Review: The Utopia of Rules

I forget how The Utopia of Rules came to my attention – probably from Warren Ellis’s excellent newsletter – but I found it interesting in a very niche kind of way.  David Graeber is a scholar, specifically an anthropologist, and an activist.  He’s got a crust of old school Marxist academia that comes through in his thinking.  If that puts you off, you’ll hate Utopia. In fact there are lots of reasons that one might hate the book, but I seem to have threaded the needle and come out the other side having gobbled up some ideas.

The possible offputting factors include the dry topic, the academic writing style, the navel gazing nature of the whole enterprise, and the quaintly academic worldview from which it’s all undertaken.  The enterprise in question is an erudite assessment of what modern bureaucracy says about the anthropology of Western European & American civilization.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Graeber’s execution.  He’s an academic and writing for a group of academics I probably wouldn’t be a part of if I were an academic, but he writes clearly and engagingly within those confines. I found plenty to disagree with, though overall I enjoyed having my ideas challenged.  He convinced me of some points as well.  Overall, I now see bureaucracy as an important phenomenon in Western Civilization practically and philosophically.  In and of itself that’s an interesting idea for me and was well worth reading the book.

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