Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Necessity of Governance in Anarchy

McMaken has written a post that must be read more than once to be properly appreciated.  While I find one or two sticking points (which may be more definitional than anything), he paints a wonderful portrait of the intersection of anarchy, decentralization, governance, and culture.

Let me get the sticking points out of the way.  One nit I will pick, which I believe McMaken does not clarify: given today’s technology, a “territorial unit” could be as small as a household (I won’t go smaller). 

The closer we reach a libertarian society the more possibilities for further decentralization will be developed (which is why I favor every attempt at decentralization).  We just don’t know because we cannot know – we aren’t central planners, after all.

With that out of the way…it is easy to label the post as being a swipe at the possibility of anarchy as a political model; this seems to me a short-sighted read.  Instead, McMaken offers nuanced considerations – nuance that is necessary if one is to consider how anarchy might be achieved and maintained in a world populated by humans.

McMaken offers several examples from the European Middle Ages; regular readers know my view on this period and time – not anarchy, but quite decentralized.  There was a strong common culture, both across principalities and from king to serf.  There was plenty of governance – driven by sacred oath.

I was initially going to comment on several sections of the post.  I have decided against this.  It is worth a read on its own.  If you believe he has turned into some sort of statist, you might want to read it a second time.

When you do, consider voluntary associations and what these entail.  Consider homeowner’s associations, private insurance and security services.  Consider anarchy in a world populated by humans.  How might this be achieved?  How might it be maintained?


  1. At one point the author seems to conflate smaller political units with autarky where trade is limited and the division of labor is not possible. I think instead that the smaller the political units, and necessarily then the more small political units that there are, the less feasible autarky becomes and the more members of these small associations would be absolutely dependent on "cross border" trade.

    1. I agree with your position on autarky.

  2. I read the exchange with Wenzel, and he seemed to be conflating the state of nature with civilized society. The NAP references the state of nature as a starting point, but to claim that the NAP somehow compels us to remain in that state is absurd in the extreme. Rothbard and others (Hoppe, at least) have explained that you don't want to be a lone wolf when it comes to creating a civilized society. You want to take advantage of the division of labor and rely on experts for security and dispute resolution when such services prove that they are rationally superior to lone-wolfism and/or vigilante justice. A lone wolf who is not an aggressor can be left alone, but you can't build a civilized society without having voluntary associations in the marketplace producing the most efficient and ethical rules which will maximize peace and stability in a free society.

    Ancap theory is abstract - as it should be. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to start all over again from a clean slate, therefore secession and/or radical decentralization appears to be the most likely path to a free society.

    Pure ancap theory is non-territorial, but states are purely territorial entities, so territorialism will be difficult to overcome as it is not only a quality of states but is also deeply ingrained in the people. At the very least, people want stability, peace, and predictability where they live and work every day. Unless you get a majority to actually adopt Ancap consciously, you will need to coax the masses along by providing local constitutions in ready-made fashion - perhaps presented in referendums of already-seceeded small states. If you can propose a detailed plan for the basics of local governance and local federations, then your cards are on the table and it become much easier to get people to accept it and transition to it. If you don't do this, how will you ever get to a non-territorial pure Ancap society? It needs to start somewhere and political devolution seems like the best route. Otherwise, you would need to convince everyone to just stop obeying the state. Problem with this is that there will be no alternative institutions to take up the slack. That would take time, and the experiment could fail miserably during that time.

    I don't think it's "central planning" to devise and offer the public a plan to establish a freer society which accepts (for the sake of making progress toward liberty) the reality of politics in the real world. This kind of politics will be working in reverse, so the approach is fundamentally anti-state. Show people, for example, how taxes can be eliminated through a deconstruction of the local and larger state without insisting on first returning to a state of nature. Some more radical plans could actually dismantle the local state government and replace it with a "corporation" of sorts where the residents of "Freetown" become shareholders in the governing corporation and therefore own the roads and schools as profit-making *businesses*. This can undermine the idea that the state is necessary. Think of places like Disney World which are essentially independent cities already. There isn't time or space to explain all of this, but it is consistent with Ancap theory since it can radically change how governance and liberty are perceived. We need such "laboratories" in the real world to test how the politics of it all shakes out. I'm all for instant gratification of a fully free society, but who can snap their fingers and make that happen?