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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Anarchy: The Nonexistent State

I’ve been considering Alex’s contention that Olson is wrong to simply assume banditry is to occur, or exists as some sort of necessary evil. At the time this argument was written off with the assurance that Olson understood the reality of the situation, which is that bandits will naturally crop up. However, in giving more thought to the idea I’ve realized Olson’s theories could well be applied to the question of anarchy, and explain why no stable anarchist state has ever existed or is likely too.

Let’s begin with the basics which Olson explicitly covered. The starting point which he theorizes is akin to Hobbes’s state of nature, or a sort of dog eat dog world for those unfamiliar with the philosopher. In this world there might well be productive activity going on, but there’s also a large amount of stealing because, for many, taking from another represents a way to better themselves in an easier fashion then actual production. What’s more, since there’s no entity that exists to discourage the bad behavior, there’s no real reason not to act on these impulses, assuming the thieves, or roving bandits, believe they can overpower or in some way sneak by the person currently in the position of having.

From this the supposition is that some person, or perhaps group of people, is going to realize they have more power then than their neighbors and stand to consolidate even greater power if they flex a little muscle and do a little taking to finance themselves as stationary bandits, who continue to take from their particular area of power. Now, of course, these stationary bandits have an interest in protecting those under their swath of influence from other bandits, and governments, or at the very least protection rings, begin to form.

I think this is where Alex parts ways and seems to believe one of two things, either people need not accept these bandit kings and would prefer to be without them, or the consolidation of power doesn’t necessarily have to happen at all, and some form of a permanent anarchy state would be possible.

In regards to the first, I would have to disagree. People seem to like security of some fashion, and supposing a world where at least roving bandits abound, the average person seems more likely to prefer the stationary one. I think this is actually to better ensure the process of production. If the possibility exists of being wiped out at any given moment, and could occur any number of times it would have a freezing effect on most productive activity, because activities of this nature occur only because people believe themselves likely to reap the rewards. Thus a stationary bandit, who takes a portion of your production, but leaves you at least some of it, as well as protecting you from the threat of having none due to roving bandits, while perhaps not ideal, seems infinitely preferable to the likely alternative.

In terms of the permanent anarchist state, in order for it to exist, it would require individuals to be able to protect themselves from the bandits. But in order to do this that individual, or perhaps group of individuals working together, would need to display power greater then the bandits in order to scare them off. Where does this power come from, and how is it nurtured and maintained? More then likely through a process similar to that described above, because no individual could stand for long against the combined force of an opposing group of bandits, and any commonwealth formed to fight the bandits would require some sort of tax or wage garnishing (a form of banditry) enforced by the threat of the fighting power itself in order to avoid free riders. One may ask, why the need to avoid the free rider problem? The answer is because your opponents have avoided it, and are that much more powerful because of it. Unless you can face them on somewhat equal terms you’ve consigned yourself to failure.

Thus far I’ve avoided discussion of a world without bandits entirely, roaming or stationary, as well as the idea of an benevolent power that exists solely to fight the bandits. This is because imagining it ignores the incentives of human nature. Bandits exist because it is often easier to take then to produce, as discussed earlier, and moral conundrums about it just don’t enter the equation for every member of society. A benevolent power, that does not take, but fights the enemies may well exist for some period of time, but would be unlikely to last for the same reason there are bandits. Eventually those in charge are going to want to use the power to take because the incentives for it are strong, and they have the power to do so.

Im not going to fisk this or anything but consider two things.

1. States of anarchy have existed and continue to exist. What you might not consider the scope of such states. For example, a small community or household might provide its own defense and be considered in all regards an anarchist state. However, people tend not to think of these as states. So an important question you should ask when you make the statement that a permanent (of course, no state is) anarchist state could not exist is the scope of which you define state? A house hold? A club? A community? A region? A continent?

2. Where do bandits get their power? What you have to remember is that a government is comprised of people. They use violence with the same constraints and possibilities that anyone else would. So asking a question like where would people get the force to fight bandits ignores a larger question of how do individuals gain force?
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