In the Zone


BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh has a great post about those anomalous pieces of terrain that exist outside conventional systems of sovereignty. An excerpt:

[Neal Ascherson] discusses nation-states from the early 20th century through to the end of the Cold War. During that time, we read, there were a number of "less durable spaces"—for instance, the "parallel but unlicensed institutions" of Solidarity-era Poland. He points out that, "in the early 20th century, there were a number of spaces which were not absolutely unpopulated but whose allocation to empires or nation-states was undecided."

From an imperial standpoint, these unofficially recognized lands and institutions—mostly rural and almost always located near borders—represented "a dangerous breach in space." They were "intercellular spaces," we're told, and they functioned more like "gaps, crevices, interstices, [and] oversights" within much larger systems of sovereign power.

In fact, these "unlicensed" spaces "appear whenever some new international system attempts to demarcate everything sharply, menacingly and in a hurry."

A follow-up post lists several such territories, including the smugglers' republic of Cospaia, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the intricate web of enclaves that is the town of Baarle-Hertog.

Elsewhere in Reason: James Scott's theory of "nonstate spaces."

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  1. After World War II, the Soviet Union annexed the most-eastern part of the country, to set up a relatively smooth continuous border from the shifted Polish border, which was caused by SU annexing part of Poland. This was also done “sharply, menacingly and in a hurry”, and resulted into a 2 kilometers wide and 70 kilometers long empty space, unclaimed by the SU or Czechoslovakia. To my knowledge, this roughly 55 square miles area is still a no man’s land.

  2. ” including the smugglers’ republic of Cospaia”

    Not to be confused with the yiffing republic of Cosplaya.

  3. My favorite of the so called “autonomous regions”, Kowloon Walled City. Technically a Chinese outpost in British Hong Kong but in reality a no-man’s land ruled by Triads and, just prior to it’s demolition, the highest population density in the world.

  4. The most relevant TAZ in America are music festivals (with the exception of Bonnaroo, which got too big and too famous and now isn’t so autonomous) and the parking lots outside of concerts, where often drug laws are more or less suspended (the police watch but don’t take action) and dealers of acid, shrooms, weed, nitrous, ketamine, hash, opium, coke, ecstasy, DMT, sassafras, and myriad other drugs you’ve never heard of come together and do both wholesaling and retailing. I was at All Good festival in WV this weekend, and the place was a fucking SHIT SHOW…but it’s pretty beautiful, in that it’s pretty much the only place left in America where you can find pure, unregulated capitalism. And lemme tell you – the drugs are both cheap and pure.

  5. Don’t forget Neutral Moresnet.

  6. I see someone mentioned Moresnet in the article’s comments.

  7. Kowloon is fucking cool. Good thing to point to when someone says an anarcho-capitalist society can’t function. Admittedly, it had water and electricity provided by the city, but if the city hadn’t they would have come up with something.

    I wonder how many people went into Kowloon as shoppers, to just buy some coke or pussy or whatever, and then went back to their home in HK?

  8. Waziristan?

  9. No mention of the Viva World Cup? I guess technically the participants aren’t stateless, but in a state they don’t want to be in.

  10. Let us not forget the floating state of altered reality in which the brain of Al Gore resides.

    WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Al Gore said on Thursday that Americans must abandon electricity generated by fossil fuels within a decade and rely on the sun, the winds and other environmentally friendly sources of power, or risk losing their national security as well as their creature comforts.

  11. Personally, I consider electricity a creature comfort.

  12. Off topic but this is funny.

    Look what i got in my email today:

    from Terry Michael
    to stendec@gmail.com
    date Wed, Jul 16, 2008 at 1:43 PM
    subject Just wanted to let you know…..
    mailed-by wcpj.org

    hide details 1:43 PM (23 hours ago)


    ….that some moron is using your email address to post on Hit&Run.
    For no reason I can fathom, he/she wrote this:
    “Jesus Fucking Christ Libertarian Democrat Terry Michael is a huge asshole.”

    Terry Michael, Executive Director
    Washington Center for Politics & Journalism/The Politics & Journalism Semester
    WEB: http://www.wcpj.org MAIL: P.O. Box 15239, Washington, DC 20003
    PHONE: 202/296-8455 FAX: 1-800/858-8365 EMAIL: terrymichael@wcpj.org
    CELL: 202/210-8455 BLOG: http://www.terrymichael.net
    DELIVERIES: 600 New Hampshire Ave., NW 4th Fl Mail Wash, DC 20037

  13. ObFilmReference:

    Passport To Pimlico


  14. but it’s pretty beautiful, in that it’s pretty much the only place left in America where you can find pure, unregulated capitalism.

    I guess you have never been to a garage sale.

  15. I think 90% of Africa would fit this description.

  16. An area between two areas with wildly differing properties? Sounds like a boundary layer to me. Look up “concentration gradients,” “Gibbs free energy of solution,” maybe “osmotic pressure,” for instance.

    Social systems can be very similar to basic chemical engineering thermodynamics.

  17. How long do you think my garage sale would be open if my spring cleaning consisted of selling hundreds of sheets of acid and millions of dollars worth of MDMA?

  18. The idea of a non-state space exists but actual non-state spaces do not. In the same way that nature abhors a vacuum governments abhor political vacuums. This is why the idea of anarchy exists but actual anarchies do not.
    As for the example of the Kowloon walled city, just because the British and Chinese didn’t control it doesn’t mean it wasn’t controlled. As you point out, Kwix, it was controlled by the Triads. If this doesn’t fit your idea of a government I’m not sure what would. The Traids surely had a monopoly on the use of force within the city, collected taxes in the form of ‘protection money’, and resolved disputes between residents.

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