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David Graeber Thinks a Positive Review--"Very Impressive… I've Recommended It… I'm Citing It... But 'Take a “Trust but Verify” Attitude… [About] the Empirical Claims"--Is a "Delegitimization Effort"

I cannot think of anybody else who has taken a review of his book that says "very impressive… I've recommended it… I'm citing it… I'm very seriously considering assigning it… […] [B]ut this business about Apple computer and especially about Chinese t-bill holdings ultimately makes me take a “trust but verify” attitude towards a book that I found both extremely enjoyable and intellectually inspirational…" and claimed that the review was a mendacious attack, a "delegitimization effort".

Gabriel Rossman, opening of his review of Debt: The First 5000 Years:

How the poor debtors still sell their daughters, How in the drought men still grow fat « Code and Culture: I recently read Graeber’s Debt: The First Five Thousand Years and found it to be very impressive and thought-provoking. As an indication of how impressed I was, I’ll just say that: I’ve recommended it to several people, I’m citing it in one of my next papers, I’m very seriously considering assigning it as a text when I prep econ soc sometime in the next couple years, and it inspired me to go back and read The Gift by Mauss and several journal articles…

David Graeber:

Seminar on Debt: The First 5000 Years – Reply — Crooked Timber: PART I: UNPLEASANT STUFF: DELEGITIMIZATION EFFORTS…. How does a strategy of de-legitimization proceed? Basically, the pattern seems to be this: 1. start not by addressing the author’s argument, but by challenging their authority to make one. 2. Proceed to either a. associating him with some other individual or group deemed similarly outside the bounds of respectable expression, and/or b. ignoring the intellectual tradition he is drawing on entirely, so as to suggest he is an isolated lunatic. 3. Finally, now that the reader has been prepared to expect the worst, present a wildly inaccurate version of the author’s argument, twisting it into something no reasonable person could possibly believe, and dismiss it as such.

Just to give a sense of how common this approach is, let me start … with a brief review… by Gabriel Rossman, a sociologist at UCLA…. [H]e appears to have made every one of these classic de-legitimization moves without being fully aware he was doing so.

Let’s examine how he does it. After beginning with some positive remarks about my critique of standard economics, he proceeds as follows: 1. challenge to authority: he trundles out the Apple passage, quoting it in full and saying it calls all my qualifications as a scholar into question 2. he then proceeds to a. Associate me with Noam Chomsky, who I never cite or mention, explaining that he, Gabriel Rossman, also had this sort of “paranoid” view until he grew up and learned something about economics b. Avoids associating me with Michael Hudson, the actual economist who I do cite and whose work I claim to be following, even though the sections he is critiquing are basically a summary and expansion on Hudson’s work 3. Now that the reader has been prepared to expect the worst, Rossman doesn’t even address my actual arguments, saying some of them are too ridiculous to even mention, except to note that I seem to think that the only reason other countries buy treasury bonds is fear of being blown up—a statement I obviously never made…. Rossman’s initial delegitimizing move was to find the only major error of fact in the entire book, one which has nothing to do with the actual matter at hand, so as to basically say nothing I say can be trusted. This move was extremely effective…