Is this review of David Graeber’s new book a performative demonstration of his correctness?

Well, I wish it were, but there’s one good reason why I don’t think it is. But let me back up: I read this extract from Graeber’s new book (I’m guessing it’s probably from the introduction?) which is just fantastic. There’s something about Graeber’s perspective that just evinces the totally real reasons for having a hope for the future, today. It’s not a deferred or speculative hope-for-hope (aka “hoping for hope”), but one grounded in a particular perspective the presente (heavily informed by the past, naturally). The key part relevant to the Guardian review is this:

Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? 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. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.

Now, cut to this silly review of the book it is extracted from:

…the weakness at the heart of The Democracy Project, both the book and the movement it reflects, is that while it may know what’s wrong with the world, it seems to have little concrete grasp of how to put it right. The author discusses the disappointments that have accompanied President Obama’s terms in office. The relationship between power, money and influence in Washington DC is as before. Obama’s record on domestic civil liberties is no better than Bush’s. Yet it is too easy to cavil. A glass a third or a fifth full is better than no glass at all, particularly when the alternative was Mitt Romney.

Graeber’s unwillingness to set out credible economic and political alternatives is curious.


I wish it were a case of trying to perform Graeber’s point for him, except that there is no shortage of examples of this tendency. Why add to it? It doesn’t make sense to do so, so sadly The Guardian’s reviewer has just missed the point. Oh well. At least the extract in The Baffler is fantastic.