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PEOPLE WITHOUT GOVERNMENT - An Anthropology of Anarchy
Written by Harold Barclay
Published by Kahn & Averill, 1996

Reviewed by Cardinal Cox


People without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy by Harold Barclay (

Write Dope on Pnuk part 79

The commonest response to the idea of an actual anarchic society is that “of course, it would never work”. In this book, Harold Barclay, who taught at the American University of Cairo, the University of Oregon, and then lectured in Anthropology at the University of Alberta, has gone back to the studies of a range of societies that appeared to function without set leaders. He divided the societies into five groups based on the level of relative sophistication in relation to the process of producing food.

The first were the Hunter-Gatherers such as the Arctic Inuit, the San of the deserts of South Africa, the Pygmies of the African rainforests and certain Australian indigenous tribes. The second were Gardeners such as the Ibo of southern Nigeria and certain New Guinea tribes. The third were Herders such as the Samek of Finland and Norway, or the Nuer of southern Sudan. The fourth were Agricultural societies and examples here included Berbers of northwest Africa and Anabaptist groups from Europe and America. The last group was the modern world, and as well as the Spanish Revolution, Dr. Barclay offered five tips towards running a successful community.

All of the examples were very interesting, and Dr. Barclay was honest enough to point out where these societies deviated from what we might understand by anarchy (division of labour along gender lines, superstition as a social constraint, etc.). However, my problem was that many of the original studies were carried out many years ago and the societies no longer function in these ways due to external pressures and contamination. Thus we have the initial studies interpretation of the social structure that Dr. Barclay has re-read for himself and then presented to us. Yes, they are interesting and we can learn, but we must be careful and understand that these are third hand reports.


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