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Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play Hardcover – October 14, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"In a new book, Two Cheers for Anarchism, James C. Scott, a highly regarded professor of anthropology and political science at Yale, commends anarchism precisely for its 'tolerance for confusion and improvisation.'. . . Two Cheers for Anarchism conducts a brief and digressive seminar in political philosophy, starting from the perspective of the disillusioned leftist."--Kelefa Sanneh, New Yorker

"With the 'A' on its covered circled in red, Two Cheers might at first appear to be preaching to the converted, but in fact it's an attempt to explain and advocate for an anarchist perspective to a readership not already disposed to smash the state. . . . Touching all the familiar progressive touchstones along the way, Scott makes the case for everyday insubordination and disregard for the rules in pursuit of freedom and justice."--Malcolm Harris, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[I]ntriguing."--Michael Weiss, Wall Street Journal

"Alternately insightful, inciteful, and insulting, Scott makes an idiosyncratically intellectual case that technocratic elites aren't to be trusted, and insubordination is a virtue to be cherished. . . . Two Cheers for Anarchism deserves more than two cheers in review because Scott usefully expands the vocabularies that leaders and managers need to have around the critical issues of power, control, and resistance. Every effective leader I know loses sleep over how best to empower their talent and constructively align their people. And all the successful leaders I know--especially the entrepreneurs--have at least a little streak of anarchism--of creative destruction--inside of them. For this reason alone, they will find Scott's insights and incites worth their time."--Michael Schrage, Fortune

"Scott selects wonderful anecdotes to illustrate his tribute to the anarchist way of seeing the world, his prose is always on the verge of breaking into a smile. Political theory rarely offers so much wry laughter."--Chris Walters, Acres USA

"[E]ngaging. . . . Scott's eye for spontaneous order in action demonstrates that anarchy is all around us: that it's no abstract philosophy but an essential part of all our lives."--Reason

"James C. Scott . . . has a new book just out: Two Cheers for Anarchism. I've just started reading it, but bits of it are so good that I just can't hold off blogging about them."--Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog

"Yale professor James C. Scott and Princeton University Press have recently published Two Cheers for Anarchism, an easy to read book that will help illuminate the concept of anarchism for anyone under misconceptions about the sophisticated ideology of anarchy. Rather than attempt to convince readers to join their local anarchist party, Scott's goal in writing Two Cheers for Anarchism is to make 'a case for a sort of anarchist squint' by relating anecdotes that demonstrate the fundamental ideas of anarchism."--Coffin Factory

"In Two Cheers for Anarchism James C. Scott . . . [makes the case] for a kinder, gentler form of rebellion than the sort of bomb-throwing, street-fighting revolution typically associated with anarchism."--Nick Gillespie, Wilson Quarterly

"The aspects of Scott's work that I have been able to examine . . . demonstrate that the typical left-right axis by which political positions are classified is seriously inadequate to the task of handling a thinker like Scott. His case against big government is going to appeal to libertarians. His demonstrations of the wisdom often contained in traditions and customs will be attractive to conservatives. And his concerns with lessening inequalities of wealth and power will be congenial to progressives. So where does he fit on the left-right axis? Nowhere, I'd say: he is his own man. And, setting aside its many other virtues, that alone makes this a book worth reading."--Gene Callahan, American Conservative

"In Two Cheers for Anarchism, James C. Scott, a professor of political science at Yale, takes a fresh and often bracing look at the philosophy espoused by (the Russian philosopher Mikhail) Bakunin and asks whether it may afford some clues as to how to proceed in the 21st century."--Richard King, Australian

"Written in a highly engaging series of what he calls 'fragments,' Scott's work links together a series of brief reflections on social cooperation in the absences of (or despite opposition from) hierarchy, tying such cooperation to a sense of autonomy, freedom, and human flourishing. . . . There is much of value in this short book and, hopefully, much that is inspirational."--Choice

"The book taken as a whole is a great leap forward and will form the basis of current and future engagements in political philosophy. In my own view, the book answers Noam Chomsky call for 'intellectual responsibility'; the responsibility to speak the truth and insist upon it."--Tawanda Sydesky Nyawasha, Symbolic Interaction

"Though Scott's kaleidoscope of touching stories, challenging thoughts and well-chosen examples is at all times diverting and often mind-blowing, this panoply of loose ideas remains connected to a strong underlying argument. He is radical but hardly polemical, utopian but deeply rooted to the ground."--Pascale Siegrist, Cambridge Humanities Review

"[A]ll readers, even those sympathetic to Scott's anarchist theme, will find themselves unsettlingly but usefully challenged by this beautifully written and argued book, especially by his call to pay more attention to the beliefs and actions of ordinary people and to avoid overly abstract theorizing that serves to aid centralized hierarchies and technocratic elites."--John A. Rapp, Review of Politics

"Two Cheers for Anarchism is an insightful contemplation of the everydayness of anarchism. . . . I can still recommend the book insofar is it casts some much needed light on the everydayness of anarchism, which is particularly important owing to the weight of Scott's name and the of clarity of his pen. Few authors are better positioned than Scott to render anarchist ideas more luminous and less threatening in the wider social sciences."--Simon Springer, Antipode

"Two Cheers for Anarchism is an unusual, affecting, and useful book. . . . The insights contained in this small volume are useful in addressing contemporary concerns about the post-political landscape as well as connecting with recent calls for autonomous geographies including alternative practices in organizing households, economies, and engagements with ecologies."--Stephen Healy, Antipode

From the Back Cover

"James Scott is one of the great political thinkers of our time. No one else has the same ability to pursue a simple, surprising idea, kindly but relentlessly, until the entire world looks different. In this book, he also demonstrates a skill shared by the greatest radical thinkers: to reveal positions we've been taught to think of as extremism to be emanations of simple human decency and common sense."--David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years

"Building on the insights of his masterful Seeing Like a State, James Scott has written a powerful and important argument for social organization that resists the twin poles of Big Corporations and Big Governments. In an age increasingly shaped by decentralized, bottom-up networks, Two Cheers for Anarchism gives timely new life to a rich tradition of political thought."--Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age

"I am a big fan of James Scott. In this highly readable and thought-provoking book, he reveals the meaning of his 'anarchist' sensibility through a series of wonderful personal stories, staking out an important position and defending it in a variety of contexts, from urban planning to school evaluation. I don't know of anyone else who has defined this viewpoint so successfully."--Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order

"The ambition of this book is compelling and contagious. Combining the populist rhetoric of Thomas Paine with the ferocious satire of Jonathan Swift, James Scott makes a wonderfully simple and potent argument in favor of mutualism, creativity, local knowledge, and freedom. I predict that this will become one of the most influential books in political theory and public debate for the twenty-first century."--Georgi Derluguian, author of Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 9/14/12 edition (October 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691155291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691155296
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on November 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Two Cheers for Anarchism is a book of "Six Easy Pieces" relating to the relation between human beings and the state. While Scott is quite a famous anthropologist for books like Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University), these essays are more reflective and philosophical in nature. While there is certainly ideational overlap between SLaS and Two Cheers, the latter is mostly personal reflection that might best be called social criticism.

The first essay, one of my favorites, discusses the role of disobedience and working around rules as a method for social change. After all, a rule is only as good as people's willingess to abide by it (especially the fewer 'rulers' there are in relation to the 'ruled'). Scott starts with an example we all know: traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks. When there and ware no cars coming, it is often normal to disregard the "don't walk" signal and walk across the road; we don't often think twice (or at least a third time) about that. And while rules do have a place (if we all went whenever we felt like, driving or crossing the street could be a nastier experience; particularly the busier the street), rule-breaking often has ITS place; rules, as rules, often leave no room for judgment or discretion, and sometimes, good judgment tells us not to follow a particular rule that we know is either needless, redundant, or immoral.).

As an educator, the chapter on The Production of Human Beings was particularly interesting.
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This book is exactly what the much maligned topic of Anarchism needed.

Anarchism is often misunderstood and dismissed as a childish, thoughtless, and brutal idea by people who have never even taken the time to read the work of prominent Anarchist thinkers. Even those who take the time to look into these texts often end up discounting Anarchist ideals as naive and impractical for the modern world.

By keeping Anarchism at arms length rather than embracing it fully, Scott is able to highlight the more meaningful and practical aspects of Anarchist thought without the bother of having to defend every last value that has ever been labelled "Anarchist." The result is a thoughtful and intriguing look at our society through an "Anarchist lens." We are shown, not what some hypothetical Anarchist utopia might look like, but rather the many ways in which Anarchist values manifest themselves effectively in our world.

Dyed in the wool "Anarchists" might find this book to be far too light-handed, but readers who are reluctant to dive head-first into hardcore Anarchist ideology will find that Scott has written a wonderfully readable commentary on Anarchist values and their place in a state-ruled society.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"[T]he great emancipatory gains for human freedom have not been the result of orderly, institutional procedures but of disorderly, unpredictable, spontaneous action cracking open the social order from below." Thus concludes James C. Scott's brief celebration of the joy and necessity of anarchism, Two Cheers for Anarchism, (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2012).

Of course, Scott is right. Who foresaw the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Arab Spring, the Occupy protests, or, most recently, the groundswell of popular protest in Brazil? When, one wonders, will the damn of restraint break in the United States to shatter what is rapidly becoming an economic caste system?

Scott is an unlikely proponent of anarchism. He's a tenured professor of political science and anthropology at Yale University. There's something counterintuitive about an academic preaching chaos. Isn't he the intellectual equivalent of a trust-fund baby - living free and easy off the unearned income of his university's generous endowment?

Such thinking reflects a misunderstanding of anarchism.

Anarchism is not disorder for disorder's sake. It is a rejection of the status quo as inadequate to meet the necessities of the time. It is the outcast forever and always challenging the orthodoxies of his time. It is the outsider saying to those confidently sharing the glow of inclusion: "Not so fast. There are things your ideals do not explain. Your rhetoric doesn't match the reality of my life." Anarchism is David saying to Goliath, "Do you feel my pain? No? Then feel this rock."

The great enemies of human freedom are the ideals and ideologies that seek to blind men and women to what they see all around them.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play the second I heard about it, as I have REALLY enjoyed James C. Scott's previous books (Seeing Like a State and Weapons of the Weak).

The title sets out Scott's view: some anarchistic ideas are useful (hence two instead of three cheers), and we can benefit from more decentralized thinking and action.

I took many notes and had many !! while reading the book, and I'll set down my reactions in the order they appeared, to give you an idea of the insights of the book:

Most revolutions have led to more, not less control of the population
"Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality" -- Mikhail Bakunin
Anarchism is not about blowing things up; it's about cooperation without hierarchy and a tolerance for the confusion that accompanies social learning, cooperation and reciprocity
All Utopian ideals fail; we must be pragmatic
"There is no authentic freedom where huge differences make voluntary agreements or exchanges nothing more than legalized plunder." This view explains the crisis of 2008 and why democracy has failed. It's been sold to the highest bidders (=bankers)
Opposition institutions can be part of the problem, since they exist within a system they want to control
Decentralized opposition may be missed by those who prefer simple models and messages (=the media)
Most of our interactions are decentralized, peer-to-peer (e.g., moving through a crowd, buying bread, talking to strangers, etc.).
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