Some quotes from Society Against the State, by Pierre Clastres

On the one hand, there are primitive societies, or societies without a State; on the other hand, there are societies with a State. It is the presence or absence of the State apparatus (capable of assuming many forms) that assigns every society its logical place, and lays down an irreversible line of discontinuity between the two types of society…

There are several examples, in America and elsewhere, attesting that the absence of agriculture is compatible with sedentariness. This justifies the assumption that if some peoples did not acquire agriculture even though it was ecologically feasible, it was not because they were incompetent, technologically backward, or culturally inferior, but, more simply, because they had no need for it.


The figures obtained, whether they concern nomad hunters of the Kalahari Desert, or Amerindian sedentary agriculturists, reveal a mean appointment of less than four hours daily for ordinary work time…

Not only is man in primitive societies not bound to the animal existence that would derive from a continual search for the means of survival, but this result is even bought at the price of a remarkably short period of activity. This means that primitive societies have at their disposal, if they so desire, all the time necessary to increase the production of material goods. Common sense asks then: why would the men living in those societies want to work and produce more, given that three or four hours of peaceful activity suffice to meet the needs of the group? What good would it do them? What purpose would be served by the surplus then accumulated? What would it be used for? Men work more than their needs require only when forced to. And it is just that kind of force which is absent from the primitive world; the absence of that external force even defines the nature of primitive society. The term, subsistence economy, is acceptable for describing the economic organization of those societies, provided it is taken to mean not the necessity that derives from a lack, an incapacity inherent in that type of society and its technology; but the contrary: the refusal of a useless excess, the determination to make productive activity agree with the satisfaction of needs.

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