Looters and Leviathan: Hobbes Turned Upside Down


John Robb reacts to the looting in Egypt:

There have been a growing number of reports of looters/thugs conducting smash and grabs across Cairo. Interestingly, there's also a growing number of reports that when these thugs are caught, they have police/interior ministry identification on them. If this is so, the reasons for it are:

1. It tars the insurgency as a group of criminals and thugs.

2. It provides a reason for a reluctant army to get involved and enact a curfew.

3. It forces a percentage of the movement to stay at home (to guard the neighborhood).

This above has the potential to set the stage for a harsh response domestically. It could also help provide cover to the regime globally (hitting the Egyptian Museum was smart in this respect, given how many people around the world care much more for the artifacts there than the freedom of 80 m Egyptians).

The question is: will it work? A decade ago, certainly. Today? No way. Too much backchannel.

How much of the looting is bona fide grassroots rioting and how much is false-flag activity by the cops? I don't know, and neither do you; in general, whenever you hear the word "looter" on the news, it'll probably be days or more before you can speak with any certainty about what has actually been going on. But government agents are clearly involved with the spree, and it's very possible that they're stoking and spearheading it; defense of person and property, meanwhile, has fallen not just on the Army but on civil society, as neighbors form informal protective associations. If Robb's scenario turns out to be true, Egypt has inverted the Hobbesian story of the state: The police are spreading disorder and the voluntary sector is containing it.