Civilizational discourses never entertain the possibility of people voluntarily going over to the barbarians, hence such statuses are stigmatized and ethnicized.
—JAMES C. SCOTT, The Art of Not Being Governed
IN THIS CHAPTER I put James C. Scott’s works, in particular The Art of Not Being Governed (2009) and Against the Grain (2017), in conjunction with Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of the economy of violence of statification processes. Although there is only a single citation to Deleuze and Guattari in these works (2009, 29), on what we below call the “mutual constitution” of state and nonstate processes), nonetheless we can identify four points of commonality; I will also note places where Scott makes important contributions independent of this framework.
First, they share an anti-evolutionist position, such that states are not the telos of a progressive development of social forms but a contested social form whose imposition and retention depends on local and contingent conditions. Second, they agree that statification and marronage, or flight from the state, are coexisting and mutually constitutive processes. That is, as soon as there were states, people ran for the hills, but states are themselves dependent on their surrounding hill people, who only become “nonstate” by the state’s attempt to capture and hold them. Third, they agree that the statification processes of territorial control and appropriation of surplus are mutually constituting, such that the success of states depends on the full functionality of multiple processes, creating the sense that the fully formed state must arrive all at once as “Urstaat.” And fourth, they agree on the need to conceptually separate the primary or originary violence of statification as capture and enslavement of nonstate peoples, and the ordinary, everyday, or secondary violence of tax collection and labor coercion, which repeat and reinforce the originary violence by which tax and labor become obligations.
Scott’s Anti-Evolutionist Method
Scott’s stated aim in The Art of Not Being Governed is to criticize social evolutionist theories in which statification fits a progress narrative. Rather, for him, “state” and “non-state” processes are in “dialectical” (Scott 2009, 2) or “symbiotic” (2009, 26), that is, mutually constituting relations. Although Scott doesn’t use Deleuze and Guattari’s specialized vocabulary, his theses on mutual constitution and anti-evolutionism means he shares with them the sense that statification is only one of several socializing “abstract machines” or “diagrams,” whose success or failure at being actualized in any one time and place depends on local and contingent conditions.
In the remainder of this section, I will rearrange the order of presentation in the Preface to Art to emphasize those of Scott’s methodological principles that illustrate these points. In articulating each of his three main principles (anti–state centrism; antiprogressivism; antideterminism) there is a dialectic of capture and escape that is a theoretical mirror of the historical processes being examined: first, a critical interpretation of how state thought has captured our views of nonstate people and then a positive project of examining the practices of self-governing peoples.
Scott’s anti–state centrism has two moves. First, there is a critical interpretation of state denigration of the other, as in the epigraph to this chapter (2009, x–xi). Scott’s positive project then is writing the history of nonstate peoples as the complement of state-centered history:
The huge literature on state-making, contemporary and historic, pays virtually no attention to its obverse: the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness. This is the history of those who got away, and state-making cannot be understood apart from it. This is also what makes this an anarchist history. (2009, x)
Next, let us consider Scott’s antiprogressivism. Here we first see a critical interpretation of state-progress narratives. From a state perspective, “self-governing peoples” are “living ancestors,” a glimpse of pre-agricultural, precivilized life. Here Scott alludes to a politics of anthropology, a way that progressivism or evolutionism is put to work, legitimating incorporation of nonstate peoples to allow them access to modernity. Scott argues, on the contrary, “hill people are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppression of state-making projects in the valleys—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare” (2009, ix; see also Roberts 2015).
This critical setup leads to his positive project of describing “primitivism” as antistate strategy.
The argument reverses much received wisdom about “primitivism” generally. Pastoralism, foraging, shifting cultivation, and segmentary lineage systems are often a “secondary adaptation,” a kind of “self-barbarization” adopted by peoples whose location, subsistence, and social structure are adapted to state evasion. For those living in the shadow of states, such evasion is also perfectly compatible with derivative, imitative, and parasitic state forms in the hills. (2009, x)
Finally, Scott pursues a double aspect antideterminism analysis. First, he provides a critical interpretation of ecological and cultural determinism, or, simply stated, he puts the politics into “political economy”:
Usually, forms of subsistence and kinship are taken as given, as ecologically and culturally determined. By analyzing various forms of cultivation, particular crops, certain social structures, and physical mobility patterns for their escape value, I treat such givens as political choices. (2009, xi)
physical dispersion in rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structures, their pliable ethnic identities, and their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders all serve to avoid incorporation into states and to prevent states from springing up among them. (2009, x)
Alongside the mutual constitution and anti-evolutionist theses examined above, another element shared by Scott with Deleuze and Guattari is the way Scott describes statification and marronage as a multiplicity or set of interlinking processes that describes qualitative changes when thresholds in the relations of those processes are reached.
The elements of Scott’s multiplicity include topographical-transport-technological, political-economic, political-organizational, administrative, and violence elements. Although Scott does allow that “stateness” could be seen on an “institutional continuum” (2017, 23), nonetheless there is a “strong” sense of the term in which we see a necessary interlocking of statification processes (“territoriality and a specialized state apparatus: walls, tax collection, officials” [2017, 118]) centered on “control and appropriation” (2017, 116). Such a strong sense of stateness reminds one of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the state as “apparatus of capture” and their concomitant “Urstaat” thesis. Only the state brings mono-crop grain agriculture and coerced appropriation by a predatory stratum together; none of the temporally preceding social forms, even if they have some elements that are later taken up into the state, can be said to be early developmental forms of the state (2017, 117). The Urstaat thesis, then, comes down to a way of describing the qualitative leap into the state, which is not simply a large chiefdom or a hierarchical, nepotistic band, but its own form, achieved together or not at all (Sibertin-Blanc 2016; Smith 2018).
Let us begin with the topographical-transport-technological processes, or what Scott calls the “friction of terrain” (2009, 43 et passim; 2017, 116–49). Spaces open to early statification are valleys and rivers allowing for military enforcement, administrative “visibility,” and economic integration. These are all limited by cost per unit weight across distance, which, with ancient technologies, are much easier by water, as land transport by human and animal power is constrained by its need for fuel, which it also had to carry with it. Nonstate spaces in Art are mostly hills and mountains, but include any region where state military reach is hampered, such as jungles, deserts, marshes, and so on (2009, 13). These transport processes intersect the production aspect of the region’s political economy. States are able to appropriate river valley grain agriculture due to its “legibility.” Grain is taxable or able to be directly appropriated, and the grain-growing population can be conscripted into military service or into corvée labor for infrastructure or monuments. Scott also describes the use of enslavement by the capture of hill people by raiding or by debt bondage, as well as sharecropping (2017, 150–82).
Economic practices that are tolerated or encouraged by states include independent urban artisanal production, temple and palace luxury goods (also by trade or gift), and the production of goods for trade with hill peoples, such as fish and other foods unavailable in the hills and manufactured goods (e.g., metal tools and weapons). When it comes to nonstate production, we see auto-consumed food and trade. Food production and consumption comes from swidden agriculture or horticulture, from nomadic steppe pastoralism, and from nomadic foraging. Exchange with states by hill people takes the form of sale, barter, debt payment, tribute (2009, 106).
Finally, Scott treats ethnic, kinship, and linguistic structures. State systems need ease of incorporation in order to concentrate populations, even if we see use of ethnicity for stratification. When incorporating nonstate peoples, states make membership in multiple kinship systems into fixed tribal identities in a process of “ethnogenesis” (2009, 238–82; 257–59). But what the state calls “ethnicity” is to the hill peoples a fluid strategy allowing them to claim different identities, depending who was asking. Tribal forms are often state creations for administration, though they can become a self-identity for political purposes. Nonstate kinship allows an ease of incorporation of immigrants, captives, in-marrying, as well as an ease of creating fictitious lineages to legitimate new aristocratic attempts. And finally, hill peoples tend to multilingualism (2009, 239; 269).
The Economy of Violence of Statification
When it comes to political organization, Scott notes that state-building projects require—and aim at, in mutual presupposition—concentrated manpower, central command, military specialization, taxes, and corvée labor. As we sketched in chapter 3, this mutual presupposition is what Deleuze and Guattari call the “pre-accomplishment” of the violence of statification; in this chapter, we see how it undergirds the anti-evolutionist “Urstaat” thesis, the way in which state success depends on all its components working together, so that is seems to arrive in history all at once (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, 217–22; 1987, 427; see also Sibertin-Blanc 2016 and Smith 2018). Let us consider now some of the details we can find in putting Scott’s account in contact with Deleuze and Guattari’s framework.
In State and Politics, Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc (2016) has precisely demonstrated the temporal and structural complication of Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of early statification (see also Smith 2018). Sibertin-Blanc focuses on the relation between, on the one hand, the actual history of nonstate and state societies, and, on the other hand, the postulated mechanisms by which nonstate societies evade or “conjure” the virtual potential of the state that is always immanent to their functions. Overall then, Sibertin-Blanc investigates what Deleuze and Guattari have to say about the relation of “concrete assemblages” (this or that band, village, or state) and “abstract machines” (the diagrams of “primitive society” and “the state”).
The real question for Deleuze and Guattari (and Clastres, with whom they are in dialogue) is the emergence of statification as that which destroys nonstate societies. For them, it is impossible to conceive an internal mutation of the society leading the way, as primitives would have to desire to change, but following the notion of desiring-production sketched in Anti-Oedipus, their whole way of life produces a different form of desire. For Deleuze and Guattari, “economics” as production, distribution, and consumption is not divorced from social relations in primitive society. Nonstate peoples do not have jobs that are independent of family relations; rather, what one produces, distributes, and consumes is determined by your family relations. Since “desire” for Deleuze and Guattari is not about lack but about flows and breaks, then one desires that flows be produced and channeled in a particular pattern of “desiring-production”; in this case, those flows are coded by family relations (and later “overcoded” by the state’s apparatus of capture.)
Deleuze and Guattari follow Clastres in claiming there must be an external political force that imposes social, political, and economic transformation. Thus, they do not see the state as a mere instrument of a preexisting ruling and owning class. If there were a prior difference in force allowing an exploitative class, the logic goes, why bother constructing a state to wield force that already exists? Similarly, if the state protects preexisting private property, how does that arise in primitive society dedicated to refusing private property? Sibertin-Blanc puts this in terms of a commentary on Wittfogel (1957): the state is not the instrument of preexisting dominant class; it is itself the direct organization of society enabling surplus production that it then immediately appropriates (Sibertin-Blanc 2016). In other words, the primary violence of statification is that which produces the dominant and subordinate classes.
This is where Sibertin-Blanc lets us see what Deleuze and Guattari are doing with their notion of the “Urstaat” and the “auto-presupposition” of the state: the state needs a surplus to feed its specialists but it needs specialists to produce its surplus. Further, they replace Clastres’s mysterious “presentiment” of the state by the primitives with an analysis of the mechanisms of “anticipation” and “conjuration” in which the distinction between limit and threshold allows them to analyze always-existing tendencies and the virtual thresholds that would require changing the social machine (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 438).
For Sibertin-Blanc, there’s always an undecidability in the notion of Urstaat as a theory of state form; Deleuze and Guattari’s work is both a materialist history of an apparatus of power (a rewriting of, e.g., Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State) and an analysis of historical desire, collective subjectivation, and group fantasy (a rewriting of, e.g., Freud’s Totem and Taboo) (Sibertin-Blanc 2016). In the realm of desiring-production, the question is how to reorient desiring-production from primitive immanent horizontalism (that is, saturation of the social field by always-unequal obligations [“mobile blocs of debt”]) to a transcendent hierarchical centralization with an infinite debt owed to the emperor. For Sibertin-Blanc, this is the problem of desire Clastres never solved; he could show how the primitive machine wards off the state by the production of desire for war prestige in the chiefs, as well as desire for equality and free time by everyone, but could never show how it became desire for the state. That was always a mystery to Clastres (Sibertin-Blanc 2016).
To work around Clastres’s dilemma, Sibertin-Blanc proposes that Deleuze and Guattari deconstruct the problem of the historical origin of the state. It is impossible to identify the state with its material apparatuses. First, you have to account for statification by historical materialist means; but, second, evolutionist accounts face aporias that problematize the self-presupposition and self-production of the state. Simply put, you need surplus to feed military and administrative specialists but you need military and administrative specialists to enslave and exploit (turn primitives into peasants who owe debts to emperor). Thus, Sibertin-Blanc and Clastres agree that “economic anthropology” needs to self-destruct and become political economy. You cannot “objectively” cross-compare the “production” and “surplus” of nonstate and state societies. You can only compare production levels when “work” is instituted. But then you have to talk statification as capture and enslavement.
Before we move to Scott’s deep history of the first states, let us here provide a brief discussion of Scott’s work on the abstract forms of statification processes, where we see Deleuze and Guattari’s themes in action. Population concentration is needed for agriculture and for the military to squeeze producers, and to hold geographically important positions to collect tolls on trade (Scott 2009, 64; 2017, 150–82). Control of such populations requires central command authority with radiating subordinates in charge of military specialization aiming at enforcement of payment for taxes in the form of land rents based on “legible” agricultural productivity and in the form of tolls and other taxes on commercial transactions. Finally, centralized administration and enforcement is needed for corvée labor. All those state-building practices, along with famines and epidemics, increase the incentive for flight from states to nonstate “shatter zones” where we find various nonstate political forms, such as egalitarian bands, chiefdoms, and temporary alliances (2009, 24, 326).
Scott’s treatment of the violence of statification (2017, 150–82) thus provides a point of contact with Deleuze and Guattari. Scott implicitly accepts the distinction between the “primary violence” of statification warfare aiming at territorial incorporation and at population enslavement and resettlement, from the “secondary violence” of terror aimed at tax collection and at the enforcement of conscription and corvée labor. Initial and ongoing statification violence finds its counterparts among nonstate peoples in fighting against state agents, internal state-preventing violence, and predation on state economies in targeting trade routes for robbery or extortion of tolls, in raids that steal from the produce of valley agricultural producers, and also slave capture, in which valley population is itself the target, a commodity to be sold to competing states (Scott 2017, 219–56).
Scott’s Deep History of the First States
Shifting now to Scott’s treatment of the actual historical record, we will see many of the elements discussed in Sibertin-Blanc’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari in Scott’s Against the Grain (2017). Scott’s primary aim is to overturn the usual progress narrative in which states are the telos of a development in social forms. His themes are the following: (1) the independence, and precedence, of sedentism relative to statification; (2) domestication, including that of humans, via the disciplined reduction in dimensionality of biosocial life; (3) the self-induced fragility of the “domus,” the assemblage of sedentary humans and their surrounding domesticated flora and fauna; (4) statification as the capture of the domus making it the niche-construction of elites; (5) the fragility of early states, prompting escape of domesticated populations; and (6) the “Golden Age of barbarians,” the way in which states provided new predation opportunities for the nonstate peoples they create in statification. Each of these themes reinforce the theses of anti-evolutionism, mutual constitution of state and nonstate processes, the necessary interlocking of statification processes, and the economy of violence of statification that Scott shares with Deleuze and Guattari.
Scott begins by recalling that most years of H. sapiens life was in nomadic, acephalic, forager bands, and that stratified, taxed, walled-in agricultural states only appear about five thousand years ago (thus 3000 BCE). These earliest states, however, appear four thousand years after crop domestication and sedentism. The state is thus not an outgrowth of a smooth development of economic practices; rather it is a contingent imposition of command and of reduced dimensionality on preexisting diversified food production practices allowing appropriation of surplus from mono-grain-crop agriculture to various strata of nonprimary producers (2017, 21–24, 116–18).
Scott hammers away at the fact that sedentism is not the result of fixed agriculture, for sedentism first shows up thousands of years earlier in ecologically rich and varied wetlands (2017, 10, 68–92). There is another discordance between sedentism and agriculture, as there were also people who planted crops and then dispersed until returning for harvest. Also, harvest tools preceded planting, so humans were living on harvested wild plants well before planting them in agriculture. Thus, we had a long period of low-level plant food provisioning that was not fully wild, yet not fully domesticated either. We can therefore see a long history of various domestications qua control of reproduction of plants, animals, and humans (most intensely but not exclusively in captured slave women (2017, 37–67). States thus appear long after fixed-field agriculture, and these early states were not always or even especially attractive, contra the logic of the social contract tradition; they had to capture and hold population, but that exposes them to epidemics, so they were fragile (2017, 25–30, 150–82). Furthermore, states create new predation opportunities for “barbarians,” who were better off than rural peasants and certainly slaves (2017, 219–56).
Although I am interested in the overlap of Scott and Deleuze and Guattari, I also want to note the independence of Scott’s thought. In one of his most interesting long-view perspectives, Scott looks at human social organization as dipping into a set of domestication practices producing control of the physical (and psychological, when possible) reproduction of fire, plants, animals, slaves, subjects, and women. These are brought together in the “domus” or “Neolithic resettlement camp,” an assemblage or concatenation of multiple species and environmental features—landscape changes, animal pens, houses, butcher shops, blacksmiths, marketplaces, and so on—that are put together in varying proportions. The domus represents an attempt at a multidimensional, long-term inherited niche construction (2017, 70).
So, given the domus as the site of multispecies domestication, Scott asks in one of his probing questions, can we see a domestication of humans over time (2017, 83–92)? Scott’s work here is compatible with the Human Self-Domestication hypothesis we discussed in chapter 2, which looks at top-down anger control and bottom-up reduction in reactivity as processes allowing pre-state egalitarian forager band life (Hare 2017; Gonzalez-Cabrera 2017). Scott’s claims imply what would be an acceleration of that process with the domus assemblage, with one of his points being the bimodal fossil record with a small group resembling pre-state foragers and a larger group (presumably of “domesticated” workers) with nutritional and growth problems (2017, 84, 107–9). It should be noted that Scott does not discuss the possibility of biocultural evolution in the Developmental Systems Theory mode (Oyama, Griffiths, and Gray 2001). However, even if you do not accept the full concept of inherited epigenetic changes, as long as you have roughly convergent child-rearing practices you can produce more docility or aggression depending on the class one is born into. In practical terms, a social system can make a high percentage of boys into soldiers or warriors or peasants by their upbringing.
Over time, Scott says, we can see a vast reduction in the dimensionality of life via increasing “discipline.” Foragers have to be acquainted with the behavior and rhythms of many, many species and food webs as they intersect the seasonal rhythms and local weather of their area. Farming, then, is the intentional reduction of those dimensions to much fewer: a cereal crop, plus some domesticated animals. (Domesticating animals involves reduction of dimensions, for domestication of food animals is making them helpless prey by working ahead of time to breed docility and confine space for the animals to turn what was difficult hunting into easy slaughter.) Hence, there is a big reduction in rhythms to a fairly simple one of plowing, planting, tending, and harvesting, so that in a sense we become dependent on our creations, the domesticates. The reduced dimensions of yeoman farming can be further routinized or “deskilled” in labor practices, such that the assembly line—whether in an industrial factory or in a large routinized slave plantation—is thus a further reduction in dimensions (2017, 87–92).
A final dimension of domestication and discipline comes from control of female reproduction in response to the fragility of the domus. The domus is fragile due to the density-dependent diseases that the domus itself allows to flourish by bringing together multiple species of plants and animals, which thus bring together the insects, pests, vermin, and microorganisms they carry with them. So, a lot of farming work is protecting crops from these dangers that farming itself produces. The domus is also fragile because of a reduction in produced food sources, a reduction that requires constant inputs from the “nature” it tries to keep outside. But the domus allows for a huge spike in reproduction that outweighs the increased death costs. If we compare forager population control, we see delayed weaning, abortion, infanticide, high-exercise lives with low body fat and high-protein diets delay menarche and can make menstruation irregular. For foragers, a child is a mouth to feed for many years, but for farmers, a child is a labor source. So, female reproduction becomes an important economic factor to be disciplined in the domus (2017, 111–14).
Returning to the overlap of Scott with Deleuze and Guattari, we see that statification is in Scott’s terms the “targeting” of the domus assemblage—agriculture, domestic animals, towns, specialized work—for the “niche-construction” of elites (Scott 2017, 122). The domus is captured so that elites can appropriate the surplus that is produced; you could even say they are parasites. You can have agriculture, sedentism, and towns without states, but you cannot have states without monoculture of grains. That is because, for Scott, one of the main characteristics of states is taxation, and nongrain food production is much harder to effectively tax (117–18).
Scott does pose the temporal question of how the state got off the ground, giving some credence to the thought that drought might have packed people together and diminished resource diversity (120–22). But such environmental factors would only provide a contingently arriving necessary condition. Overall, Scott’s analyses fit Deleuze and Guattari’s Urstaat thesis of the necessity of assembling state forms all at once in a mutually constitutive, functioning unit: taxation, including the special apparatus of collectors, assessors, accountants; work gangs for agriculture or monumental architecture; scribes and their recordkeeping apparatus; military specialists; standardized weights and measures. Scott calls this the harnessing of the “grain and manpower module as a basis of control and appropriation” (116).
As we have seen, the domus was already insecure, so adding state parasitism on top of it only increased the strain through two main elements of the statification economy of violence: first, taxation scooping into the surplus and hence pushing farmers to the edge of survival, and second, frequent warfare, which further exposed farming surplus to further appropriation either through heightened war taxation or plunder by invading armies. Scott implies that taxation is a sort of rationalized, regularized plunder by rulers of a domesticated population, analogous to the replacement of hunting by slaughter of domesticated animals (146).
To secure states against this fragility we find an important aspect of the economy of violence. Preventing flight via territorial control was essential to early states; Scott asks us to compare the Spanish reducciones or settlement camps in the New World. Such control is necessary in order for elites to appropriate surplus, which is otherwise produced and consumed by foragers in their commons-based system. Peasants, by contrast, have to be coerced; this can be directly by enslavement, corvée labor, and debt bondage, or later by simple control of land with a dense population so that independent access to the land is impossible. Thus, another prime requirement is stopping flight, or regular war to replace lost population by enslavement, by slave purchase from “barbarians,” or forced resettlement of populations brought from a conquered territory elsewhere (151–53).
As we have mentioned, some of Scott’s most interesting passages do not have a direct corollary in Deleuze and Guattari, thus indicating Scott’s importance as an independent thinker. Another example of this is Scott’s work on slavery as “human resources” strategy (2017, 167–70). Scott is careful to note that states did not invent slavery, which existed in chiefdoms, but it did ramp it up significantly. Prisoners of war were a source of slaves; wars were as much or more slave raids than territorial enhancement, as population replacement on the land already under control was as important as expanding territory, which just increases the need for population control (154–59).
In his analysis of enslavement in the economy of violence of early statification, Scott begins by noting that slave capture means a state can acquire the productive years of a human, with the cost of raising them—and developing their skills—borne by other regimes. Enslavement with transport from a homeland to foreign soil is also deracination and atomization, so states can pit individual slaves against an entire social assemblage of violence aimed at their control. The desirable productivity of adult male slaves had to be balanced against the possibility of revolt, which increases if when slaves have ethnic ties, a common language, and a memory of freedom. Hence there is often a preference for women and children as slave captives, both for docility and to provide reproduction of the slave population, or, with manumission and assimilation, a means of replenishing the local work force. Finally, Scott shows how slavery helps social stratification, both by using slaves as rewards to elites and by sparing the local workers from the worst exploitation and thus heading off their insurrection (167–70).
Scott’s descriptions allow us to see both structural and overt elements of the economy of violence of statification. The “structural violence” of early states comes from their very high death rates through disease and malnutrition (191–95). There is of course also overt violence in what Scott calls “politicide,” or failure of actual states from mismanagement of statification processes. Grain-population assemblage requires manpower to produce but also to defend territory and in aggressive wars to replace population, but this only puts more pressure on the remaining primary producers and hence increases their desire to flee, which in turn requires more surveillance by nonproducers, and so on (203).
Finally, in a clear explication of the “mutual constitution thesis” of state and nonstate peoples, Scott analyzes the economy of violence of state and nonstate processes in what he calls the “Golden Age of Barbarians.” Captive state populations increase the quality of barbarian prey targets. We can contrast this quick, acute raiding with the rationalized raiding that is state taxation (223, 238). More importantly, however, states were trading partners for barbarians. Raw material (e.g., timber), exotic goods (spices), as well as cattle and slaves were traded for textiles, jewelry, grain, pottery, and so on (222–23, 237).
Barbarian geography relies on the “friction of terrain,” as Scott says in Art of Not Being Governed. State armies were based on infantry and cavalry, so getting into forests and hills frustrated state control attempts. Borders between state and “barbarian” spaces were two-way membranes, not one-way as a social contract narrative would have it. As a result, we see the following interlocking and mutually constituting processes: state and nonstate populations could shift modes of production from farming and herding mixes to foraging and back again, but as state formation produced refugees, then-established states always had flight issues (as well as high mortality), such that slave raids and forced resettlement of nonstate peoples were necessary (228–31).
In keeping with the anti-evolution thesis, many “barbarians” were ex–state subjects heading back to foraging or “secondary primitivism,” as Scott notes in referring to Clastres. Recalling his analyses in Art, here in Against the Grain Scott also names upland zones as “shatter zones” of population and cultural mixing. From these scatter zones, domesticated farmers were tempting targets, but raiding had to be kept in check to avoid resource depletion, so smart barbarians shifted to tribute qua protection racket, thus mimicking the state (232, 240–43).
Turning to the political-organization aspect of the mutual-constitution thesis, Scott has states and barbarians as symbionts or “dark twins” that sometimes produced a sort of shared sovereignty (or sharing of appropriated surplus), but their relation could break down (249–50). So, barbarians and states are competing for ability to extract surplus from captive primary production populations (243). Barbarian control of trade routes enabled them to trade with states and also to extort “taxation” of state traders via “tolls” to allow passage, and piracy as predation on state trading. Barbarians did not always flee or repel the state; sometime they conquered it and became the new ruling class, and at other times they became mercenaries of state armies (250–51). While the “Golden Age” of barbarians lasted a long time, enslavement of other barbarians and sale of military service ultimately tipped the scales in favor of states, which now dominate the globe to a much greater extent than ever before (255–56).
As a transition to our final chapter, let us note that, although Scott doesn’t explore it in Against the Grain, you can follow his analysis of contemporary state domination in Seeing Like a State and The Art of Not Being Governed: despite failures of central planning, more modest administration can keep internal population management going very nicely in the core—going off the grid or creating police no-go zones in slums notwithstanding. In the periphery, brutality with automatic weapons, helicopters, and GPS can keep peasantry in line and keep nonstate people confined to margins and ineffective in resisting resource extraction when desired. This is not to say that sheer force is confined to the periphery; what we see in so-called no-go zones is a sort of “shared sovereignty” between nonstate actors—in Scott’s terms, “barbarian” gangs—and state police forces, who arrive in force when they want to and shoot first and ask questions later.
With these last points, we come to the topic of chapter 5: the reproduction of the state form and the role of ideology and force therein.