Mural, Brownsville Houses, 284 Sutter Ave., Brooklyn, NY, 2013 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Amidst ongoing racial injustice, the threat of global climate change, and the disappointing aftermath of the George Floyd Rebellion, is it still possible to imagine a better world than the one we’re currently living within? In their new work, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, David Graeber and David Wengrow answer this question in the affirmative. Yes, human society not only can be different but for much of human history, it was, in fact, very different. The product of a decade years of writing and exchange between the two authors, this book seeks nothing less than to turn our assumptions about human history on its head. In doing so, the authors confirm the Fanonian positions within the Black Radical Tradition that this world-system is inherently anti-Black and only global revolution can resolve it.
According to the standard view of our species’ history, humans once lived as hunter-gathers in a state of primitive equality. The adoption of agriculture eventually forced these ancient societies to adopt hierarchical forms of the command, and this allowed humanity to produce greater forms of complexity such as cities and global empires. This perspective – the evolutionary theory of human history – views other non-agricultural and non-urban societies as holdovers from a previous stage of human development.
The Dawn of Everything challenges this notion. The authors demonstrate that throughout our history, human societies have vacillated very radically. At times humanity lived within the throes of hierarchical violence where the masses were resigned to slavery and toil. At other times, those at the bottom of society created livelihoods based upon freedom and mutual aid.
Debates about the origins of humanity have frequently revolved around the question of the origins of inequality. Surprisingly, the authors argue that this is the wrong question to ask, since, posed in this way, it assumes that humans once lived in a state of equality but have since fallen from grace. The authors argue…