Este Blogue é um estudo da Associação Projecto Raia Alentejana e tem como objectivo a discussão da violência em geral e da guerra na Pré-História em particular. A Arqueologia da Península Ibérica tem aqui especial relevo. Esperamos cruzar dados de diferentes campos do conhecimento com destaque para a Antropologia Social. As críticas construtivas são bem vindas neste espaço, que se espera, de conhecimento.

Guerra Primitiva\Pré-Histórica
Violência interpessoal colectiva entre duas ou mais comunidades políticas distintas, com o uso de armas tendo como objectivo causar fatalidades, por um motivo colectivo sem hipótese de compensação.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Reaction Paper to Archeology of Violence: War in Primitive Societies - Tory Hartmann


In Archeology of Violence: War in Primitive Societies, Pierre Clastres argues that contrary to popular notions in ethnography and anthropology, primitive societies are not “societies against violence;” they are not simply less developed, uncivilized people who will one day become learned and social beings like their Western counterparts. (139) He also notes that many surveyors of primitive societies, from the first European explorers in America on, have not aptly dealt with the concept of war. This problem manifests itself in two main ways. Firstly, it is often the case that war is often not even mentioned as an element of primitive life; in fact, when it is mentioned, he observes, “we [ethnographers] evoke the violence, but mostly to demonstrate [its] horror... mostly to establish that they are societies against violence.” To bolster this part of his thesis, he outlines particular instances in which professional anthropologists, ethnographers and social scientists have misrepresented primitive societies’ relation to war by making assumptions based on Western modes of thought. Moreover, in his second argument, he aims to prove that not only have these Western researchers largely ignored a very integral part of primitive life, but when they do actually reference it, they do so incorrectly. He argues that, in fact, primitive societies are not against war—that, instead, their entire existence depends on war.

Clastres begins his argument by noting the initial interactions between primitive societies and Western ones: interactions had after the “discovery of America.” These Westerners arrived in America with their own conceptions of civilization, with their socially reinforced idea of what civilized people do. For one, these Westerners were all raised in societies that placed strong emphasis on power dynamics; Clastres argues that these men believed that “there is no society without the characteristic division into Masters and Subjects.” (140) This ardent belief in the necessity of a state, of a master, of a god, of a king, was widely-held by the colonists and as such, they simply could not believe that the primitive peoples that they encountered in America were anything more than uncivilized barbarians. As such, from the beginning of their relationship with these natives, Westerners regarded them as less-developed peoples who would one day leave the “state of nature” and enter society. To these Europeans, primitive societies simply provided a great case study of what exactly Hobbes was talking about in his Leviathan.

These colonists were intimidated by the natives, as most people are fearful of that which they do not understand. This fear inspired the commonly held assumption that took root all over the colonizing world—the assumption that all primitive societies are violently and “passionately devoted to war.” (140) Yet this conception (or misconception, as it were) helped to reinforce the idea that the primitive peoples encountered in the New World were, in fact, living in the warlike state of nature which Hobbes claimed existed prior to the development of the Leviathan, the great and supreme state (i.e. Western society). I think that this argument is a very valid one. Clastres is right that the colonizing world placed a great deal of emphasis on its superiority over those peoples who were being colonized. This case study blends in nicely with his first thesis: that violence, when mentioned at all in ethnographies about primitive societies, is mentioned only insofar as it is a step the primitive society is taking in order to reach the final destination of “civility” or “civilization,” as the Western world sees it.

He also disavows the claims made by the “economist discourse,” which paints war as a necessary reaction to the scarcity of resources in the primitive world. (145) In other words, primitive people fight in wars because they need to obtain resources in order to survive. I find it interesting that this “discourse,” like the first, runs so parallel to a major political theorist: in this case, Karl Marx. This example highlights once more Clastres’ claim that Western ethnographers have a tendency to project their own preconceived notions of society onto the societies which they are examining. As Clastres accurately acknowledges, this stage of the “primitive economy” and the destitution that accompanies it is a necessary step in Marx’s theory of history. (147) I think, then, that Clastres is quite right in denouncing parts of this discourse because it progenitors simply saw war in primitive societies through a pre-formed lens of political-economic theory of civilization as opposed to approaching it without preconceived notions. Moreover, this theory hinges on the idea of scarcity, an idea that was apparently entirely fabricated because “primitive economy is… an economy of abundance.” (148) Here I think that Clastres has unearthed some really important evidentiary support of his denouncement of the “economist discourse”—I think his evidence appears unfounded, however, because he does not cite a source… he only says that this fact is shown by “current research.” (148) Considering that this “research” provides evidence that nearly destroys the “economist discourse,” I think he would have done well to include an actual source to grant the phrase more validity.

According to the second part of Clastres’ argument, not only was it naïve for Westerners to blindly observe primitive societies through the lens of Western political theory, but this method of research gave way to analyses that run entirely counter to the relationship that primitive societies actually have with war. Instead of war being an inevitable state that primitive societies must pass through on their way to civilization, war is the state that preserves their society. War maintains the exclusivity of each tribe because it allows them to persevere and survive. I find this part of his argument the most problematic because Clastres errs on the side of doing exactly what he denounced other ethnographers for doing. Namely, he looks at “primitive” societies through a Western lens and nowhere does he explicitly say where his assumptions about how war is necessary in order to maintain these primitive societies come from. I think that his argument would again benefit greatly from evidentiary support, perhaps more specific case studies about particular societies.

Moreover, he makes sweeping generalizations about the “Savage” without providing any real substantive support. (155) He says that “no individual [in primitive society] is less knowledgeable or less capable” than another and that everyone has a role in this society which yet has no division of labor. (155) It is unclear whether his argument was formed by case-study research, or by his imagining a hypothetical “primitive society.” The second part of his essay makes far too many sweeping generalizations. It does not cohere with the first half, which was a studied critique leveled at the common misperceptions made by studiers of primitive societies. All in all, it seems that Clastres comes dangerously close to falling into the traps that he so eloquently denounced in the first half of his piece.

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