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The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement Hardcover – 9 Apr 2013


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  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (9 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780812993561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812993561
  • ASIN: 081299356X
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 3.3 x 21.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,085,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

I have twice given away David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and Christmas will not change my habits. The book is more readable and entertaining than I can indicate...Would someone, please, give me a copy this Christmas. I promise to keep it for myself (Peter Carey Observer Books of the Year)

Debt:The First 5,000 Years by Goldsmiths College anthropologist David Graeber has become one of the year's most influential books (Paul Mason Guardian Books of 2011) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Graeber is a radical anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, who has been involved with the Occupy movement, most actively at Wall Street. He has written for many publications including Harper's, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and The Guardian. He is also the author, most recently, of the widely praised Debt: The First 5,000 Years, as well as many books on social organization and revolution including Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Direct Action: An Ethnography. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 April 2013
Format: Paperback
David Graeber takes on an enormously difficult task - giving historical perspective to a movement - Occupy Wall Street - that only just happened, and whose effects have yet to run their course. It is difficult to distance yourself from the overall effect, particularly when, like Graeber - you are at the very center of it. He does an excellent job at a micro level, which will be enormously valuable for future anthropologists - like Graeber.

But he does not have the historical perspective quite right. He wisely asks a lot of questions - like why did this spread so far this time and not others? His answer is structural and tactical (micro), and doesn't ring true. I think the answer is that in every century, the pendulum swings too far (macro). There is an uprising of tormented souls, who, like college grads in the US today, are stopped in their tracks. Stopping the young and hopeful has always been the tinderbox of revolution. Abject misery remains abject misery, but the glass ceiling is the last straw. So in 1848, we saw popular movements that barricaded neighborhoods and attempted overthrow, all over the world. In the 1960s the slaughter of young American men in Viet Nam led to a peace movement that spread to Paris and the Prague Spring. In 2011 the self immolation of an unlicensed Tunisian fruit seller led to uprisings all over the Islamic Crescent. And the bottoming of the 2008 financial miasma has led Americans to catch that Arab Spring fever as well. I think power and oppression make this a cyclical phenomenon.

Graeber wrestles with the question of structure - how Occupy made no demands and had no leaders or externalities. He says that was actually Occupy's key asset, why it succeeded where other, previous attempts all failed. It's the anarchist model that succeeds, he says.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D&D TOP 50 REVIEWER on 22 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Debt: The First 5,000 Years", Graeber's earlier book, was pure genius, so I rushed to get this book. I was disappointed, except for what he called his "social argument" in the introduction. What a passionate and succinct sum-up of the current situation in the US!

Before I write about that, I do want to comment that this book, about the occupy movement in the US, is well-written, rational, clear-sighted and thought-provoking. I just wasn't expecting a focus only on the US, after his brilliant and revolutionary "Debt" in which he used the anthropological perspective to dissect the origins of capitalism from a world-wide viewpoint.

Anyway, here's a portion of the introduction to this book, in which he displays his usual brilliance:

-------------------
What's being called the Great Recession merely accelerated a profound transformation of the American class system that had already been underway for decades...One out of every seven Americans is being pursued by a debt collection agency...and at least 55% have no feeling of stability and security because they no longer see that everyday institutions are on their side - like the police, education system, health clinics and even credit providers.

The growing sense, on the part of Americans, is that the institutional structures that surround them are not really there to help them - even, that they are dark and inimical forces - is a direct consequence of the financialisation of capitalism. Now, this might be an odd statement to make, because we are used to thinking of finance as something very distant from such everyday concerns.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Apprentice Crone on 9 April 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
You can't predict revolutions, David Graeber points out. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Arab Spring to name a recent few were only foreseeable in hindsight. It's time, he thinks, as do presumably all the thousands of others who have joined in Occupy style events, for another revolution and to his own surprise, there was for a short while what seemed to be the beginning of one near Wall Street in New York in 2011.

But there is the problem of words. Revolution is a scary word. But we all in Europe, bar the elite or apathetic, probably would agree that some drastic change would be good. And there are few words so misunderstood as "democracy" and its apparent opposite "anarchy". Graeber makes a strong case, on historical analysis, for the proposition that the United States was never, and was never meant to be, a real democracy - its an oligarchy with an elite which distracts, not with bread and circuses, but meaningless electoral reshuffles and adverts for consumer goods. As for anarchy, which most people take to mean chaos, the breakdown of law and order, murder and mayhem galore. Graeber does a good job of dedramatising the word, or at least showing what it means to him - the absence of coercive violence as a means to impose some (mostly a minority) people's ideas on others (the vast majority often). But it involves a positive view of human nature, the idea that without prisons, judges, lawyers, armies of SWAT teams and police we might actually get along more or less the same as we do already (minus the car parking tickets in my case) or perhaps even better...

I loved the way Graeber describes how the police are stymied when the people in the streets they are trying to control don't have a leader or spokesperson.
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Amazon.com: 13 reviews
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Major League Eye-Opener 9 April 2013
By David Wineberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
David Graeber takes on an enormously difficult task - giving historical perspective to a movement - Occupy Wall Street - that only just happened, and whose effects have yet to run their course. It is difficult to distance yourself from the overall effect, particularly when, like Graeber - you are at the very center of it. He does an excellent job at a micro level, which will be enormously valuable for future anthropologists - like Graeber.

But he does not have the historical perspective quite right. He wisely asks a lot of questions - like why did this spread so far this time and not others? His answer is structural and tactical (micro), and doesn't ring true. I think the answer is that in every century, the pendulum swings too far (macro). There is an uprising of tormented souls, who, like college grads in the US today, are stopped in their tracks. Stopping the young and hopeful has always been the tinderbox of revolution. Abject misery remains abject misery, but the glass ceiling is the last straw. So in 1848, we saw popular movements that barricaded neighborhoods and attempted overthrow, all over the world. In the 1960s the slaughter of young American men in Viet Nam led to a peace movement that spread to Paris and the Prague Spring. In 2011 the self immolation of an unlicensed Tunisian fruit seller led to uprisings all over the Islamic Crescent. And the bottoming of the 2008 financial miasma has led Americans to catch that Arab Spring fever as well. I think power and oppression make this a cyclical phenomenon.

Graeber wrestles with the question of structure - how Occupy made no demands and had no leaders or externalities. He says that was actually Occupy's key asset, why it succeeded where other, previous attempts all failed. It's the anarchist model that succeeds, he says. But what if it is the very vagueness of it all that made it attractive to a broader audience? Once hard demands are made, you get opposition, you open yourself to criticism. Rifts appear. The way Occupy worked, everyone at home could relate at some personal level (99%), like everyone can relate to a horoscope. Specific demands would have killed off Occupy instantly.

Graeber explores an underappreciated fact that Noam Chomsky has been explaining for decades: American voters are very much to the left of political parties and most definitely left of politicians, who they revile. At first, Graeber marvels at the broad swath of people who contributed to Occupy - in cash, in kind, in stories on its web pages. He evinces surprise at union support, and the participation of so many women. But eventually he gets over it and finds abundant stats to back the facts - women are more likely to enter college, finish, and then be poor. Single mothers are the new breadwinners, working at jobs as caregivers or teachers. Americans do not detest "socialism" (no matter how it's defined). They actually kind of appreciate it. It's only poison in Washington. But then, so is peace, co-operation, privacy and common sense.

It was fascinating to read how the extreme left operates. It is made up of factions that do not like each other, don't like to work together, and are suspicious. Graeber can tell them apart on sight. They have all the petty squabbles and politics of anyone else. As for the "liberal" media, the left sees it being just to the right of Mussolini. Nothing gets covered unless a financial overlord deems it worthy of a putdown, nothing gets reported accurately or dispassionately, and the media just waits for the slightest imperfection or miscue to label the entire event as subterfuge, extreme, criminal or wacko. Add everything the Right says about the media, and it sounds like the media is actually solidly in the middle.

But these are trifling superficialities. The gloves come off with Question 6 on page 89, where Graeber slams the American system. He shows the US is based on bribery, institutionalized bribery. You can't get anywhere without payment to politicians and their parties. No pay, no hearing. The US is "unusually" corrupt. Grads can't get decent careers in New York because the entry level positions are all becoming unpaid internships. So unless your parents are rich enough to support you in New York for a few years after running up all that debt in university, you can't even get in the door. It's good old class war, that America is supposed to have banished. America uses code words to describe what it can't admit to. If you substitute "rape, torture and murder" everywhere you see the term "human rights abuses" you will appreciate how it changes the perspective of how we relate to our allies and partners. Human rights abuses in Russia are rape, torture and murder, but we can still work with them, because "human rights abuses" sanitizes it. Bribes get relabeled as fundraising, bribery itself is lobbying. For Graeber this encapsulates the deadlock of American politics.

Now imagine another system, he says. What if our politicians were required to solve problems instead of pursuing existing interests. Everything changes.

Graeber spends a lot of time on the police. There is much evidence of police abuse, arresting people for literally anything - bending over to pet a dog, drawing with chalk on a sidewalk - breaking a store window with a marcher's head, then claiming vandalism. The unfortunate truth is that NYPD is an "army of occupation" that intimidates rather than protects and serves. Unions back out of demonstrations for fear of the uncontrollable assaults by the police. There are more instances of stop & frisk of blacks in Brooklyn than there are blacks. And the cases of corruption within the police are mind boggling. It brags about being one of the largest armed forces in the world (they claim to be 7th biggest. Graeber says 30th). I have been posting their atrocities for years. It is really shameful; it is the ugly side of New York. New York is great despite, not because of the NYPD.

There's lots to argue with, of course. Graeber says of Occupy Wall Street : "Most obviously, the refusal to make demands was, quite self consciously, a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the existing political order." That's not obvious at all. There at least two other more obvious possibilities: 1) It was so spontaneous they had no core demands that had sufficient support or momentum and 2) they wanted to keep it all as vague as possible to attract the widest possible sympathy.

It doesn't matter about the intent; that was the public perception of Occupy. And perception is everything. As I said off the top, distancing oneself from something this close is setting the bar pretty high.

I wrote a positively glowing review of Graeber's previous book, Debt, and this one adds a whole other dimension to the man. He's a thorough anarchist, and as rational and as thought-provoking as anyone writing today. If I could pick anyone in the world to have lunch with, I think it would be David Graeber. It would be endlessly challenging. That's my kind of conversation - and my kind of book.

David Wineberg
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
very interesting 20 April 2013
By Evan Neely - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The reasons I began reading this book aren't the same as my impressions of its significance now that I'm done. Besides generally finding Graeber's work interesting, one of the reasons I originally decided to look at it was that I teach a class on American social movements and wanted to have some texts on contemporary instances; Graeber is a notable source of information on the Occupy movement (although, oddly, despite his near omnipresence and my regular participation in the movement in its first year, I've never crossed paths with him; I'm not sure why, but he routinely works with friends of mine, and yet...). I heard him discussing it on the radio and it sounded interesting enough. But now that I'm done with it, it gives me a broader perspective on the movement since I effectively stopped organizing after May Day and simply became a fellow-traveler who attends large events and aids in disasters like Sandy but little else. I've witnessed from a distance the transformation of the Occupy movement into a general pro-democracy movement into its more refined "Strike Debt" iteration. I wasn't present when it was decided by many Occupiers to go in that direction, and while I understood the logic, I thought of it as a bit of a rebranding exercise. This book convinced me otherwise, and showed me that this was possibly the right move for the movement to make, especially given its constituency. There are tendencies in this book and in the movement as a whole to talk about traditionally marginalized communities, but as far as my experience goes, organized efforts from those communities have been mostly tangential to Occupy itself, and, based on my experiences organizing in Newark, fairly skeptical of it (I also grant that the fear of arrest is greater for poor people of color because it almost always involves a greater level of physical violence and has consequences that are much greater in the long run). I don't say this to delegitimize the movement at all, simply to note that it makes it completely reasonable for Occupy to focus on something as general as the issue of debt - it allows them to make direct attempts that are (hopefully) within their powers to undo a social iniquity at the same time as the action will still affect as many people as possible. The various outcomes of the attempts, most especially the Debt Resistors' Manual, are very thoughtful and have gotten praise from many sources.

About the other features of the book, it has its ups and downs. I give it four stars mainly because Graeber set an extremely high standard for his future work when he wrote Debt: The First 5000 Years, which is just incredible. I suppose I should start with criticism. From my experience, he's a bit too optimistic about certain things. Not so much about the potential success of the movement - you'd have to be optimistic about that - but about the earnestness of many Occupiers. Occasionally he admits that there's a "core" of Occupiers, and he gives a very fair analysis of the limits of consensus process in the fourth chapter. Cores develop - it's not entirely to their discredit, but if you have a regular job, it's really hard to get into any inner circles because the full-time activists have nothing but time. This can hold up meetings for far longer than they need to be held, and it's largely because consensus process combined with the relatively idiosyncratic views of some people (some of whom he mentions, but with little other than praise) makes for difficulties. I don't want to fall back into the "moderate" and "extreme" language, but the fact is that many Occupiers tend to fetishize processes that most people hadn't even heard of before they showed up, and treat formal rules as substantive ends, which means that things the far greater number of sympathetic people might want can't make their way into plans of action (again, Graeber notes this to no small extent, but I wish he gave it fuller and more specific analysis). This can end up putting off people who want to work with Occupy, simply because they know that their intuitions and desires won't do anything but hold up meetings since they'll be blocked by people who have endless amounts of time to beat the clock. The result is an inner circle. Another issue is that, despite pretensions to upholding democratic ideals, many Occupiers found ways to suppress contrary opinions, mainly because they were too "mainstream." While you don't really see much of this when the whole General Assembly is together, during breakout groups (pretty much what it sounds like - smaller groups break out to discuss things more conveniently), oftentimes the spokesperson for the group would not convey opinions to the larger group if they didn't like them (I saw that happen to myself and other people fairly frequently).

But, to return to praising the book, at least the level of honesty of the Occupiers far outweighs their enemies'. Most Occupiers are decent people that just don't like seeing everyone except a small ruling class get shortchanged. As other reviewers have noticed, Graeber does a good job of succinctly synopsizing the social structural problems that led many people to Occupy. He is especially good when assaulting the absolutely, ridiculously fraudulent attempts to discredit the movement. As a longtime "liberal" (in the sense he used the word throughout the book) who became more radicalized over the course of the movement, I was completely appalled by the ways reactionaries tried to use absolutely anything they could to discredit a political ideal. Seriously, guys, be honest - you like authoritarianism, and don't like democratic movements, and everything else is just filler. What bothers me is the number of self-proclaimed liberals who did the same types of stuff. The long chapter called "Why Did It Work?" has an especially good dismantling of the stupid claims that all Occupations were hotbeds of filth, violence, and crime. I saw no indication at all over the course of an entire year that Occupiers had done anything like the level of violence and degradation inflicted on us by reactionaries, the police, and the media. One photograph of a derelict about to defecate on a police car was all the reactionaries needed to prove that we were everything the right has been saying about anyone but the hardest reactionary "patriots" for the last hundred years; two reported cases of rape that could have been committed by anyone given that we were open camps in the heart of major cities with serious violence problems proves nothing (and, no, the fact that there were no rapes at the two-hours-every-month Tea Party rallies proves nothing about the supposed violence of the left). Graeber's attempt to situate Occupy in the longer history of democratic activities in the chapter called "The Mob Begin to Think and Reason" is very interesting. I don't have the background to verify everything he says, but I do know a lot about the writings of the framers of the Constitution and his claims about that are entirely solid (despite what other reviewers are saying, the fact that he confuses a teargas canister and rubber bullets hardly proves that he wrote anything fraudulent - that reviewer has a bone to pick based entirely on what he read about Occupy Oakland, which, despite being the most hardcore of the Occupations, seems only to have broken a few windows - as Graeber rightly points out, the police broke far more than that). The analysis of the generation of democratic principles in that chapter is really interesting, but unfortunately brief. Although this in and of itself is significant - materials for a sufficiently lengthy treatment haven't survived in the face of the endless writings of the framers. Graeber draws the interesting conclusion that it's our own fixation on the reading habits of the privileged that makes us ask for this, which is perhaps his most interesting point - we don't need a full history, because the materials for democratic interaction are within us.

Last, I'm really glad he made the argument that it's only because we accept state violence as somehow legitimate that we think the few instance of property damage committed by Occupiers is somehow worse than everything thrown at us. Seriously, anyone who reads this book should just try to consider our perspective on this - I'm not saying accept it, just try it: think for a minute that it's possible that state violence isn't any more legitimate than anyone else's violence, and which institution turns out to be the more violent?
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Discusses Anarchist Origins of Occupy Wall Street and Challenges Conventional Wisdom 29 July 2013
By James R Newlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
David is one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and a professor of anthropology. His previous work on Debt seemed to be written by his professor side, and this book was written by his activist side.

Premise of the book: Our dominant institutions - corporations and the Democratic and Republican parties - have been unable to deal with our most pressing problems: climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution, overpopulation/overconsumption, and inequality. Since the Club of Rome's popular report, Limits to Growth, in 1972, our problems have gotten much worse. We have to start working outside of the current political system (e.g. horizontal direct democracy) and questioning our assumptions about money, debt, the assumption that work is necessarily good, submitting oneself to the labor discipline, the amount of corporate, financial, and educational bureaucracy and our thoughts about communism, if we're to have a chance of mitigating damage to the biosphere.

The book starts with the anarchist origins of OWS, a fact I wasn't aware of. Before reading this book, I had thought, "Why doesn't OWS have leadership?" and "Why doesn't OWS make demands?" I had also thought anarchists were violent and angry people, a myth this book shattered, a myth likely coming from my believing corporate media or getting a poor education. This book explains the success of occupy was that it showed people what horizontal direct democracy could look like, and that people were attracted to OWS because it refused to participate in party politics, like electing people to office or trying to address problems through our current political system. Other movements tried to do this, but failed, most miserably, because they had proposed to work inside of the current political system.

David says he doesn't explain the alternative to capitalism, because doing so doesn't make any sense historically. It's not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called "capitalism," figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. Instead, David says, "Myself, I am less interested in deciding what sort of economic system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decisions for themselves."

It would have been good if he referred to other criticism in the 20th and 21st centuries, Lewis Mumford for example. There are also alternative systems like degrowth movements, utopian communities, transition towns, and other alternative experiments that could have been discussed.

I wish there had been more reference to Enlightenment and Romantic literature. It would be good to inject this into the discussions with Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, Claude-Adien Helvetius, Rousseau, Adam Ferguson, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and David Hume. I think more attention should have been paid to historical discussion about democracy, and why thinkers like Rousseau considered the idea, and dismissed it. It seems there actually was a circle of great thinkers who did shape our conceptions of the Social Contract, and I think David should have addressed these ideas in more detail.

Overall, I like the book, and I recommend reading it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"The Mob Begin to Think and to Reason" 20 Jun 2014
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Having found myself intrigued by this anthropologist-activist who was among the first, as he narrates here, to generate the "We are the 99%" slogan and Occupy Wall Street movement, I followed my reading of his dense but not dull academic study of Debt: The First 5000 Years (reviewed by me in April 2014) with his more casual 2013 narrative of OWS, its origins, impacts, and relevance within grassroots, participatory direct action as the genuine democratic exercise of rights. He insists that the lack of a platform or agenda spoke to the Occupy strengths, by its refusal to play into party politics, rather than as a left-wing balance to the Tea Party's anti-government (but less rarely anti-business, at least after the GOP co-opted it, an issue that merits attention more than the aside here, but it may not be that germane in Graeber's view given his anti-corporate as well as anarchist focus). I agree here, even if my friends and media disagree. Graeber reminds readers that bipartisan "status-quo" presidents no matter their claims for "change" continue to prop up what's broken.

As I've opined often among my pro-Democratic Party friends and family, Graeber raises a critique few leftists promote; they capitulate to the lesser of two evils or "they won't let Obama win" retorts. He castigates the handling of the 2008 crisis with a new president who exhibited "perversely heroic efforts to respond to an historic catastrophe by keeping everything more or less exactly as it was." (95) This can be confirmed by Timothy Geithner's subsequent defense while he promoted his own book in Spring 2014; and by Matt Taibbi's concurrent exposure Eric Holder's role as he kept kid gloves on as he handled "legal justice" for those victimized by Wall Street's banking powers in '08. George Packer finds in his narrative history another pattern of how the law was used to suppress the common folks, buried by robo-signings and instant judgements from judges, not those in charge.

This fits well with these two recent accounts I've studied which address the mess we're in these decades post-Reagan, and all who've succeeded him: George Packer's "The Unwinding" about a disintegration of American stability under the corporate-political oligarchy, and Matt Taibbi's "The Divide" about the refusal of Obama's administration to pursue justice against Wall Street bankers while doggedly beating down and hounding the poor and weak among us who cannot counter the power of the law and order forces, paid by the government which enables these same banks to launder drug money, profit off debtors, expand prisons, and sustain an increasingly unequal economy.

Graeber shows close-up at OWS a common complaint: the "U.S. media increasingly serves less to convince Americans to buy into the terms of the existing political system than to convince them that everyone does." (109) This is a bit too compressed, but his point is that--take Ralph Nader's campaign--that the media portrays such candidates and platforms as is only the 2.7% who voted for him favor them. The media refuse to offer such alternative advocates the opportunity to speak out, and consigns them to the realm of fringe or freakish figures who don't merit the gravitas afforded the Democrats and to a lesser or greater extent depending on the channel chosen, the GOP. Therefore, a false choice perpetuates, and dismissal of spontaneous uprisings that may present a challenge to the parties who persist in representing the 1% more than the rest of us continues. Those who take to the streets or camp out near City Hall or big banks get ridiculed as dangerous bums or deluded rich kids.

While I remain cautious about his claim that over half of all British female students engaged in sex work to pay off tuition and that nearly a third went to prostitution, and his factoid that 280,000 American women with college debt signed up for sugar daddies needs more than one HuffPo citation to sway me, I agree that student debt (I heard recently costs have gone up 1200% since 1978) and the wider indentured status this incurs among many of us cripples us. For degrees are now the ticket into many professions, and that entry fee rises as banks profit off the money they lend to students and their families, continuing to deepen the hold that loans and interest have over many Americans now. Coupled with his own studies and the pressing need for reform or a debt jubilee (as his previous book naturally called for), this does seem a logical stance to take as the issue most needing redress by us.

The trouble is, "corporate lobbying" as he relabels it by its reality as "bribery" stymies progress. Each Congress member needs to raise, he says, $10,000/week from the time he or she is in office to prepare for the next election. Contrary to our national myth that we can separate the system from its overthrow as if we are revolutionaries anew, Graeber contends the economic and political control is so linked now that it cannot be reformed by representatives, complicit in the status quo. He shows how the appeals of the indebted smack of peasants begging for their land and relief from burdens, such is what Americans have been reduced to. As to "white working-class populism," he correctly chides this for its anti-intellectualism, and Graeber to his credit takes a moment to consider the lasting appeal of it for so many. Within its determination to call for liberty, there's "an indignation at being cut off from the means of doing good," within a society bent in equating our life's range with only the satisfaction of our self-interest. (124) People want to achieve for themselves and conduct their own decisions, and not expect the State to cater to all of their needs. A sensitive issue; a commendable insight. This is explored idiosyncratically in James C. Scott's 2013 "Two Cheers for Anarchism." (Taibbi, Packer, and Scott's three books have been recently reviewed by me.)

Midway, Graeber tackles liberal mockery of OWS. He confides that the left as they dominate media tend to project their guilty conscience by their coverage. "Liberals tend to be touchy and unpredictable because they share the ideas of radical movements--democracy, egalitarianism, freedom--but they've also managed to convince themselves that these ideals are ultimately unattainable. For that reason, they see anyone determined to bring about a world based on these principles as a kind of moral threat." (150) He reminds us that what John Adams feared as "the horrors of democracy" as if anarchy (often a negative term from Plato on) does not negate "core democratic principles," but takes them "to their logical conclusions." (154) In a truly eye-opening chapter "The Mob Begin to Think and to Reason," he shows Gouverneur Morris, gentry of NYC, witnessing at planning for the Constitutional Congress "butchers and bakers" arguing the merits of the Gracchi or Polybius (a sign of how far we've fallen from a classical education for the masses?).

He cautions those who'd toss bombs or instigate violence, and he shows as in the chapter "How Change Happens" not only the way direct action and affinity groups and peaceful assemblies reach consensus, but he notes in passing the dangers of coercion. The Iraqi Sadrists attempted to form a mass working-class base for self-governance, but the zones they opened with the wedge of "free clinics for pregnant and nursing mothers" took on, as they required security, the social apparatus and then political platforms supporting charismatic leaders turned cultural voices co-opted into the state and in formal institutions.

This book as with "Debt" skips about although it stays animated with Graeber's confident presence. In a few places the style stumbled and careful editing might have smoothed out a couple of rough spots in the prose. I liked the glances at humor as in the Occu-pie pizza, "99 percent cheese, 1 percent pig" provided those at OWS early on. Books on anarchism sometimes need a lighter touch, after all. And as with other studies, I needed to see how workplace strategies might evolve to prefigure change, in an increasingly unstable and detached electronic and dispersed environment where freer standards may contend against online surveillance, weak wages, globalization, and reductive profit.

He touches on this, however, in "Breaking the Spell" as he glances at the "productivist bargain" that assumes work is a moral good rather than an economic position. He shows if in passing how labor discipline can make one worse, not better, if it does not become virtuous to allow us to help others. Why not make mothers, teachers, caregivers the "primordial form of work" rather than models of production lines, wheat fields, or iron foundries? Mutual creation and a shift, as he admits Occupy might formulate a key demand, to "change our basic conceptions of what value-creating labor might actually be" is a small step, if one meriting a book and movement of its own. (289) He tells us how the weight of bureaucracy grew, under capitalism and communism, and how the latter term underlies what society, our circle of friends, our family runs on: amicability, cooperation, practical assistance.

I wish the book, after its vignettes as early on he and a handful of activists met at the Irish Hunger Memorial and then Zuccotti Park to jumpstart OWS, had covered more of the blow-by-blow on the street examples of how consensus might or might not have worked, and how across the world (not only in this perhaps understandably Manhattan-centered p-o-v from one who is based now in London academia after his departure from Yale) people met to for better or worse try to coordinate progress. I saw at the L.A. encampment examples of both, and Graeber appears to gloss over a lot of the mess. It's a mixture: a study of democracy historically and at OWS, and part personal testimony. But this makes it uneven in pacing and scope; it's valuable behind-the-scenes, yet you want to peer in deeper.

In closing, Graeber teaches a different civics lesson. "No government has ever given a new freedom to those it governs of its own accord." (239) Grassroots turn tough. Laws may need to be broken.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Hardly a balanced piece. 11 Mar 2014
By Nicholas Forster - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Graeber titles this book as though it is a study of democracy but it's a case study of Occupy Wall Street. I found his sweeping notions naive and arrogant. He almost seems to argue that anarchism is a proven unmitigated good and that all the behaviors of OWS immaculate. He does not get his hands dirty in theorizing any of the negative consequences of his future vision.

I would rate this book lower but his discussion on the history of democracy and how it was abs has been manipulated by the leaders of the United States since it's inception was very interesting. If I had only read that part I would have left more satisfied.
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