What’s Wrong with the UN Building? A Thoughtful Critique of Modernism

Meet a political scientist who looks like an anthropologist and believes himself to be an anarchist cum Marxist.  No, he won’t be smashing in Starbucks anytime soon–but he values such counter-cultural activities as jaywalking among others as means to control the all-expansive power of the state.  He shows what happens when we try to engineer all aspects of society, to paraphrase a quote by Francis Fukuyama, and thus inherits a unique space among libertarians, free marketeers, and even liberals for his incisive views on power, control, and governance.  His views have deep resonance for the consideration on how member states operate as well as the implications of a technocratic secretariat within international organizations.

His book, Seeing Like A State presents the power of local knowledge .  It has generated a fair amount of thoughtful discussion.

Mr. Scott’s book arrives at a moment when the Occupy movement has brought anarchist thought closer to the American political mainstream than it has been in decades (and, some on the left have argued, has come undone because of its fetishization of utopian principle at the expense of real-world politics). He says he admires the movement’s “spontaneity,” but not everyone in its ranks is returning the love.

The left-wing writer Malcolm Harris, in The Los Angeles Review of Books, blasted Mr. Scott as a closet liberal in “anarchish” clothing, espousing a vision that’s “one part Bush Administration ‘ownership society,’ one part Apple ‘think different.’ ” Fortune.com, on the other hand, praised him for offering lessons in power and subversion useful to “leaders or managers” bent on “creative destruction.”

via James C. Scott, Farmer and Scholar of Anarchism – NYTimes.com.

He has a chapter on Corbusier and touches on the ideals modernists shared–seen in the skyscrapers of New York as well as the Neimeyer-designed United Nations headquarters, disparaging the “high modernism” and view of “progress” as an ideology used by all sides of the political spectrum to bulk up the state and maintain control.

If you are as interested as I am, take a look at Cass Sunstein’s lengthy description and review of the book, the NYTBR (1998)–and may want to look at Joel Robbins review of Scott’s 2010 book, The Art of Not Being Governed or his lecture on it at Cornell, that cements his reputation for being the philosopher for nonconformists everywhere.  This interview on Theory Talks also expores how the agrarian is political and what students ought to read to better understand the world.


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