Anarchism

Anarchy! Anarchy on the High Seas!

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They're arguing about anarchy this month at Cato Unbound, with Peter Leeson sticking up for statelessness in an essay that ranges from pre-colonial Angola to modern Somalia to the golden age of piracy. In the responses posted so far, Bruce Benson ponders why anarchism isn't as common as he and Leeson would like, while Dani Rodrik bites the bullet and defends the state. Still to weigh in: Randall Holcombe.

Bonus link: William Burroughs' vision of an alternate history fueled by libertarian pirate utopias in his foreword to Cities of the Red Night.

NEXT: Protecting Us to Death

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  1. I’m all for anarchy on the high seas. Where else am I going to see a monkey knife fight?

  2. Interestingly enough, these “golden age” pirates were created by the Government, hiring them as privateers during wartime, then discarding them when they have no more use.

    What do you think happens when you fire grungy, violent, lawless, trained killers? They aren’t going to go work as greeters at WalMart!

  3. YARGH! I work in the shipping department, sending stuff FedEX.

  4. Taktix

    What do you think happens when you fire grungy, violent, lawless, trained killers? They aren’t going to go work as greeters at WalMart!

    We should offer modern day pirates trade adjustment assistance so they can get stable jobs at WalMart!

  5. RON PAUL is not an anarchist.

  6. Bruce Benson ponders why anarchism isn’t as common as he and Leeson would like

    That’s because anarchy isn’t a workable system. While it looks nice in theory, it doesn’t work in practice but for the smallest of social groups. What happens when the anarcho-socialist squatter meets the anarcho-capitalist landlord? Their dilemma cannot be resolved without one or the other coercing the other.

    Minarchy is the better solution. Get government small enough that no one notices it anymore, but large enough to prevent actual anarchy.

  7. If only we were more like Somalia…

  8. Any one who thinks that anarchy is a good idea, should read The Godfather. The Scilian Mafia arose because the local population hated the government and didn’t trust anyone. Beyond the ability to round people up and shoot people, the government had no real power in Sicily. You couldn’t enforce the laws because the law of Omerta prevented anyone for cooperating with the authorities so you never had any witnesses. The result was that people needed protection from those who were stonger and more violent than they were. They created the mafia and the mafia bosses to protect themselves. Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame once described the Scilian Mafia as “a police department for people who can’t go to the cops”. If there are no cops, then people form their own organizations to act as cops. That may sound great except that in a world like that, ones power is based totally on ones ability to do violence on others. It becomes a world ruled by killers for the benifit of killers.

  9. Beyond the ability to round people up and shoot people, the government had no real power in Sicily.

    Uhhhh… yeah. *blink

  10. Don’t pirates prevent global warming?

  11. But Warren you can’t just shoot everyone. A government to be effective needs to be able to have the cooperation of the populace. They didn’t have it in Sicily so a shadow government arose.

  12. “That’s because anarchy isn’t a workable system. While it looks nice in theory, it doesn’t work in practice but for the smallest of social groups. What happens when the anarcho-socialist squatter meets the anarcho-capitalist landlord?”

    Look, man: when you’re talking about two categorically different concepts — as is manifestly evident in your third sentence — you only look foolish when you try to bag them up as one, like you did in the first sentence.

  13. The Google ads on this thread have links to cool pirate gear, as I would expect. But the Google ads on the porn treads from earlier today only have links to adult content blocking software.

    The google adbot is making some curious assumptions about H&R readers.

  14. Leeson defends anarchy as an alternative to government…by holding up pirates as his ideal?
    What. The. Fuck?

  15. Mention Anarchy and 9 out of 10 libertarians turn into raving Statists.

  16. John: Not only read The Godfather, but read Diego Gambetta’s _The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection_. Add to that David Friedman’s _The Machinery of Freedom_, 2nd ed., Ian Lambot and Greg Girard’s _City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City_, and Robert Neuwirth’s _Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World_. And a viewing of all three seasons of Deadwood, and a look at Somalia.

    Our examples of anarchy in the cracks between government jurisdictions, places where governments look the other way, or where they just refuse to get involved often have some very harsh negatives, but they also seem quite appealing in many ways, especially when they result in innovative peaceful methods of conflict resolution. Somalia demonstrates that competitive (yet cooperatively interconnecting) telecom flourishes in the absence of regulation, though medical care doesn’t seem to do so well.

    Gambetta’s book shows that a display of ruthless violence seems to be an essential part of Mafia operation–but it may take only one such display for a given head of a family, and he can simply rely on his established reputation to operate without further violence. Government seems to work the same way–they like to make examples out of a few high profile prosecutions for deterrence, while other offenders are often allowed to continue without being disturbed.

  17. What happens when the anarcho-socialist squatter meets the anarcho-capitalist landlord? Their dilemma cannot be resolved without one or the other coercing the other.

    And…?

    That’s your argument against anarchy?

    What happens in a minarchy when the anarcho-socialist squatter meets the anarcho-capitalist landlord? What gives the minarchist government the power to magically resolve this dilemma without using coercion?

  18. Look, man: when you’re talking about two categorically different concepts — as is manifestly evident in your third sentence — you only look foolish when you try to bag them up as one, like you did in the first sentence.

    Both the anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists believe in zero government. That’s why they’re called “anarchists”. However, they have wildly divergent views on whether property is a natural right or government granted privilege. When you eliminate government, that ideological disagreement still remains. Both flavors of anarchists require general acceptance of their ideology.

  19. “Both the anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists believe in zero government.”

    And which of the two could actually achieve his goals without the unilateral application of force?

    If you can get to the answer to that question, then you will have a decent chance of understand the delusions of the socialists. If you’re taking their protestations at face-value, then you’re just as fucking stupid as they are.

  20. Mention that Anarchy is the root philosophical concept behind both libertarianism and communism and you will get angry looks from 9 out of 10 people on both sides of the room.

  21. Billy Beck,

    And which of the two could actually achieve his goals without the unilateral application of force?

    Ooh Ooh. Pick me!

    Neither.

    Whew.

  22. What happens in a minarchy when the anarcho-socialist squatter meets the anarcho-capitalist landlord? What gives the minarchist government the power to magically resolve this dilemma without using coercion?

    My argument is that coercion is a given. The benefit of a minarchist society is that at least you’re being honest about it. Maybe in the distant future we’ll advance enough to have a workable anarchist society, but modern man is currently unable to coexist in large groups without some form of coercion. Whether that coercion comes from a “government”, a “mafia”, or the “Rothbard’s Landord Protection Posse” is irrelevant.

  23. Leeson translated for pirates

    A sea dog says ‘t this way:
    One o’ th’ most strikin’ examples o’ this comes from 17th an’ 18th-century swashbucklers.[9] In many ways swashbuckler ships be like floatin’ societies.[10] An’, like other societies, swashbuckler ships conforeed problems o’ theft o’ cheatin’. Since they be outlaws, swashbucklers did nay enjoy state protection. Government did nay enforce employment agreements between swashbucklers or other piratical “contracts,” nor did ‘t prevent or keel haul theft between swashbucklers, etc.

    Notably, th’ anarchic environment that maritime bandits operated in did nay lead them t’ simply throw up the’r hands an’ abandon th’ idee o’ the’r criminal enterprise. On th’ contrary, th’ prospect o’ mutual gains from organizin’ this enterprise provided swashbucklers wi’ th’ incentive t’ find private ways o’ securin’ cooperation an’ order.

    E’en by modern standards th’ institutions swashbucklers devised fer this purpose be remarkably sophisticated. Buccanneers created one o’ th’ earliest forms o’ written constitutions they called the’r “articles, which codified many o’ th’ rules that governed the’r ships, as well as punishments fer rule breakers. These included rules specifyin’ th’ division o’ booty, “laws” against theft, an’ e’en workman’s compensation insurance t’ support crew members injured in battle.

    T’ apply punishments an’ resolve disputes between crew members, swashbucklers created an office called th’ “quartermaster.” Crew members controlled quartermasters both through the’r articles, which prescribed th’ “laws” quartermasters could apply, an’ by democratically electin’ crew members t’ this office.
    Ya bilge rat!

  24. ‘Course being pirates, the articles was really more of a guide…

    Oh you get it.

    Seems like even the pirates had a government.

  25. My argument is that coercion is a given. The benefit of a minarchist society is that at least you’re being honest about it.

    Okay. Coercion is a given in an anarchy.

    Honest enough for you?

    The main difference between minarchy and anarchy is that socially legitimized coercion is a monopoly in the former.

    Anarchy may or may not be workable, but its workability relies on cultural and social maturity and the flexibility of markets never before tried. Its workability does not rely on any disagreement between anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists.

  26. Arrr — it’s driving me nuts!

  27. What happens when the anarcho-socialist squatter meets the anarcho-capitalist landlord? Their dilemma cannot be resolved without one or the other coercing the other.

    What is this comment trying to prove or imply?

    ACs are not against the use of force or coercion in all situations. They’re against the unconsented-to initiation of such. Any retaliatory action taken by the AC would not, by definition, violate his principles.

  28. Hey, how come Andrew gets to get up? If he gets up, we’ll all get up, it’ll be anarchy!

  29. Brandybuck,

    Could you define what you mean by “coercion”? Is an agreement between two people “coercive”?

  30. Dani Rodrik says: “One of the findings from Elinor Ostrom’s extensive case studies is that self-enforcing arrangements to manage the “commons” work well only when the geographic scope of the activity is clearly delimited and membership is fixed. It is easy to understand why. Cooperation under “anarchy” is based on reciprocity, which in turn requires observability. I need to be able to observe whether you are behaving according to the rules, and if not, I have to be able to sanction you. When the size of the in-group becomes large and mobility allows opportunistic behavior to go unpunished, it becomes difficult to maintain cooperation. Imagine that the pirates numbered in the millions and they could easily jump ship to join competing groups mid-voyage; would the arrangements Leeson describes have been sustainable?”

    I don’t think geographic limitation is a requirement; consider Wikipedia (which meets an “observability” requirement, since all changes are logged).

    I wonder if there are any counter-examples from the activities of online criminal gangs.

  31. Coercion: the subversion of a will of another, by force, threat, or fraud. Two people agreeing is not coercion. But one person forcing another to agree is. An example is the Rothbard Ranch trying to get the neighboring villagers to agreei to his property boundaries. If he can’t get each and every villager to sign of on his deed, then his only resort to prevent trespass by non-signers is force or the threat of force.

  32. An example is the Rothbard Ranch trying to get the neighboring villagers to agreei to his property boundaries. If he can’t get each and every villager to sign of on his deed, then his only resort to prevent trespass by non-signers is force or the threat of force.

    Another example is the state trying to get the neighboring villagers to agree to the property boundaries of the Rothbard Ranch. If it can’t get each and every villager to sign off on the deed, then its only resort to prevent trespass by non-signers is force or the threat of force.

    Oh, I forget. The state usually doesn’t even feel obligated to try to get agreement.

  33. And what’s your problem with coercion in that context?

  34. The difference between anarchy and minarchy is NOT that one is upfront about coercion…or that
    it only works in very local communities…or that
    it only works for outlaws like pirates.

    The difference is that instead of an entity that is characterized as having a monopoly of the so called legitimate use of force over a geographical area, and supported by compulsory taxatation there is something quite different.

    A regime where physical geography is subsidiary to individual contract, including contract for justice and defense.

    Somalia is not yet an anarchy, by the way, mainly because the different clans do not sell property to members of the other clans, and while it is very easy to start a sub clan, it is very hard to change from one major clan to another. Somalia is an excellent example of a KRITARCHY, however, in its peaceful sub regeions of Somaliland and Puntaland. It is judge made law, without a legislature of any kind…

  35. Although most of us have been brought up with the history of kings, emporers, pharaohs, and dictators, and have had Republics and Democracies put up as the major alternative to those, there have existed in some forms over some more than simple aboriginal societies for some considerable lengths of time anarchies or near anarchies (kritarchies) that did quite well.

  36. Hey, quick question.

    What is it that enforces laws and agreements between nations?

    Is it our mighty Central World Government?

    Or can laws and agreements be enforced by other means?

    There are wars aplenty in this world of ours. But if I am not mistaken, most wars these days are civil wars … not occuring within the anarchy that exists among nations … but instead occuring within regions where a government had been established to preserve peace and the rule of law through a regrettable, but of course oh-so-necessary, monopoly of force.

    How can this be?

    Related questions:

    In an anarchy, what prevents one warlord from becoming tyrant of all?

    In the world, why does not one nation conquer the entire globe?

  37. The reason anarchy has had a hard time finding fertile soil is because the most robust meme of western civilization is the myth of David–and his direct spiritual heir, Jesus–and Solomon, both kings.
    Jesus now sitteth on the right hand of God, the King of Heaven.
    If we could get past that shit, anarchy could get somewhere.
    The American Revolution, in retrospect, was only a baby step away from monarchies.

    Plus most people confuse anarchy with chaos.
    Even anarchists don’t want chaos. At least we peaceful anarchists don’t.

  38. Plus most people confuse anarchy with chaos.

    This is very true. But I think the burden is on us to change that perception. The easiest way is to start using words and phrases to convey what we mean that most people won’t confuse or associate with chaos. To me, this means eliminating “anarchy” and its variants from our public vocabulary.

  39. The American Revolution, in retrospect, was only a baby step away from monarchies.-Ruthless

    Well said! Try saying it to a Constitutionalist,
    however.

    What words can we use? Instead of anarchy, a contract based society? Kritarchy doesn’t have the connotation of chaos, but it is not a well known word…

  40. ACs are not against the use of force or coercion in all situations. They’re against the unconsented-to initiation of such. Any retaliatory action taken by the AC would not, by definition, violate his principles.

    For libertarian philosophy to grow more sophisticated, our principles need to evolve beyond being concerned only with initiation of force. “Any retaliatory action” should not be OK with us. We should also be concerned with use of inappropriate levels of force, even when used in retaliation, and we should be concerned with reconciliation.

  41. Mike L –

    I didn’t say that is or should be a libertarian’s only principle, which is what you’re implying when you say we need to move beyond that. I agree that the non-aggression principle should not be all we appeal to. I was responding to a specific comment that tried to portray anarcho-capitalists as hypocritical. I noted that under the non-aggression principle, the AC’s response (use of coercion) would be perfectly consistent with (one part of) his philosophy.

  42. libertreee –

    I haven’t thought too much about what words or phrases we should use instead of “anarchy.” I just think we should bear the burden of doing so. We need to make our message clearer and more palatable (without diluting it of course).

    As I mentioned already, we can avoid using “anarchy” and its variants. Instead, we can stay “free society,” “cooperative society,” or something similar. If *someone else* brings up “anarchy” (we can safely assume they understand that word to mean “chaos”), we can blunt that criticism by noting that the free society we’re contemplating will actually be ordered … and we can explain the specifics of how it gets that way (invisible hand of the market, free association, agreements enforceable by private courts, etc.).

  43. x, y – I hope you didn’t think I was implying that you were implying that … oh, wait, one too many implications in that sentence.

    I’ll just jump on any chance to point out, like a broken record, that the non-aggression principle, while a great principle, is not a sufficient foundation on which to build the libertarian political philosophy.

  44. To me, this means eliminating “anarchy” and its variants from our public vocabulary.

    Good luck with that. Every word used in the world of politics has had its meaning twisted and re-twisted. Your best bet may be to make up completely new words with no existing connotations: anarchism becomes, say, xyxxyism.

  45. what words or phrases we should use instead of “anarchy.”

    Some anarcho-capitilists suggest “agorism,” from “agora” the Greek word for “marketplace” (and, I think, were much other public interaction took place).

    The only problem is that it’s not an existing word (you’d have to keep explaining what it means), and people would tend to assume an “agorist” was someone who is inordinately fond of soft, fuzzy sweaters.

  46. To the last few poster before I retire:
    Peaceful anarchists need not get anal about our vocabulary.
    We are the gurus sitting on mountaintops.
    The hoi polloi come to us.
    We can speak whatever way strikes us.

  47. What is it that enforces laws and agreements between nations?

    Nothing, which is why they are disregarded when they prove inconvenient.

    Or can laws and agreements be enforced by other means?

    Sure, self-help by anyone who calculates their personal short-term gain from enforcing this law this time outweighs the cost, this time. Not a recipe for stability or consistency.

    There are wars aplenty in this world of ours. But if I am not mistaken, most wars these days are civil wars.

    Just so – wars these days occur in areas where civil and political society have broken down. Not sure how this is an indictment of the state per se.

  48. In the world, why does not one nation conquer the entire globe?

    Logistics.

  49. Ruthless,

    Have you read Feyerabend?

    “”the only principle that does not inhibit progress is anything goes”.

    http://www.nutters.org/docs/feyerabend

  50. Feyerabend :”While the political anarchist wants to remove a certain form of life, the epistemological anarchist may want to defend it, for he has no everlasting loyalty to any institution and any ideology. Like the Dadaist (whom he resembles in many respects) he `not only has no programme, he is against all programmes'” For and Against Method.

  51. As an alternative to the terms anarchism and agorism, there already exist the term “voluntarism”. It s a term that gets at the heart of what exactly is preferable (morally) about the system, and provides a clue as to what its all about to anyone when they first encounter the term.

    The thing is, as often happens, political movements get to name themselves and have control of the terms far less often than do their opponents; of course that doesn’t mean that an-caps shouldn’t try bit of branding.

  52. Replace anarchist with dadaist.

    I would want to live in a dadaistic society…what with the cool mustaches and all.

  53. In an anarchy, what prevents one warlord from becoming tyrant of all?

    In the world, why does not one nation conquer the entire globe?

    The failure of anarchy doesn’t happen because one person conquers the world; it happens because the world gets taken over by a thousand conquering forces who impose states.

  54. “What is it that enforces laws and agreements between nations?”

    Nothing, which is why they are disregarded when they prove inconvenient.

    Incorrect. Because then there would be no incentive to enter into international agreements in the first place. And by this reasoning international trade would be also impossible, because there is no world government body to enforce contracts between private organizations with homes in different national jurisdictions.

    There must, in fact, be consequences to breaking international agreements, which leads most nations and other organizations to adhere to them, most of the time.

  55. Eric — But I’m talking about the “warlord problem.” It is said that competing private organizations can’t exist in a stable anarchy; one warlord will always arise and impose himself as the monopoly government. As long as the international scene resists the imposition of a single one-world government, this disproves that.

    Within the context of international relations, nations act as competing organizations without a single government over them. (Remember that “anarchy” means “without a head.”) It might be instructive to consider how this anarchic situation continues … and what keeps the United States from conquering Surinam, just because it can.

    “In the world, why does not one nation conquer the entire globe?”

    R.C. Dean: Logistics.

    In other words, because it’s not practical.

    And why isn’t it?

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