Political Mythologies   /   Spring 2022   /    Book Reviews

There Are Thousands of Other Ways

Graeber was always trying to prove that no society is inevitable.

Jackson Arn

Mural at Teotihuacán, near Mexico City, third century; Ivan Vdovin/Alamy Stock Photo.

I miss David Graeber’s voice. I miss the drawl, the erudite squawk, the excited quaver as he chopped conventional wisdom into tiny pieces. It was the voice of a man who spoke authoritatively but distrusted authority. In 2006, shortly after the Yale anthropology department denied him tenure, he appeared on Charlie Rose, looking cheerfully puzzled. Why, Rose asked him, would the university pass on someone so talented? “I was never disrespectful to people,” Graeber replied, “but I didn’t cower. This is one reason I’m an anarchist.” For the rest of the interview, Rose tried to find some flaw in his guest’s politics. Graeber parried his questions almost without trying, giggling at the absurdity of explaining anarchism to a multimillionaire. “Obviously,” Rose concluded, “you can see that I have no future in philosophy or anthropology.”

In September 2020, Graeber died of pancreatitis. It’s customary, when a major thinker dies too soon, to mourn both the thinker and the big ideas left unthought. Graeber was fifty-nine years old and seemed not to think big ideas so much as exude them. A natural talker whose frank love of education is apparent in the hours of lectures and interviews he left on YouTube, he was also a gifted labor activist. The loss is incalculable. But I take some comfort in rewatching Graeber’s Charlie Rose appearance and reminding myself that he was the one-in-a-million intellectual who always seemed to be enjoying himself.

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