Human Nature

The Pipe Dream of Anarcho-Populism

elites, hierarchy, and large scale society

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By Peter Turchin

I was interviewed by BBC for their show Analysis a few years ago. You can listen to it here. A good summary is on the Equality by Lot blog.

In the show Jeremy Cliffe examines the philosophy of Russell Brand, an English comedian and actor who gave the most watched political interview of 2013, the Brand-Paxman interview. If you want to read what Brand has to say, check out his article in the New Statesman.

Brand’s views got such attention not just because he is a celebrity, but because he has clearly touched a nerve. Many young and quite a lot of not-so-young people think that our world is developing in the wrong direction. One of the best ways of expressing it that I saw was a young Greek anarchist exclaiming, “It’s not right that our generation has it worse than our parents!”

And he is right. The generation who are currently 20-30 year old has certainly got a worse deal than my generation. This is true no matter how you measure it: by worsening employment prospects, by declining real wages, by the exploding proportion living with their parents (because they cannot support themselves), by the plunging proportion never married (because they live with the parents and can’t afford to set up an independent household). I have gathered much of this evidence in my forthcoming book.

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There is a basic tension in Russell Brandon’s passionate diatribe. He is aware of it, and tries to address it, but never resolves it in a satisfactory way. His critique is directed at the elites, but the irony, of course, is that he is a member of the elites himself. Remember that I use ‘elites’ in its sociological sense – they are the small proportion of population (typically 1, 2, or 3 percent) who concentrate the bulk of social power in their hands. Social power comes in four basic varieties, and while Brand does not wield any coercive or political/administrative kinds, he has an abundance of economic and ideological power, as he is extremely rich and glamorous. His wealth and fame put him not just into the 1 percent, but probably into 0.01 percent.

An elite status, however, should not disqualify him from being able to mount an effective critique against the present social order. It would only seem so if we were to agree with him and other ‘anarcho-populists,’ whom Cliffe interviewed in his quite excellent program. The anarchist idea is that our societies should dispense with the state and the ruling elites, and then everything will be right in the world.

Sorry, folks, but this is just a pipe dream. It goes against everything we know about how real human societies are organized and coordinated; how social cooperation operates in large-scale societies, such as ours.

Sure, humans can function very well in stateless and elite-less societies. For 90 percent of our evolutionary history that’s how we lived. But those were small-scale societies. Typical hunter-gatherer groups number in a few dozen. In such societies everybody knows everybody else. They also know who is honest, who is a cheat. They remember what John did to me, and what John did to Susan. And how David reacted. About every member of the band. Such ‘social intelligence’ takes a lot of processing power, which is probably why our oversized and energetically expensive brains evolved (no, it was not to prove theorems).

The problem is that even our remarkable brains (still more powerful than any existing computer) are overwhelmed by the complexity of keeping track of social interactions in groups larger than 100–200 individuals (this is the famous Dunbar number). You can go up in social scale to a few thousand people, and still have such egalitarian face-to-face sociality working, but not much beyond that. Certainly, once you get societies above a million people, a hierarchical organization is inevitable.

We are not ants. Social insects can cooperate in ‘heterarchical’ (non-hierarchical) societies of millions of individuals because they have such nifty means of coordinating everything as pheromones.

As an aside, I remember a remarkable book by Frank Herbert (the author of Dune, about which I had written before). In Hellstrom’s Hive, a splinter of humanity evolves into an ant-like socium. When a federal agent from the outside penetrates the Hive, they feed him a lunch laden with pheromones, and he is suddenly converted, becoming one of them, and cooperating with the Hive, rather than the United States of America.

Wow! A great yarn; pure science fiction. In real life humans learned to cooperate in humongous societies of today (in two cases counting more than 1 billion individuals) by using a variety of cultural mechanisms, one of the most important ones being the hierarchical organization.

There are no known large-scale (say, a million or more members) society today or in history, which was not organized hierarchically. Think about it this way. There is no large-scale society that doesn’t have full-time administrators devoted to make it run smoothly. We all hate bureaucrats, but the truth is that we cannot live without a bureaucracy. The same is true for the elites.

So, is it possible to dispense with the hierarchy (and bureaucracy) by going back to small-societies? In theory, yes. But, as I pointed out in my BBC interview, think of the consequences. Let’s say that we somehow manage to get a society of a few thousand to work on a purely egalitarian basis. Theoretically this is possible. But there are more than 7 billion people on this Earth. So dividing them into small-scale societies of a few thousand will produce at least a million of such societies!

What’s going to happen next? One of them will decide to use violence to achieve its goals. Warfare will spread and eventually all societies will become warlike, because pacifist societies will be selected out (in other words, destroyed in competition with warlike neighbors). So, in the absence of an overarching political authority capable of restraining and punishing aggressors, we will inevitably end up with a war of all small-scale societies against all others. That’s the way it was in prehistory, except there were many fewer people on the Earth, and they had much more buffer space between their societies.

Things are actually going to be even worse, because modern production of food and other vitally needed things requires social organization in large-scale societies. In short, going back to small-scale societies will mean an apocalypse in which more than 99 percent of people will have to disappear by hunger, war, and disease.

2016 March 8

Originally published here.

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  • William Davis

    This argument still assumes exclusionary groups. Why must there be “war-like” and “pacifist” groups? Can there not be a fluid mega-group that “individual” members fluctuate between aggressive tactics and non-aggressive tactics in order to achieve a great masterpiece of social art?

    Also, the assumption that war-like groups will succeed is a biased observation. There have been many “tit-for-tat” computer simulations that find a homeostasis at several groups being “war-like”, several groups being “super-cooperative”, and several groups in between. There was never a total win or loss by any group, but a fluid tally of success/fail.

    Not only this, but there are many tactics a pacifist group can use to dismantle the focused power of a “war-like” group (if we must have exclusionary groups defined in such ways). For instance, if a “war-like” group understands that the benefits enjoyed by a “pacifist” group can only manifest due to specific cooperative strategies, what incentive will there be to harness such benefits? They would vanish once the “war-like” group came into possession of them, i.e. liberty, education, food abundance, and more. Also, “pacifist” groups have the means to deter violence, dissipate violence, or incapacitate violence without necessarily acting in a “war-like” manner. This could be manifest as using tranquilizer alternatives to death weapons, practicing Tai Chi in all modalities of human interaction, and/or, as stated above, clearly and inexhaustibly expressing the necessity for a cooperative, non-authoritarian tactics to procure essential benefits.

  • Sarah

    This argument is based on false assumptions. First, ants use pheromones to communicate and coordinate the actions of colony members. 10 years ago in a ‘human colony’ it couldn’t be done, but it can now. In much of the developed and increasingly the developed world we have mobile phone technology and social media platforms that allow for almost instant communication and coordinstion coordination of human activity. The Arab spring coordinated through social media is one such example. It could easily be modified to coordinate a hole range of himan activities. Infact it is now.
    Second, the argument ignores the motivating factor behind agression and cheating, namely a lack of resources to support basic needs or climb that hierarchical ladder in the first place. By introducing the universal basic income members of a society would have basic needs secured and the foundations of a hierarchical capatilist system will erode. That is, if you are a crap boss and individual now has the option to withdraw thier labour in favour of a cooperative work experience where the ‘boss’ values employee view points and contribution and the traditional work place shifts to more of a cooperative model.

    People are inherently social and cooperative. It is the capatilist system that drives competition and hierarchy.

    • Perhaps you aren’t an anarchist in the sense of not wanting a state, but I’m curious how you see the role of Universal Basic Income. Usually it is supposed that UBI is another form of state income redistribution. Are you saying that once there is UBI the state will fade away, and UBI will no longer be needed?

      I, and I am sure, Peter, agree that people are inherently social and cooperative. In comparison to other animals, humans are unique in their acute dependence on a larger society for survival. It is also true that the market capitalist system fuels (and thrives on) competition. But you are neglecting the evidence from history and anthropology if you are claiming that competition is a uniquely modern and capitalist phenomenon.

      Helga, in comment above, says that:
      “Young men compete for honour, and for recognition as people worthy of
      respect and trust. The elders make decisions about allocation of land
      and livestock from communal resources, and without their favour, a man
      cannot afford to raise a family. And for men, in particular, this
      is tricky ground. I was just reading about the young man whose story
      has recently been made into a motion picture. His real story is
      shocking.. and pitiful. He was so hungry for respect that he actually
      lied and made up stories about his own exploits.. ultimately robbing
      himself of the very honour and reputation he was so desperate to have.. ”

      If you look at any existing culture, you will find that it has accommodations to management of both within-group and between-group competition. This is something that is very well explained by the theory of gene–culture coevolution,

      • Sarah

        Yes, I see the UBI as an essential transition step. A step that may even see the need for money to fade away.

        As for the young man and his desire to have honors, it again comes down to the ‘need’ to allocate limited resoures driving competition and is applicable within and between groups.

    • Swami


      Hierarchies emerged with agriculture, not with capitalism, which is a much more recent development. They were rare in nomadic foragers (as per Boehm for reasons he explains) but before nomadic foragers they were commonplace among social primates (alpha chimps)

      As for competition, this has been going on for about 4.8 billion years, and is not an artifact of the hated “c” word.

      Are you just making this stuff up as you go along?

      • Sarah

        I am well aware of that hierarchical societies developed in early agriculture. Perhaps I should have qualified my final statement as ‘It is the capatilist system that drives competition and hierarchy today’ however it doesn’t change my primary point which you have skipped over. Competition arises because there is a lack of resources and a hierarchical system is the only system that can function when comunication is of the ‘snail mail’ and ‘one on one’ variety. When communication becomes ‘one to many’ and instantaneous and resources become abundant (which they are increasingly becoming) then the need for competition and hierarchies become redundant. As for competition in the last 4.8 billion years I am well aware of the process of evolution and competitive drive for resoures, but again this is premised on a lack of resources. (Look at the instances when new areas were colonised eg water to land and you will find a sharp decline in competive pressure in these moments as there were abundant resources for the early colonists) you can actually see this in the behavior of one of our other closest primate relatives the boonobo who do not have the resources competitive issues of chimps and thier societies are remarkablely egalitarian. So again it comes down as a response to competition being a response to lack of resources.

        Competion will still in human societies in the form of competion for the best mate, but the cometion that is responsible for structural violence will fade away.

        • Derryl Hermanutz

          I agree with you re economic resources: natural or imposed scarcity creates competition for the scarce resources. Money is the modern example of an artificially scarce resource. As you said, there is more than adequate production of economic goods. But a scarcity of “income” prevents many from being able to access (“buy”) those goods. A Basic Income goes a long way toward aligning allocation of money income with economic production and distribution.

          But economics is not the only realm of social competition. Not everybody is driven by the love of wealth. Some are driven by desire for power and glory: “conquering” other people, and dominating them. Some people just want to climb and stay high up on the social hierarchy, where they give each other awards and tell each other they are “the best people”.

          In every field of human endeavor, some people are better at it than other people. A natural hierarchy of ability emerges, and some people compete to climb up that hierarchy whether they “belong” there or not. They want the social glory of the appearance of “success”, and they don’t care that they haven’t “earned” that glory. The modern culture of celebrity — who was it who said, “famous for nothing”? — celebrates the appearance of success without concern for any real substance.

          Did you ever see the movie, Enemy at the Gates? (forgive me if I get some details wrong) It was set in wartime Soviet Russia. Two young men loved the same young women. One man was a ‘commoner’ who became a hero for his sniper successes. The other man was an officer from the higher classes, and was a firm believer in communal rather than individual ownership. He discovered that he could not share the love of a woman, which exposed the limits of “communal” goods.

          Plato — maybe the original communist — believed in communal sharing of wives and communal raising of children. Human nature proved not to be that malleable. Lovers still want exclusivity rather than sharing.

          My point is that ending economic competition for scarce goods does not end the “scarcity” of social goods like honors, positions, mates, etc. And there will always be egos and true believers committing crimes against humanity in pursuit of the power and the glory of ideological, moral, economic, and military “victory”.

          • Sarah

            If you read my last paragraph I acknowledged that competition for mates will still exist. And yes competition for honors will too. But I believe that without money as leverage in that competition it will become the integrity and ability of individuals that will gain them the mate or honor or both. they will only be able to leverage their ‘power/reputation’ in the particular field in which they excell. And humans being somewhat fickle and always interested in the next latest thing will be able to quickly withdraw their reverence if they want. Such hierarchies without the influence of money will see people climb and fall rapidly and is open to true social mobility. There will be cheats yes, but without the option of using money to hide their ‘flaws’ or manipulate people they will be found out fairly quickly.

            Even in monkey and primate society cheating and unfairness is not tolerated. There is strong evidence that himans are the same. However, money/property/ and the imbalance of power that goes with them often leaves a vast majority to accept an inherently unfair hierarchical system that can be manipulated for the end of those with power as they have no other recourse. Humans are remarkablely able to adapt and make the best of unfair situations, but thier discontent can be seen in mass movements eg the human rights movement that directly confront the hierarchical power structure. You cannot judge what a human society could be using the lens of our current social systems as hisory has shown that people have been discontent since early agricultural times. However, the options to replace such hierarchy have been very few and typically flawed due to communication issues and scarse resources. The solution to communication and scarse resourses are at our fingertips. The demand for the breakdown of hierach based on money/property/power will soon follow.

        • Swami

          Hi Sarah,

          Thanks for the response. Is there a good web site or journal article you can refer me towards, as I would love to read more about this line of thought?

          Admittedly, it sounds pretty naïve to me, but I will keep an open mind until I learn more. The central piece missing is that modern prosperity is in great part due to the constructive nature of competitive market based problem solving systems. In effect, reasonably functioning markets in part establish a constructive competition to cooperate economically with fellow humans, establishing billion-plus person networks of complex mutual problem solving.

          This explains how we went from less than a billion people at the Malthusian edge of severe poverty to seven billion plus with living standards as high as 100 times better. More freedom, longer and healthier lives, greater knowledge, education and literacy, more equality of opportunity. We are truly blessed to live in such a golden age, and the pace of global improvement is increasing, not decreasing, with the last generation the best ever, especially in developing nations (a billion plus emerging out of severe poverty!)

          Perhaps your argument is that market problem solving is a phase and that we can then stand upon its shoulders into a higher level of cooperation and constructive competition. My mind remains open….

          • Sarah

            I agree with you sentiment that market based problem solving is a phase, an entirely necessary one, but one we as a society and culture are rapidly evolving out of.
            I recomend reading Jeremy Rifkin’s books, as well as the ziegiest movement/Peter Joseph for an encompassing view. But many of the articles published in evolutionary psychology are relevant, though I find that psychology today has many relevent articles. My opinion have been synthesised from many different sources. But these will give you a starting point and all are extensively reference to the research.

          • Swami

            Thank you very much!

          • Sarah

            Also check out the paleo-economics article below to see how our own evolution influences our morality. When you apply the implication of this evolution to modern society and market based systems you can see how hierachical systems actually go agaist the grain of the human species.

  • Helga Vierich

    There is no evidence whatsoever that hunter-gatherer societies are as limited in scale as Peter Turchin appears to believe. Dunbar’s number (~150) for individual networks does not limit the SIZE of the social organization! Each individual in a hunter-gatherer society has a somewhat unique set of close and more distant family and friends. Each of these people will be the part of an interconnected set of networks. Information flows through these networks, as do personnel, crossing apparent language and geographic barriers much more easily than Turchin supposes.
    Our brains are NOT “overwhelmed by the complexity of keeping track of social interactions in groups larger than 100–200 individuals (this is the famous Dunbar number)”. Hunter-gatherers do it all the time… Turchin assumes that egalitarian systems can only work as a “face-to-face” sociality. That is not what the data shows. People knew, by reputation, many hundreds fo people they have never seen “face to face”.

    This also reflects a complete misunderstanding, on the part of Turchin, of the evolution of what he calls “hierarchy”. Lineage systems, which tended to vest greater authority over resource allocation to senior members, and institutions like village “headmen” and tribal “chiefs” actually function more as cultural risk management strategies rather than chains of command. Headmen and other “leaders” in tribal societies, for example are literally functioning as “first among equals” – and are saddled with more responsibly for managing communal stores of food and other stocks because they are trusted and conscientious, not because they are aggressive or commanding. The human “hierarchy” of ranking in hunter-gatherer and subsistence horticultural and pastoral societies is not a chain of command, nor is it based on accumulated wealth putting a prudent “elite” on top of some social pyramid. The “accumulated wealth” in the form of larger stocks of grain and other foods, in the form of larger herds of livestock, that set households of tribal leaders apart from others, are not personal, but communal. These accumulations are generated to serve as a hedge against drought and famine.

    Networks among tribal people are also extensive and not limited by “face to face” contacts. Lineages tend to be exogamous and this generates a wide net of in-law kin in many other lineages. There are often many lineages sharing a village, precisely because people in the past took the opportunity to move to the village where their in-laws lived, if, for example, there was more or better land available there for the family to cultivate. A single lineage may have branches spread literally to every village within a tribal area, which also facilitates the collection of donations of some proportion of harvest towards the granaries of each senior head of each lineage. Lineages a hundred or more miles apart may, in any given year, be fortunate with harvest or hit with pests or drought. The household of their most senior lineage chief will be the source of the grain that sees them through a famine.

    In some villages in West Africa, I documented village chiefs with grain from the previous eight years in store. Any chief who sold this for personal gain would be stripped of office and was, in the past, executed.

    Ranking is directly related to increasing responsibility. Household heads were expected to produce enough to feed their families from year to year, plus they must donate a certain amount to their lineage heads.

    Each lineage head has responsibility to store enough to see to most necessary ceremonials within the lineage (marriages, funerals etc), and the chief, often elected from among a council of older lineage heads, was responsible for donations to the communal stores.

    One of the last big local outbreak of hostilities in our ICRISAT study villages was due to a lineage head who betrayed a village chief by stealing the grain from an entire communal granary and selling it to traders. He did this over the course of a year, and with the proceeds, bought one of his sons a motorized bike. When he was found out the chief organized a party of young men from all the lineages to go seize this man’s own granary, at which point there was a fight. It involved several other villages, since most lineages have branches in many different villages. As the thief lied to his kinsmen to encourage them to resist what they saw as an illegal raid on their own stockpiles, there was a major war.

    In pastoral societies, You get this sort of thing happening also, but it is mainly livestock that the lineage heads and local chiefs accumulate. Theft and counter-raids to recover value are undertaken often, and involve both duplicity and loss of life, Long term risk management is a serious concern in all viable cultures.

    The role of young men within these systems is to show themselves worthy of trust. Chiefs are elected by a council of elders (lineage heads) and they hold authority only so long as “our heads sweat with worry”, as one village headman told me. Young men compete for honour, and for recognition as people worthy of respect and trust. The elders make decisions about allocation of land and livestock from communal resources, and without their favour, a man cannot afford to raise a family.

    And for men, in particular, this is tricky ground. I was just reading about the young man whose story has recently been made into a motion picture. His real story is shocking.. and pitiful. He was so hungry for respect that he actually lied and made up stories about his own exploits.. ultimately robbing himself of the very honour and reputation he was so desperate to have..…/truth-justice-and-the-curious…

    There was a recent paper published in PNAS, which begins by asserting that warriors have more wives and offspring. The main author of the reported study, however, makes it clear that it is more complicated than that.

    “The overriding question I’m interested in is how humans cooperate, and one type of cooperation is participating in intergroup conflict,” (Luke Glowacki) explained. “Why do people do things that benefit their group if they have to pay a cost? For the Nyangatom there are no formal institutions governing society, and yet they manage to make a living from one of the toughest landscapes on Earth, and they do that through cooperation.”

    In fact, he said, cooperation plays a key role in virtually every aspect of Nyangatom life.

    “I set out to study who herds together, who digs water holes together, who plants together, and also who participates in conflict events together,” he added. “I conducted interviews about the raids, and collected reproductive histories by asking how many wives raiders have, how many children each has had, how many are alive, how many died and how they died.”

    Glowacki interviewed village elders detailing their history of participation in raids. Analysis of lifetime participation in raids, of 120 men, showed that participation in more raids resulted having higher rank, as well as more wives and more children over the course of their lives.

    This is an example of a pastoral society, and it should be noted that most of the raids were not actually planned as actual armed conflicts between men, they were in fact usually expeditions to steal cattle (or to recover stolen stock). As with cattle rustling today, the object is to make off with any beasts found separated from the main herd. Cattle recovery is of obvious importance here too.

    “We don’t have quantitative data to that effect, but there are some groups in neighboring Kenya where raiders who capture cows in a raid don’t have to give them to the elders or they can sell them at a market for money, and the violence is significantly greater” he said. “The Nyangatom have a mechanism that mediates the benefits the warriors receive,” he added. “There is a lot of status and privilege that comes with participating in raids — when you come back to the village, the women are singing and people are parading. They’re celebrating you, but you still go home alone.”

    The kind of hierarchical society Turchin is clearly talking about evolved with state societies. Certainly he is spot on about the role of military conquest and other kinds of aggression in expanding the coercive authority of the state, and, by, inference, the elite minority that generally controlled the political and military institutions of the state.

    However, this need not imply that state institutions originated to compensate for some cognitive deficit of human beings, which prevented them from keeping track of events and people within their culture. Gossip, mutated into “media” of information exchange through literacy, is not a manifestation of some limitation of the human mind, but rather of its versatility and scope. So too, the human mind is not really all that unable to keep up with the deeds of complete strangers who play roles in soap operas and world events.

    • Humans can indeed live many different ways from the market & state system that we live in. Anthropological and historical evidence shows this is so. Certainly there are other systems that are far more equal in terms of wealth and political power, all the way down to nobody has any wealth and nobody has any power. The question is how strong evidence this is for the realism of contemporary anarchist ambitions. Would an average British anarchist get on well in an African pastoral tribe? I expect that they would chafe a great deal, because they would not have the freedoms to be disrespectful and nonconformist which are granted to them by rule of law.

      One interesting thing that you introduce which is not immediately obvious to us having grown up in a state, is that before the rise of the state it was the norm for cultures (like Nyangatom) to be far larger than the largest effective political organizations (villages). In order to be viable, such a culture *must* be far larger than the political organization can maintain. We often find large areas of cultural homogeneity with clear boundaries. The culture includes standards for interaction with other “people like us” and for “people in our village”. These norms minimize the social cost of violence and other zero-sum conflict. “You can win a wife by gaining status through stealing cows from other villages, but not by stealing cows from our village, or by stealing a wife from another village.”

      A question raised by these tribal areas, zones of cultural homogeneity, is “how did it get this way?” History is of course diverse and contingent, but we can get some clues from what happens at cultural boundaries. When these don’t happen to align with a geographic barrier, the competition can get intense, including total war or creeping economic out-competition and ethnic cleansing.

      If in our technologically developed world, we arrived at a cultural consensus that a strongly egalitarian way of life was desirable, then perhaps we could evolve a social structure based on non-legal social control for maintaining the desired equality and resolving conflict within or between anarchist villages. Yet what happens when the neighboring cultural zone is a bunch of patriarchal recidivists, trying to create a state? How do you deal with this sort of nonconformity?

      There is a clear relation between the size of the cultural zone and the cultural complexity. If there is some sort of techno-Anarchism, where we can sustain the world’s current population and level of social organization without hierarchy, then it is going to be largely a new thing.

  • Derryl Hermanutz

    I’m not sure if he originated the parable of the tribes, but Andrew Schmookler explains why all it takes is one leader in one tribe to choose the aggressive strategy, and all other tribes must either submit and add their strength to the aggressor; or move away and allow the aggressor to gain territory and resources; or become aggressive to defend themselves. “Peace” is destroyed for all by the ambitions of a single aggressor.

    Tribes formed chiefdoms to defend against an external threat to them all. Chiefdoms joined into nations for the same reason. Europeans were the biggest external threat that North American Indian nations could not repel. Some submitted, some moved, some fought and died.

    Turchin is right. No large scale society has ever existed without a ruling hierarchy. Modern industrial production is not possible without very large scale transnational corporations exploiting science-based technologies; and accessing global supply chains for resources and materials. Tribal societies could not produce iPads or airplanes, or even the high quality sheet aluminum that airframes are made of, or the electrical grid and batteries to power the iPads.

    Tribal life is technologically primitive. Metallurgy began with large scale civilization, and bronze then iron then steel weapons are one reason why “civilizations” conquer tribal peoples, and not vice versa. United they stand, divided we fall.

  • I respect most of what I read from this forum/source but this article has to be one of the least intelligent and insightful editorials I’ve thus read. Peter Turchin is an example of an academic who is of the “if you can’t do or act in reality, teach”. Your views are an expression of your academic mould to give safe credence to existing order, rather than risk stepping outside your boxed view of reality.

    There are many of us who are organising society contrary to what your arrogant diatribe presents. Resettlements, permaculture, ecovillages, intentional communities abound.

    Go look at them some time professor, and do more objective extensive research and not as an apologist for plutocracy. Society IS transforming, apparently beneath your radar, in ways your comment above denies or perhaps, represents your lack of informed knowledge on the subject.

    They ARE here (evolved anarcho-populist influenced thinking and social order),….. and can be witnessed and comprehended, by anyone who looks through an objective lens.

    We (outside of your intellectual and academically stifled peer group that is), understand the value of contributionism, mutualism, volunteerism, altruism, meritocracy, access vs. ownership, need vs. greed.

    No need to broad brush these things as communism or socialism as so many crony capitalism apologists like to do, unless, you are semantically challenged and inclined toward apologism or seek to create controversy and reaction for publicity and engagement for your article.

    Anarcho-syndicalism is but one alternative that the uninformed or less academically encumbered, realise, is a form of collaborative shared social order, that YOUR article claims is utopian and not likely/possible. WRONG professor. We will have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Your lack of useful insight toward forward thinking and progressive evolution of social order will be your academic and public legacy. You exhibit dinosaur views,…..dinosaur is, as dinosaur thinks and publishes (does), momma used to say :-). YMMV

    • Swami

      I encourage you to experiment with anarchist ideas. Please do create voluntary organizations and see how far you can grow them. I sincerely wish you the best and would love to learn from both your successes and failures. However, you will need to protect yourself and your property from external threats (actuall seven billion plus of them), and you will need to solve internal free rider and cheater problems. But I am sure you already know this….

      • Yes, you need leadership to counter external threats, free rider behaviour and a few other plagues of complex extended societies, but not necessarily (only) hierarchical relations.
        A sense of belonging because of (essentially imagined) ‘blood ties’ (traditional relations), mutual dependence (trade, task division in production, entrepreneurial leaders organizing those) and shared ideologies also help.
        Some measure of anarchism can be a counterbalance to overdependence on hierarchical relations.

  • Yes, human society needs leadership, and more of it and in more different forms the larger its scale. That was also my argument in my “Economics of want and greed”. (
    But every form of leadership (traditional, hierarchical, economical and ideological) has its checks & balances that can be strengthened (apart from types of leadership counterbalancing each other at times).
    Humanity is also gradually growing its capacities to identify with larger collectives (in addition to also still identify with smaller ones) and to act consciously and responsibly.

  • Duncan Cairncross

    Wow – what a lot of ill informed and just completely wrong comments!
    Peter has definitely stirred the anarchist theorists up here

    To all of the comments – you are effectively saying
    But But I don’t like it so it must be wrong!

    Peter has the weight of 200,000 years of human societies on his side

  • From Machiavelli and Hobbes to present-day sociologists like Talcott Parsons, the nature of the social order has been conceptualized around the problem of war, regardless of whether war is understood as a war of all against all or between nation-states. There have been no states however where a leftist government dominated the political/hierarchical relations with the dominant classes. Anarchism will only lead to military/paramilitary forces securing internal order under the threat of invasion and the resulting economic chaos. The state is a cohesive force that always aligns with the dominant classes. The best that can be accomplished are agreements/contracts for better working and living conditions. The large masses of civil society do not have consistent conceptual frameworks for bargaining with the dominant classes and they do not handle ideology/propaganda well, so the masses are always being torn apart and are unable to unify. This has been an ancient strategy of sowing discontent between different classes. Unless certain values and motives are settled upon as universal under all conditions and the deep divide between economics and politics is bridged, the state will operate as a broker between the dominant classes and civil society. Without the state, those who possess the means of military force will dominate and everyone else will kneel before the butt of the gun!

  • Thomas Burns

    Why are hierarchy and face-to-face our only choices? Sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Shouldn’t Turchin give a definition or clarification of just what ideas he wants to compare?