the players experience it; the
brief fantasy is instantly dispelled .


The Politics of Historical Misrepresentation

The confusion in seeing military causation is to confuse the parade

ground with the battle where it is a question of life and death.

Leo Tolstoy

The tendency to tidy up, simplify, and condense historical
events is not just a natural human proclivity or something ne­
cessitated by schoolbook history but a political struggle with
high stakes.

The Russian Revolution of 1 9 1 7 was, like the French Revo­
lution, a process in which the many and varied participants
had no knowledge of the outcome. Those who have examined
the process minutely agree on several things. They agree that
the Bolsheviks played a negligible role in bringing it about; as
Hannah Arendt put it, “The Bolsheviks found power lying in
the street and picked it up.”4 The events of late October 1 9 1 7
were marked by utter confusion and spontaneity. They agree
that the collapse of the tsar’s armies on the Austrian front and
the subsequent rush home of soldiers to participate in sponta­
neous land seizures in the countryside were decisive in break­
ing tsarist power in rural Russia. They agree that the work­
ing class of Moscow and St. Petersburg, while discontented
and militant, did not envision owning the factories. Finally,
they agree that on the eve of the revolution, the Bolsheviks
had precious little influence among workers and no influence
whatever in the countryside.

Once the Bolsheviks had seized power, however, they
began developing an account that wrote contingency, confu­
sion, spontaneity, and the many other revolutionary groups



out o f the story. This new “just so” story emphasized the clair­
voyance, determination, and power of the vanguard party. In
keeping with the Leninist vision in What Is to Be Done, the
Bolsheviks saw themselves as the prime animators of the his­
torical outcome. Given the tenuousness with which they ruled
from 1 9 1 7 to 1 92 1 , the Bolsheviks had a powerful interest in
moving the revolution out of the streets and into the museums
and schoolbooks as soon as possible, lest the people decide to
repeat the experience. The revolutionary process was “natural­
ized” as a product of historical necessity, legitimating the “dic­
tatorship of the proletariat.”

The “official story” of the revolution was being elaborated
almost before the real revolution was consummated. Just as
Lenin’s idea of the state (as well as of the revolution) resembled
that of a well-oiled machine run from above with military pre­
cision, so were subsequent revolutionary “reenactments” con­
ducted along the same lines. Lunacharsky, the cultural impres­
sario of early Bolshevism, devised a huge urban public theater
depicting the revolution, with four thousand actors {mostly
soldiers) following a choreographed script, canons, ships on
the river, and a red sun in the east (simulated by searchlights)
as civic instruction for 35,000 spectators. In public theater,
literature, film, and history, the Bolsheviks expressed a vital
interest in “packaging” the revolution in a way that elimi­
nated all the contingency, variety, and cross purposes of the
real revolution. After the generation that had experienced
the revolution firsthand and could compare the script with
its own experience had died, the official version tended to

Revolutions and social movements are, then, typically con­
fected by a plurality of actors: actors with wildly divergent ob­
jectives mixed with a large dose of rage and indignation, actors



with little knowledge of the situation beyond their immedi­
ate ken, actors subject to chance occurrences (a rain shower, a
rumor, a gunshot)-and yet the vector sum of this cacophony
of events may set the stage for what later is seen as a revolu­
tion . They are rarely, if ever, the work of coherent organiza­
tions directing their “troops” to a determ ined objective, as the
Leninist script would have it.s

The visual depiction of order and discipline is a staple of au­
thoritarian stagecraft. Amid rural famine, urban hunger, and
growing fl ight to the Chinese border, Kim Jong-11 managed to
stage massive parades with tens of thousands of partic ipants in
a tableau meant to suggest a united populace moving in uni­
son to the baton of the “Dear Leader” (fig. 6. 1 ).

This form of theatrical bluster has a long lineage. It can be
found in the early twentieth century in “mass exercises” orga­
n ized by both socialist and right-wing parties in large stadiums
as displays of power and discipline. The minutely coordinated
movements of thousands of uniformed gymnasts, like those
of a marching band in close-order drill, conveyed an image of
synchronized power and, of course, of choreography scripted
by a commanding but invisible orchestra conductor.

The pageantry of symbolic order is evident not only in pub­
lic ceremonies such as coronations and May Day parades but in
the very arch itecture of public spaces: squares, statuary, arches,
and broad avenues. Buildings themselves are often designed to
overawe the populace with their size and majesty. They often
seem to function as a kind of shamanism, as a symbolic make­
weight of order against a reality that is anyth ing but orderly.
Ceau�escu’s Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, 8 5 percent
complete in 1 989 when the regime fell, is a case in po int. The
“legislative assembly” resembled an opera house, with ringed
balconies and a hydraulically l ifted podium for Ceau�escu at


Figure 6. 1 . North Korean military parade. Photograph © Reuters

the center. The building’s six hundred clocks were all centrally
controlled by a console in the president’s suite.

A great deal of the symbolic work of official power is pre­
cisely to obscure the confusion, disorder, spontaneity, error,
and improvisation of pol itical power as it is in fact exercised,
beneath a billiard-ball-smooth surface of order, deliberation,
rationality, and control. I think of this as the “miniaturization
of order.” It is a practice we are all familiar with from the world
of toys. The larger world of warfare, family life, machines, and
wild nature is a dangerous reality that is beyond a child’s con­
trol. Those worlds are domesticated by miniaturization in
the form of toy soldiers, dollhouses, toy tanks and airplanes,
model railroads, and small gardens. Much the same logic is at
work in model villages, demonstration projects, model hous­
ing proj ects, and model collective farms. Experimentation on
a small scale, where the consequences of failure are less cata­
strophic, is, of course, a prudent strategy for social innovation.
More often, however, I suspect that such demonstrations are


li terally for “show; that they represent a substitute for more
substantive change, and that they d isplay a carefully tended
micro-order designed in large part to mesmerize both rulers
(self-hypnosis ? ) and a larger public with a Potemkin fa�ade of
centralized order. The greater the proliferation of these small
“islands of order,” the more one suspects they were erected to
block one’s view of an unofficial social order that i s beyond the
control of elites.

The condensation of history, our desire for clean narratives,
and the need for elites and organizations to project an image
of control and purpose all conspire to convey a false image of
historical causation. They blind us to the fact that most revo ­
lutions are not the work of revolutionary parties but the pre­
cipitate of spontaneous and improvised action (“adventurism,”
in the Marxist lexicon), that organized social movements are
usually the product, not the cause, of uncoordinated protests
and demonstrations, and that the great emancipatory gains
for human freedom have not been the result of orderly, insti­
tutional procedures but of disorderly, unpredictable, sponta­
neous action cracking open the social order from below .



1. Once in a great while one encounters an organization that com­
bines some level of voluntary coordination while respecting and
even encouraging local initiative. Solidarnosc in Poland under
martial law and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Commit­
tee during the civil rights movement in the United States are rare
examples. Both came into existence only in the course of protest
and struggle.

2. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People’s Move­
ments: Why 1hey Succeed, How 1hey Fail (New York: Vintage,
1 978) .

3. Milovan Djilas, 1he New Class (New York: Praeger, 1957).
4. Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action (London : Freedom Press, 1 988),

5. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nine­

teenth Century, trans. John Beverly Robinson (London: Freedom
Press, 1 923) , 293-94.

6. John Dunn, “Practising History and Social Science on ‘Realist As­
sumptions; ” in Action and Interpretation: Studies in the Philosophy
of the Soda/ Sciences, ed. C. Hookway and P. Pettit (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1 979), 1 52, 168.

N O T E S T O PAG E S 1 7 – 7 8

The Uses of Disorder and “Charisma”

1. Gramsci develops the concept of”hegemony” to explain the failure
of universal suffrage to bring about working-class rule. See Antonio
Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans.
Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (London: Lawrence
and Wishan, 1 97 1 ) .

2. Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years,
1 954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, I 988).

3. See R. R. Cobb, The Police and the People: French Popular Protest,
1 789-1820 (Oxford : Clarendon Press, I 970) , 96-97.

4. Yan Yunxiang, conversation.
S. Kenneth Boulding, “The Economics of Knowledge and the

Knowledge of Economics:’ American Economic Review 58, nos. I 12
(March I 966) : 8.

Vernacular Order, Official Order

I. E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mat­
tered (New York: Harper, I 989) , I I7.

2. Edgar Anderson, Plants, Man, and Life (Boston: Little, Brown,
I 9S2) I40-41 .

The Production of Human Beings

1. Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action (London: Freedom Press, 1 988),
92. The playground exam pies are all drawn from the introduction
to Ward’s chapter 10, pp. 89-93.

2. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Law­
rence (New York: Harper-Collins, I 988), SSS .

3. Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View
(New York: Harper-Collins, I 974) ; Philip G. Zimbardo, The Luci­

fer Ejfect: How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House,


N O T E S T O PAG E S 8 1 – 9 4

4. See, for example, http : / /www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/
1 533248/Is-this-the-end-of-the-road-for-traffic-lights.html.

Two Cheers for the Petty Bourgeoisie

1 . R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Harmond­
sworth : Penguin, 1 969), 28.

2. Paul Averich, Kronstadt 1921 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1 970) , 66.

3. Vaisberg, speaking in 1 929, and quoted in R. W. Davies, 1he So­
cialist Offensive: 1he Collectivization of Russian Agriculture, 1929-
1 930 (London : Macmillan, 1 980), 175.

4. A. V.Chayanov, 7be 1heory of Peasant Economy, ed. Daniel Thorner,
trans. Basile Kerblay and R. E. F. Smith (Homewood, IL: Richard
Irwin for the American Economic Association, 1966, originally
published in Russian in 1926).

5 . Henry Stephens Randall, “Cultivators,” in 1he Life of1homas Jef
Jerson, vol. 1 , 1 858, p. 437.

6. Barrington Moore, Jr., Injustice: 1he Social Basis of Obedience (Ar­
monk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1 978).

7. Robert E. Lane, Political Ideology: Why the American Common
Man Believes What He Does (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1 962).

8. Steven H. Hahn, 1he Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Fanners
and the Transfonnation of the Georgia Upcountry (Oxford : Oxford
University Press, 1 984).

9. See, e.g .• AlfLudke, “Organizational Order or Eigensinn? Workers’
Privacy and Workers’ Politics,” in Rites of Power, Symbolism, Ritual
and Politics since the Middle Ages, ed. Sean Wilentz (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1 985), 3 1 2-44; Miklos Haraszti,
Worker in a Workers State (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1 977) ; and
Ben Hamper, Rivet Head: Tales Ji”om the Assembly Line (Boston :
Little, Brown, 1 99 1 ) .

10. M . ] . Watts and P. Little, Globalizing Agro-Food (London : Rout­
ledge, 1 997).

1 1 . See, e.g., the assertion by Michel Crozier that even within large bu­
reaucratic organizations, the key to behavior is “the insistence of the


N O T E S TO PAG E S 9 5 – 1 0 5

individual of his own autonomy and his refusal of all dependence
relationships.� Ihe Bureaucratic Phenomenon (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1 964), 290.

12. Barrington Moore, Ihe Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democ­
racy (Boston : Beacon Press, 1966). See also E. P. Thompson’s mag­
nificent Ihe Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vin­
tage, 1966).

13. There are other social contributions of the petty bourgeoisie that
are notewonhy no matter one’s location on the political spectrum.
Historically, petty trade and petty production have been the key
engine of market integration. If there is a good or service that is
in short supply somewhere and that will therefore command a
higher return, the petty bourgeoisie will usually find a way to move
it where it is needed. For the likes of Milton Friedman and mar­
ket fundamentalists, the petty bourgeoisie are doing “God’s work.�
They operate in a setting of nearly perfect competition ; their agility
and speed in responding to small movements in supply and demand
come close to the utopian vision of perfect competition in neoclas­
sical economics. Their profit margins are slim, they often fail, and
yet their aggregate activity contributes to Pareto-optimum out­
comes. The petty bourgeoisie, in general, come reasonably close to
this idealization. They provide needed goods and services at com­
petitive prices with an alacrity that larger and slower-footed firms
are unable to match.

14. I write “perhaps� here because there was, at mid-century, a research
culture in large firms such as AT&T (Bell Labs), DuPont, and IBM
that suggests that large firms are not necessarily inherently hostile
to innovation.

1 5. Jance Jacobs, Ihe Death and Life of Great American Cities (New
York: Vintage, 196 1 ) .


For Politics

1. “Atlanta’s Testing Scandal Adds Fuel to U.S. Debate,� Atlanta jour­
nal Constitution, July 1 3, 20 1 1 .


N O T E S T O PAG E S I I S – 12. 8

2. C. A. E. Goodhart, “Monetary Relationships: A View from Thread­
needle Street,” Papers in Monetary Economics (Reserve Bank of Aus­
tralia, 1 975).

3. Theodore Poner, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in
Science and Public Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1 995), 43.

4. Lorraine Daston, “Objectivity and the Escape from Perspective,”
Social Studies of Science 22 ( 1 992) : 597-6 18 .

5. The term “meritocracy” was coined in the late 1940s by the Eng­
lishman Michael Young in his dystopian fantasy, The Rise of the
Meritocracy, 1870-2033: An Essay on Education and Inequality
(London: Thames & Hudson, 1958), which mused on the disad­
vantages, for the working class, of a ruling elite chosen on the basis

6. Poner, Trust in Numbers, 1 94.
7. Where do we draw the line between justified quantification, which

seeks to achieve transparency, objectivity, democratic control, and
egalitarian social outcomes, and metastasized quantification, which
replaces and indeed stifles political discussions about the proper
course of public policy ?

We surely cannot conclude that all official uses of audit meth­
ods are wrong and foolish. Rather, we need to find ways to distin­
guish between sensible and dangerous uses of numbers. When con­
fronted by audit or quantitative indices, we should ask ourselves a
few questions. I would suggest asking questions that respond to the
concerns I raised earlier in my discussion, namely, the presence or
lack of construct validity, the possibility of “antipolitics,” and the
colonization or feedback danger. Thus, we as citizens should ask

a. What is the relation between the proposed quantitative index
and the construct-the thing in the world-it is supposed to
measure ? (For example, docs the SAT accurately represent a
student’s aptitude, or more broadly, whether he or she deserves
to go to college ?)

b. Is a political question being hidden or evaded under the
guise of quantification ? (For example, did the hamlet


N OT E S TO PAG E S I 3 1 – I 3 3

evaluation point system and the body count method ob­
fuscate the American debate about whether the Vietnam
War was wise or indeed winnable ?)

c. What are the possibilities for colonization or subversion
of the index, such as misreporting, feedback effects, or
the prejudicing of other substantive goals ? (Does reliance
on the SSCI in American universities lead to the publica­
tion of lousy articles or the phenomenon of”citation
rings” ?)

In short, I am not proposing an attack on quantitative meth­
ods, whether in the academy or in the polity. But we do need to de­
mystify and desacralize numbers, to insist that they cannot always
answer the question we are posing. And we do need to recognize
debates about allocation of scarce resources for what they are­
politics-and what they are not-technical decisions. We must
begin to ask ourselves whether the use of quantification in a par­
ticular context is likely to advance or hinder political debate, and
whether it is likely to achieve or undermine or our political goals.

Particularity and Flux

1. Fran�ois Rochat and Andre Modigliani, “The Ordinary Quality of
Resistance : From Milgram’s Laboratory to the Village ofLe Cham­
bon; Journal oJSociallssues 5 1 . no. 3 ( 1 995) : 195-210.

2 . The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., recognizes the
power of particularity by giving every visitor a card with an indi­
vidual photograph of a jew whose particular fate they learn only at
the end of the visit.

3. Most of these plaques were not a state initiative but were created by
small groups of German citizens who insisted on the importance
of marking the local history of Nazism in the collective historical
memory. While they are less moving on the whole than the Mun­
ster exhibition, they compare favorably with the United States,
where one looks largely in vain for memorial reminders such as
“Slave auctions were held on this site,” “Let us remember ‘Wounded


N O T E S T O PAG E S 1 3 7 – 1 3 9

Knee’ and ‘The Trail of Tears:” or “Here were conducted the infa­
mous Tuskegee Experiments.”

4. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking. 1 965). 1 22.
5. Lenin’s writings are complex in this respect, sometimes celebrat­

ing spontaneity, but, as a general matter, he saw the “masses” as raw
power, rather like a fist, and the vanguard party as the “brain,” as the
general staff deploying the power of the masses to best advantage.



At Princeton University Press, Fred Appel, with exemplary patience,
aided and abetted my freestyle experiment with form here, and ex­
ercised the kind of editorial care and advice I thought had disap­
peared from contemporary publishing. His colleagues Sarah David
and Deborah Tegarden generously assisted in assembling the illus­
trations and the text.


abolitionism, xviii. See also slavery
absenteeism, xx
abstractness, 34
abstract principles, 1 3 1 , 1 32
Ahuja, 45, 141
academy, quantitative measures

of productivity in, 105- 1 1 . See

also citation indices ; education
accountants, chartered, 1 2 1
adaptability, 65-66
administration, xiii, 1 20, 127; and

models, 44-45
adventure playgrounds, 57-59,

60. See also play
aesthetics, xxiii, 7, 45, 47, 99
affirmative action, 1 23
African American church, 23
African Americans, xiv, 25,

26, I 04. See also civil rights

agribusiness, 87, 93-94
Agricultural Adjustment Act, 17
agriculture, 42, 48-5 1 ; and An-

dean potato cultivation, 39-40;

depletion vs. development of
soil in, 69; and irrigation, 36;
plantation, 37, 38-40, 4 1 , 87;
and proletarian production
crops, 48; scientific, 37-40,
48-49; and share-cropping sys­
tem, 92; smallholder, 87; and
vernacular knowledge, 33-34,
48-5 1 ; Western, 48-49. See
also farming

airplanes, manufacture of. 36
Aksoy, Mehmet, Memorial for the

Unknown Deserter, 8
almanacs, 33
Amazon, 38-40
American Civil War, 8- 1 0
American Revolution, 1 36
anarchism/anarchists, 5, 80;

calisthenics for, 1-7; and
democracy, 1 2 1 ; and dignity
and autonomy of small
property, 94; and Global
South, xi; and mutuality with­
out hierarchy. 122;


anarchism/anarchists {cont}; and
petty bourgeoisie, 85 ; and
praxis, xii ; principles of, xii

anarchist squint, xii-xvi, xvii
ancien regime, x
Anderson, Edgar, Plants, Man,

andLife, 4 9 – 5 3
Andes, potato cultivation in,

anonymity, 8, 10- 1 1 , 1 2, 13 . 76,

anticolonial movements, 94
antipolitics, 1 1 1 , 1 22, 126, 127,

147n7. See also politics
anti-Semitism, 86, 129. See also

architecture, 34, 43-44, 45, 47,

archives, 12- 13
Arendt, Hannah, 1 3 1 , 1 37
Argentina, xxv
artisans, 85 ; autonomy of, 95; as

core of working-class move­
ments, 95; knowledge of, 68;
as political thinkers, xxiii;
production by, 34, 36; as small
property owners, 88; and
struggles for equality, 96; and
vernacular, 40

Arts and Humanities Citation
Index, 108, 1 12

assembly line. See factories; indus-
try; workers

asylums, 79
AT&T Bell Labs, 146n 14
attrition, index of, 1 17
audience, 23-28, 144n3

audits, 147n7; and corporations,
126-27; and cost-benefit analy­
sis, 123; and education, 7 1 ,
1 1 6, 1 17, 127; and Enron, 1 1 8;
and financial collapse of2008,
1 1 9; and McNamara, 1 1 8 ;
Porter on, 125; and quantita­
tive measures, 1 1 S, 12 1

authoritarianism, xix, xxi, xxiii, 16,
77-78, 79, 1 39

autonomy: and agribusiness,
93-94; and anarchism, xxiii;
and Andean farmers, 40; of
artisans, 95; and assembly line,
92-93; and authoritarian-
ism, 78, 79 ; and compulsory
universal education, 7 1 ; and
contract farming, 93-94; and
Crozier, 14Sn 1 1 ; and Emdrup
playground, 60; expansion of.
80; and industrial workers, 9 1 –
92; and patriarchal family, 77;
and petty bourgeoisie, 85; and
small property, 85, 89, 90, 94;
for subordinate classes, 88-89.
See also independence

Bakunin, Mikhail, xi-xii, xv, xxv

Bangkok, housing in, 59-60
banks, 53, 77, 87. See also World

bard, med ieval, 26-27, 28, 29
Bastille, storming of, 135
Battle in Seattle, xix
beauty, 124. See also aesthetics
Bell Labs, 146n14
Berlin, Isaiah, xxv



Berlin Wall, 1, 2, 6, 46
big box stores, 99
Big Mac sandwich, 35
Big Ten universities, 107
biography, 134-35
black bloc strategy, xix
body counts, 1 1 7, 147n7
body parts, international trade

in, xv
Bolshevik Revolution, 86
Bolsheviks, l 37-38
bond rating agencies, 1 1 9
border states, 9
Boulding, Kenneth, 29
boycotts, 17
Branch, Taylor, 23-25
Brasilia, 45
Brazil, 38-40, 94
Brecht, Bertolt, 6
Brown, Stuart, 64-65
Bukharin, Nikolai, 86-87
bureaucracies, 85, 88, 145n1 1
Burma, x
business conglomerates, 87

caD-and-response tradition, 23
campaign contributions, xvi
capitalism : and crisis beginning in

2008, xvi; and Global South,
xi; and petty bourgeoisie, 84,
86, 87, 94-95; and proletariat,

Caterpillar Corporation, 46
Catherine the Great, 1 1 8
Ceau&#O 1 5f;escu, Nicolae,

1 39-40
Central America, 49

ceremonial space, 41
charisma, relationship of. 22-29

children, xv, 46, 57-59, 60, 77
China, x, xi, xv, 27-28, 72, 90-91
Chuang Tzu, 1 6, 6 1

citation indices, 108- 1 1 , 1 12- 1 5,
122, 147n7. See also academy

citation rings, 1 14, 148n7
cities, 32-33, 4 1-45, 47. See also

urban planning

citizens/citizenship, xiv, 70, 78,
80, 89. 90. 9 1 . 1 2 1-22

civil disobedience, 1 5, 16. See also

dissent; protests
civil engineering, 41

civil rights, xix, 16, 20, 88. See also

civil rights movement, xviii, 17,

2 1 -22, 25, 1 36, 143n 1
civil war, 16

Cloward, Richard A. , xviii
Cold War, xi, 2 1 , 95
collective action, 1 3. 14

collective farms, 87
collectivism, xi
collectivization, x, 9 1

colonialism, 3 1 , 53
commercialization, 56

commercial regulations, 55
commercial retail space, 41
commodities, xvi, xxii, 36, 37,

42, 56
commons, 92
Commune of Paris of 187 1 , 1 36

communism, xi, xxi, 86
concentration camps, 79



Confederate States of America,

8- 10, 92
Congress, 2 1

Congress on Racial Equality, 2 1

conscription, xiv, xx, 9, 10, 34, 70
construct validity, 147n7

consumers, fabrication of, 55

contagion effect, 14- 1 5
contingency, 3 1 , 1 34-36, 1 37,

convalescent homes, 73-76

cooperation, xii, xxi-xxii, xxiii

coordination, xxi, 14- 1 5. 2 1 , 36,
8 1 , 82

corporate managers, 1 18- 19
corporations, 55, 87, 127. See also


cost-benefit analysis, xxii, 1 1 1 ,
1 23-25, 126

courts, 12, 34. See also law

Crozier, Michel, 145-46n1 1
Cultural Revolution, 27-28

culture, 17, 56
currency, standardization of, 55

custom, 1 6, 54

Danvers High School, Massachu­
setts, 1 02

Daston, Lorraine, 120
Davos World Economic Forum,


debate, xiii; elimination of, 1 19,
1 2 1 , 1 22, 1 23, 1 27, 147n7; and

quantification, 148n7

decisions, 1 2 1 , 1 24, 1 25, 1 26, 127,

democracy: and audit society,
1 27; capacity for, 70; and
capacity of citizenry to grow,
1 2 1-22; as commodity, xvi ;
debate in, 12 1 , 1 22; disruptions
in name of. xviii; and dissent,
1 6-2 1 ; and educational op­
portunity, 123; and extra­
institutional disorder, 1 9; and
inequality, xvi ; and Jefferson,
79-80, 89, 1 00; and life of
subservience, 78; and meritoc­
racy, 1 1 1 , 120-2 1 ; moral high
ground of. xviii-xix ; overthrow
of representative, 20; and petty
bourgeoisie, 87; and protest
movements, xvii; purpose of
representative, 1 6; and quan­
titative measures of quality,
1 1 9; and state’s emancipatory
role, xiv

demonstrations, xvii, 1 6, 1 8, 2 1 ,
22. See also protests

Department of Defense, 106
Department of Education, 1 04
desegregation, xviii
desertion, xx, 5-7, 9- 1 1 , 12
development studies, xi
Dickens, Charles, Hard Times,

7 0 , 1 0 1
Diggers, 94
dignity, 89, 94
discipline, 77, 1 39
disobedience, 7, 8, 1 0, 1 1
disruption: and civil rights move-

ment, 2 1 ; and democratic polit­
ical change, 17; and emancipa-



tory movements, 22; and Great
Depression, 18 ; and organized
progressive interests, 2 1 ; and
poor people, 19 ; and social
change, xiv, xvii, xviii, xix, 16

dissent, 1 6-2 1 . See also civil
disobedience ; insubordination;
lawbreaking; protests; riots

dissimulation, xx
diversity, 37, 38, 40, 41 , 56, 59,

division oflabor, 34, 68
Djilas, Milovan, xxi
DNA testing, 34
doctors, 1 2 1
Dodoma, 45, 1 4 1
domestics, xiv
dormitory rooms, 60-61
Drachten, Netherlands, 8 1 -83
Dunn, John, xxiv
DuPont, 146n14
Durham, Connecticut, 3 1 -32

East Germany, S-6, 47
economics : development, xi; neo­

classical, 67, 1 27-28, 146n l3
economy: and anarchism, xiii;

depressed, 17; diversity in, 56;
evaluation of, 67; and formal
vs. informal processes, 45; of
Germany, xiii; and growth and
development, xi, 127; informal
and unreported, 88; liberal,
xxii; planned, 46-47; and vil­
lage class system, 90

education, 47, 1 1 1 ; in Atlanta,
Georgia, 1 OS; in business

schools, 1 1 8; as compulsory,
7 1 ; consultants for, 1 16-17;
and democracy, 7 1 ; design of
universal public, 70; and en­
largement of human capacities,
70-73; and homogenization,
54, 104; international trends in,
104-5; and Ivy League schools,
107, 1 1 6- 17; measurement,
testing, and accountability in,
7 1 ; methods of aud it and qual­
ity control in, 1 1 5- 17; national
system of, 54; and No Child
Left Behind Act, 1 02- 5; and
plural society, 1 23; and social
capital, 72; standardization in,
7 1 ; standardized tests in, 102-
S. See also academy; Scholastic
Achievement Test {Scholastic
Aptitude Test, SAT); schools

efficiency, 42, 43, 65, 66-67, 120
egalitarianism, 147n7
egoists, xxii
Einstein, Albert, 1 1 8
elderly people, 73-76, 79, 97-98
elections, x, xvi, 1 6- 1 7, 1 8- 19
elites: administrative, 127; and

British urban riots of201 1 , xix ;
and charisma, 23 ; and Great
Depression, 1 8; lack of trust in,
125 ; managerial, 1 20; and min­
iatures, 44; professional, 125 ;
and property rights, 12 ; reform
by, 20; and reform move­
ments, xix; and SAT, 122-23;
selection of, 127; social order
beyond control of, 141 ;



elites (cont}: and social science,

xxiii. See also charisma, rela­
tionship of

Emdrup, Denmark, playground

in, 57-58, 59. 60
employment, I l l

enclosure, bills of. 12

engineers, 34, 46, 70, 120, 1 2 1 ,
1 23

England, poaching in, I I . See also

Great Britain

English, as second language, I 04

English Civil War, 94
English monarchy, I I

English nobility, 1 1
Enron Corporation, 105, 1 18- 1 9

entertainment, 41

epidemics, control of. 36
Europe, 1 0

evil, banality o f. 1 3 1

eyes o n the street, 98-99

factories, 1 8, 47, 79, 92; and

artisanal production, 36; labor
force of. 85, 95 ; and Owens,

1 08; and public schools, 70, 7 1 ;

an d schools, 103; task environ­
ment of, 65; workers in, 77. See

also industry ; workers
facts, 1 1 9-20

famil ies, 19, 76, 77-78, 79, 80, 87,

88, 90
farmers: and Bukharin, 87; and

Jefferson, 89, 100; landowning,

79-80; peasant, 77; tenant, 77,
85, 89. 90

farming: contract, 93-94: large
vs. smallholder, 36. See also

farms, model, 45, 141
fascism, xix
federal voting registrars, 2 1
feedback effects, 147 n7
fence laws, 92
feudalism, 86
financial collapse of2008, xvi, 1 1 9
financial mobility, 72
fingerprints, 34
Finland, 104
firms, 96, 100, 1 18- 19, 146n l4.

See also corporations
First International Congress of d1e

Petite Bourgeoisie, 84
First Republic, 10
foot-dragging, xx, 16
footpaths, 1 5- 16, 6 1
Ford, Henry, 35, 38-40
Ford Foundation, 106
Fordism, 35, 66
Fordlandia, 38-40
Ford River Rouge Complex, 39,

40, 68, 92
foreign loans and aid, 55
forestry, scientific, 37-38, 4 1 . 42
fragging, 1 1
fragments, as term, xxiv-xxv
France, 16, 54, 1 2 1 ; anarchist

workers of. xxv; Ecole des Ponts
et Chausees, 123; education in,
72; taxation in, 1 15 ; universal
citizenship of revolutionary,
70; Vichy, 129, 1 30

Franco, Francisco, 1 30



freedom, xiii-xv, xvi, xviii, 1 6, 85,
9 1-92, 14 1 . See also civil rights

Freedom Rides, 2 1
freehold tenure, 12
French citizen, 54, 55
French Communist Party, xviii
French Revolution, x, xiv, 1 0, 55,

1 35, 1 37
Friedman, Milton, 146n 13
fuel gathering, 36
functions, segregation of, 41
furniture, 60-61

gardens, 48-53
Garfield, Eugene, 1 12, 1 1 3
General Motors: Lordsville, Ohio,

Plant, 66-67, 68
Geneva Accords of 1954, x-xi
geometric order, 43, 48, 49
Germany, xiii, 1-7, 37-38, 82
Ghana, x
globalization, opposition to,

Global South, xi, xv
Goodhart’s law, 1 1 5
Good Soldier Svejk, 6
Gramsci, Antonio, 17, 144n 1
Great Britain, xix, 48-49. See also

Great Depression, xviii, 17- 18, 28
Great Dismal Swamp, 9

greve de ze/e, 4 6
gross domestic product {GDP),

gross human product {GHP),

67-73, 78, 83
Guatemala, 49

guerrillas, xx
Guilford, Connecticut, 3 1 -32
Guinea, x
gulag, x
Gypsies, 87

Hamlet Evaluation System, 1 17-
18, 147n7

harmonization, 55
health care delivery, 42
Hearn, Lafcadio, xxvi
hegemony, 144n 1
Hicks, John, 69
Hicksian income, 69
hierarchy, xii, xviii, xxi, 34-36, 79,

80, 122
history, 1 34-41
Hobbes, Thomas, xiv, xvi,

Holocaust, 148n3
Holocaust memorials, 1 32-33
Holocaust Museum, Washington,

D.C., 148n2
Home Depot, 1 00
Homo erectus, 6 6
homogenization, 54-56, 104. See

also standardization
Homo sapiens, 6 4 , 8 8
Huguenots, 129-30, 1 36
human capacities and skills,

enlargement of, 68-70
humanitarian action, 1 3 1
human nature, 37, 4 1
Hungary, 92-93

IBM, 146n 14
identification, 31 , 34, 36, 1 3 1 -32



impartiality, 123, 126
income distribution, 1 8
independence : and authoritarian-

ism, 78 ; and contract farming,
93-94; and industrialized
proletariat, 9 1 ; and Jeffersonian
democracy, 79, 80, 89, 100; of
judgment, 79, 8 1 -83; and land
ownership, 9 1 ; and patriarchal
family, 77; and petty bourgeoi­
sie, 94; and slavery, 92; and
small property, 89, 90, 9 1 , 96;
fur subordinate classes, 88-89;
and village class system, 90. See
also autonomy

India, x
Indonesia, x
industrial associations, 84
industrializing society, 70
industrial proletariat, 9 1
Industrial Revolution, 77, 94
industry, 35, 86, 87. See also facto-

ries; workers
inequalities, xi, xiv-xvi, 19
infrapolitics, xx

innovation, 96, 146n 14
institutions: adaptability and

breadth of, 65; as authoritar­
ian, 77, 79; caring, 73-76;
disruption of. xvii ; and dissent,
17 – 18; efficiency vs. human
results of. 67; failure of. 19; as
hierarchical, 77, 79; modifica­
tion of. 6 1 ; and North Atlantic
nation-state, 53-54; opposi­
tion, xvii-xviii; and protest
movements, xvii ; and public

sphere, 80; and purposes and
talents of inhabitants, 60-6 1 ;
and scientific design, xiii; as
sclerotic, xvii ; shaping by, 76-
80; task environment of. 65;
threat to, xviii; total, 79; for
unmly protest and anger, 20

insubordination, 7-22. See also

intelligence, 7 1 , 73, 1 20, 127
Intelligence Quotient, 126
International Monetary Fund,

xix, 55
international organizations, 55
Irish democracy, 14
Islamabad, 45, 141
Italy, xxv, 54, 130
Ivy League schools, 107, 1 1 6- 17
lwo Jima Memorial (U. S . Marine

Corps War Memorial), Wash­
ington, D.C., 62-63, 64

Jacobs, Jane, 42-43, 47, 98, 99
Japan, 72
jaywalking, 4-5
Jefferson, Thomas, 89, 1 00. See

also democracy
Jews, 86, 1 29-33, 148n2
justice, 4, 5, 22

Kampuchea, xi
Kang, Mia, 102
Kaplan, Stanley, 1 16
Kennedy, John, 2 1
Kennedy, Robert, 2 1
Khmer Rouge, xi
Kim, Jong-ll, 1 39



King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1 9, 27,
28; Holt Street YMCA speech
ofDecember 1 955, 23-26

knowledge : centralization of,
34; and education, 104; and
industrial assembly lines, 35;
objective scientific, 120; offi­
cial, 30-36, 44; and rulers, 120 ;
vernacular, 30-34, 3 5, 48- 5 1

Korea, 72
Kronstadt, x, 86-87
Kropotkin, Pyotr Alexeyevich, xxv

Kuhn, Thomas, 1 1 3

La Boetie, Etienne de, 78
labor, 9, 103, 1 08, 1 19; and

assembly line, 34, 68; cost of,
42; and efficiency, 66, 67; and
Hicksian income, 69; as market
commodity, xxii; and public
education, 70; and scientific
agriculture, 48

laborers: and artisans, 95; migrat­
ing, 87; and smallholders, 87,
89, 90. See also workers

labor market, 92
land : desire for, 94; and farmers,

79-80; good stewardship of,
99; holding and inheritance of,
88; as market commodity, xxii;
and patronymic naming, 34;
restoration oflost, 94;
and Russian Revolution, 1 37;
and squatting, xx. See also

Landauer, Gustav, xxv

landlords, xi, 77

land reforms: in China, x; pre­
emptive, 95; as succeeded by

collectivization, 9 1
landscapes: o f control, 34-36;

diversity in, 4 1 ; standardized,
official, 35; vernacular, 40

land tenure, commoditized free-
hold, 36

land-use practices, 36, 54

languages, 36, 45-46, 54, 56

law: access to knowledge about,
xvi; of adverse possession, 1 6;
just, 22; local, 54; national

system of, 54; national vs. local
common, 36; and personal

judgment as just or reasonable,
5; and practice, custom, and

rights, 1 6; standardization of,
55. See also courts

lawbreaking, 1 1 – 14, 16 ; anony­
mous, 1 3- 14; to instate justice,

22; minor, 4-5; and political
change, 17; and speed limit

enforcement, 14- 1 5. See also

lawyers, 1 2 1

leaders, and followers, 22-29

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, 129-

3 1 , 1 35-36
legislation, xvii, 20

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich, x, xiii, 9 1 ,
120, 1 39, 149n5; What Is to

Be Done, 1 3 8
Levellers, 94

Leviathan, xvi, xxii, xxiii
Levin, Richard, 1 05-6



liberal democracies, l7, 1 8- 19.
See also democracy

liberal democratic theorists, 80
libertarianism, xiv-xv
Light, Matthew, 1 1 5
Lin, Maya, Vietnam Memorial,

6 1 -62, 63
listening, 25-26
literacy, 70
Little Rock, Arkansas, xiv
Locke, John, xxv
looting, xix, 17
Lumpenproletariat, 9 4
Lunacharsky, Anatoly Vasilyevich,

1 38
Luxemburg, Rosa, xii, 1 2 1

MacFarlane, Alan, xxv-xxvi
maize, 33-34, 49-5 1
Malatesta, xxv
managers, 77, 106, 1 1 8- 19, 120
Mao Zedong, xi
market integration, 146n 1 3
maroons, 52
Marx, Karl, x, xiii, xxv, 1 3. 94-95
Marxism, 141
Marxists, 9 1
Massachusetts Comprehensive

Assessment System (MCAS)
exam, l02

May Day parades, 1 39
McDonald’s restaurants, 35
McNamara, Robert, 106, 1 17, 1 18
measures: of academic productiv-

ity, 1 05- 1 1 ; as colonizing be­
havior, 1 14- 17; ofmerit, 1 19,
120-2 l ; ofquality, 1 1 1-28;

and techniques of calculation,
125 ; vernacular, 33; and Viet­
nam War, 1 17- 18

media, xvi, 16, 17
Menzel, Hannah Stuetz, 7
merit, 1 19, 1 20-2 1
meritocracy, I l l , 120
Mexican Revolution, 94
Michigan Educational Assessment

Test, l 03
middle-class, 123
Milgram, Stanley, 78
military barracks, 88
Mill, J. S., xiii
miniatures, 44, 140. See also

Minneapolis, The Yard play-

ground, 58
minorities, xiv
misreporting, 148n7
Missionary Ridge, battle of. 9
models, 44-45, 47, 140-41
Model T automobile, 35, 38, 42
Moderman, Hans, 8 1 -83
modernism, xiii, 36, 47, 1 1 9-20;

and urban planning, 4 1-45
monasteries, 88
monetization, 123-24
moneylenders, 77
Montgomery bus boycott, 23, 26
Monument to the Unknown

Deserters of Both World l#zrs,
5 – 6

Moore, Barrington, 95
mortgages, bundling of. 1 1 9
Mi.inster Holocaust memorial,

1 32-33, 148n3



museums, 45
music, 54, 7 I
Mussolini, Benito, 130
mutiny, xx, IO, I2
mutuality, xii, xvi, xxi-xxii, 85,

l l i , I 22

names, 30-33, 34, 36
Napoleon I. 1 0, 1 2 1
Napoleonic Empire, I 0
Napoleonic state, x
narratives, 1 34-35. 141 . See also

National Association for the

Advancement of Colored
People, 2 I

National Guard, xiv
nation-state, 52-56, 55. See also

Native Americans, 3 1
namre, state of, xiv
Nazism, 6, 79, 86, 129, 148n3
neighborhoods, I 9, 36, 47, 98-

99. See also cities
neoliberalism, xv, xviii, xxii,

1 27-28
networks, informal, I 9
Neubrandenburg, Germany, I ,

2-4, 5-6, 22, 8 I
New Deal, xvi, xix
New Delhi, 45
New England, 33
New Lanark, 1 08
New York City, 32-33
I960s era, ix-x
Nkrumal1, Kwame, x
No Child Left Behind Act, I02-5

nonelites, xxiii-xxiv
nonviolence, 20
normative/best practice standards,

North Atlantic nations, xv , 53,

55. 56
North Korea, 1 39, I40
North Vietnamese forces, 1 17
nutrition, 66

obedience, 22
objectivity, I 08, 1 1 I. 1 12, 1 14,

1 1 5. 1 17, 120, 1 2 1 , 123, 125,
I26, I28, I47n7

October Revolution, x
oligopolies, xvi
order, 34; and disorder, 47- 5 1 ;

disruption o f public, 1 6; and
eyes on the street, 98-99;
functional, 48; miniamrization
of, I40; vernacular, 35-36;
visual, 4 1 , 43-44, 45, 47-5 1 ,
58 , 1 36, 1 39-40; working, 46,
47, 49-5 I

organizations, paradox of.

orphanages, 79
Owens, Robert, I 08

Paris, taxi drivers of, 46
Parks, Rosa, 23
particularity, 1 3 I-32, I48n2
pastoralists, 87
peasants, 77; and Anderson,

49-5 I ; and Bukharin, 87; and
extra-institutional politics, xx ;
and Khmer Rouge, xi;



peasants (cont}; land ownership
for, 9 1 ; lawbreaking by, 1 1- 13 ;
and Mao Zedong, xi; and
Mexican Revolution, 94; and
petty bourgeoisie, 85; as politi­
cal thinkers, xxiii; and radical­
ism, 95; and revolutions, 9 1 ;
smallholding, 88, 89-90, 96,
99; and struggles for equality,
96; suppression of. x-xi; and
wars of national l iberation, x

peddlers, 85
Pentagon, 1 17
Peter the Great, 141
petition, rights to, 88
petty bourgeoisie, 84- 1 00; and

citizenship, 90; and dream of in­
dependence, 94; economic role
in invention and innovation, 96;
and industrial proletariat, 9 1 ;
Marxist contempt for, 86-88;
Marx’s contempt for, 94-95;
and meaning of property, 90;
and revolutionary ferment, 90;
as shopkeepers, 97- 1 00; social
functions of. 94-96, I46n l3;
social services by, 98- 1 00

philosophes, 1 3 5
photography, 34
Piven, Frances Fox, xviii
plantation agriculture, 37, 38-40,

41 , 87
plantation economy, 92
play, 57-59, 63-65, 93
Pletz, Germany, 1-2, 3, 5
ploughmen, 85
poaching, xx, 1 1 , 1 2, 1 3- 14, 16

police, 12, 34, 99
political capitals, 140-41
politicians, 28, 29, 44-45. See also

leaders, and followers
politics, xvii, 17, 125, 140; and

anarchist squint, xii; and
change from below, xxi ; and
cost-benefit analysis, 125 ; extra­
institutional, xx; and historical
misrc:prc:sc:ntation, 1 37-4 1 ;
and institutionalized protest,
20; and lawbreaking and dis­
ruption, 17- 18 ; and measures
of quality, I l l ; mutuality and
learning in, I l l ; parliamentary,
17; partisan, 120; privUeged
influence in, 17; and quantita­
tive assessment, 1 2 1-28; as
replaced by administration, xiii;
routine, 1 8, 1 9; and scientific
modernists, 120; study of, xvii;
and urban planning, 41 ; and
warning signs of unrest, 1 3

pollution, 36
Pompidou, Georges, xviii

poor people, xv, 1 9, 28, 45, 79, 92

populism, xxiii
Porter, Theodore, 1 16, 125
postmodern era, 42
potatoes, cultivation of. 39-40
Potemkin, Grigory, 1 18
Potemkin facrade, 141
poultry-raising, 93
prisons, 7 1 , 78, 79
professions, 85, 1 2 1 , 125
proletariat, x, xiii, 77, 86, 9 1 , 94,

95, 1 38



property, 56, 77; attacks on,
xvii ; concentration of, 17;
and development studies, xi;
and Great Depression, 18 ;
individual freehold vs. com­
mon, xxii; meaning of. 90; and
patronymic naming, 34; and
petty bourgeoisie, 85, 86, 87,
88-94, 90; and proletariat, 95;
and rights, 1 1 , 1 2, 13 , 88, 89;
seizure of, 1 6; and trespass, 1 6.
See also land; small property

protests, xvii-xix, 16, 20, 103,
141 , 143n 1. See also demon­
strations; dissent; riots

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, xii, xxi­
xxii, xxv

public housing, 42
public works projects, 17, 1 1 1

quality: assessment of, 12 1 ;
democratic debate over, 122;
measures of, 1 1 1 -28; manage­
ment techniques for, 106-7

quantification: justified vs. metas­
tasized, 147n7

quantitative standards, 1 04; debat­
able assumptions of. 123; and
democratic debate, 1 19-20,
1 2 1-22; and McNamara, 1 17;
meeting of, 1 1 5; and quality,
1 1 1 ; rigid application of, 1 14;
as transforming field, 1 16; and
United States, 1 27

rag pickers, 85
rallies, 20

Reagan, Ronald, 127
red lights, removal of, 80-83
reforms, xvii, 16-2 1
refugees, 1 29-33
revolutionary elites, xi
revolutions, xvii, 1 38-39, 141 ;

and anarchist squint, xii; con­
trol by state rollowing, x; disil­
lusionment about, ix, x; and
l istening, 29; and peasantry, 9 1 ;
and petty bourgeoisie, 90

Rice, Condoleezza, 106- 1 1
riots, xvii, 12, 16, 17, 1 8, 19 ; in

Britain in 20 1 1 , xix ; general­
ized, xix. See also dissent;

Rochat, Fran�ois, 1 3 1
Rocker, Rudolf, xxv

rooms, 60-61
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, xvi,

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 78
rubber trees, 38-40
Russia, rural revolution of 1 9 17

in, 90
Russian Revolution, x, 136, 137-38

sabotage, xx, 1 3, 1 6
Saint-Simon, comte de, xiii
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1 34-35
Scholastic Achievement Test

(Scholastic Aptitude Test,
SAT), 1 04, 1 1 1 , 1 1 5- 1 6,
1 22-23, 126, 147n7. See also

schools, 76, 79; and enlargement
of human capacities, 70-73;


schools (cont}; and factories,
I 03; national system of, 54;
superintendents of. 1 04. See
also education

Schumacher, E. F., Small Is Beau­
lifo/, 3 5 . 1 0 1

science, xiii, 37-40, 41 , 42, 48-
49, 1 20, 128

Science Citation Index (SCI),
IOS, l l 2- 14

scientific modernists, 1 19-20
scientism, xiii
segregation, 2 1
self-citations, 1 1 3
self-explanations, xxiv
self-organization, xxiii
self-reliance, 79
self-respect, 79, S5
serfs, SS
servants, 77
service industries, 77
servility, SO
servitude, 55, 77-7S
shadow pricing, xxii, 124
shareholders, l i S, 127
share price, l i S, 1 1 9
shifting cultivators, S7
shopkeepers, 77, S5, SS, 97- IOO
Sismondi, Jean Charles Leonard

de, xxv
sit-ins, 2 1 , 22
slavery, xiv, xvi, xviii, 9, 26, SS, 92
small business, 9 1-92
smallholders, xi, 36, 77, 85, 87,

SS-90, 99
small property: and agribusiness,

93-94; and autonomy, 85,


S9, 90, 94; dignity of. 94; and
independence, S9, 9 1 , 96; and
petty bourgeoisie, S7, 94; and
rights, 88, 89; and right-wing
movements, 95-96. See also

Smith, Adam, 6S
sociability, 97-98
social action, 1 3 1
social capital, 72
social Darwinism, xxii
social decisions, I l l
socialism, xi-xii, xiii
socialist bloc : collapse of. 2, 95:

institutional order in, 54; and
petty bourgeoisie, S7; planned
economies of, 46-47

social movements, 16, 17, 14 1 ; ac­
tors in, 13S-39; and anarchist
squint, xii; as institutionalizing
protest and anger, 20; listening
in, 29; summarization and
codification of, 1 33-34

social order: beyond control of
elites, 14 1 ; and formal vs. infor­
mal processes, 45

social organization, xiii
social science, xxiii-xxiv; sum­

marization and codification by,

Social Science Citation Index
(SSCI), lOS, I l l , l l 2, l l 3- 14,
122, 126, I4Sn7

social security aid, 17
social status, 72, S9, 90, 9 1
socioeconomic status, 1 23
software industry, 96



soU mining, 69
Solidarnosc, xxv, 1 36, 143n 1
South, 2 1 , 92
Southern Christian Leadership

Conference, 2 1
Soviet bloc economies, xxi
space, exploration of. 36
Spain, 94, 1 30
Spanish Civil War, xxv

speed limits, enforcement of,
14- 1 5

sports, television programs o f, 136
Squanto, 33-34
squatters, xx, 12, 45, 59-60
Stalin, Joseph, 87
standardization, 42, 55, 68, 1 02-

5, 1 26. See also homogenization
state, 80; abolition of, xvi ; and

anarchism, ix, xii, xiii; control
by post-revolutionary, x; as de­
stroying natural initiative and
responsibility, xxii; and devel­
opment studies, xi; dominant
interests of, xvii; formal order
ofliberal, xxii ; and freedom,
xiii-xiv; and French Revolu­
tion, xiv; growing reach of, xxii;
and hierarchical organizations,
36; opposition to, xxi; and
inequalities, xi; institutional
order of, 53-54; Lenin’s idea
of. 1 38; life outside vs. inside,
88-89; and mutuality, xii; and
patronymic naming, 34; and
petty bourgeoisie, 85, 87-88;
and property rights, 12 ; and
relative equaliry, xvi; sclerotic

institutions of, xvii; and small
property owners, 88; as thwart­
ing lower-class organization,
xx-xxiii; as undermining mutu­
ality and cooperation, xxi-xxii;
and vernacular practices, 5 I –
56. See also nation-state

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre,
1 30

St. Louis, Pruitt-lgoe public hous­
ing project, 42

Stockholm, Freetown playground,

St. Petersburg, 45, 141
strikes, xvii, 1 6, 17 , 18, 46. See also

dissent; workers
Student Non-Violent Coordinat­

ing Committee, 2 1 , 143n 1
subaltern classes, 1 1 , 12- 1 3
subordinate classes, xx-xxiii,

subservience, 78
suffrage, popular, xiv
Swift, Jonathan, “A Modest Pro­

posal,” xv
Switzerland, Robinson Crusoe

playgrounds in, 58
sympathy, 1 30, 1 3 1-32
synoptic legibility, 34

Tao Te Ching, 4 5 , 5 7
Tawney, R . H., 84
taxes, xx, 34, 54, 87-88, 1 1 5
taxi drivers, 46
Thatcher, Margaret, 106, 127
theater, 1 38-39
theft/pilfering, xvii, xx, 12, 13 . 16


theme parks, 45
lhermadorian Reaction, x
Thirty Years’ War, 1 32, 1 36
Thompson, E. P., 95
time-and-motion analysis, 68
time discipline, 1 03
TocquevUle, Alexis de, xxv, 68
Tolstoy, Leo, xxv, 1 29, 1 37
Torah, 1 3 1
Tourc, Ahmed Sckou, x
trade, 87, 146n 1 3
trade associations, 88
trade guilds, 12 1
traders, 85 , 88
trade union congresses, 84
trade unions, 17, 1 8, 20, 35
tradition, 36
traffic lights. See red lights,

removal of
transparency, 1 08, 1 09, 1 1 2, 1 19,

122-23, 125, 1 26, 1 27, 147n7
Treaty ofWestphalia, 1 32
Tyson company, 93

unemployment, 1 3. 17, 18 , 28
UNESC0, 55
Union army, 9, 1 0
United States, 1 25, 1 27; educa­

tion in, 1 04; quantitative
measures in, 1 1 I. 1 1 5. 1 2 5.
1 27; reform movements in,
xviii, 1 7; share-cropping sys­
tem in, 92: wealth and power
in, xv

universal suffrage, 144n I
Unknown Soldier, 6


urban planning, 32-33, 4 1-45,
47. See also cities

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,

utopianism, x, xi ii, 4 1 , 44, 54

vaccinations, 34
vagrancy, 1 8
vandalism, 1 8
vernacular: destruction o f. 5 1-56:

resilience of. 36-40
vernacular cities, 42, 43, 44
vernacular knowledge, 30-34, 35,

48-5 1
Viet Cong, 1 17
Viet Minh, x-xi
Vietnam Memorial, Washington,

D.C., 6 1-62, 63
Vietnam W.’lr, xviii, 1 1 , 1 17- 1 8,

visual complexity, 47-5 1. See also

voter-registration drives, 2 1
voting rights, xviii, 17
Voting Rights Act, 21

Wall Street, New York City,

Wal-Mart, 1 00
war, xiv, xx
Ward, Colin, xxi, 58-59
war memorials, 6 1 -64
Washington, D.C., 32, 45; lwo


Jima Memorial (U. S. Marine
Corps War Memorial), 62-63,
64; Vietnam Memorial, 6 1-62,


wealthy nations, xv
wealthy people, 17, 1 8- 1 9, 1 1 9
welfare economics, 69
welfare rights movement, xviii
West Africa, 48
Western bloc, xi
West Germany, 5
Westmoreland, William, 1 17
Win Hearts and Minds campaign,

1 17- 1 8
Wisconsin, 1 03
women, xiv, xv, xviii, 77, 85, 1 04
work, 34; as enlarging human

capacities and skills, 68; pace,
regulation, and monitoring of.
77; power over, 34-35; unpro­
ductive, xxi

workday, eight-hour, xviii
workers: and artisanal-crafi:

knowledge, 68; assembly-line,
34-35. 40, 68, 69, 70, 92-93;
in authoritarian settings, 78 ;
and desire for small business,
9 1-92; deskilled, standardized,
68; and efficiency, 65, 66-67;
factory, 77, 85; at Ford River
Rouge Complex, 92; honorable
treatment for, 9 1 ; and inad­
equacy of rules, 46-47; inde­
pendent, 77; informal networks
of. 19 ; judgments of selves and

satisfaction of. 68; as political
thinkers, xxiii; preferences of
American industrial, 9 1-92;
repertoire of skills of, 65; Ruhr
region, 9 1 ; and rules, 46-47; in
socialist Hungary, 92-93; ver­
nacular knowledge of. 35; work
as enlarging capacities and skills
of. 68-70. See also factories;
industry; strikes

workhouses, 79
working class, 84; and artisans, 95;

and Bukharin, 87; and extra­
institutional politics, xx; and
Gramsci, 17, 1 44n 1 ; and Rosa
Luxemburg, xii; and Russian
Revolution, 1 37

working order, 46, 47, 49-5 1
worksite, 79
work-to-rule strike, 46
World Bank, xix, 55, 95, 1 07, 1 23
World Court, 55
World Trade Organization, 55
World Trade Organization meet-

ing, Seat de { 1 999 ) , xix
World War I, xiii

Yale University, 105- 1 1 , 1 14
Yan Yunxiang, 27-28, 144n3

Zimbardo, Philip, 78


  • Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Preface
    • An Anarchist Squint, or Seeing Like an Anarchist
    • The Paradox of Organization
    • An Anarchist Squint at the Practice of Social Science
    • A Caution or Two
  • 1 The Uses of Disorder and “Charisma”
    • FRAGMENT 1: Scott’s Law of Anarchist Calisthenics
    • FRAGMENT 2: On the Importance of lnsubordination
    • FRAGMENT 3: More on Insubordination
    • FRAGMENT 4: Advertisement: “Leader looking for followers,willing to follow your lead”
  • 2 Vernacular Order, Official Order
    • FRAGMENT 5: Vernacular and Official Ways of” Knowing”
    • FRAGMENT 6: Official Knowledge and Landscapes of Control
    • FRAGMENT 7: The Resilience of the Vernacular
    • FRAGMENT 8: The Attractions of the Disorderly City
    • FRAGMENT 9: The Chaos behind Neatness
    • FRAGMENT 10: Th e Anarchist’s Sworn Enemy
  • 3 The Production of Human Beings
    • FRAGMENT 11: Play and Openness
    • FRAGMENT 12: It’s Ignorance, Stupid! Uncertainty and Adaptability
    • FRAGMENT 13: GHP: The Gross Human Product
    • FRAGMENT 14: A Caring Institution
    • FRAGMENT 15: Pathologies of the Institutional Life
    • FRAGMENT 16: A Modest, Counterintuitive Example: Red Light Removal
  • 4 Two Cheers for the Petty Bourgeoisie
    • FRAGMENT 17: Introducing a Maligned Class
    • FRAGMENT 18: The Etiology of Contempt
    • FRAGMENT 19: Petty Bourgeois Dreams: The Lure of Property
    • FRAGMENT 20: The Not So Petty Social Functions of the Petty Bourgeoisie
    • FRAGMENT 21: “Free Lunches” Courtesy of the Perry Bourgeoisie
  • 5 For Politics
    • FRAGMENT 22: Debate and Quality: Against Quantitative Measures of Qualities
    • FRAGMENT 23: What If . . . ? An Audit Society Fantasy
    • FRAGMENT 24: Invalid and Inevitably Corrupt
    • FRAGMENT 25: Democracy, Merit, and the End of Politics
    • FRAGMENT 26: In Defense of Politics
  • 6 Particularity and Flux
    • FRAGMENT 27: Retail Goodness and Sympathy
    • FRAGMENT 28: Bringing Particularity, Flux, and Contingency Back In
    • FRAGMENT 29: The Politics of Historical Misrepresentation
  • Notes
    • Preface and Acknowledgments
    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • Chapter 3
    • Chapter 4
    • Chapter 5
    • Chapter 6
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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