Graeber, David & David Wengrow – The Dawn of Everything

  • equality & hierarchy. According to evolutionist theorists – like Lewis Henry Morgan or, more recently, James C. Scott – the history has a linear evolution, from simple to complex, from equality to hierarchy. The first vestiges of this world-view are to be found at Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) – and his metaphor of humans as doves; and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) – and his metaphor of humans as eagles or wolfs. These two authors envisioned the human development as a fall from an original state of nature – a state of innocence, to the present times – as a state of corruption. In fact, this world-view is centered on the notion of equality (hierarchy being the lack of equality) and they – the equality/ hierarchy – are the result of three elements: tradition (sovereignty), reason (bureaucracy) and charisma (autocracy/ aristocracy), these elements favoring the rise of private property. More or less, this world view has some affinities with the Biblical perspective: the Fall, the Garden of Eden, the serpent and the fruit. The Garden of Eden is represented by simple and equalitarian societies and the original state of nature. The Fall is neither more, nor less the arrow of history and the direction of evolution. The fruit is – of course – the cereal grain. While the role of the serpent has no clear counterpart, nor correspondence for this scientific perspective.
  • schismogenesis. This concept, first discovered and developed by Gregory Bateson, defines the act of shaping one’s culture and identity against a neighboring one: from this process of comparison rise separable individualities. In fact, David Graeber and David Wengrow are replacing the equality-world-view with the freedom-world-view: not evolution, but schismogenesis; not equality/ hierarchy, but freedom. While for the first world-view Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes were identified as the pioneering writers, for the second world-view Kandiaronk, a Wendat stateman (to whom the French contemporaries referred as “Le Rat” – “The Rat”) could be given as an example. The freedom-world-view is sustained by three observations: 1) some bands adopted hierarchical life, 2) some tribes and chiefdoms lived both equalitarian and hierarchical life, and 3) some states adopted equalitarian life. Therefore, the bands were no more simple and equalitarian, and the states were no more complex and hierarchical – while, the tribes and chiefdoms were not examples of intermediary stages, but a mixture of bands and states. Last, but not least, the Gregory Bateson concept (of schismogenesis) was also understood by previous authors like: Marcel Mauss (with the notion of borrowing – as the process of accepting and refusing some cultural traits by neighboring groups) and, earlier, Franz Boas (with the notion of diffusion – or the process of moving back and forwards customs and ideas between groups).

The map:


  • Graeber, David & David Wengrow (2021): “The dawn of everything. A new history of humanity”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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