Pierre Clastres

No, they don’t have to listen to the chief. If they had to listen to him, it would be law; they would be swinging over to the other side. There is no obligation in primitive societies, at least as regards the relationship between society and chiefdom. The only one who has obligations is the chief. That is to say that it is the opposite, the total reverse of what happens in societies where there is a State.

So, it’s the chief who has to obey?

In our countries it’s the opposite: it’s the society that has obligations with respect to who commands, while the chief has none. And why does the chief who commands, the despot, have no obligations? Because he has the power, of course! Well, the power means exactly this: Now the obligations are not mine, they are yours. In primitive societies, it’s the opposite. The only one with obligations is the chief: obligations to be a good speaker, and not only to have talent, but to prove it constantly, i.e. to regale the people with his speech; an obligation to be generous.
The chief is obliged to be generous, so (if he wants to fulfill his duty) he has to produce beyond his needs, i.e. always to have a little stock of different things to distribute at some point if they ask him.
To be chief means to speak well while saying nothing (if I can put it simply) and to work a little more than others. When I say that in primitive societies the chief is the only one with obligations to society, you can take that literally—it’s true.
If you understand by “savages” the people we were just talking about, the people who say “Down with the chiefs!”, they have always been around! Only, it’s becoming harder and harder to say this. Or rather, in my opinion, the destiny of the current States under which we live is to be more and more state-controlled, if I can say that.
The machine of the State, in all western societies, is becoming more and more state-controlled, i.e. more and more authoritarian. And more and more authoritarian, at least for a time, with the consent of the majority, which we most often call the silent majority, certainly being very equally distributed between the left and right. In my view, we will continue heading to more and more authoritarian forms of State because everybody wants authority. As soon as Giscard [d’Estaing] disappears for 4 hours because he is with a girlfriend somewhere, it’s panic—where’s the chief? He disappeared and there’s no one to command!
The State-controlled machine will end up in a kind of fascism. Not a party fascism, but an interior fascism. When I say the State-controlled machine, I’m not just talking about the apparatus of the State (the government, the central apparatus of the State). There are sub-machines that are real machines of the State and of power and that work, despite their sometimes contrary appearance, in harmony with the central machine of the State.

Because there is a partitioning there is no more centralism. It seems to me that it’s all linked. Contemporary capitalism is clearly a wreck—it’s working one day at a time. But it’s because it’s a wreck and breaks down here and there on the margins of the system that the system tends to become more and more systematic and authoritarian. Just now I didn’t say that the State was more and more totalitarian, I said that the State tends to become more and more State-controlled. You will tell me that at any given moment, if the State becomes everything, we are in totalitarianism. That’s obvious. The risk is surely there. But I think that it’s because there are more and more cracks in the system that there are more and more “anti-cracks”, i.e. the State.
The State can very well take things back, for example abortion. Before the women were not in control of themselves, of their bodies, as we say, because of the State, because the State did not want them to be, because there were laws. And not to respect the law is to be an outlaw; to be an outlaw is to be sentenced and thrown in prison. Today, women can be in control of themselves, but the State did not give anything up. Women can be so only thanks to the State. Before it told them, “you can’t”; today it says, “you can.” But it’s not a defeat of the State-controlled machine. Good thing that the abortion law was voted on; no doubt it is not enough… but don’t fool yourselves. It is not a victory over the State-controlled machine nor over the bourgeois morality—it comes from on high, even if, thanks to certain organizations, it doesn’t come solely from on high.


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