Another look at anarchy

Anarchy has a bad rap. When people hear the word they generally think of angry kids wearing black and burning cars. Or of people running wild in the streets, fighting and looting. But that isn’t anarchy, it is chaos. The difference is important.

Some people claim that anarchy would lead to chaos. Perhaps. That is a discussion worth having. But first people need to recognise that anarchy is not defined as chaos.

Anarchy is the radical extension of classical liberal thought. Liberals believe that people should generally be allowed to control their own lives, with limited government involvement. More radical libertarians believe the government should get out of everything, except police, courts and army. Anarchists simply take it one further and ask why the free market couldn’t supply security and arbitration services, so that the government could disappear entirely.

This is a reasonable question.

Indeed, the market already does supply security and arbitration and some people think they already do a better job than the government. The police suffer from all the problems you would normally expect from a government monopoly – corruption, inefficiency, and the lack of a consumer focus. Some cynics might suggest that their primary job is to raise revenue with traffic fines, while they are relatively less likely to actually catch violent criminals.

In response to the failure of government police, private firms such as Capital Special Police have entered the market offering full police services. Other private firms, like Chubb, offer more limited security services. There is also a growing market for private arbitration, with many firms offering services in competition with government courts.

Despite the uneven playing field (with government police being “free” to consumers), demand for private security and private arbitration is increasing, indicating a higher quality service.

A key confusion about anarchy is that people think it means “no rules”. This is not true. An anarchist has no objection to people voluntarily coming together to follow the rules of cricket; but this doesn’t require a government. Likewise, an anarchist has no problem with people voluntarily coming together to follow the rules of a church, or a social club, or a workplace, or a local community. Most of the rules we follow in life are informal and were developed without the government.

But still, people find it hard to wrap their minds around anarchy. The immediate response is to assume that without government, private security firms (and other people with guns) will enforce bad laws, or fight each other, or will simply become gangs of thieves, leaving innocent people to live a life of fear and poverty.

There is a prevalent (though wrong) assumption that it is only the government that stands between civilisation and a chaotic orgy of murder, violence and theft. The concept of life without government is so foreign to most people that they simply can’t imagine what it means.

I think the following thought-experiment might help to put the concept of anarchy into a context that can be more easily understood, and also make clear why anarchy isn’t as scary or strange as it first appears.

To start with, consider our current system of government in Australia. The first step in the thought experiment is to decentralise all of the coercive elements of the Federal government (such as tax and restrictions on voluntary behaviour) down to the State government level.

The Federal government would then become an umbrella organisation (similar to the United Nations, or the Council of Australian Governments) that derived its role only from the voluntary agreements of the member States. We would continue to have a democratic federal parliament, and federal agencies, but the size of federal government would be limited by the voluntary contributions of the member States.

This is not far different from the original intentions of our constitution. Whether or not this would lead to better government (I think it would), the point is that decentralisation is not particularly scary or impossible concept, and does not logically lead to burning cars and smashed shops.

The next step in the thought-experiment is to decentralise all the coercive elements of the State governments (including tax and restrictions on voluntary behaviour) down to the local council level.

Once again, the State governments could continue to play an important role as coordinating bodies, but they would derive their resources and responsibilities only from the local councils. It might be (as some people prefer) that the State bodies would become less relevant and local councils may prefer to deal directly with the Federal body, or with other regional bodies, to solve inter-council issues.

This answers the question of whether we should have State governments: we will have them if they are seen as offering an important service and they will disappear if they are seen as not worth the time and money.

Few people today have much faith in local councils. Given the low levels of efficiency and effectiveness of many local councils, this is understandable. However, there is a strong argument that suggests local councils improve when they have more responsibility and control, and this is supported by examples in Germany and Switzerland.

But irrespective of whether you accept the arguments for jurisdictional competition, for the sake of this thought-experiment I only need to show this approach is viable. Decentralising the coercive powers of government down to the councils may be unorthodox, but it is possible and the concept is understandable to most people.

There is only one more step necessary to get to anarchy.

The final step is to allow people to set up their own local councils, and then allow competition between these local representative bodies.

The idea of setting up new councils is not particularly radical, and has many precedents. America has a long tradition of groups of people coming together voluntarily to form their own communities, and that tradition is also strong among the Israelis who chose to live in a Kibbutz.

It is likely that many people would simply stick with ‘the devil they know’, and continue with their current local council. But others may like to try and create their own community with their own representative body on their own land. It is possible that places like Noosa might break away from the Sunshine Coast council that they were recently forced to join.

Local councils would still have rules, and a visitor would be expected to follow those rules. This is no different to following the rules of a golf club when you go to their property, or follow the rules of a different country when you are on their land. There would be an extremely high incentive for local councils to coordinate with each other to address inter-council issues and create reasonable levels of conformity where desirable, and there is a long history of successful coordination between neighbouring jurisdictions.

At the extreme end, some people may choose to set up small communities on their property, just for their friends and family, and then not deal with the “outside world”. While eccentric, there is no danger in such a lifestyle choice. If such nomads ever did decide to venture off their property, they would still need to obey the rules of other communities when in their jurisdiction.

At the end of this thought-experiment, we have an anarchist society. There are still rules, security provision, governance procedures and many of the other trappings of government. There would still be inter-council bodies, but these would only be empowered through the voluntary contributions of councils who themselves only have voluntary members.

One consequence is that the roles of the federal governing body would likely shrink. They would only have responsibilities in areas where many local councils could see a strong case for economies of scale or large-scale coordination. This may includes issues such as some infrastructure, high courts (to appeal decisions of local council courts), defence, foreign affairs and perhaps some administration functions that can more easily be coordinated at a higher level.

This “trickle-up” approach is in contrast to the current system where the federal government controls most of the money and power and allows some to “trickle-down” to the State and local bodies.

My goal here has not been to convince you of the virtues of anarchy. An anarchist will suggest that the jurisdictional competition will lead to better governance, less waste, and more choice. But to make that case would require a more detailed exploration of the issue. Instead, my goal is simply to explain anarchy in such a way that people can appreciate it as a functional alternative political system.

There is one more objection to anarchy that should be considered.

Even if you accept that anarchy does not necessarily lead to chaos, the concern remains that an anarchist society is not stable, and a new government may emerge. There is always the possibility that some local councils, and/or some state and federal bodies, may decide that they want to impose their decisions on other local councils without their permission. If that happened, then it would cease to be an anarchist system and would have reverted to statism.

An anarchist must admit to this possibility. But there are three offsetting considerations that are worth pointing out.

First, conflict between voluntary councils is less likely that conflict between nations, because in anarchy the warring parties have to pay their own expenses instead of using involuntary taxes. If America had only been able to invade Iraq after they raised the requisite funds voluntarily, then it is less likely they would have gone to war. In contrast, in a developed anarchy the potential profits from voluntary coordination would be relatively high.

Professor David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) argues that a developed anarchy would be unlikely to have any one power strong enough to enforce their will, and all other security forces would have a strong incentive to stop the other forces from trying.

Second, while war has been historically common there are reasons to believe that the benefits and costs of conflict are changing. Economic development has increased the direct costs of war (as people put a relatively higher premium on safety and longevity) as well as the opportunity cost of war (since the benefits of trade have increased). On the other side, the benefits of war have decreased since the most valuable part of a modern economy is not land or capital, but human knowledge, which is difficult to steal.

Third, while anarchy would not be perfectly stable, no system is perfectly stable. Through history many apparently stable systems have crumbled after a few centuries, and this includes the example of anarchist Iceland which was stable for several centuries before succumbing to invasion.

None of this is to say that anarchy is preferable to any other political system. It remains an unpopular and radical philosophy, and there are many reasons why people will remain sceptical of anarchy and prefer to retain some sort of government control. However, as somebody with a strong belief in political decentralisation and jurisdictional competition, anarchy is an intriguing alternative that deserves to at least be properly understood before being dismissed.

81 thoughts on “Another look at anarchy

  1. And, if we were living in an anarchy, what would we then complain against? Would archists get together and try to buy lots of land and reform states?

  2. This is a great summary. Apart from utilitarian anarchists like David Friedman, the Austrians like Hoppe, Long, Block and of course Rothbard provide a very strong rights-based argument for anarchy. They have theorised forms of anarchy that don’t necessarily involve “jurisdictional competition”, but rather forms where defence, courts, security etc. are provided in a wholly non-central manner on the market.

    Rothbard for one wrote at length on how private courts (even with appeal systems) could work in an anarchist society (see For a New Liberty.) The major “problem” with Rothbardian anarchism, which to my knowledge hasn’t been extensively fleshed out, is the assumption that some sort of basic libertarian code of law would would exist amongst the private law courts.

    Also, another decent anarcho-capitalist liberal was Gustave de Molinari, (Roderick Long’s Molinari Institute, is a good basic source of anarcho-capitalist information – http://praxeology.net/molinari.htm.)

  3. I take it that anarchists spend half their time smashing cars and looting shops and the other half just totally losing it.

  4. I am a little disappointed in Joseph and rog who seems to have missed the whole point. Anarchy is at its root a pacifist philosophy that at the most only believes in violence as a means of self-defense. True anarchists would not support the destruction of property. Claiming that the black-bandana wearing, Molotov cocktail throwing hypocrites are true anarchists is like saying that the acts of the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition represent the true teachings of Christ.

    While it is true anarchists have had a hell of a time fighting the PR battle (as evidenced by the more and more people embracing terms like Voluntaryism and Agorism) that does not mean that words do not have meaning. Anarchy simply means “without ruler” and is the logical conclusions of all true libertarian thought. Whether it is an idealistic vision or something that can be practiced in reality is irrelevant.

    To push anarchists to the fringe and accuse them of “totally losing it” is to push the ideas of individual liberties to the fringe. Accusing anarchists of insanity is the same as accusing all people who believe that man can and should live free from violence of insanity.

  5. Whether it is an idealistic vision or something that can be practiced in reality is irrelevant.

    I don’t think it is irrelevant. However I would agree that the criticisms levelled at it that centre purely on concerns about practicality do miss out on something. I’m not an anarchist but I do think that anarchists bring something to the table. As do the non anarchist libertarians.

    Of course if push comes to shove I’d also admit that even the communists bring something to the discussion. Just not as much as the anarchists.

  6. Nobody is pushing anybody (there’s that pesky nobody again) to “the fringe.”

    An acceptable definition of anarchy is without a ruling body and without law. It would not be untoward to suggest that this readily translates into a state of lawlessness and terror similar to that experienced in Iraq after the invasion. A highly unpopular state of affairs.

  7. But anarchists do believe in the rule of law, they just don’t think government should have a monopoly on law enforcement and the justice system.

  8. rog — you seem to be talking about “chaos”, which is not the same as “anarchy”. Please see the second paragraph of the article.

    Peter — Joseph’s comment was tongue in cheek. He is a philosophical anarchist.

    Terje — depending on the type of communist, their philosophy can be consistent with anarchy. This goes to the central problem of communism… whether they enforce their preferred outcome (in which case they’re big-government socialists) or whether they tolerate dissent (in which case they’re just anarchists with a communitarian set of preferences). For example, some Israeli Kibbutz have been voluntary communitarian societies… sometimes called communist, but consistent with anarchy (or liberalism for that matter).

  9. But anarchists do believe in the rule of law, they just don’t think government should have a monopoly on law enforcement and the justice system.

    Exactly.

  10. “Anarchy simply means “without ruler” and is the logical conclusions of all true libertarian thought”.
    Very true and while I can understand that in general most people are unwilling to look at anarchy it always surprises me how many libertarians dismiss it outright too. My (unscientific) guess is that the majority of libertarians could be more accurately described as classic liberals, another significant amount as minarchists and a tiny portion as anarchists. Even on a philosophical level anarchy doesn’t seem to be concept many libertarians embrace.

    Good post.

  11. A very interesting article.

    I have just read Hans-Herman Hoppe’s book Democracy – The God that Failed, which basically reasons similarly.

    In general I agree, and see anarchy as following from the principle of self-determination. If people forming a sub-set of a state should be able to renounce their political connection to the whole, then the same principle should apply to smaller and smaller groups, down to the individual.

    When people deplore anarchism and the prospect of security firms fighting each other, like mafia gangs in Sicily, they always use a double standard by which they ignore the aggressiveness of government. For example, the US government has killed somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 civilians in Iraq since the start of the war there, but the statists never count that when thinking how violent and chaotic anarchy would be. For another example, the NSW government, through the Native Vegetation Act, has forcibly confiscated literlly billions of dollars worth of real estate – namely the equity in use-rights. But again that goes entirely unnoticed by the statists when the make their comparison between the violence of anarchy and that of the status quo.

    However the one radical objection I have is, if competing private firms are better at providing security services, at protecting against aggression; and taxation being a violation of property rights is aggressive, then how come there are so many state monopolies? But if we would need the permission of the monopolist aggressor in order to introduce a better system, then it’s not a better system is it? The anarchist alternative doesn’t intend central prohibition of aggression or monopoly; it just trusts that it wouldn’t arise in a competing market. But there seems every reason to think that it would arise, for exactly the same reason states have.

  12. That’s a really interesting way of explaining anarchy in a non-confrontational (to statists) way, I like it.

    However, I note that you only consider the possibility of council conflict as a cause of new coercive government. What about the public goods argument? That same thread also has a rebuttal of the Iceland example.

    Peter Hume raises a good point – “But there seems every reason to think that it would arise, for exactly the same reason states have.”

  13. JH; as I did not say “chaos” your correction is unnecessary.

    Lets stay with what the writer said, anarchy is not defined as chaos.

    So what is anarchy defined as?

    Commonly recognised definitions include:
    a : absence of government
    b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority

    You really need to address the lawlessness of anarchy.

  14. rog — as you suggest, I’m happy to stick with what the writer said. I hear that writer is an amazingly smart (not to mention handsome & charming) young man.:)

    But in your above comment, you suggested anarchy was “without a ruling body” which translates to “a state of lawlessness and terror” (ie chaos). That is incorrect, as explained in the article. Anarchy, as a political system, means “no government”, but there will still be governance. To explain the point with a question… without government, do you think cricket would have rules?

    The real problem faced by anarchy is whether it is sustainable, or whether it would degenerate into statism again. That is the point raised by Jarrah & Peter, and it’s a fair question. I don’t know the answer, but the article provided a few responses near the end.

    Another problem for anarchy, less philosophical but more immediate, is whether it would ever be possible to shift towards an anarchist system. I think anarchy becomes more stable as people get richer, but then will the leaders of a rich society ever give up their own powers?

  15. @rog

    [beep — please play nice]

    I wouldn’t consider myself to be an anarchist, but I’m at least open to the idea and willing to listen to what other people have to say about it.

    You just hear the word “anarchy” and your mind snaps shut and you refuse to acknowledge anarchism isn’t necessarily lawless. There’s just no centralised government, which means that private organisations would take over from the government in terms of law-enforcement.

    There’d still be a rule of law, so what’s your problem?

  16. “…or whether it would degenerate into statism again.”
    That is the conundrum of anarchy. In the absence of a central authority will individuals/groups move in to fill the (perceived) vacuum? Are we somehow hardwired to have a head of ship? As I’ve read it put before though, at least we’ll all have had a good holiday from the government in the meantime (words to that effect).

    The conundrum of minarchy is whether a limited government can stay limited.

    It’s hard to know which is least likely.

  17. This is silly, competition cricket plays by the rules laid down by the ICC.

    Whether it is the police or security firms that supply security, they are still governed by the Law. Decentralisation may be OK for garbage collection but when it comes to complex legal arguments a higher authority is needed to rule – and the Law needs to be backed up by the military (like Switzerland).

    Somalia is a place where rival gangs battle it out for control – the lack of unity is destabilising.

  18. Jaz — anarchy would still have many “heads of ship”. There would be rugby captains, church priests, work managers, community leaders, parents, club presidents, tennis coaches and people who are recognised as the best at their job/sport/hobby. I think it is important to distinguish between government and governance, and between government laws and agreed rules. Once this distinction is more clearly understood, anarchy stops being too scary.

    That’s not to say it’s perfectly stable. But no system is. I tried to address this issue in the last few paragraphs of the article.

    rog — actually, cricket rules pre-existed the ICC and many people play social games with slightly different rules (eg 6 and out). But putting that aside, the point I was making (and you seem to agree) is that rules can be agreed and followed without the government.

    You are certainly right that a security provider must follow a set of rules. If they just acted randomly, then they would not be providing a service. However, it is not true that the government must make those rules, and indeed most rules that have built up over the years were not originally specified by a government.

    Somalia makes for an interesting case. Unfortunately, south Somalia (previously Italian Somaliland) has been wracked by civil war (currently between the Ethiopian-backed force and the Islamists). The problem there is not the lack of government, but the existence of two governments. This is unfortunately an example of where anarchy was not stable and reverted to statism.

    North Somalia (previously British Somaliland, now just Somliland) makes for a very different case study, where they have had some surprising economic success and relative peace. I had arranged to go and volunteer at a private university there in 2008 but it fell through because the government fees in Ethiopia made it prohibitively expensive for me at the time. Oh, the irony. There have been several books written about the mixed successes of Somaliland, with one of the favourite factoids being that they have the best mobile phone coverage in Africa.

    I know more about Cambodia, where there is a police in name only. Quite literally, the only role for police is to take bribes. If you are robbed and want a police report for your insurance… you’ll need to bribe the police. But still, there are very obvious rules. Violent crime is very low, contracts are mostly honoured, and strangers who walk away with your $50 will come back with change. This has nothing to do with the government.

    Having said that, I don’t claim that Somaliland or Cambodia are an ideal situation. As I stated in the article, I think anarchy becomes relatively more stable as people get richer. I find it easy to believe that in low-income anarchy the rewards from violence will be sufficiently tempting to make the system unstable. For the reasons outlined in the article (which I will expand on in a later article) as income increases the incentive for violence reduces. At some point the incentive for violence may get low enough to make anarchy more stable.

  19. “Somalia is a place where rival gangs battle it out for control – the lack of unity is destabilising.”

    Is that because of wide spread philosophical acknowledgement, understanding and adherence to contractual interaction/political individualism?

    Who’s to say, given the reality of the circumstances (historical context of Somalian culture, outside manipulating interests etc) whether a strong state or gang warfare is ultimately better for EVERYONE that happen to inhabit the region. Strong states, all things equal, engender as much looting, killing and economic damage as fighting tribal factions.

    Theres nothing intrinsic within the structure or idea of compulsive social organization around a hegemonic collaboration of people exercising organized aggressive force that ‘fixes’ a culture that allegedly, according to common belief, absent state, is certain to be more unruly/unlivable.

  20. The real problem faced by anarchy is whether it is sustainable, or whether it would degenerate into statism again.

    History has answered this time and time again. It will always degenerate into statism, simply because it is in the rational self interest of any “security force” to dominate their market by either absorbing or eliminating their competition.

    Once a security force becomes significantly powerful they are in effect an army. And the next step is simply becoming an army with a political policy, as pretty much described every government in history, in it’s formative stages.

  21. JH, thats the 2nd time you have put words in my mouth.

    For the record, I do not agree that rules can be made and upheld without governance.

  22. Yobbo — I’ve responded to this point several times already, including in the original article, and in my last comment.

    rog — I haven’t put any words in your mouth. I agree that rules require governance (indeed, that is what I have said several times), but governance is not the same as government (as I have said several times).

  23. “…anarchy would still have many “heads of ship””
    Yes I realize that John but my point is if the “ultimate” power is seen to be vacant, if people cannot or will not get their heads around it and insist on filling the perceived vacuum then there will be power struggles. Either way I don’t see this as a major objection to anarchy. In the worst case we end up back with the state where we started.

    Regarding Cambodia. I live in Thailand and all villages are still using a pre government system of a democratically elected village head who mediates disputes, ratify s contracts and oversees major activities etc. The government simply came along and put the village heads on the payroll and formalized the whole practice. Still now though when you take/make a loan in the village or have a dispute with your neigbour it is usually solved within the village. If the village head does a poor job he is not elected by the village the following year.

    I’m sure that the history of western countries show a similar pattern of naturally evolved law being hijacked by a central authority. Like culture, language, education, money etc law arose naturally from the process of human interaction.

  24. Another problem is that statism is stable. How do you go from statism to anarchy? Do you travel via limited government and just keep on increasing the limits? Do you overthrow the government in a violent revolution and then replace it with nothing? How do you get to this place called anarchy and how many cars do you burn in the process?

  25. I was reading something in ‘The Australian’ that relates to this. Canberra gathered to itself income-tax powers during WW2. Menzies tried to give these powers back in 1953, but the states didn’t want them back- they wanted the grants from the center, yes, but they didn’t want to be blamed for taking the money through their own taxes! Libertarians might need to win in the States as well as the center to really be able to carry out any decentralising plan.

  26. Terje,
    One easy way to transition is to bribe a country to give you limited sovereignty on a small piece of land. Offer a deal: You keep paying the bribe and they leave you alone to build whatever society you think best. If they don’t leave you alone you offer the deal to another country. Many such communities could spring up, with competition pushing down the value of the bribe until the role of the state was as an administrator of a small number of services. The state might maintain a limited role, or it might dissipate completely if private firms were able to provide the services at a good price. No cars need be burned, but if you would like to start a car burning community I think you should be allowed.

  27. John – In comment #17 you respond to the point I made in comment #27. However I don’t think you have done enough to really acknowlege my insight. It’s almost as if you think you thought of it first.

    Did I mention that I hate your government?

  28. rog- what is self-government? If that qualifies as government, then any system has a government, even one-person nations, like some of those micronations.

  29. Governance is the process by which you organise something. As in corporate governance or project governance. Government is an institution with the power of coercion. You can organise things without coercion.

  30. rog — I’ve explained it in the article, and I’ve explained it several times in the comments section. I also gave you the simple example of a cricket game, which has governance without government.

  31. Terje, I think a big part would involve privatising all government assets by giving everyone in the relevant region an equal number of shares in them. For example, the LDP wants to privatise ABC in that way. Most people would sell most of their shares (eg Brisbane resident selling shares in Townsville state schools). Elections for the governing boards would be handled mostly through proxy votes (the proxies being mainly political parties).

    A lot of Regulations (eg what’s the maximum percentage deviation in the size of a packet of chips before it’s fraud?) would be decided by DROs (who are subject to their shareholders). The first DROs would be the privatised parliaments/councils. Some environmental regulations (eg fishing) would be determined by the shareholders of the relevant land/water.

    Of course there’d be a lot more to the transition. For example, people would have to get used to the idea that somewhere in QLD (depending on DRO distribution) it will be common for people to manufacture & trade heroin. Actually, decentralisation would also be important in the transition.

    I think it would be interesting to see how an anarchist society handles something like AGW. Say 70% of people want a carbon tax (handled by their DRO & distributed to all subscribers, maybe) and 30% don’t. It’d be impossible to force the minority to pay the tax since that’d be a civil war. Well, I guess the situation would be similar to whether or not the U.N. could justify invading countries that don’t regulate carbon emissions. It’s interesting because if the 70% honestly believe CO2 is like a gaseous cyanide it would lead to a war, while in a statist society it wouldn’t (just a bad government policy, instead).

  32. JH, you’ve explained precisely nothing in your article except that you indulgence in flights of fancy

    And that those fanciful thought bubbles are destined for the scrap heap;

    “anarchy is an intriguing alternative that deserves to at least be properly understood before being dismissed.”

    Consider it dismissed

  33. “anarchy is an intriguing alternative that deserves to at least be properly understood before being dismissed.”

    rog — from your comments, including the fact that you were still confused about the difference between governance and government in comment 32, it doesn’t seem as though you yet understand the concept of anarchy.

    Though I do agree that this is somewhat a “flight of fancy”. I don’t expect or suggest that Australia should embrace anarchy. I was just trying to explain the concept in an easily accessible way for people who might not have properly considered the idea before.

  34. On thinking about it further, the fact that a system based on competing firms might degenerate into a monopolistic state is an argument that anarchy *might* become *as bad as* a state, not that it *would* be *worse*.

    One advantage of competing firms is that firms offering forced redistributions, and policing victimless crimes, would have to charge much higher prices to their customers, whereas states can simply take the costs out of their subjects without having to bother with their consent to payment. Thus we would expect a reduction in this kind of anti-social statist aggression that is rife at present, and constitutes well over half of all contemporary state activity.

    As for self-determination, secession and decentralisation, remember Hutt River Principality: http://www.principality-hutt-river.com/ ? It was a cattle station in W.A. which seceded from Australia in the 1970s. They are still there, and are in the process of applying for membership of the United Nations. Interestingly, to protect themselves against attempts by Australia to use force to close them down, they declared war on Australia and then invoked the Geneva Conventions on humanitarian conduct etc. The Commonwealth’s tactic seems to be just to ignore them.

  35. Not a great advertisement for anarchy is the fate of the Hmong and other hill tribes though, is it?

    Fought as a puppet of western democracies, then suffered pogram after retaliatory pogrom as a result, and with no ability to defend themselves ended up as refugees in the US (the lucky ones) or Thailand (unlucky). And not all of them got to live next to Clint Eastwood.

    Unfortunately the lack of a government and taxation meant the lack of a decently equipped standing army which left them defenseless when the US pulled their assistance.

  36. Peter, most people here do know about Prince Leonard, and Hutt River Province. You could also google Snake Hill Principality, near Mudgee. These places seem like good examples, but could you and I follow them? Could you be independent on your land? Do you have skills that these places need, so you could emigrate to them?

  37. Nuke
    It doesn’t look like either HRP or SHP need to be independent, in the sense of self-sufficient. They don’t seem to be locked in.

    Although I probably could be ‘independent’ on my property, I wouldn’t want to be, as the costs would outweigh the benefits. But, like them, my use-rights have been confiscated without compensation, and I don’t recognise the legitimacy of these legislative acts of theft.

    Being self-sufficient shouldn’t be required. For example, the fact that New Zealand is a sovereign state doesn’t mean we don’t trade or allow any movement between us and them. Just because one secedes, doesn’t mean one should be in a state of war with Australia. Obviously the ideal is peace, liberty and free trade.

    I was thinking about the implications more in the sense of large numbers of these breakaway states. As Hoppe notes in Democracy – the God that Failed, the smaller the state, the lesser their tax charges are likely to be, and both HRP and SHP exemplify this.

    I’m trying to find out whether they are formally recognised and whether they pay tax, and either way, how they and the gubbas handle it. Do you know?

  38. Pete, if you go to http://www.principality-hutt-river.com, then you can communicate with the secessionists yourself, and they still claim that they don’t pay taxes.
    However, micronations are not recognised by Australia, or the UN. I am not sure what the reasoning is as to who is recognised, and who is not.

  39. I’ve asked them and am waiting for their reply.

    Does it matter whether Australia or the UN recognise them?

    The main things, it seems to me, is being free to use the land as seems best to the owner, without having to submit to forced confiscations of property so politicians can hand out my property rights to their pet favourites in exchange for votes; or having to submit to a whole lot of nanny state rules, for example, against using guns and ammunition, against using drugs, and against using the land for productive purposes.

    It wouldn’t be worth if if Australia or NSW went to war, or locked you in, or locked you up for tax evasion. But it would be if they didn’t, and they might not because they recognise the right to self-determination pursuant to treaties they themselves have signed.

    I imagine there must be a legal way to get recognition, because Australia has signed so many treaties with the UN that include the right of self-determination. I think those small micronations must satisfy these criteria of statehood, and their host states decide to deal with them on a ‘less said, the better’ basis.

    Very interesting about the micronation of Sealand, did you see that? The guy claimed an old naval defence tower in the sea off Britain and when the UK sued him, the courts upheld his objection that they lack jurisdiction. So he obtained de facto, but not official recognition as an independent state. However private persons invaded and forcibly took over the state and kidnapped his son, and he had to forcibly take it back over again with a private force: http://www.sealandgov.org/

  40. So Yobbo… you think the Hmong would have beaten the Thai army if only they had a government and tax eh? lol

    If losing a battle proves a system unviable, then every system of government is unviable.

  41. To get to anarchy we want to be able to derive very clear rules and norms for infrastructural properties. And we also want to review what the natural law would have to say about corporations. I can see anarchy working if these things are sorted. But I cannot see anarchy working with the modern corporate norms. The bigshots would wind up controlling the arbitration process.

    We want to get back to the sole trader being the standard and norm of society. Not the worker, nor the corporation. Not that there would not be many employees and private companies of all sizes. But I think its the sole trader we want to project as the norm and the standard by which other business forms are judged.

  42. This is a tough gig if anarchy or if libertarianism is your goal. Because strategy doesn’t usually consist of being pious and trying to just go straight forward and cut off any chance for yourself of stealth and strategy.

    I think always that sovereignty must be the main goal. Sovereignty, local, regional and national, as the main goal and the method by which you choose libertarianism, and in some areas if prudent, anarchy. I’d almost like to see a government of part-timers and that government can have both the capacity to explode into exaction or otherwise drift into near non-existence.

  43. They certainly would have had more of a chance John.

    If losing a battle proves a system unviable, then every system of government is unviable.

    I’m not really sure what that means. It’s not like the Hmong and other hill tribes lost a single battle – they are completely at the mercy of their neighbors since hills aren’t very effective against aircraft.

    After the CIA pulled their support when the Vietnam War ended, they were targetted with artillery and aerial bombing, massacred in their thousands and sent to re-education camps by the Pathet Lao which goes to show that relying on foreign aid and the good spirits of your neighbours isn’t an especially wonderful defense strategy.

    That is after all, the reason why tax was invented in the first place, to raise armies.

    I believe a similar fate was suffered by those libertarian anarchists who tried set up a new micronation in the Tongan Islands? They didn’t have an army, and Tonga did.

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

  44. Anarchists believe there are other ways to fund territorial defense besides involuntary taxation such as insurance companies,citizens militia, voluntary contributions or lotteries.

    The Hmong and the Minerva people (it seems) were both part of a dispute over original land ownership. I think it would be different if say somewhere like Tonga or Fiji (places with no prior territorial claims) dissolved their governments or a bunch of people rightfully purchased a territory somewhere. After all any middling country could invade Fiji and overpower its tiny army now without any problems but they don’t.

    Who knows? I don’t think it’s totally inconceivable that an anarchic territory could scrap together an army that is at least as effective as Fiji or Tonga’s without resorting to involuntary taxes.

  45. Great post, John. It is a great intellectual exercise for those who wish to explore the philosophy of libertarianism to consider the ultimate alternative to big government, anarchy. I feel that to really understand the issue of the dismantling of a significant part of the state you really need to grasp the manner in which those sections would operate without regulation and understanding the concept of anarchism will do this.

    Anarchist is to the statist, probably the only swear word worse than libertarian. It tends to conjure up images of bomb throwing destructiveness, where we are only seen as heartless irresponsible bastards. The reality of anarchy is probably more like “American Gothic.” (Well maybe packing a bit more heat than pitchforks.)

    An interesting article is here on somalia:

    In the absence of functioning governmental institutions and regulations, voluntary non-coercive alternatives emerged. Commentators identify evidence of areas where the private sector adapted to the stateless environment. A 2004 World Bank study of the Somalian economy concluded that “it may be easier than is commonly thought for basic systems of finance and some infrastructure services to function where government is extremely weak or absent.”[16] The New York Times referred to post-state Mogadishu as “the ultimate example of deregulation,”[17] noting that “[g]utsy entrepreneurs, including some women, opened their own hospitals, schools… telephone companies, power plants and ports.”[17]

  46. If you look through real history, not the propaganda taught in schools, you’ll see that there have been many Anarchist societies in the past: the Ukraine during Nestor Makhno’s campaign, the Catalonian districts during the Spanish Civil War, the Icelandic communities Meinshausen mentioned, and so on. Every last one of them was defeated in outright combat by invading Statist armies. Being defeated in war by a bigger and stronger enemy is no evidence of any failure of the defeated society; it can happen to anybody — especially pacifists.

    The reason why Anarchy has a bad name should be obvious; all governments are afraid of the idea, and propagandize against it by any means available. There are many such means available to a government, or even a pseudo-government — such as a wealthy and power-hungry church, or a wealthy and power-hungry corporation.

    Indeed, one could define a government as a monopoly on power — and “power” as the ability to force one’s will upon others. We all know that power corrupts; we should also know that power is addictive, in the sense of obsession, far more than any drug.

    No one deserves to have any more power than this: to get the other guy’s foot off your neck and his hand out of your pocket. Anything more leads to ruin.

  47. I don’t know about all of those examples, but I have looked into the so-called “anarchists” of the Spanish civil war. In some cases, they agreed to have no government… but then had a ruling council which could impose their rules on the other people. So basically, the just changed the name of the government, and pretended they were anarchist.

    Depending on how you define “power”, it will always exist. However, I think it’s important to distinguish between “coercive power” and “influential power”. Complete human freedom comes from the lack of coercive power (so that all human interaction is voluntary)… but so long as humans are able to talk and trade it will never be possible to remove influential power. Indeed, the very act of writing on a blog is an attempted use of influential power.

    Yobbo — there have been plenty of examples of a non-anarchist society losing wars. I agree that a statist society is generally able to sustain a bigger defence force. However, I’m not sure that most statist societies spend a better amount on defence. I think statist societies tend to over-spend on defence.

  48. There has never been anarchy in a modern developed country, which means they have never lost a war!:)

    For the few examples of anarchy (Medieval Iceland, “wild west” America, Somaliland), I’m not sure the details of any conflicts they had… but they seem to be roughly as stable as an average statist society. They all had some form of defensive capability.

    Anarchist examples have tended to be among relatively small communities, so the fact that they would eventually be beaten by a much larger community does not disprove the viability of the political structures. If France successfully invaded Monaco, we should not conclude that the French political system is better. Just that France is a much bigger country.

  49. “For the few examples of anarchy (Medieval Iceland, “wild west” America, Somaliland), I’m not sure the details of any conflicts they had… but they seem to be roughly as stable as an average statist society. They all had some form of defensive capability.”

    I’m not sure about Iceland or Somaliland but the “wild west” as you call it lasted all of about 5 years before being annexed by the United States government, and the primary reason the territories agreed to be annexed was so that they could be afforded the protection of the US army.

    The battle of the Alamo (vs Mexico in 1836) saw a small anarchist Texan army absolutely obliterated. They later rallied and were able to repel about 1000 mexican troops, but later were forced to petition for entry into the United States in order to protect them from being reannexed by Mexico in 1845.

  50. Yobbo wrote ‘I’m not sure about Iceland or Somaliland but the “wild west” as you call it lasted all of about 5 years before being annexed by the United States government, and the primary reason the territories agreed to be annexed was so that they could be afforded the protection of the US army’.

    No, not in general; while many territories were just like that, that actually means that they were only separate in a fake way to begin with so they could make out that their peoples were genuinely seeking to join freely, just like the fake “republics” of Florida, California and Hawaii. As against that, there were real groups that didn’t want to join but held out for years until they were forced into it, like Utah – which was invaded and then occupied and denied full rights for decades until it had been digested, much longer than the norm for attaining formal statehood (and even after that, an early senator was expelled for not being digested enough but instead genuinely expressing contemporary Utah values); they had to seek statehood if they ever wanted to get any control back, even though it was made out as showing that they “freely” accepted accession to the USA, as the alternative was to have the USA anyway but without any real autonomy. Arguably Vermont was an early example of holding out for years, as a not quite so fake republic; Puerto Rico is a current example of an unwilling territory that keeps being asked if it is ready for statehood until the people get it right (sorry, “until the people are ready”) – at which point they will never be asked again and the decision will be final, all very EU referendum style.

  51. I can think of a few ideas that might lead to theoretically successful models of anarchy. It depends whether you see “no government” as literally “no government” or just “no compulsory government/ taxation”.

    For example I can imagine a society where statute law was removed and replaced entirely by case law. There may be an organisation or “government” that has a monopoly on judicial procedures but it could be funded through “insurance”, through making the guilty fund it (through money or labour) or by having a fee for bringing a criminal case forward. The judiciary in question may randomly select members of the community to invite to participate in the jury process. And it would contract defensive services out to other organisations.

    The judiciary and defense force, if monopolistic, may be considered a quasi-government. But everything it does could theoretically be voluntary.

    And laws would no longer be made top-down but organically through “invisible hand” processes. What is so appealing about objective sentencing anyway? Surely some subjectivity in law-making is actually beneficial. No-one thinks there is “one right price for bread”, it depends on the judgement of the market. So why can’t law-making be based on free market principles and the judgement of the judiciary in question with strong appeals to precedent?

    Hayek’s idea of spontaneous order is entirely applicable in this case. Bad laws, or outdated laws that aren’t in line with public sentiment could be quickly struck down and through trial and error a more accurate sense of public morality could be reached. If top-down doesn’t work for school curriculum or food prices why should it work for law-making?

    The problem is how to deal with deviants or how to deal with bad laws? But that is a problem now, too. I think anarchy accepts that there could be bad laws or inappropriate sentences passed, but generally, it’s better and going to give more appropriate sentences to deviants than a top-down state driven model.

  52. I guess in a sense it’d be like micro-democracy. Democracy itself isn’t a bad thing. But mass-democracy is. The smaller and more organic and local our democracies are the more likely we are to get universally agreed on values. A democracy of one is always legitimate after all. For that matter so is a democracy of two that requires a majority.

  53. Given the concerted attacks by the Mafia on the Italian judiciary any stand alone judiciary is going to need good security services. In terms of funding such a setup another option is a trust fund.

  54. Shem — I like that distinction: micro-democracy (good) and macro-democracy (bad).

    Yobbo — it’s not clear to me that a Texas government would have beaten the Mexicans without American help. Which means the issue at play was not whether they had a government, but whether the country was big enough. That would have been a very relevant issue in some places and at some points of time… but clearly small countries are able to exist in many places in the current world.

    Also, no matter how many times I talk about how development leads to a different dynamic, that issue seems to be ignored.

  55. JC wrote “I can’t imagine Puerto Rico ever asked to join, PM”.

    You misunderstand the process. Every so often – a bit more often than every generation – the US authorities ask the Puerto Ricans if they want to become a US state, the beginning of the slide. Last time it was part of a three way question with options of statehood, independence and continuing territory status – something that divides the opposition and makes it easier to get it up. So far the Puerto Ricans haven’t fallen for it, although they are going to keep being asked while they keep giving the wrong answer. But the only initiatives they themselves undertake (unless you count astroturf style stalking horses doing it) are for independence, not statehood.

  56. The USA seems to want its’ own empire, without calling it that. This has been developing ever since they proclaimed the Monroe doctrine, giving themselves the right to interfere in Latin America. And what they’ve been doing to Cuba has been imperial all along.
    So I don’t think Puerto Rico will be independent any time soon.

  57. ‘Nuke’ Gray wrote “The USA seems to want its’ own empire, without calling it that. This has been developing ever since they proclaimed the Monroe doctrine, giving themselves the right to interfere in Latin America.”

    No. The USA destabilised Spanish control of the Floridas and then took over even before that, and of course there were the two failed invasions of Canada that go back to the very beginning of the USA.

  58. Actually, it was Sir Francis Drake who first “destabilized” Spanish control of Florida, back in the 1590s — nearly two centuries before the United States became an independent country. There were several invasions of Canada, back and forth, during the French and Indian Wars — which were done at the behest of the colonizing British government. Colonial America under British rule did more deliberate empire-building (or attempted to) than the later US.

    The US on its own was far less imperialistic than other states of the same time-period, and most of its land-grabbing was taking contiguous land for its people to settle and live in, not to rule and exploit the natives.

    In fact, the taking of Indian lands (being part Chippewa myself, I really resent that inaccurate and mealy-mouthed phrase “native Americans”) can fairly be blamed just as much on stupid policies by the Indians themselves as on the greed of Whites. The Assiniboian Confederacy, which did a good job of dealing with the Whites, collapsed because of internal squabbles. The Chippewa in Michigan were obliged to cede big chunks of territory to the British (though their treaty is a marvel of Indian privileges!) in order to gain help against their greedy Indian neighbors: the Sioux on the west and the Iroquois on the east. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills and greedy Whites came sneaking in to pan it, Sitting Bull came up with a brilliant strategy for dealing with the Whites; his plan was voted down by the Sioux Nation council primarily by the politicking of Chief Gall, who then led the Sioux into a suicidal war, simply because he personally hated Sitting Bull. And then there are all the cases of the Plains Indians refusing to unite against the common White threat because they wouldn’t give up their cherished old feuds among themselves. No, dark-skinned people are *not* Holier Than Thou purely by virtue of having dark skins, sorry.

    To go on, the Monroe Doctrine — and the expansion afterward — were at least partly in response to the attempt by Spain, and later Mexico, to step into the “void” left by British withdrawal. The fledgling US had to get aggressive in order to keep from being swamped.

    elieve me, there were — and are — plenty of old-world states that have hated America, and the very idea of democracy, right from the beginning; these states have *never* given up on their assorted attempts to bring down the US, and the only solution is to fight them and keep on fighting them, with a government or without one. In evidence of this, note that the “Border Wall” — incomplete, but effective as far as it stretches — intended to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico, was built and paid for by private citizens (mostly local farmers and In fact, if the state and federal govt.s would stop leeching the citizens with taxes on everything, those citizens would have the money to finish the Wall by themselves.

    Consider Obama’s blithe statement that his new “healthcare” bill would cost the citizens “only” 1 trillion dollars. Now there are 300 million citizens in America (nobody knows how many Illegals!), of whom 200 million are adult taxpayers. Divide $1 trillion by 200 million, and you get $5000 apiece. That’s just for the healthcare bill! Think of all the other trillions the federal govt. (not to mention the state govts.) is spending on other projects, and you get some idea of how much money our citizens would have for themselves if we weren’t saddled with states.

    –Leslie <

  59. So, Leslie, is/are the US imperialistic? How right were their policies in Cuba, for instance, and the invasion of the independent Phillipines?

  60. Leslie Fish, that bit about Sir Francis Drake is a bait and switch away from the USA’s first aggressive actions towards whether other countries did the same in the same areas earlier, a “tu quoque” (“you too”) argument. (It’s historically wrong about who was first to interfere in the Floridas, too – French Huguenots were at it much earlier.)

    “To go on, the Monroe Doctrine — and the expansion afterward — were at least partly in response to the attempt by Spain, and later Mexico, to step into the “void” left by British withdrawal. The fledgling US had to get aggressive in order to keep from being swamped.”

    That’s nothing but a claim that their pre-emptive aggression was justified, like the old saw that the Israelis always get their retaliation in first. But the status quo the USA was attacking was just precisely what it had agreed to with its allies in its war of independence! Spain regained the Floridas that it had earlier lost to Britain, as part of its reward for helping the rebels. As far as the USA was concerned, far from being an encroachment against it, that area of Spanish territory was a buffer it gained from because it got the far stronger British out. Unfortunately for Spain, it also formed a refuge for runaway slaves, which was taken as a justification for the USA to seize it.

    No, the historical record shows US territorial ambitions being strongly pushed at others’ expense from day one.

  61. And that contiguous landgrabbing sounds like imperialistic expansion by any other name! Americans didn’t exploit the natives, you say? Just took most of their land from them, and pushed them onto reservations! you mention the British as trying to grab Canada. Why, after the Revolting behaviour by the Yankees, did you keep on this path, by trying to invade Canada for yourself? Ain’t that imperialism?

  62. Heheheh. When everybody else was going at Imperialism hot and heavy, the US did a helluva lot less of it. Yes, we took the Phillippines in the Spanish-American war — and gave it back to the locals after WWII. Cuba? We took that in the Spanish-American war too, and likewise gave it back. As for those half-hearted attempts to invade Canada, only a few people took them seriously — which is why they failed resoundingly. Also bear in mind that, at the time, Britain was making a few half-hearted attempts to take the US back, or don’t you recall the reason for the War of 1812? And aren’t you conveniently forgetting Spain’s attempts to move in on America at the same time? Spain was quite willing to give us some help (not as much as France did) against Britain, but the moment the US got its own government — with that outrageously democratic Constitution, and its perfectly shocking Bill of Rights — well, Spain promptly stopped being our friend. In fact, every proper monarchy in the world wanted to take this upstart down.

    In fact, they’re still at it. This is why tin-pot dictatorships howl “imperialism” at us while they slaughter their own people, and their own neighbors. This is why Islamic Fascists squall “racism” whenever we try to stop them from taking over every country they can get into. This is why govt.s that merrily practice sexism, racism, imperialism and everything else they can pull off yowl that we’re practicing “imperialism” when we buy their oil, sell them our products and sometimes formally complain about the way they treat their own. Uhuh.

    Squall about the mote in your neighbor’s eye after you’ve removed the beam from your own.

  63. Leslie Fish wrote “Heheheh. When everybody else was going at Imperialism hot and heavy, the US did a helluva lot less of it.”

    No, no more than (say) Russia – both were doing it along land frontiers and formally integrating the gains into the mother country.

    “Yes, we took the Phillippines in the Spanish-American war — and gave it back to the locals after WWII”.

    No, it was only released into a position of clienthood – and only once it could be counted on to stay that way with minimum attention.

    “Cuba? We took that in the Spanish-American war too, and likewise gave it back”.

    Ditto, apart from not giving back Guantanamo Bay (or Puerto Rico, which I notice is not mentioned) – and when Cuba did get clear, the USA promptly exerted itself to overturn that, and indeed has never ceased trying to.

    “As for those half-hearted attempts to invade Canada, only a few people took them seriously — which is why they failed resoundingly”.

    Ah… “we didn’t lose because that wasn’t what we were after”.

    “Also bear in mind that, at the time, Britain was making a few half-hearted attempts to take the US back, or don’t you recall the reason for the War of 1812?”

    I do, but clearly you don’t, are unwilling to be honest about it, or are labouring under a misapprehension. Britain was doing no such thing – indeed, during the British-American War the Duke of Wellington advised that it was impractical. The actual reason (as opposed to the propaganda about resisting impressment etc.) was greed for territory and a desire to accommodate Napoleon’s wishes to close off naval supplies to buttress his “Continental Policy”. We know that the impressment thing was minor from the way the affected states wanted to avoid war.

    “And aren’t you conveniently forgetting Spain’s attempts to move in on America at the same time? Spain was quite willing to give us some help (not as much as France did) against Britain, but the moment the US got its own government — with that outrageously democratic Constitution, and its perfectly shocking Bill of Rights — well, Spain promptly stopped being our friend. In fact, every proper monarchy in the world wanted to take this upstart down.”

    Tosh. All of it. Frankly, the USA has an inflated idea of its importance. Spain never did move against the USA; that would have made it vulnerable to other enemies, like Britain. Spain never was a friend of the USA, only an ally. And yes, those things were and are shocking – but not the way you think, from their absurdity. It was expected that it would collapse from within soon enough; unfortunately for that view, the ancien regime countries did first.

    .
    .
    .

    “Squall about the mote in your neighbor’s eye after you’ve removed the beam from your own”.

    I believe this is what is called “projection”, ascribing your own worst behavioural traits to others.

    Nobody is criticising you for merely being what you are. The complaints relate to your doing all these things to others, then blocking any objections with denial that you do that sort of thing. “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?”

  64. Hmmm, we gave the Phillippines their freedom “only…into a position of clienthood”? And that’s why they’re *so* obedient to our every wish today? Rrrrrright. Cuba we set loose soon after the Spanish American war — keeping nothing of it but the Guantanamo Bay station, which the Cubans were quite happy about because it brought in lots of Yankee dollars. You’ll note that in the past half-century, even Fidel hasn’t tried to get rid of it. Currently we’re using it as a POW camp, and where else should we put POWs of the Jihadist stripe? Ohio?

    As for Puerto Rico, at practically every internal election it’s held for the past 60 years, the referendum has reliably come up: shall Puerto Rico remain a “territory”, become a state of the US, or become an independent country? And at every election, the populace has *always* voted to keep PR as it is: not a state (paying taxes) or an independent country (paying for its own military). So indeed “who are you going to believe” — the people’s choice “or your own lying eyes?”

    Going back to the War of 1812 and those half-hearted attempts by Britain to retake the US, and the likewise half-hearted attempts to neutralize that threat by invading Canada, remember that the British *did* get so far inland as to burn our capitol. Of course, one of the reasons Britain went after the US was that Napoleon had sold us — sold outright — all France’s holdings in what is now the central US: the famous Louisiana Purchase. We didn’t go a-conquering for it; we bought it when it was offered. The price ran the govt. broke, which was why it offered the lands for settlement at a small fee, and the growing population paid to move in — and raise crops and industries and pay taxes on them — which left the govt. solvent again.

    During Napoleon’s squabbles with Spain, the central and south American colonies rebelled (remember Simon Bolivar) and set up various attempts at democratic government; none of them were terribly successful because they still had the old late-medieval Spanish culture (and aristocracy) to deal with. The only exception was Mexico, whose culture and ruling class were determinedly anti-democratic. ‘Twas after Napoleon’s defeat that Spain had a revolution of its own, which replaced the old absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy (modeled on Britain’s, IIRC). That (1820) was when Mexico rebelled and set up its own govt. — because it didn’t like the new *liberal* govt. in Spain. What Mexico’s govt. was like for the next century is whole story in itself, but suffice it to say that the Mexican govt. made repeated attempts on the US. Santa Anna’s antics were what forced Texas, and then California, to rebel, secede, and join the US for protection. That was not the US’s “imperialism”, thank you, but a reaction to someone else’s.

    If “the USA has an inflated sense of its own importance”, then why have so many other countries tried repeatedly to squash it? Or, for that matter, to loot it under various excuses? US “imperialism” has been ridiculously small compared to that of “ancien regimes” in Europe and Asia, and has most often been a reaction to the imperialistic efforts of those same regimes. Since 1898, every time we’ve gone to war and beaten some other country, we have *not* made those lands into colonies, ruled by our govt., but have *walked away and left them* — usually with no more than a promise of future alliance, a military base or two, and increased trade. As empires go, this is pretty weak stuff.

    US “imperialism” is the mote in your neighbor’s eye.

  65. A shame you brought Texas into it. The Texans were people who came into Texas under false colours, didn’t they? Like Islamists determined to remake the country into their ideal, even if they did break all the local laws? (Weren’t all immigrants to mexican lands supposed to be Catholics, for instance?)and weren’t all these new territories actual colonies of the US? On Indian land? did the Indians get a vote on Washington ruling them? And, yes, we have a similar problem here, but we don’t deny that the land was originally Aboriginal, and we can pull your trick, and say it was all done by the Brits before we became independent.

  66. Actually, no. Remember that the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1690 threw the Conquistadores out of what is now New Mexico and Arizona — what was then called Arizona Territory — not to mention all the lands north of them. The Spanish viceroy in Mexico City wasn’t about to admit to the king of Spain that he’d lost all that land to “heathen savages”, so he lied blatantly, claiming that his armies had taken the land back (they hadn’t), but it was so ruined by war as to be unproductive, so there weren’t any taxes coming out of it. The Pueblo tribes just laughed up their sleeves and got on with living.

    When Mexico got its independence it had to face the reality of the “lost colony”, and tried to retake it — and failed. They did, however, manage to kill off or drive north most of the Indians in the Texas territory. When Santa Anna got into power (and declared himself “president for life”, ho ho) he wanted a buffer of proper White people against the Indian threat, so he offered free land-grants in the Texas territory. He also wanted those proper White people for their skill in blacksmithing, which was in sorry shape in Mexico at the time. His offer attracted a lot of settlers from the US, and also from Britain, Belgium, France and Russia. The settlers got along OK with each other and started producing lots of goodies in Texas. Then Santa Anna started flexing his muscles at them. He slapped them with higher taxes, decreed that they could speak no language but Spanish, and must all become Catholics — and Catholics subject to the Spanish-style Church in Mexico. You can imagine how well that went over with the settlers.

    Oh yes, and there was also the “slavery” question. American settlers wanted to import American-style chattel slavery. Santa Anna thought that was too liberal for him; he and his cronies much preferred medieval Spanish-style peonage, or serfdom. A Mexican peon was tied to the land, bought and sold with it, and couldn’t leave it; neither could he be taught to read and write, or taught any other trade, nor could he be freed by anything less than a special decree from El Presidente. An American chattel slave could come or go as his master decreed, could be educated (that varied from state to state in the US, and from owner to owner in Texas), could be rented out to a skilled craftsman for money and to learn a skilled trade so as to increase his value, and could be freed at his owner’s own discretion. Santa Anna & Co. didn’t want all those American-style slaves wandering around, giving the peons dangerous ideas. So Santa Anna banned American-style chattel slavery and insisted that the settlers take up old Spanish-style peonage instead.

    Anyway, the settlers rebelled, seceded, and declared an independent republic. When Santa Anna marshalled a huge army to come after them, the settlers appealed to the US for help. It took time for the US troops to arrive, and all that held off Santa Anna’s army until they came was the legendary stand at the Alamo. Thus began the Mexican War, which ended with the US throwing Santa Anna’s troops permanently out of Texas.

    Now Santa Anna had also done the same deal in California, so when Texas rebelled, the Californian settlers did likewise. They too seceded and set up an independent republic, but having seen what happened to Texas, they didn’t wait for Santa Anna’s troops to start marching before they signed on with the US.

    The vast majority of the killing off of the Indians in Texas and California was done first by Spain and then by Mexico. There was no killing off of the Indians in the Arizona territory, because: a) they won, b) they were literate, and knew how to beat the US White men at their own law game, c) they knew how to use the desert to their advantage far better than the Whites did, d) they had metal-working, cattle, sheep, horses, and lots of other useful skills and items they’d liberated from the Conquistadores. To this day, the Pueblo tribes own outright one-sixth of the state of Arizona (I haven’t seen the figures for New Mexico), including the best silver-mines, and of course they have the casinos.

    Yes indeed, there are parts of America where the Indians didn’t lose.

  67. I don’t know much Mexican history, so I can’t argue that, but wasnt ‘The war of 1812’ started by an American President? Wasn’t it really a sideshow for Britain, as it was involved in a life-or death struggle with Napoleon and his dream of a French Empire over most of Europe? Maybe Americans only remember it as the War of 1812, but there were bigger concerns going on outside it.

  68. In what follows I am going to quote from a list of Thirty-eight dishonest tricks which are commonly used in argument, with the methods of overcoming them,taken from “Straight and crooked thinking” by Robert H. Thouless, Pan Books, ISBN 0 330 24127 3, copyright 1930, 1953 and 1974.

    Leslie Fish wrote ‘Hmmm, we gave the Phillippines their freedom “only…into a position of clienthood”? And that’s why they’re *so* obedient to our every wish today? Rrrrrright.’

    Not 100% obedient, but thoroughly constrained. Even getting rid of Marcos was done by the USA double crossing him. This is a case of trick (4): “Extension of an opponent’s proposition by contradiction or by misrepresentation of it (pp 39-43) Dealt with by stating again the more moderate position which is being defended”.

    “Cuba we set loose soon after the Spanish American war — keeping nothing of it but the Guantanamo Bay station, which the Cubans were quite happy about because it brought in lots of Yankee dollars”.

    Observe that that “happy” was an artefact of the clienthood in place at the time

    “You’ll note that in the past half-century, even Fidel hasn’t tried to get rid of it”.

    Er… either you don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re deliberately lying. Castro’s regime did try to get it back, by peaceful means, and cut off any supplies from Cuba – an embargo that continues to this day. And you could note, but almost certainly won’t, that Cuba has conscientiously refused to cash the rent payment cheques ever since (so much for “the Cubans were quite happy about because it brought in lots of Yankee dollars”).

    “Currently we’re using it as a POW camp, and where else should we put POWs of the Jihadist stripe? Ohio?”

    This is a case of trick (7): “Proof by inconsequent argument (pp 49-50) Dealt with by asking that the connection between the proposition and the alleged proof may be explained, even though the request for explanation may be attributed to ignorance or lack of logical insight on the part of the person making it”.

    So, what has that to do with whether the USA did in fact take it from Cuba and is in fact keeping it from Cuba against Cuban wishes, although it does show that the USA is now using it even outside the uses provided for in the original rigged agreement?

    ‘As for Puerto Rico, at practically every internal election it’s held for the past 60 years, the referendum has reliably come up: shall Puerto Rico remain a “territory”, become a state of the US, or become an independent country? And at every election, the populace has *always* voted to keep PR as it is: not a state (paying taxes) or an independent country (paying for its own military). So indeed “who are you going to believe” — the people’s choice “or your own lying eyes?”’

    See my earlier description of how these are rigged exercises, both from the options put and from the repetition of attempts to get them to give the “right” answer. That’s not the people’s choice at all; they have never once been offered a straight choice of independence, with the electorate not including people on the government payroll and not including non-Puerto Rican US residents.

    “Going back to the War of 1812 and those half-hearted attempts by Britain to retake the US, and the likewise half-hearted attempts to neutralize that threat by invading Canada, remember that the British *did* get so far inland as to burn our capitol”.

    Beep. There were no “attempts by Britain to retake the US”, half hearted or otherwise. The approach was one of incursions. And there was nothing half hearted about the unprovoked US invasion (I have already shown that the claimed provocation didn’t actually provoke those it was done to).

    “Of course, one of the reasons Britain went after the US was that Napoleon had sold us — sold outright — all France’s holdings in what is now the central US: the famous Louisiana Purchase”.

    Plain wrong. Who on earth do you think advanced the funds for that purchase? Britain.

    “We didn’t go a-conquering for it; we bought it when it was offered”.

    So? Leaving aside the fact that opportunism doesn’t require doing everything in a military way, that was never cited here as a case of aggression. That makes this a case of trick (6): “Diversion to another question, to a side issue, or by irrelevant objection (pp 44-48) Dealt with by refusing to be diverted from the original question, but stating again the real question at issue”.

    I tell you again, the question at issue is whether the USA has been aggressive and imperialistic from its beginnings.

    .
    .
    .

    “…suffice it to say that the Mexican govt. made repeated attempts on the US. Santa Anna’s antics were what forced Texas, and then California, to rebel, secede, and join the US for protection. That was not the US’s “imperialism”, thank you, but a reaction to someone else’s.”

    Er… see ‘Nuke’ Gray’s reply to this. Note also, that Mexico did absolutely nothing against the USA itself as it then was, or even against US citizens resident in Mexico beyond trying to make them obey Mexican law (e.g. against owning slaves).

    ‘If “the USA has an inflated sense of its own importance”, then why have so many other countries tried repeatedly to squash it?’

    Even if the latter were true (which it isn’t), it would have nothing to do with the former; it would be quite consistent with a correct assessment of US significance. This is more trick (6): “Diversion to another question, to a side issue, or by irrelevant objection (pp 44-48) Dealt with by refusing to be diverted from the original question, but stating again the real question at issue”.

    The question at issue is whether the USA has been aggressive and imperialistic from its beginnings.

    “Or, for that matter, to loot it under various excuses?”

    Ditto – it isn’t true (if you check the history, outsiders have invested in the USA and then been ripped off by legal changes), and it has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

    ‘US “imperialism” has been ridiculously small compared to that of “ancien regimes” in Europe and Asia, and has most often been a reaction to the imperialistic efforts of those same regimes’.

    The former is false except under the narrow definition of direct rule, the latter is false (both of which you have been shown here or may check independently), and the whole is irrelevant as the “tu quoque” I told you before. That makes this repetition a case of trick (21) in a group of three: “(21) Suggestion by repeated affirmation (pp 111-114) (22) Suggestion by use of a confident manner (pp 114-115)
    (23) Suggestion by prestige (pp 115-118) The best safeguard against all three of these tricks of suggestion is a theoretical knowledge of suggestion, so that their use may be detected. All three devices lose much of their effect if the audience see how the effect is being obtained, so merely pointing out the fact that the speaker is trying to create conviction by repeated assertion in a confident manner may be enough to make this device ineffective. Ridicule is often used to undermine the confident manner, or any kind of criticism which makes the speaker begin to grow angry or plaintive.”

    You are just “trying to create conviction by repeated assertion in a confident manner”. (I, on the other hand, back my repeated rebuttals with suggestions about where and how you can check them.)

    “Since 1898, every time we’ve gone to war and beaten some other country, we have *not* made those lands into colonies, ruled by our govt., but have *walked away and left them* — usually with no more than a promise of future alliance, a military base or two, and increased trade. As empires go, this is pretty weak stuff.”

    Oh, nonsense. One, even if it were weak, it would still be real (it’s actually pretty standard imperial technique for the early stages, all the way back to the Greeks and Romans or maybe even earlier). Two, there’s the clienthood thing. Three, there’s the whole aggression in the first place. And again, you’ve been told this before, so this repetition is more trick (21).

    ‘US “imperialism” is the mote in your neighbor’s eye’.

    Ditto.

    Leslie Fish also wrote ‘When Santa Anna got into power (and declared himself “president for life”, ho ho) he wanted a buffer of proper White people against the Indian threat, so he offered free land-grants in the Texas territory. He also wanted those proper White people for their skill in blacksmithing, which was in sorry shape in Mexico at the time. His offer attracted a lot of settlers from the US, and also from Britain, Belgium, France and Russia. The settlers got along OK with each other and started producing lots of goodies in Texas. Then Santa Anna started flexing his muscles at them. He slapped them with higher taxes, decreed that they could speak no language but Spanish, and must all become Catholics — and Catholics subject to the Spanish-style Church in Mexico. You can imagine how well that went over with the settlers.’

    Apart from one crucial thing, that is almost correct. Sant Anna didn’t pull a fast one and change the rules on them, he always admitted he was after building up Mexico – and the precedents for what he had in mind were all around, e.g. in Russia.

    ‘Oh yes, and there was also the “slavery” question. American settlers wanted to import American-style chattel slavery. Santa Anna thought that was too liberal for him; he and his cronies much preferred medieval Spanish-style peonage, or serfdom. A Mexican peon was tied to the land, bought and sold with it, and couldn’t leave it; neither could he be taught to read and write, or taught any other trade, nor could he be freed by anything less than a special decree from El Presidente. An American chattel slave could come or go as his master decreed, could be educated (that varied from state to state in the US, and from owner to owner in Texas), could be rented out to a skilled craftsman for money and to learn a skilled trade so as to increase his value, and could be freed at his owner’s own discretion. Santa Anna & Co. didn’t want all those American-style slaves wandering around, giving the peons dangerous ideas. So Santa Anna banned American-style chattel slavery and insisted that the settlers take up old Spanish-style peonage instead.’

    That’s amazing chutzpah. Do recall which way runaways went, and whose options seemed preferable to the exploited groups. It’s also worth recalling what happened to “liberated” peasants in those areas later – basically, incremental expropriation and worse exploitation than before.

    “Anyway, the settlers rebelled, seceded, and declared an independent republic. When Santa Anna marshalled a huge army to come after them, the settlers appealed to the US for help. It took time for the US troops to arrive, and all that held off Santa Anna’s army until they came was the legendary stand at the Alamo. Thus began the Mexican War, which ended with the US throwing Santa Anna’s troops permanently out of Texas.”

    A lot of history has been elided here.

    “Now Santa Anna had also done the same deal in California, so when Texas rebelled, the Californian settlers did likewise. They too seceded and set up an independent republic, but having seen what happened to Texas, they didn’t wait for Santa Anna’s troops to start marching before they signed on with the US.”

    The timeline is wrong in this too, and the gold discoveries have been left out.

    “The vast majority of the killing off of the Indians in Texas and California was done first by Spain and then by Mexico”.

    More “to quoque” irrelevance to the question at issue.

    “There was no killing off of the Indians in the Arizona territory, because: a) they won, b) they were literate, and knew how to beat the US White men at their own law game, c) they knew how to use the desert to their advantage far better than the Whites did, d) they had metal-working, cattle, sheep, horses, and lots of other useful skills and items they’d liberated from the Conquistadores”.

    None of that saved others, nor would a successful stand show that they were not attacked.

    “To this day, the Pueblo tribes own outright one-sixth of the state of Arizona (I haven’t seen the figures for New Mexico), including the best silver-mines, and of course they have the casinos. Yes indeed, there are parts of America where the Indians didn’t lose.”

    Ah… so keeping one sixth counts as not losing? I am reminded of a quotation attributed to John Wayne, about “all those Indians who were squatting on our land before we got there” (quoting from memory).

  69. What Lawrence said!! I was about to write the very same thing, honest!
    I think there’s enough evidence to show that the USA was imperialistic from its’ early years, whether you call it heavy or light imperialism. And the taking of the Indian land after Independence was something the USA decided to do, and all those states gained then were on land taken from the Indians, even if you ‘bought’ it from other powers who had taken it- you could have given it back to the indian inhabitants, if you were really a moral nation. Why did you hang on to it?

  70. PM: *Sigh* I see that you’re arguing for the fun and sport of arguing, regardless of the facts, which is why you keep quoting that cute little book about debate tactics rather than sticking to the facts and their logical conclusions.

    Look, the 16th to 19th centuries were the heyday of European colonialism, where the general rule was that one either gobbled up his neighbors or got gobbled. The US as a fledgling nation had to deal with that attitude, and was not about to be gobbled; that meant both fighting off hopeful European powers and our Good Neighbor to the south, and it also meant making the occasional imperialistic gesture to prove that one wasn’t in the prey class. Compared to the other regimes in Europe, Asia and the Americas at the time, the US did remarkably little at keeping up with the Joneses.

    Hmmmm, by the by, how did Canada wind up with all that Indian land, pray tell? No need to ask how Mexico did. I don’t see you lambasting either of them. Why?

    But onward to the laundry list. You claim that the Phillippines and Cuba were “reduced to client status”. Now precisely what does that mean? That we left a couple of military bases with them, pledged them not to support our enemies, and traded with them? Ah, and this is somehow equivalent to marching in, replacing their govt. with ours, running their economy to suit ourselves, and *staying there* for decades or centuries — which is real colonialism, and which had been the lot of the vanquished in war throughout the previous several millennia. Now consider how the US treated Germany and Japan after WWII. Are you calling that imperialism too? Your definition of imperialism is interestingly elastic — when applied to the US.

    First off, the US did not take Guantanamo “from Cuba”; we took it from Spain, which owned all of Cuba at the time, and whom we defeated in war. The “original rigged agreement” was that we kept Gitmo, and gave the rest of the island to its inhabitants. How very imperialistic.

    So Fidel tried to get Guantanamo Bay back “by peaceful means”, and we refused the offer and also refused to trade with Cuba, eh? Refusal to trade (with somebody who openly boasted of siding with our then obvious enemies) isn’t exactly violence; it’s a “peaceful means” too. The US’ embargo certainly didn’t stop anybody else from trading with Cuba. And you’ll note that Castro didn’t bother pushing it afterwards. People who have visited Cuba since can tell you about the brisk if unofficial trade between Guantanamo Naval Base and the local civilians; it comes to considerable money, which the locals are unwilling to lose. As for Fidel’s show of not cashing the “rent checks” which the Navy sends him, those rates were set over a century ago when a dollar was worth 20 times what it is now, so the money isn’t that much. Cuba makes more money trading tacitly with the base, and Fidel gets lots of propaganda value. It’s simple dirty politics.

    Jumping backward a bit, the Phillippines aren’t that constrained by the US, as you can note from various news services. If they were really a “client” or secret colony, they wouldn’t be so helpful to Islamic Fascist groups setting up in their land, would they? You claim that the Phillippines only got rid of Marcos because the US “double-crossed” him, but why should we have done that? Could it be that his people complained bitterly about him, and the US (gasp!) actually listened to and obeyed the will of the people? It’s either that or the US didn’t control the Phillippines; you can’t have it both ways.

    My comment about the US military using Guantanamo as a POW camp is more commonly called a “sidebar” or an “aside”. No, it doesn’t have to do with the main argument; it’s just a comment on a related issue, and a short one. Big deal.

    Moving back a bit, if Britain helped fund the Louisiana Purchase, just to get all that land out of Napoleon’s hands, it wasn’t enough — which is why the land was opened to settlement. Yes, ’twas an American president who finally declared war during the War of 1812, because Britain was indeed getting high-handed with American shipping, abducting numbers of the crews and commandeering the cargos. Just what else were we supposed to do about that? And if Britain was so pleased by the US getting those lands, what was the point of abducting our citizens and pushing us into war? For that matter, if there was nothing “half-hearted” about the US’s feeble attempts to invade Canada, then what can you call those “incursions” into the US which did get so far as marching into our capitol and burning it down? So, the US “invaded” but Britain only “incurred”? Double standard! Where is that mentioned in your rulebook?

    But onward to Puerto Rico: you claim that those elections are always “rigged” (Sidebar: Hmmm, do you say that about every election that doesn’t go your way?) because they include people “on the government payroll” and “non Puerto Rico US citizens”. Beg pardon, but even those govt. hirelings and resident mainland citizens don’t begin to outnumber the rest of the Puerto Ricans. Numbers considered, it would be fairer to say that resident PRs who vote in American elections (yes, they do) control the vote in New York City — which they don’t, though there are more PRs voting in NYC than there are mainland Americans voting in Puerto Rico. Therefore, your theory that Puerto Rican elections are rigged is not proven.

    Going on, you claim that foreigners have “invested” in the US, and then “been ripped off” by legal changes. No doubt some have. Many more have made truly obscene profits out of the USA, at the citizens’ expense. If you want examples, I’ll reel them off — but this post is too long already, thank you.

    This has all been fun, but it’s getting late, so let’s dive to the conclusion. You claim that the US “has been aggressive and imperialistic from its beginnings.” What I’m telling you is that, given political reality, the US has been very little “aggressive and imperialistic”, and if it hadn’t been even that much “aggressive and imperialistic”, it wouldn’t have survived. In a world of sheep and wolves, you’d better be able to at least bare your teeth and howl.

    Now, Nuke: As to why we didn’t “give it back to the Indians”, to quote the old phrase…

    For one thing, it was impossible to tell accurately just whom to give it back to. We learned early on that Indians could lie, cheat and steal just as well as Whiteys could. (Heheheh. I’m part Indian, and believe me, I know!) You couldn’t be sure, when some Indian came up and claimed that such-and-such was his tribe’s land, that it wasn’t really some enemy tribe’s land that he was trying to get. That happened a lot, you know. In the famous story about Stuyvesant buying Manhattan for twelve dollars and some beads, there’s more than meets the eye. By treaty among the neighboring tribes, no Indians lived on Manhattan at the time; those tribesmen whom Stuyvesant ran into were, to be blunt, poaching. It wasn’t their land to sell.

    For another, a lot of that land was empty to begin with. When Columbus landed, the total Indian population of what is now the US was at best nine million. That leaves an awful lot of empty land. PM sneers that the Arizona Indians own “only” one-sixth of the state, but in fact they didn’t inhabit the other five sixths. Except for the Pueblos, who were literate, none of the tribes kept accurate maps or accounts of just where the boundaries of their tribal lands were — and again, opportunistic Indians were quite willing to lie about their boundaries. Pontiac, in Michigan, was a real expert at this game, and so were his descendants; the treaties they wangled out of the French, the British and later the Americans are marvels of special privilege. Michigan is another state where the Indians didn’t exactly lose.

    Third, there’s a question of damages. Contrary to popular mythology, the forest tribes (that’s the eastern third of the US we’re talking about) were not sweet little innocents, nor were they uniformly honest. They often made a game of pledging peace and goodwill with the White settlers, then coming back the next night to take their scalps — and anything else that took their fancy. (Sidebar: do you know what the phrase “Indian giver” means?) Enough cases of this made the White settlers — English, French or Spanish — understandably suspicious, and rather inclined to shoot first and settle claims later. Even if all the claims of “it’s my land” vs. “you killed my family” could ever be straightened out, the tribes would owe quite a bit for damages. In fact, a lot of early cases of damage-claims were settled by the Indians ceding land to the Whites whose farms they’d looted and whose families they’d killed. One of the reasons that Hianwatha (actual spelling) founded the Assiniboian Federation was to put an end to cases like this.

    Fourth: just whom were we to give it back to? A lot of Indians, whole tribes in some cases, were killed off by the British, the French and the Spanish before the US ever existed. That makes us purchasers of a murder victims’ estate sale, but not the actual murderers.

    Fifth: there’s the question of “improvements”. Except for the farming tribes of Virginia and the Pueblos of the southwest, the Indians weren’t farmers; they were hunter-gatherers, and a lot of the land (surprise!) wasn’t that good for hunting or gathering upon. The White settlers farmed, and irrigated, and reconstituted soil, with far better techniques than even the few farming tribes used — not to mention that they brought in new livestock and seed for far more crops. They made the land yield far more than the Indians ever got out of it; that’s called “improvement”. If we were to give the land back to the Indians (assuming we really could determine just which lands and just which Indians), the Indians would have to pay for those improvements. What would they pay with?

    Yes, the Indians were robbed of a lot of land. No, they didn’t lose everything that was theirs, not by a long chalk; they still own a considerable amount of land, and it yields better now than it did then precisely because of the Whites.

    Also, according to the last BIA figures I saw, there are now something like 18 million Indians living in the USA (not counting another 20 million, like me, of part-Indian descent). That’s twice the number that lived here when Columbus landed. Think about that.

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