Society Without Government

A 20th-century example


Nearly all the economic unrest and human misery today is traceable to more than a hundred sovereign states scattered over the earth. Each state has its own system of government, its own army, its own artificial boundaries and custom barriers, its own currency, its own import and export policy and its own immigration laws. Each state tries to keep out the goods from other states. This leads to conflict and wars. Government interference with trade and the creative activities of individuals cannot lead to economic prosperity and a peaceful social order, free from crime and violence.

Formal governments have conditioned the minds of the masses through clever propaganda. People are made to believe that a society without policemen, law courts, and jails would lead to violence and anarchy. Many intellectuals today think that mankind can never survive without formal government. To them, this idea is purely utopian.


A number of eminent lawyers have asked me to explain how contractual agreements could be honored in the absence of formal government and a law-enforcement agency. How would private property be protected and property boundaries fixed? How would all sorts of disputes be settled? How would such a free society deal with mob rule, an endless series of private feuds and vendettas, if the retaliatory use of force were left in the hands of individual citizens? How could roads and other facilities of common use be built in the absence of taxes?


Not very far from where I live are the Pakhtun tribesmen—the principal tribes being the Mohmands, Waziris, Masudis, and Afridis. They live an organized and peaceful life in the absence of formal government. These tribes are geographically sandwiched between countries having formal governments, countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The home of the Pakhtun tribesmen is on the crossroads of Central Asia, and mighty invaders and fortune seekers have marched through this territory to the rich plains of Hindustan in search of gold and treasures. The territory occupied by the Pakhtun is a narrow strip of land, approximately 35,000 square miles. In this area live ten million Pakhtun. In earlier days, none of the invaders dared to attempt to subjugate these people. On the contrary, they paid tribute before crossing the tribal belt. Alexander of Macedonia paid. So did Mahmud of Ghazni, Babur the Mughal, and many others. The British conquered the whole of the Hindustan sub-continent, but left the Pakhtuns alone.

Why did these military adventurers and fortune seekers ignore the land of the Pakhtuns, especially since it is rich in mineral wealth, including fabulous emeralds, rubies, and sapphires? The answer is readily seen. The Pakhtuns believe that political institutions and formal governments are a hoax. They believe that a government's main objective is to gain control over the lives of others for economic exploitation. Hence, any military adventurer would have endless trouble if he attempted to rule over a people who simply refuse to submit to political authority.

The Pakhtuns don't believe in any form of taxation, and don't have any tax records. Imagine the predicament of an invader faced with this situation. The would-be conqueror would find the area a liability, for how could a hold over these people be maintained in the absence of taxes? How would he deal with the Pakhtuns when each man is a born soldier armed to the teeth? Imagine the fate of a tax collector who went to these people from door to door demanding taxes. He would be looked upon either as a lunatic let loose from a mad house, or a daylight robber. The Pakhtuns have never lived under any formal government within historical times.


Although the Pakhtuns have managed to protect themselves against government tyranny, they are, unfortunately, slaves of some outdated and antiquated social customs and traditions which conflict with intellectual liberty. For example, a youth generally doesn't even see the girl he is to marry. Marriages are usually arranged by the parents, sometimes long before the boy or girl has reached puberty. Once married, the Pakhtun has to live with his wife whether he likes her or not. Divorce is frowned upon as something unthinkable and shameful. It is ironic that the world's freest people are the slaves of their own traditions and private practices, and deny themselves freedom of choice in one of the most vital areas of life, sex.

The Pakhtun tribal society is not an ideal society and is not totally free. There are a number of practices in the Pakhtun tribal society which could be seriously questioned. Their major advantage is their individual liberty. They have avoided the tyranny of government.


Compare the life of an average Pakhtun with the life of a fellow human being living under formal government. For convenience, we shall name the Pakhtun living in the tribal area Azad Khan; the other we shall call Ghulam Khan.

Azad Khan (if he so desires) can drink liquor or distill it without any permit or license. He can also smoke marijuana or eat opium; he can cultivate and stockpile these items without obtaining a license from anybody. He can grow any crop; he can set up any business without challenge. He can keep gold; he can maintain a gun without any license. He need fear no policeman, for there are none. He needn't fear jail, for there are no prisons. He can talk about anything. He can write anything. There is no censorship. He doesn't have to bribe any bureaucrat for favors. He controls himself and is responsible for his own actions; he will reap as he sows. If he makes a mistake in business, only he suffers. Others are not required to pay for his folly or miscalculation. He is not subservient to government regulations, ordinances, or statutes, framed by ambitious politicians and bureaucrats. Nobody dares confiscate his property or land. He doesn't have to worry about taxes. There isn't a single tax in his home land. He can do anything he likes except injure another; nor can he obtain a monopoly or enjoy special privileges. These evils arise only under formal governments. Indeed, Azad Khan walks like a lion over the earth, with his shoulders thrown back, unburdened by governmental restrictions and tyranny.


In contrast, Ghulam Khan, living under formal government, is physically, morally, and intellectually a poor specimen. He is born by permission and lives by toleration. He is a coward generally. He is terrorized by the police and prisons. He can't engage in business or organize an industry without a license. He doesn't have the right to pay his labor what he thinks is just, nor can he decide how many hours an employee must work. Bureaucrats make all these decisions.

He can't write what he believes to be true. He has no freedom of speech. His letters are censored. Intelligence operatives follow his every move should they suspect him of being a threat to the engine of tyranny, the government. He isn't allowed to make his financial position secure by saving gold. He must be satisfied with paper money, and its purchasing power diminishes with inflation. He is crushed under a growing burden of taxes; the more those in political power waste it, the more he is required to replenish the state exchequer.

Every year new legislation, ordinances, and statutes are framed, depending on the whims and moods of those in political power. If a politician declares war, Ghulam Khan is required to pay for all the hostilities whether he likes it or not. But he is never consulted before such costly and destructive projects are launched.

Ghulam Khan is even required to pay for his own enslavement. This he does by paying more and more taxes for maintaining a tyrannical police force and army. He dare not keep a gun for his own defense without a license. If he kills another individual, he is imprisoned and treated as a murderer. But if the army, whose equipment Ghulam Khan has financed, kills millions of human beings, each soldier is considered heroic.

Every year Ghulam Khan is required to pay more and more for the protection of his life and property, yet each year he finds life becoming less secure and his property is increasingly threatened by governmental intrusions. Should Ghulam Khan die tomorrow, he would even be taxed after his death—there is an exaction on property called "death duty." Ghulam Khan's life from birth to death is a nightmare.


Pakhtun law is based on local traditions, customs, and the Koran. Disputes are settled through the jirga (a meeting of tribal elders). At the village level there is usually a jirga of four members—two representing each party to the dispute—and a fifth is elected by the four. He is called mashar or senior, and both parties have confidence in his impartiality. He has the right to cast a deciding vote. This arrangement involves no legal expenses, nor do cases drag on for years as in formal courts. No police force is required to enforce the decision of the jirga, for according to tribal custom all parties must respect the decision of those voluntarily chosen to decide disputes. Expulsion or ostracism provides social discipline—and nobody can afford to be expelled from such a social order.

Next, there is the illagai jirga (or district jirga), which decides matters dealing with a whole district. Finally, the loi jirga, or big jirga, handles inter-tribal affairs: representatives of all the tribes participate once a year and decide complicated cases; most of the members are alim-i-deen, or theologians.


In case of murder, the tribal institution of badal (retribution) automatically comes into play, and this acts as a marvelous check on crime. If anyone does murder, he does so for very strong reasons. There is one murder in the tribal belt for every 100 in areas having formal governments. Hindus, Moslems, and Sikhs, for instance, have always lived in peace in tribal society, while they are the deadliest of enemies, butchering one another, under formal governments.

It is generally believed that once a murder occurs in the tribal belt, this would be followed by feuds and vendettas. Endless retaliation occurs among the Pakhtuns living under formal governments, but never among the tribal Pakhtuns. For instance, if Ajab Khan murders Bahadur Khan, then Bahadur's nearest relative avenges his (Bahadur's) murder. Once retributory action has been taken (which, of course, has no formal sanction), both parties are required thereafter to forego a feud or vendetta, failing which they would be asked to pay a heavy penalty to the qaumi khazana or tribal fund; but no Pakhtun would be compelled to make that payment. Anyone who refuses to pay simply forfeits the good will of the tribe and would find that other tribesmen would not come to his defense if he were attacked. If he faced a danger, the tribe would not interfere for they would assume that he had voluntarily refused to pay for what protection he could afford. If payment is made, it is made in cash or in produce. The size of the payment is adjudged as adequate in relation to the means of the individual involved. Those who have no property need not pay at all. No one is ever imprisoned for nonpayment as there are no jails in the tribal belt.

The inter-tribal feud, where fire is exchanged on both sides, is halted through the tribal institution of tiga or truce. Not a shot is fired thereafter—so unlike the cease-fires under formal governments which are violated repeatedly.

Various practical measures are adopted to prevent feuds. One is a ceremony called kana. The elders of the tribe bury a stone (kana) and thereafter no one will dare to commit a murder nor indulge in a blood feud so long as the stone remains buried. The tribesmen have great respect for this custom, which appeals to the conscience of each individual.


How secure is private property in Pakhtun society? For centuries the Pakhtuns have been land owners. Nobody dares grab another's land in Pakhtun society, for everybody knows his land boundaries; and if he forgets, his neighbors know. Disputes, if any, are quickly settled through the tribal institution of jirga (meeting of tribal elders). Such a society is only possible if there is complete respect for one another's property, and no insult is greater to a Pakhtun than being deprived of his land, gun, or wife.

Life, honor, and property are more safe in the tribal area than anywhere else on earth. Property isn't safe even in the USA, for every year the government seizes an average of 1.7 million acres of land from private individuals under one pretext or another. In most countries, governments have been confiscating private lands under the cover of "land reforms." But take an inch of land from a Pakhtun and see what happens. The Pakhtuns believe that human freedom is interlinked with property ownership.


Hospitality is a major factor in Pakhtun life and the customs relating to it are universally supported. Anyone coming into the area, even if he is fleeing powerful enemies, will be treated like an honored guest if he manages to be invited into a home. The rule of hospitality is carried to such an extreme that if a murderer enters the home of the very man he has murdered, he is treated as an honored guest so long as he remains under that roof.

In the recent past the Pakhtuns have been accused of maintaining a "lawless society," of kidnapping school children and demanding ransom from the parents, of stealing scooters and automobiles and then fleeing into their territory, thus escaping "the long arm of the law."


Pakhtuns are accused of being against progress because they will not allow government men to build roads, schools, or hospitals. They fear these actions by government, believing they will lead to political intrigue. At one time, and in violation of the wishes of the tribespeople, the British used this territory for training military men and generals. The result was a continuous conflict. In order to deal with the problem, the British appointed bureaucrats known as "political agents" whose task was to bribe the chiefs of the various tribes, or to play one off against the other, in order to cause them to seek protection from formal government. This practice is continuing to date.

The more nearly one comes to the center of the Pakhtun strip, the more peaceful life becomes. Nearly all of the conflicts arise in the areas next to formally maintained political boundaries. One of the reasons for this relates to an unwritten tribal custom. Any person fleeing government from either direction is given full tribal hospitality and will not be surrendered to the political authorities. This leads to constant friction in the border areas, and to considerable contentment as one moves away from the borders.

Some politicians are now demanding that the Pakhtun tribal areas be merged with existing states under formal government control in order to put an end to this "lawless society." It doesn't occur to them that kidnapping, theft, and robbery are carried on by criminals living under formal governments and in connivance with the local police. The criminals within the organized states perform their crimes and then seek refuge in the tribal belt.


If Pakhtun society without formal government is good, then why are the Pakhtuns economically backward? Obviously, because they are encircled by a tight ring of custom barriers, check posts, and armed guards. The only way a Pakhtun can carry his goods to markets where they are in demand is through smuggling. If government restrictions at the borders were removed, it would be reasonable to predict a rise in the standard of living. By western standards, the lot of the Pakhtun is poor, but nonetheless his standards are higher than those of neighboring people.

How do the Pakhtuns deal with matters of common interest such as road building and irrigation in the absence of formal government? The answer is simple: through voluntary contributions to the qaumi khazana or tribal fund.


A great part of mankind is still superstitious. Many believe the myth that formal government is the best agency to protect individual rights and provide security. I have often wondered what people mean by "security," for during the past 5,000 years of human history, formal governments have been responsible for at least 1,500 wars—that is to say, an average of almost one war every three years! During the First World War some 20,000,000 human beings were killed; during the Second World War, some 50,000,000. Today, governments can wipe out more than 300,000,000 people on three continents within less than sixty minutes. According to a 1962 report, governments spend $117,000,000,000 on armaments every year. This is the amount government spends to defend men from other men. This amount is extracted by force from peaceful citizens in the name of taxation. Do these figures justify the existence of governments? Do these figures make it plain enough why the Pakhtuns hate taxation? Do these figures explain why the Pakhtuns hate formal government?

Some political theorists downgrade monarchy and dictatorship and maintain that the answer is found in a democratic or republican form of government. Others talk about one-world government to insure freedom and peace.

I have lived under every conceivable form of government. I have lived under a maharajah. I have lived under a dictator. I have lived under a republican form of government as well as a democracy. I have even lived under a theocracy, but one thread runs through them all. It is the denial of freedom through the economic exploitation of the individual. How right philosopher Voltaire was when he said: "What difference does it make to a poor man whether he is devoured by a lion or by a hundred rats."

Aslam Effendi is an advertising consultant, polemicist and publicist living in Pakistan. He writes for a broad spectrum of journals and newspapers. A student of Robert LeFevre, his peace campaigns have been praised by philosopher Bertrand Russell and Nobel Prize Winner Sir Norman Angell. His great great grandfather is generally considered by historians as the second greatest hero in Pakhtun history after Emperor Ahmad Shah Durrani.