Harold Barclay--anthropologist of anarchy
Longing for Arcadia: Memoirs of an Anarcho-Cynicalist Anthropologist
Trafford Publishing, Victoria BC, 2005
ISBN 1 4120 5679 9, 362 pages
Culture and Anarchism
Freedom Press, London, 1997
ISBN 0 900384 84 0, 167 pages
Freedom Press, London, 2003
ISBN 1 904491 00 6, 109 pages
The title to Harold Barclay's recently published autobiography, Longing for Arcadia: Memoirs of an Anarcho-Cynicalist Anthropologist, succinctly describes the man and his work. Barclay is one of those rare academics who is not afraid to express his anarchist sympathies and to relate them to his research. While other anthropologists refer to societies without government in less forthright terms (for example, as 'acephalous' societies), Barclay describes them as a form of anarchy. However, Barclay does not allow his anarchist sympathies to cloud his judgement. If the conditions for recreating such anarchic societies are not good, he says so and explains why. He sees no use in sugar coating a disheartening diagnosis. If neither the emperor nor the anarchist had any clothes, Barclay would be the first to point that out. But even if anarchy is now a remote if not unrealizable ideal, that should not stop us from questioning existing institutions, motives and values, as did the Cynics in ancient Greece.
Barclay has been writing about anarchy and anthropology for many years. What has always been refreshing in his approach is his unwillingness to shroud or distort the results of anthropological research. That research demonstrates that for most of human history people lived successfully without government, and that the state is a relatively recent development. Unfortunately, it may very well be an irreversible development, but that should not stop us from refusing to grant it any legitimacy.
His Memoirs begin with his semi-rural upbringing in Boston. His grandfather had a farm on the outskirts of Boston, where Barclay spent a significant amount of time during his childhood and adolescence. This part of his Memoirs is very good at evoking another era, when urban areas in...