Anarchist Antiquities

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Writing in The Independent Review, Thomas J. Thompson speculates that India's ancient Harappan civilization was a stateless society.

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  1. I haven’t opened the PDF yet, but “purely voluntary government” sounds contradictory to me.

    Paging David Friedman!

  2. This seems a wishful interpretation at best. It seems founded more on the abscence than the presence of evidence.

  3. Selected against, was it?

  4. There were many socities in the New World that operated without a central government or a POLICE force. The reason that these cultures could exsist is because they placed great emphasis on personal integrity and honesty. Too bad that we don’t have have that today.

  5. sandman,

    They also didn’t include settlements large enough for people to be out of the reach of the authority of their families, tribes, or clans, or to have significant contact with strangers who could not avail themselves of that familial authority.

    Honor and shame are sufficient disciplinary tools to run a society, if the members of that society are only dealing with people who can harm their reputations if mistreated.

  6. joe, you have offended my belief systems. Shall we say pistols at dawn?

  7. Joe,

    You need to read some principle ( first person ) accounts of the the early contacts with native populations. also there were very large and organised societies in N & S america before european diseses decimated the native populations leaving an “uninhabited ” continent to settle

  8. sandman,

    I didn’t realize you were painting all Native American communities with the same brush when you wrote, “There were many socities in the New World that operated without a central government or a POLICE force.” Had I realized what a prejudiced, ignorant, stereotyping statement you were making, I would have called you on it. But I, apparently mistakenly, thought you were discuss the subset of Native American communities that operated with formal governments, and it was to this subset that I was referring.

    Yes, there were large and complex societies with city-sized settlements in the Americas. (Gee, you’d almost think I’d read a book or something.) These socieities had formal governments. There were also socieities that had no governments, and that relied on honor and shame. They did not have city-sized settlements, or peole frequently coming into contect with members of the same society with whom they were unfamiliar.

    So your race card, your assertion of my ignorance, and your facts, are all barking up the wrong tree.

  9. Pro, pistols at dawn was a test of honor when a pistol was likely to miss at ten paces. Today it would just be killing someone since any minimaly trained shooter can put a hole in your chest from twice that distance with a modern pistol. May I recommend sabers to first blood?

  10. Eryk, very well. May I suggest battle axes at ten paces?

  11. Any one who still believes in anarcho-capitalism after seeing what’s going on in Iraq is completely out of touch with reality. Hobbes was damn right about the state of Nature. There I said it.

  12. Answer me this, would you rather today live in the anarchy of Iraq (i.e. non-Kurdish Iraq) or the totalitarianism of North Korea? I’d probably answer Iraq but being tortured and murdered because of what family I’m from would suck. Then again, so would starving to death. Hmm..

  13. I’m still trying to make sense of Herrick’s question. I guess if you assume that anarchism will lead to civil war, it’s just a quick step to describing any civil war as anarchism, even if the territory in question is up to its neck in government.

  14. Answer me this, would you rather today live in the anarchy of Iraq (i.e. non-Kurdish Iraq) or the totalitarianism of North Korea?

    Um, I wouldn’t call 30 years of dictatorship, followed by a foriegn military occupation, as Anarchy.

    Perhaps,instead of defining Anarchy as the lack of centralized political control, you instead defined Anarchy as “violence and social disorder”, then you could argue that Iraq is “Anarchy”. However, claiming that violence and social disorder causes violence and social disorder is a bit of circular logic.

  15. RR

    The Aztec civilization was pretty clearly a dictatorship – a nasty one which committed mass murder on a scale not matched until the 20th century.

    The Mayan Civilization appears to have been a collection of city states with God-Kings and fairly well organized military.

    The concept of ‘police’ did not properly arise anywhere until late in the European Enlightenment, so it is anachronistic to look for it anywhere else. Any civilization that we know enough about to describe had a “guard” unit around the king or legal system of civil magistrates who had the power to enforce the laws of the community.

    We have no evidence for a non-state system of law and sanction for any civilization larger than a village.

    BTW: Why are we talking about North America? The Harappan civilization was in the Indian sub-continent.

  16. The Aztec civilization was pretty clearly a dictatorship – a nasty one which committed mass murder on a scale not matched until the 20th century.

    You are correct about the Aztecs and Mayans… however, I consider them Central American, not North American. I am talking about the Ojibwa, Seneca, Oneida, etc… the tribes of what is now modern day U.S. and Canada, in the places that were colonized by the English and French. I understand that Mexico is a part of NAFTA, and is technically North American, but in the context of pre-columbian civilization, Aztecs and Mayans were Central American.

    BTW: Why are we talking about North America? The Harappan civilization was in the Indian sub-continent.

    Because joe claimed that no successful society existed without a formal government. We know that many complex societies existed in pre-European North America that had highly developed culture, trade, a high standard of living (relative to many Europeans of the comparible era), who didn’t have a centralized formal government. Unfortunatly, they didn’t have metal, horses, or immunity to small pox, and so now we have to explain the differences between European states and North American tribes to people who think government=civilization.

  17. Joe, I didn’t realize that “many” really means “all” What dictionary do you use? Also where does our uniquely American idea of freedom and representative goverment really come from?
    Just try to imagine a society without dictators and police,and oppression. Can you imagine it?

    BTW what I had in mind was the mississippi valley. Geographically very similer to the area in the article.

    Thanks Rex Rhino for you insightful clarifications.

  18. Rex Rhino,

    “The large tribes of North America had…”

    The subject was not “North America,” but “the New World/the Americas.” But thanks for playing.

    “But in joe’s mind, anyone who claims that Native Americans didn’t have a centrally-planned dictatorship of the proletariet…”

    Zzzzzzz….

  19. I love it when someone who can’t base a good argument on reasoned thinking and facts has to resort to name calling, personal attacks and semantics.
    BTW these type of societies exsisted in South America too.

  20. FWIW: Pre-European native american civilization with a planned urban center (the old new urbanism?), massive public works-type projects, monopoly over territory, dictator style government with the ability to kill at will right in the american midwest.

    http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/northamerica/cahokia.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia

  21. Rex Rhini wrote, “Because joe claimed that no successful society existed without a formal government.” No, I didn’t. I stated that no societies in the Americas had cities, and frequent contact among society-members who did not know each other, without a formal government. If you interpret a statement judging the success of those societies in my statements, that’s your own ethnocentrism talking. I’m sure they were very successful by the standards that mattered to them.

    sandman, “Joe, I didn’t realize that “many” really means “all”‘ I haven’t the foggiest idea what this is supposed to mean. I get the feeling we’re misunderstanding each other the breadth of each other’s statements.

    “Also where does our uniquely American idea of freedom and representative goverment really come from?” A lot of different places. Athens, Rome, Massachusetts, London…We really are quite a group of mutts, no? As for your implication that it is derived from Native American cultures, I’m unconvinced, but willing to listen.

    “Just try to imagine a society without dictators and police,and oppression. Can you imagine it?” I can imagine a society whose economy is limited to subsistence farming and trade in raw materials/craft goods, whose size limits the existence of strangers, having no police, dictators, or oppression. For a while, until another society with greater economic and technological power invades.

  22. I do believe that the Pueblo cultures of New Mexico were closer to governed than anachistic societies in the European sense. They were classified by the Spanish crown as “civilized indians” and given status as full citizens of Spain due to the high degree of social order recognizable to the first Europeans to interact with them.

    Any blanket statement about this issue will miss out on the variation between groups prior to European contact.

    Certainly every school child knows that the basic system of governance designed by the founding fathers is patterned significantly after the Iroquois Federation, a pre-European agreement between nations. And one that requires, at least to a degree, a sense of “the state” that would be recognized by Europeans of the same time.

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