Anarchy in the PA

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Murray Rothbard's account of Colonial Pennsylvania's brush with anarchism, taken from his book Conceived in Liberty, is now online.

My favorite part:

John Blackwell's initial reception as deputy governor was an omen of things to come. Sending word ahead for someone to meet him upon his arrival in New York, he landed there only to find no one to receive him. After waiting in vain for three days, Blackwell went alone to New Jersey. When he arrived at Philadelphia on December 17, he found no escort, no parade, no reception committee. [He] couldn't find the Council or any other government officials–and this was after he had ordered the Council to meet upon his arrival. One surly escort appeared and he refused to speak to the new governor. And when Blackwell arrived at the empty Council room, a group of boys from the neighborhood gathered around to hoot and jeer.

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  1. Ha, ha!

  2. That’s funny…just read that before I came here. Great read.

  3. Maybe this would still work today…

  4. So, no one at all was enforcing those (literally) Puritanical laws against alchohol, performing plays, etc?

  5. Maybe this would still work today…

    The hooting, jeering and ignoring of a newly installed official? Worth a shot. Let’s do it at the next presidential inauguration. The last several elections have been so divisive, we may be headed that way anyway.

    So, no one at all was enforcing those (literally) Puritanical laws against alchohol, performing plays, etc?

    I don’t know, and I haven’t read the whole article yet, but maybe the laws were enforced not by “no one at all” but by “almost everybody else.” Anarchic groups can have some pretty rigid taboos even though they have no designated body to enforce them. The general populace can discourage unpopular behavior through “diffuse sanctions” — basically, almost everybody shuns the lawbreaker, refuses transactions, spreads “true negative gossip” about him, etc. (As long as no actual violence, theft or fraud is involved, and the offender isn’t prevented from saying, “Screw you, I’ll go my own way and do my own thing and provide for my own needs” it’s still libertarian.)

    I dunno if that’s how it actually went down in anarcho-Puritan Pennsylvania; it’s just a thought.

  6. As a resident of Pennsylvania I am trying to keep up this grand tradition by doing my best to ignore Ed Rendell.

  7. I’m a fairly consistent reader of early US history, so allow me to add, regarding Pennsylvania, how the German community effectively told Ben Franklin to take a flying leap when Ben proposed free education to little Hans und Franz Katzenjammer (I’d need to do intense digging to cite quotations.)

    The book I’m currently reading is about Gouverneur Morris. He was like a fly on the wall at many interesting moments… sort of like Forrest Gump with a stump. How many here have heard of a meeting in Hartford, CT, in December of 1814 to lay the groundwork for a possible secession of New England states?

    And how ’bout that Jimmy Madison? Was he on opium, and was that a factor in “Little Jimmy’s” War of 1812?

  8. Jesus Christ,zealots can read so much into the smallest incident.

  9. “How many here have heard of a meeting in Hartford, CT, in December of 1814 to lay the groundwork for a possible secession of New England states?”

    I have Ruthless, but I don’t really know the details. Got any suggested reading material on it?

  10. There is only one way for a people to live — and that is the way of mine own tribe.

    All else is fantasy.

    Unless actual counter-examples exist. In which case, the proper thing to do is to ignore them.

    There is a word for a man who actually considers other ways of living, other points of view. That word, obviously, is “zealot.”

    Return to your caves, foolish dreamers. I have spoken.

  11. the passage represents rothbards career pretty nicely as well

  12. Interesting. It somewhat parallels the resistance to royal authority in Massachusetts between 1643-1684; wealthly Puritan merchants paid no taxes or allegiance to England, and even claimed a certain sovereignty. The Puritans played the game of “Hide the Great Seal” too, and refused to recognize the validity of the king’s legal orders restraining them.

    Apparently, the royal state, instead of using force, simply threatened to revoke the trading licenses of the Mass. Bay merchant princes under the Navigation Acts, potentially turning them from men of stature to smugglers overnight. That was the end of Puritan defiance.

  13. Bummer, I thought this article was about the Palestinian Authority. It has been said that there is anarchy there.

  14. I dunno if that’s how it actually went down in anarcho-Puritan Pennsylvania; it’s just a thought.

    Dunno, Stevo. I’ve just haven’t yet seen a society claimed to be a functional anarchy without there being some group glossed over by the anarcho-folks employing force in a more-or-less organized way to keep things in acceptable bounds, as they see them.

  15. matt,
    Suggested reading:
    A good place to start is this book about Morris, “Gentleman Revolutionary,” by Richard Brookhiser.
    Brookhiser is a good and accurate summarizer. This whole, book, BTW, is only 251 pp.
    For the part about New England seceeding, read Chapter 15, “Revolution Deferred.”

  16. If you havn’t done so, go ahead and read the passage.
    Rothbard makes it clear the Pennsylvania government (including the counties) wasn’t able to function as a real government at the time (couldn’t collect taxes, etc.). That’s anarchy, but I’m sure authority still existed. Though admitting it is taboo, women, children, apprentices and indentured servants were slaves.
    Still, resistance to government is something to be admired in an era when Americans believe what they hear on the news, sympathize with police who riot against protesters, and accept whatever alleged reasons politicians give for violating civil liberties.

  17. Thanks Ruthless. I’ll have to check in out sometime.

  18. Mr. Bobo,
    Thanks for nagging and shaming me into actually reading the piece.
    My comment is that Pennsylvania explains a lot about the mentality of Americans.
    Americans were gnarly or they wouldn’t have made the passage. My own ancestors came through Pennsylvania.
    The Atlantic Ocean and the lure of Pennsylvania have made US citizens among the most rootin’-tootin’ freedom-loving sons of guns in the world. Otherwise known as hillbillies.
    Trouble is hillbillies are easily confused and just as likely to form a mob (KKK) as the next doofus.
    We need an atheist Billy Graham to drill into us what freedom–no shit–means.
    Lee Greenwood should be tarred and feathered.

  19. “We need an atheist Billy Graham to drill into us what freedom–no shit–means.”

    I’d volunteer, but I’d look bad in the cheap, pastel, polyester suits and ruddy make-up that are standard issue for evangelists.

  20. The general populace can discourage unpopular behavior through “diffuse sanctions” — basically, almost everybody shuns the lawbreaker, refuses transactions, spreads “true negative gossip” about him, etc. (As long as no actual violence, theft or fraud is involved, and the offender isn’t prevented from saying, “Screw you, I’ll go my own way and do my own thing and provide for my own needs” it’s still libertarian.)

    Stevo-

    Come on Stevo, what you describe above is a Jim Crowe regime run by the town gossips, prudes, hypocrites, and busybodies. I’m always astounded by the wackos who say “lets bring back that quaint, nifty Menonite ‘shunning’ thing.” Yeah – what a remarkably enlightened truth and justice seeking society: piss off the wrong self-important busybody a-hole and they do their best to ruin your life without any meaningful truth-seeking process.

    It may sound like a good idea to some that don’t have a thorough knowledge of human nature, but when it was done to you because you (1) rejected the wrong man’s daughter and he (or she) spread lies about it, or (2) because you weren’t fawning on the neighborhood gossip enough, I think you would reconsider. (Of course it would be too late because you would be destroyed already and since there’s no truthseeking process few would realize that you were innocent.)

    I can think of few things that are more anti-libertarian. What’s the “archy” name for that? Busybody-archy? Towngossip-archy? Dimwitted-that-can’t-leave-other-people-alone-archy? Hypocrite-archy? Neighborhood-prude-and-prissypants-archy?

  21. The problem of “small town-style oppression” is discussed a bit in Harold Barclay’s People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy and it is a potential problem.

    It’s mitigated a bit by the fact that if someone is an excessive busybody, liar, dumbass, etc., then that fact will generally become widely known and discounted — especially if everyone is free to speak out against him. If the town busybody, liar and dumbass is also the mayor, police chief, then you’ve got a real problem.

    I’m glad you mentioned Jim Crow — not a product of anarchy, but of state laws. Thomas Sowell documents streetcar operators who tried to ignore laws about who has to sit where, not necessarily because they operators weren’t racists, but because they fear offending their black customers — whose money was the same color as anyone else’s, and who could organize boycotts. Eventually the operators knuckled under when they were fined by the government. A lawmaker can more readily force people to offend their customers without paying the price himself.

    Even in a state, you can still have liars, busybodies and dumbasses — and some of them will be cops and government officials.

    The thing is, just about every potential abuse and fault you might worry about in an anarchy also can take place in a state-run society — only in the state-run society, the potential for harm is actually greater, because the state has more inequalities and more insulation from market feedback than a capitalist anarchy.

  22. The thing is, just about every potential abuse and fault you might worry about in an anarchy also can take place in a state-run society — only in the state-run society, the potential for harm is actually greater, because the state has more inequalities and more insulation from market feedback than a capitalist anarchy.

    I don’t know about that. If abuses take place are they more likely to be uncovered in an anarchist or state run system? (I’m assuming you’re going to argue that the anarchist system is – how?) Are the anarchist arbitration schemes adequate to uncover and remedy these types of things, especially in a small town where certain factions may have disproportionate official and unofficial influence?

  23. I’m afraid I don’t understand. Certain factions can have disproportionate influence in a statist society as easily as an narchist one — more so, actually, because the decision-makers you have to bribe/threaten/mislead to get your way are fewer and more concentrated, whereas they are more dispersed and diverse in an anarchy.

    If it comes to uncovering wrongdoing, remember that organizations providing services as monopolies in a statist society will have competitors in an anarchist society. They’ll have to compete, in part, on the basis of their good name and word of mouth from the people they deal with.

    If you’re asking, “What if they KKK gains undue influence in one of the security agencies,” there is the same threat that they could gain undue influence in a monopoly gov’t police force … or the mayor’s office, or the town council.

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