If Hobbes is Right, Then he is Wrong

Why Social Order Can Arise Without a State Amongst Hobbesian People

By Richard A. Garner

Every individual has a right of sovereignty in him or her-self. Any invasion of this sovereignty is an act of coercion. Therefore, the only legitimate use of force is defensive force – defensive of the sovereignty of the individual, as opposed to invasive. Liberty is the absence of coercion. Therefore every individual has a right to liberty. At the same time, every individual is born with a property right in him or her-self. Just as my property right in my car implies that nobody has a right to use my car as a means to their own ends without my permission, my right to self-ownership implies that nobody has a right to use me as a means to their ends without my prior permission.

The only system of distributive justice compatible with these rights is: Every individual is entitled to as much as he can acquire by non-coercive means, and is entitled to dispose of whatever he has acquired in any non-coercive manner he may choose. Only the transfer of property by voluntary agreement, therefore, is just. Taxation is unjust; redistribution (of peacefully acquired property) is unjust; any attempt to impose a patterned theory of justice, such as “to each according to their need,” is unjust. The NHS is unjust; Single parent benefits are unjust; social services and state pensions are unjust; the dole and the Jobseeker’s Allowance are unjust; The Welfare State is unjust; state education is unjust. Subsidies to industry are unjust; government grants are unjust; a national currency is unjust; tariffs are unjust; quotas are unjust. Any time one person is forced to support, either by labour or by confiscation of property, another person, that is unjust.

Invasion of individual sovereignty is immoral. Therefore all co-operation and association between individuals must be invited, and so backed by explicit, voluntary, consent in order to be just.

However, government and state cannot meet this requirement. “Government” is from the verb “to govern.” “To govern” means “to rule,” and “to rule” means “to exercise sovereign authority.” In order for authority to be sovereign it must suffer no competitor. Also the sovereign authority must be an overriding authority, overarching, or (which could be a literal translation of the word “overarching”), overruling. An agency capable of exercising such authority in society would be a government.

If we take a voluntary organisation, such as a trade union, we can see that this organisation has an executive, a “governing body.” However, this body does not constitute a government in the sense proscribed by the defining parameters given above. Why? Because it doesn’t possess a sovereign authority – the power of the executive essentially rests on the members, and is limited by the very fact that it is voluntary. Should an executive attempt to exercise its power against the terms upon which a member agreed to join the trade union, the member will simply leave the organisation and the executive would have no power over him. Thus the executive, whilst being authoritative, does not exercise a sovereign authority. For the executive in a trade union to be able to exercise sovereign authority it must, therefore, not be voluntary – it must be compulsory. Hence the executive must be able to control the use of people in the organisation against their own wishes – a violation of their right to ownership if themselves.

In order to exercise such authority, the government must be in possession of a state. A state is an organisation which monopolises the legitimate use of force in a particular geographic area (this is the Weberian definition). The government needs such a monopoly, for otherwise it would not be able to enforce its rule – its authority could simply be crushed by a superior show of force. However, for a state to exist it must necessarily violate the rights of those over whom the government must rule. The argument is simple:

1. “…the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.” (John Stuart Mill)

2. The state is an organisation which monopolises the legitimate use of force within a particular geographic area.

3. In order to monopolise the use of force within a particular geographic area the state forcibly must suppress all alternative sources of legitimate force within its constituency.

4. Such forcible suppression of competing sources of legitimate force is not out of self-protection.

5. Hence for the state to maintain a monopoly over the legitimate use of force within a particular geographic area it must interfere with liberty for reasons other than self-protection by suppressing competing uses of force, thus unjustly violating people’s rights.

6. Hence, for a state to exist, it must violate people’s rights.

A state cannot arise through voluntary agreement. This would imply voluntary support for the state; but if support for the state is voluntary we immediately face the possibility that people can withdraw their consent (thus destroying the government’s authority over them) and securing protection of their rights by other means. If they were to secure and enforce their rights by other means then their would be competing uses of legitimate force in a particular geographic area, and so no monopoly over legitimate force. If there is no monopoly, then there is no state. Thus, for a state to exist, by definition, it must prevent people from failing to consent or from withdrawing their consent from it, and so compel them to support it. So it would cease to be voluntary.

The anarchist says, therefore: “All government is evil; all states are forms of oppression. They can be done without. We must have, in order to have a just society, no more governments, no more states.” At this point supporters of government generally drop all pretence of wanting a just society and argue for an expedient one instead: “Governments and states,” they say, “are necessary evils.” They can just vaguely cling to a concept of justice and claim that if there were no government then there would be nothing to prevent people’s rights from being violated. To this my answer is twofold: Firstly people’s rights are violated by the very existence of states and governments; And secondly, why assume that only governments and states can protect rights? Those that argue from expediency say that we cannot have society without government, because society would not exist without government. In order to have a social structure we must have co-operation and tolerance, rather than exploitation and interference; unless there is a state to coerce (admittedly) individuals to co-operated with each other rather than exploit each other, then there will be nothing to prevent exploitation and intolerance, and so no society.

This is the old Hobbesian argument. Hobbes’ contention was that all people are both rational and seek their own interest – they are motivated towards happiness and away from pain particularly death.

“And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end, (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only), endeavour to destroy, or subdue each other. And from hence it comes to pass, that where an invader hath no more to fear, than another man’s single power; if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united, to dispossess, and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty. And the invader is again in the like danger of another…
“Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, as is of every man, against every man. For WAR, consisteth not in battle only, or in the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known… All other time is PEACE.
“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, not use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of mowing, and removing of such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…
“To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: where there is no law, no injustice. Force and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues… It is consequent also to the same condition, that their can be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he can get it; and for so long, as he can keep it.”
(Hobbes 1996, pp83-85)

If this, then, is anarchy, then government and state would indeed seem preferable. However, I think that even if Hobbes is right about human nature, he is wrong in his description of anarchy. Such a vision of a stateless condition of mankind does not follow from his concept of human nature. Therefore the anarchy that will arise from the following arguments is a world without governments or states, populated by people of the same nature as Hobbes ascribed to us all: It is, then, a Hobbesian anarchy.

First of all Hobbes says that in the Hobbesian anarchy everybody is everybody else’s enemy and even thieves and murderers, lives in fear of being robbed and killed. In other words, even if I rob you, somebody else can rob me, and has incentive to do so. Hobbes’ “solution” to the state of war is a monarchic dictatorship. However, if people are such that they would rather rob what others have produced than produce for themselves, that they would rather kill to get what they want than reach a compromise through co-operation, and the dictator is a person, then nobody’s life, liberty, or property is safe. This is quite obviously because the dictator will rob and murder to get what he wants, and, having control of the biggest concentration of power in society, from the monopoly over the use of force, none may resist him. Power is a means to an end, and unless checked, it will be used by whoever has it to achieve whatever end its possessor has, irrespective of the justice or social benefits of that end. Under a dictatorship there is no check to the ruler’s power, and so he or she will use it to exploit the rest of society. Social order will definitely not be sustained under a dictatorship.

Thus power must be dispersed. Take democracy. Suppose there are two groups, the electorate and the government (OK I am assuming that the electorate is a united whole, with unanimous agreement, but that doesn’t effect the conclusion I am about to reveal). The electorate, constituting society, is able to vote rulers in and out, and thus holds the government in check. On the other hand, the government has the power to hold members of society in check, to stop them from exploiting and robbing each other. Thus, it would appear, that in this very simple model, power is perfectly checked. So may we assume that a peaceful social order can be sustained if society conformed to this model? No, we can’t. In the model, government and society stand in opposition to each other, each checking the other, like enemies. All it takes is for one of the enemies to conquer the other, and it has complete power. There are no other enemies for out to watch for, or to attack from the rear whilst the conquest is taking place, and nothing more for it to gain. Now imagine anarchy. Here there are only individuals, no concentrations of power, because there is no monopoly over the use of force. As Hobbes pointed out, in anarchy I could rob and enslave my neighbour. However, as Hobbes also pointed out, I myself could be robbed and enslaved, and such an attack would be likely to come whilst I was trying to conquer my neighbour. And, in addition, even if I succeed in conquering my neighbour, I still have many more to conquer if I am to have complete power. Therefore, under anarchy the payoffs of trying conquer your neighbour are low, and the risks high, meaning that such behaviour will rarely be attempted. Under the democratic model, on the other hand, the payoffs are high, and the risks low, so such behaviour will be attempted. And under dictatorship, the ruler has already won the war of each against all, so he is guaranteed to exploit everybody. Under anarchy, then, where power is dispersed the to the widest degree – to each individual – the would be less chance of people trying to conquer each other, and so more chance for social order than under dictatorship or democracy.

Social order depends on co-operation. Society does not exist where individuals do not co-operate for mutual advantage. The Hobbesian argument against anarchy says that, due to the fact that individuals are self interested, they are more inclined to try to exploit each other than to co-operate, so the co-operation necessary for social order to get started won’t occur. Unless, that is, there is a state to coerce people into co-operating. However, I say that because people are self-interested, co-operation will get started, without the need for a state.

The Hobbesian argument assumes that social co-operation is like a Prisoners’ Dilemma game. Let me illustrate: It says that mutual co-operation is better than mutual exploitation, and so delivers higher payoffs, for instance, mutual co-operation between two parties gives a payoff of 3, mutual defection gives 2. However, the argument also says that players prefer to exploit than be exploited, and prefer exploiting others to mutual co-operation, and prefer mutual co-operation to being exploited. Therefore being exploited (co-operating when the other player defects) gives a payoff of 1, whilst exploiting (defecting whilst the other player co-operates) gives a payoff of 4. Thus the payoff matrix looks like this:

Player Two
Player One C 3,3 1,4

D 4,1 2,2

As can be seen, whatever choice one player makes, the other will always choose to defect (option D), in expectation that the first will co-operate (option C). But seeing as this works for both players, both players will choose to defect which leads to a worse out come than had they chosen to co-operate.

However, it is unrealistic to say that the Prisoners’ Dilemma is analogous to social co-operation, because the Prisoners’ Dilemma is a one off game played in a situation in which there are no other people. In social situations there is some chance of future interaction, so, if the situation is analogous to a Prisoners’ Dilemma than it has to be repeated games, and in social situation there are likely to be others around that we might also want to benefit us some time in the future.

To take in the importance of the future players should play a series of games, called moves. Due to the fact that people in a society do not know when they will meet again, the players do not know the length of the series, which may be potentially infinite. The fact that they have a number of moves makes strategic planning possible. Some strategies are “nice,” which co-operate on the first move, perhaps for a certain period until provoked into a defection by a defection from the other player. An example of a “nice” strategy is Tit For Tat, which co-operates on the first move, and then, in the next moves, reciprocates whatever the other player did on the previous move. There are also “meany” moves, which defect on the first move. An example of a “meany” is All D, which defects on all its moves, as Hobbes think people will. We should also consider player two as “the native,” and player one as a strategy attempting to “invade” player two, so as to get them to adopt its strategy. This way we can see which strategy is better.

The importance of the future can be reflected using a discount parameter, w, where w represents some fraction or percentage of possible payoffs. The future is of importance, but only of declining importance, so a move away from the current move is worth twice as much as the move two moves away from the current, and so on. This may by reflected by saying that w is part of a series: w, wn, … and so on, n being any number greater than one and higher than its preceding n. Now we can calculate the payoff for an entire strategy, the payoff being equal to the sum of an infinite series:

x / (1-w)

Where x is the payoff of one move, and w is the discount parameter.

If All D were playing All D, then, it would get a payoff of 2 per move for a mutual defection, meaning that if w = 0.9 then the payoff for using All D will be 2/(1-0.9)=20.

If Tit For Tat were playing Tit For Tat, then it would get a payoff of 3 per move for continued Co-operation (Remember that Tit For Tat co-operates on the first move, and then copies what the other player did on the previous move, so will always co-operate with somebody using Tit For Tat). This means that the Payoff for using Tit For Tat as your strategy against Tit For Tat will be 3/(1-0.9)=30.

Tit For Tat’s payoff against Tit For Tat is 3/(1-w). All D’s payoff against Tit For Tat is 4+2w/(1-w). So All D cannot do better than Tit For Tat when (3/(1-w)) (4+2w/(1-w) = w(4-3)/(4-2) = w0.5.

This means that, so long as the discount parameter is high enough, or, in other words, there is a better than average chance of future interaction between players, All D cannot do better than Tit For Tat. In fact, no strategy can do better than Tit For Tat than Tit For Tat against itself. In other words, Tit For Tat is in equilibrium, where the future is sufficiently important. This is because, if some strategy wants to do better than Tit For Tat on some move it must defect. But if it defects, then, on the next move, Tit For Tat will respond with a defection of its own. If Tit For Tat is in equilibrium then the payoff matrix for the iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma, or for repeated games of Prisoners’ Dilemma, is

Player Two

Player One TFT 4,4 1,3

All D 3,1 2,2

In this case, the rational choice for any self-interested player (player out to maximise payoffs) is Tit For Tat (TFT), and Tit For Tat always co-operates with Tit For Tat. This means that when Tit For Tat, is in equilibrium, that is, where there is a high chance of future action, co-operation will be bound to occur. So the outcome of repeated games of Prisoners’ Dilemma, the outcome of repeated interaction between selfish individuals in the Hobbesian state of nature, will be mutual co-operation, not a “war as of every man, against every man.” And, since mutual co-operation will be the outcome, social structures will be formed, which means that society can exist between self-interested people without the need for a state, so long as there is a sufficiently high chance of future interaction between them.

Prisoners’ Dilemma was an unrealistic analogy with social co-operation due, also, to the fact that in social situations people expect to interact with more than one other person. Prisoners’ Dilemma, as presented above, is a game for two players. Society is an N-Person game, where N represents some unknown number more than one. We shall now examine whether Tit For Tat is the best strategy in situations with more than two people.

All D is an equilibrium. This is because it always defects, so any strategy that tries to invade it can do no better than All D can against itself. If any strategy ever tried to co-operate with All D then All D would defect and get the highest pay off, the other strategy getting the lowest. This means that a world of “meanies” can resist invasion from anyone using any other strategy – but only if the invaders arrive one at a time. This means that if co-operation is to evolve, then newcomers must arrive in clusters. We can assume that newcomers, A’s, are rare in relation to the established B’s. By clustering together A’s provide a larger part of each other’s environment. This would mean that a p-cluster of A invades B if pV(A\A) + (1-p)V(B\B)>V(B\B), where p is the proportion of interactions by a player using A with another player (V is the payoff the strategy gets from interacting). This means that All D can be invaded by a nice strategy (such as Tit For Tat), if the invaders arrive in clusters that can interact with each other. This occurs even if only 5 percent of the interactions are with other members of the cluster. (This assumes that pairing in the interactions is not random. With random pairing A will rarely meet another A. Instead, the clustering concept treats the case in which the As are a trivial part of the environment of the Bs, but are a nontrivial part of the environment of other A’s.

When the newcomers grow in numbers, and become less rare, the need to avoid random pairing becomes less. If we were to assume random mixing with q percent of newcomers, then the newcomers would do better than the natives when qV(A\A)+(1-q)V(A\B)>qV(B\A)+(1-q)V(B\B). For Tit For Tat to invade All D, all that is required is that q>1/17. Newcomers, therefore, thrive in a random mix as soon as they represent a few percent of the population.

Things become interesting when we consider the evolutionary role of morality. Tit For Tat is the best strategy where there is a high chance of future interaction. That which is efficient for survival becomes, eventually, instinct. Homo-Sapiens has been the dominant animal on this planet for 40,000 years, and for pretty much all that time we have lived in small groups and close environments, where the chance of interaction is high (within that group, though not with other groups). Therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that, at least in some vague way, Tit For Tat is an instinctive form of behaviour in situations where there is a high chance of future interaction. Moreover, perhaps before we evolved it as an instinct (and perhaps as part of the process that caused us to) we probably taught each other to value the reciprocity Tit For Tat reflects. In addition, our instincts will influence our intuitions, which will generally influence our views on morality and justice. Take for example, a common situation: I hit you, to which you respond, “Ow! What did you do that for; I didn’t do anything to you?” Why should I be interested in whether you did anything to me? Unless, of course, we, at some level, think that violence is only justified when it is in reciprocation for previous violence – for previous defections. And how about the fact that we almost instinctively respond to a favour, “thanks, I owe you one.” Where does the concept of debt and the moral value we place upon its fulfilment come from? And what about the fact that many features of the common law, a legal system that evolved from precedents set by customary laws independently of states, such as payment of damages for a tort, reflect this notion of reciprocal justice? What about even Emmanuel Kant’s Universalisation maxim (follow only that maxim that you would wish to become universal law), or Christianity’s “Golden Rule” (love thine neighbour as thyself) both of which reflect reciprocity in a way?

Colin Ward, an anarchist sociologist, finds empirical evidence for the possibility of social co-operation without interference from external authority in the world even as it exists around us. For example,

“An interesting and deliberate example of the theory of spontaneous organisation in operation was provided by the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham in South London. This was started in the decade before the Second World War by a group of physicians and biologists who wanted to study the nature of health and healthy behaviour instead of studying ill-health like the rest of the medical profession. They decided that the way to do this was to start a social club whose members joined as families and could use a variety of facilities in return for a family membership subscription and for agreeing to periodic medical examinations. In order to be able to draw valid conclusions the Peckham biologists thought it necessary that they should be able to examine humand beings who were free – free to act as they wished and to give expression to their desires. There were consequently no rules, no regulations, no leaders. ‘I was the only person with authority,’ said doctor Scott Williamson, the founder, ‘and I used it to stop anyone from exerting any authority.’ For the first eight months there was chaos. ‘With the first member-families’, says one observer, ‘there arrived a horde of undisciplined children who used the whole building as they might have used one vast London street. Screaming and running like hooligans through all the rooms, breaking equipment and furniture,’ they made life intolerable for everyone. Scott Williamson, however, ‘insisted that peace should be restored only by the response of the children to the variety of stimulus that was placed in their way’. This faith was rewarded: ‘In less than a year the chaos was reduced to an order in which groups of children could be seen swimming, skating, riding bicycles, using the gymnasium or playing some game, occasionally reading a book in the library … the running and screaming were things of the past.’
“In one of the several valuable reports on the Pekham experiment, John Comerford draws the conclusion that ‘A society, therefore, if left to itself in suitable circumstances to express itself spontaneously works out its own salvation and achieves a harmony of actions which superimposed authority cannot emulate.’ This is the same inference as was drawn by Edward Alsworth Ross from his study of the true (as opposed to legendary) evolution of the ‘frontier’ societies in nineteenth-century America.”
(Ward 1996, pp32-33)

This example of a sociological experiment actually provides perfect empirical support for the game theoretic conclusions we reached above. The children refused to co-operate with those that would otherwise have co-operated with the children, consequently those would-be co-operators defected – refusing to co-operate with the children, and so there was no co-operation, and hence no social order. However, they were all occupying a limited area, within which, hence, future interaction was highly probable – in fact, certain. So, when payoffs from non-co-operation turned out to be lower than they would have been from co-operation, the children co-operated. They must have learned that an attempt to free-ride on the goodwill and support of others would lead to a withdrawal of that good will and support, and so a return to the earlier undesirable chaos.

Another perfect example is less intentional. This example is from The Yard, an adventure playground in Minneapolis. This was from a time when adventure playgrounds were not merely playgrounds with larger, more complicated climbing frames than most. The Yard was opened with the object of giving each child “their own spot of earth and plenty of tools and materials for digging, building and creating as they see fit.” The initial experience of life in The Yard reads like perfect support of Hobbes’ war of each against all, but it was not to last:

“…it was every child for himself. The initial stockpile of second hand lumber disappeared like ice off a hot stove. Children helped themselves to all they could carry, sawed off long boards when short pieces would have done. Some hoarded tools and supplies in secret caches. Everybody wanted to build the biggest shack in the shortest time. The workmanship was shoddy.
“Then came the bust. There wasn’t a stick of lumber left. Hijacking raids were staged on half-finished shacks. Grumbling and bickering broke out. A few children packed up and left.
“But on the second day of the great depression most of the youngsters banded together spontaneously for a salvage drive. Tools and nails came out of hiding. For over a week the youngsters made do with what they had. Rugged individualists who had insisted on building alone invited others to join in – and bring their supplies along. New ideas popped up for joint projects. By the time a fresh supply of lumber arrived a community had been born.”
(quoted in Ward 1996, pp89)

The wonderful thing of taking such examples from the behaviour of children is that, unlike adults, they haven’t had a life-time of indoctrination. They haven’t had it stamped into them that thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not harm another, thou shalt support your fellow man to the extent that adults have. By the time we have reached adulthood, we have been taught the rules of co-operation, and have had them imposed upon us from parents, teachers, and, most obviously, the local policeman and the government that pays him. This is not the case with children. Nevertheless we can see it as an empirical fact that, even without externally imposed and enforced orders, social co-operation evolved even amongst those that weren’t indoctrinated with the “rules” of social behaviour.

However, we would be foolish to exclude examples from the adult world to prove that social co-operation without orders imposed by the state can occur. This long quote from Peter Kropotkin, writing in 1887, proves that in much of our lives we in fact rely on this co-operation:

“… if we revert from the printed matter to our real life, and cast a broad glance on society as it is, we are struck with the infinitesimal part played by government in our life. Millions of human beings live and die without having had anything to do with government. Everyday millions of transactions are made without the slightest interference of government; and those who enter into the agreement have not the slightest intention of breaking bargains. Nay, those agreements which are not protected by government (those of the Exchange, or card debts) are perhaps better kept than others. The simple habit of keeping one’s word, the desire of not losing confidence, are quite sufficient in an overwhelming majority of cases to enforce the keeping of agreements. Of course, it might be said that there is still the government which might enforce them if necessary. But not to speak of the numberless cases which could not even be brought before a court, everybody who has the slightest acquaintance with trade will undoubtedly confirm the assertion that, if there were not so strong a feeling of honour in keeping agreements, trade itself would become utterly impossible. Even those merchants and manufacturers who feel not the slightest remorse when poisoning their customers with all kinds of abominable drugs, duly labelled, even they also keep their commercial agreements. But if such a relative morality as commercial honesty exists now, under the present conditions, when enrichment is the chief motive, the same feeling will further develop very fast as soon as robbing somebody of the fruits of his labour is no longer the economical basis of our life.
“Another striking feature of our century tells in favour of the same no-government tendency. It is the steady enlargement of the field covered by private initiative, and the recent growth of large organisations resulting merely and simply from free agreement. The railway net of Europe – a confederation of so many scores of separate societies – and the direct transport of passengers and merchandise over so many lines which were built independently and federated together, without even so much as a Central Board of European Railways, are a most striking instance of what is already done by mere agreement. If fifty years ago someone had predicted that railways built by so many separate companies finally would constitute so perfect net as they do today, he surely would have been treated as a fool. It would have been urged that so many companies, prosecuting their own interests, would never agree without an International board of railways, supported by an International Convention of the European States, and endowed with governmental powers. But no such board was resorted to, and the agreement came nevertheless. The Dutch Buerden, or associations of ship and boat owners, are extending now their organisations over the rivers of Germany, and even to the shipping trade of the Baltic; the numberless amalgamated manufacturers associations, and the Syndicats of France, are so many instances in point. If it be argued that many of these organisations are organisations of exploitation, that proves nothing, because, if men prosecuting their own egotistic, often very narrow, interests can agree together, better inspired men, compelled to be more closely connected with other groups, will necessarily agree still more easily and still better.
“But there is also no lack of free organisations for nobler pusuits. One of the noblest achievements of our century is undoubtedly the Lifeboat Association. Since its humblest start, which we all remember, it has saved no less than 32,000 human lives. It makes appeal to the noblest instincts of man; its activity is entirely dependent upon devotion to the common cause; while its internal organisation is based upon the independence of local committees. The Hospitals Association and hundreds of like organisations, operating on a large scale and covering each a wide field, may also be mentioned under this head. But, while we know everything about governments and their deeds, what do we know about the results achieved by free co-operation? Thousands of volumes have been written to record the acts of governments; the most trifling amelioration due to law has been recorded; its good effects have been exaggerated, its bad effects passed by in silence. But where is the book recording what has been achieved by the free co-operation of well-inspired men? – At the same time, hundreds of societies are constituted every day for the satisfaction of some of the infinitely varied needs of civilised man. We have societies for all possible kinds of studies – some of them embracing the whole field of natural science, others limited to a small special branch; societies for gymnastics, for shorthand-writing, for forwarding the science and maintaining life, and for favouring the art of destroying it; philosophical and industrial, artistic and anti-artistic; for serious work and for mere amusment – in short, there is not a single direction in which men exercise their faculties without combining together for the prosecution of some common aim. Every day new societies are formed, while every year old ones aggregate into larger units, federate across the national frontiers, and cooperate in some common work.
“The most striking feature of these numberless free growths is that they continually encroach on what was formerly the domain of the State or Municipality. A householder in a Swiss village on the banks of Lake Leman belongs now to, at least, a dozen different societies which supply him with what is considered elsewhere as a function of municipal government. Free federation of independent communes for temporary or permanent purposes lies at the very bottom of Swiss life, and to these federations many a part of Switzerland is indebted for its roads and fountains, its rich vineyards, well-kept forests, and meadows which the foreigner admires. And besides these small societies, substituting themselves for the State within some limited sphere, do we not see other societies doing the same on a much wider scale? Each German Burger is proud of the German army, but few of them know how much of its strength is borrowed from the numberless private societies for military studies, exercises, and games; and how few are those who understand that their army would become an incoherent mass of men on the day when each soldier was no longer inspired by the feelings which inspire him now? In this country, even the task of defending the territory – that is, the chief, the great function of the State – has been undertaken by an army of Volunteers, and this army surely might stand any army of slaves obeying a military despot. More than that: a private society for the defence of the coasts of England has been seriously spoken of. Let it only come into life, and surely it will be a more effective weapon than the ironclads of the navy. On of the most remarkable societies, however, which has recently arisen is undoubtedly the Red Cross Society. To slaughter men on the battle-fields, that remains the duty of the State; but these very States recognise their inability to take care of their own wounded: they abandon the task, to a great extent, to private initiative. What a deluge of mockeries would not have been cast over the poor ‘Utopist’ who should have dared to say twenty-five years ago that the care of the wounded might be left to private societies. ‘Nobody would go into the dangerous places! Hospitals would all gather where there was no need of them! National rivalries would result in the poor soldiers dying without any help, and so on.’ – Such would have been the outcry. The war of 1871 has shown how perspicacious those prophets are who never believe in human intelligence, devotion, and good sense.
“These facts – so numerous and so customary that we pass by without even noticing them – are in our opinion one of the most prominent features of the second half of our century [the nineteenth]. The just-mentioned organisms grew up so naturally; they so rapidly extended and so easily aggregated together; they are such unavoidable out-growths of the multiplication of needs of the civilised man, and they so well replace State-interference, that we must recognise in them a growing factor of our life. Modern progress is really towards the free aggregation of free individuals so as to supplant government in all those functions which formerly were entrusted to it, and which it mostly performed so badly.”
(Kropotkin 1993, pp47-51)

So, in response to Hobbes’ conception of society without the state, and summarising at this point our own vision of the Hobbesian anarchy, we can see that without concentrations of power, such as states, people will be unlikely to try to conquer each other or suppress each other; we can see that, where there is a high chance of future interaction, co-operation will evolve and will spread, and so social structures will be formed; and we can see that conceptions of morality, of right and wrong, justice and injustice will evolve. Hardly the chaos Hobbes hypothesised.

But we can go further. Hobbes said that without the state there would be nothing but a person’s own individual strength to stop the violation of his person or property. He claimed that social order will breakdown without some “common power” or law to hold people in “awe.” For these reasons he thought governments and states were necessary to provide these things. But why? Why assume that other, non-governmental institutions can’t provide them? After all, if you bought a piece of property, say some land, or a house, or a business, when it came to security you wouldn’t immediately ask yourself if you were paying enough tax, whether the government was a strong and ruthless one. You would check to see that you had firm doors, with strong locks, that the windows were out of reach or tough to break, and wonder whether you want bars or a grill for them. You will wonder whether it is worth investing in a burglar alarm, or a security system, or some watch dogs, or security guards; whether to buy a gun or stick. Large proportions of disputes in commercial law are handled, not by the government’s courts, but by arbitration firms. With a large number of personal injury cases insurance companies negotiate between themselves, in order to avoid legal costs, to reach settlements out of court, and so provide private alternatives to government’s courts. Alternatively they might handle such cases in courts provided by arbitration firms. All these things are not provided by the state, but by the market, through private voluntary agreement. When it comes to arranging the protection of your person and property, the state is the last thing you think of. As the state’s provision of these services deteriorates (due to the inevitable inefficiency of nationalised industries) similar private means will be used more and more.

So we can imagine a society in which there are no government police. Instead there are protection agencies selling protection of person and property on the market. As I said, only force used against invasion is justified, from which it follows that individuals have a right to use force to protect themselves. This right they can delegate, for, in doing so they would still be defending themselves, but simply using others as a means to that end. In order to use people as a means to an end they have to induce those people’s consent and co-operation, and so they trade. So libertarian rights justify such a system of protecting people.

“But surely,” an objection may come, “disputes would arise between protection agencies, and we’d go back to a state of war, only this time, one between firms rather than individuals.” This forgets the fact that Hobbes said that people were self-interested. Let’s set up the scenario: I get home to find my VCR stolen. I call my protection agency, Laws R Us, who check the security cameras I paid them to install, dust for finger prints, and generally go about their business. Eventually they decide that John Smith committed the crime. One of the Laws R Us agents ‘phones Smith and says “We believe that you have stolen Richard Garner’s VCR, on the night of ____. Please return it and pay us a fine for our effort, plus any damages Mr Garner may have incurred as a result of your offence.” Naturally John Smith tells the agent to go forth and multiply. So Laws R Us send some agents round to make him comply. Unfortunately when they get there they find that Smith has hired his own protection agency, Protectosquad, who have instructions not to let Laws R Us take him. Surely, you might think, the scene is set for a war.

However, would you invest your life savings in a business where they might be likely to get blown up, literally? No, (plus, remember that if they are likely to get blown up, you may not be able to get them insured). Thus for a firm to choose to adopt a war like policy would be to purposefully deter investment. Likewise, would you agree to work for a firm where you were likely to get shot at? Well, people do now, in our armies, but you’d have to be offered a high wage, very good perks, etc. Likewise, a firm that was war like would have to spend vast amounts on weapons and ammunition. Thus it would have to raise the costs. It would not be able to charge these costs to its customers, for that would mean higher prices, and so make it vulnerable to competition. Thus the firm would have to lose profit. But it is not in a firm’s interest to lose profit, so it is not in a firms interest to go to war with another firm.

Thus a far more likely outcome would be for firms to subcontract and agree to an arbitration firm in order to resolve disputes. Thus, instead of fighting it out in the streets, it is far more likely that they would go to a private court. If the arbitration firm resolves the dispute, then either explicitly or implicitly contained in the process of resolution are guidelines or precedents for resolving similar disputes. Thus a set of legal rules will be established. In a society like this there may be many competing courts, and even many competing legal systems. Each pair of protection agencies agrees in advance what arbitration service they will use to resolve disputes between one another, presumably with the knowledge of how that court resolves its disputes. By these means, the laws under which a particular case is decided are determined implicitly by advance agreement between the protection agencies. Courts support themselves by charging their costs to their customers in exchange for arbitrating their disputes. Its immediate customers are the protection agencies that contract with it. But the protection agencies in turn are selling protection (which must involve the arbitration) to their customers. Therefore the protection agencies will contract with the arbitration firms offering the legal rules they think that their customers would be willing to pay for, and thus want the most. For instance, suppose some customers of the protection agencies felt that they wouldn’t want to live under a legal system that executed criminals. It would be, then, in the interest of protection agencies who wanted to make a profit from selling to these people not to contract the services of an arbitration firm who produced laws that give capital offences. On the other hand, some people might feel safer under a system that executed people, and so protection agencies that wanted to make a profit selling to these people would contract the services of an arbitration firm that produced capital laws. And just as Car manufacturers sell different sorts of cars in the same geographic area, both these legal systems can function in the same area.

But what happens if customers who want one legal system get in a dispute with customers who want another? For instance, I want a system that gives murderers capital punishment, you don’t, and you kill my wife. The answer lies in the bargaining processes between our respective firms, as David Friedman explains:

“One can imagine an idealized bargaining process, for this or any other dispute, as follows: Two agencies are negotiating whether to recognize a pro- or anti-capital-punishment court. The pro agency calculates that getting a pro-capital-punishment court will be worth $20,000 a year to its customers; that is the additional amount it can get for its services if they include a guarantee of capital punishment in case of disputes with the other agency. The anti-capital-punishment agency calculates a corresponding figure of $40,000. It offers the pro agency $30,000 a year in exchange for accepting an anti-capital-punishment court. The pro agency accepts. Now the anti-capital-punishment agency can raise its rates enough to bring in an extra $35,000. Its customers are happy, since the guarantee of no capital punishment is worth more than that. The agency is happy; it is getting an extra $5,000 a year profit. The pro agency cuts its rates by an amount that costs it $25,000 a year. This lets it keep its customers and even get more, since the savings is more than enough to make up to them for not getting the court of their choice. It, too, is making a $5,000 a year profit on the transaction. As in any good trade, everyone gains…
“Most differences among courts would probably be more subtle. People would find that the decisions of one court were prompter or easier to predict than those of another or that the customers of one protection agency were better protected than those of another. The protection agencies, trying to build their own reputations, would search for the ‘best’ courts.”
(Friedman 1989, pp118-9)

It may be important not to cling too strongly to the concept of money in this process. It is described in terms of money value, but all money is is a representative of value. If the threat of no dinner is not enough to get a child to tidy his room, but the promise of dinner and a trip to the park is, then tidying his room is how much a dinner and a trip to the park are worth to him. They are the currency the child uses to buy what he wants. If he were also willing to tidy his room for £3 a week pocket money, then dinner and a trip to the park are the equivalent of £3 a week. So the price of a law may not necessarily be paid in money, though (here) it is measured in it. Friedman, for instance, suggests that when one agency gets the laws it wants at the expense of another, it need not compensate the other by paying them off in money (as his description implies), it may promise some other rule or body of rules that the agency wants, or whatever.

Moreover, the laws that such a system will produce are likely to satisfy libertarians. This is because the police would only get involved if someone thinks they are being wronged. All “victimless crimes”, under which nobody is harmed, would not be prevented. I am at risk if I think that you might stab me, and so I will be willing to spend in order to get reduce that risk to a level I am happier living with. But in what way am I at risk if you decide to have a gay relationship with someone? What benefits could I get from spending money preventing such a thing. The same goes with drugs. If you want to take drugs, what benefits would I get from spending money in order to stop you? None, so as a self-interested Hobbesian man, I would not spend my money doing so. You might rob me in order to feed your habit, in which case I would pay for a law against theft, not a law against theft and drug abuse. Or you might cause an accident due to being under the influence, in which case I would pay for a law that held users liable for accidents they cause under the influence. Not a law against using. When there are state people can see gay couples, or drug users and say “their ought to be a law against this.” With states such people do not make a loss with such laws, because they spend other people’s money in order to get them. Under this system they have to spend their own. The drug user or they gay couple are not going to spend money banning homosexuality and drug use. In fact they are likely to spend money to get protection against such a law, which would push the cost of such puritanical laws up even further. The same actually goes for redistribution, but to a lesser degree. Here their may be more of a motive to “help the poor” by helping yourself to other people’s money, and dishing it out. However, I doubt that this will occur. I may get more benefit from feeding a starving man with your wage packet than I do from preventing you from using it to buy drugs or handguns. But I do not get enough benefit (especially if I don’t meet the poor guy) to spend a vast amount of money trying to bid against you for a law that will enable me to exploit your labour for the benefit of the poor, especially when you have more of an incentive than I to spend on a law that doesn’t redistribute wealth. So this legal system will only be likely to produce laws that redistribute wealth if the owners of said wealth want it redistributed.

In many cases, too, there are strong incentives against police brutality. For instance, imagine a pedestrianised shopping street, in an anarchist society, is privately owned by those that own businesses around it. The owners of the businesses know that if nobody goes down the street they won’t get any business. They want as many people to go down the street, and in order to do that they must make sure that those that use the street are as safe as possible. Therefore they will employ a protection agency to patrol the street and prevent street crimes. But at the same time, if the private police do to many stop-and-searches, are too rough with shoppers, and are generally discourteous, then they will frighten away shoppers, which will mean less money for them. Therefore they have an incentive to treat shoppers courteously, establishing an equilibrium, based ultimately on the preferences of the shoppers, between both treating the shoppers fairly and making sure that they are safe from crime. For instance, look at it like this:

Imagine a private shopping arcade, owned, jointly, by the merchants around it, forming a “merchants’ Association.” The more people who walk in the arcade, the more are likely to shop at the merchants’ stores, so the more attractive the arcade is, the richer the merchants get. Realising that a crime ridden shopping arcade will put people off shopping there, the Merchants’ Association hires the services of Protecto-Squad, a private protection agency, to ensure that customers aren’t harassed by criminals.

However, the merchants start losing business as fewer people go down their street, and hear stories of black shoppers being taken down alleys and beat up by policemen. The Merchants realise that a policeman down an ally beating up innocent black people is a policeman not out on the streets keeping an eye out for criminals. Also, they figure out that a policeman driving away innocent customers is not any different – especially when it comes to profitability – from a criminal scaring off customers. So the Merchants’ Association terminates its contract with Protecto-Squad and hires To-Serve-And-Protect (TSAP) instead.

However, the Merchants overhear, one day, agents from TSAP abusing people in the street, marching down the pavement without stepping aside for anyone (and so expect people to cower out of their way), and generally being discourteous. The Merchants figure that they would fire a shop assistant if that shop assistant kept abusing clients – and with good reason; how can that attract business – so why would they want to keep protection agents who are abusive to people in their shopping arcade. So they terminate their contract with TSAP and hire Murbard protection agency instead.

Murbard protection agency ensures that its workers are polite and only pick on people who pick on others, and doing abuse their powers to be bullies. Hence Murbard makes large profits, and the other two agencies don’t. Seeing the good business practices of Murbard Protection Agency, other agencies start to emulate them, observing that courtesy sells. In a drive to become rich, profit seeking firms adopt the efficient practice, and those that don’t go under.

People might think that this idea of buying protection smacks too much of Mafia protection rackets. Actually the state is just like a protection racket: it forces people to pay for protection they haven’t asked for and prevents them from buying it from those they want to buy it from. Therefore the question is not merely “what is to stop a protection agency from behaving like a protection racket?” but, “what is to stop it behaving like a state?” Why won’t protection agencies force people to pay for their services even though those people haven’t asked for those services?

The answer is easy: The more a protection agency coerces me in order to get me to pay it, the more I would be willing to spend in order to get myself protected against such coercion. The more I am willing to spend to protect myself against coercion, the more profit a firm will be able to make supplying me with such protection. The more profit a firm can make, the more firms there will be willing to supply me with protection. Therefore if a firm tried to force me to pay for protection then it would be effectively increasing demand for other protection agencies. It would be like Mars writing on the side of their wrappers “Buy from Nestles,” because advertising a competitors product increases demand for that competitors product, and so risks your own market share and profits. It would, therefore, not be in a firm’s interests to act like states.

This is one reason why protection agencies would not be like Mafia protection rackets: In a free market for protection, coercion increases demand, increases competition, decreases market share, decreases profits. It is only because competition is presently illegal that Mafia firms are able to force people to pay for protection. In the anarchist society I have been describing, if a firm tried to force me to hand my money over, I would simply go elsewhere in order to find protection against the first firm, and the second would have an incentive to protect me. In our present society the only “elsewhere” I can go to is the state, which is itself a form of Mafia.

David Friedman wrote,

“What about the possibility of a Mafia getting its own protection agency? In order for a firm to provide its clients with the protection they want – protection against the consequences of their crimes – it must either get the other protection agencies to agree to arbitration by a court that approves of crime or refuse to go to arbitration at all. In order to do the first it must offer the other agencies terms so good that their customers are willing to be stolen from; … this reduces the thief to bribing the victim by more than the amount stolen, which is improbable. If it refuses arbitration, then the Mafia’s protection agency finds itself constantly in conflict with the other protection agencies. The victims of theft will be willing to pay more to be protected than the thieves will be willing to pay to be able to steal (since stolen goods are worth less to the thief than the victim). Therefore the noncriminal protection agencies will find it profitable to spend more to defeat the criminal agency than the criminal agency could spend to defeat them. In effect, the criminals fight a hopeless war with the rest of society and are destroyed.” (Friedman ibid, pp122)

There are other reasons why this system is less likely to favour criminals than other systems are. Firstly the “criminally prone” would be likely to find it difficult to get protection for the same reasons that people prone to sickness find it hard to get health insurance. This is called adverse selection: Insurance is essentially a bet on whether or not you will get sick, and so, if you are prone to getting sick giving you insurance won’t be a “safe bet.” Likewise, if you are the sort of person perpetually getting into conflicts with others, then your protection agency will have to keep forking out on arbitration, which is not in its interests. Moreover, in the views of those anarchists who suggest that protection agencies be provided by insurance companies, since the company would utilise its protection agency when it loses its bet, it is likely to only want to accept low risk clients. Those “frequent offenders” are not likely to get protection against those seeking retribution against their offences.

Secondly, David Friedman has often argued that one of the major reasons that Mafia have been able to operate in this system, and can’t in anarchist societies, is because of bribery. Mafia bribe the police. Suppose that I am a police-man in our statist society, and you and I both know that I have enough evidence against you to ensure a conviction. If you are convicted then you will get a punishment that costs you £30,000 (Friedman specialises in the economic analysis of law, where every punishment is a cost to the criminal). However, I only earn £20,000 a year. In economic logic, then, there must be some price between £20,000 and £30,000 at which I would agree to just… lose the evidence. In an anarchist society, on the other hand, where my income might be the fine I collect from you, the only bribe you could offer me to get me to “lose” the evidence is equal to the cost of the punishment you would receive, and so not worth you paying.

Thirdly, following on from the issue of bribery, we can address the question of biased judges: What if the arbitrator just lets the person who pays him the most win in a case? How can we guarantee impartiality on the part of arbitrators or judges? Well remember that protection agencies have to subcontract to agree to a particular arbitration firm in which to get their conflicts resolved. If one protection agency’s managers thought that the arbitration firm suggested by the other agency was biased, it is not likely to want to agree to use it. Therefore it is in the interest of arbitrators to be as impartial as they can.

These means of protecting against mafia/state style protection rackets also add to our discussion about how police abuse will be far lower under this anarchistic legal system than we would expect under a statist one. We saw that, should a protection agency try to impose its own “taxes,” and try to force people to purchase its services, or at least not to purchase those of other, competing agencies – and hence, act like a state – demand would rise for protection against this state, and people would simply hire another agency to protect them against the first. Well, the same applies to police abuse – should the agents of one protection agency become abusive to me, my own agency will be there to protect me. In short, I have my own police force to protect me against abuse from another one.

Compare this with the difference with today’s police force. Today, should someone – perhaps a black man, considering the vast numbers of them that have mysteriously died in police cells before they even reach trial – feel that he is being abused by the police, who is he to turn to for protection? The very police that are abusing him; the monopolistic nature of the state makes it impossible for him to get protection from anybody else. It is obvious that he can’t be sure of protection under these circumstances, and the practical evidence from real life cases proves this (the police who beat Rodney King are walking the streets free, despite video footage of them giving the beating).

Also, many “liberal” states, such as the US, or the UK, claim that citizens have a right to be protected against arbitrary arrest. Many of these “liberal” states still arbitrarily arrest, or cover up their doing so by inventing new “crimes” under which they may arrest people arbitrarily, such as “disturbing the peace” or “loitering”. One obvious and controversial example in the UK is the police power of “stop and search.” Police aren’t supposed to be able to search your house unless they have a warrant, which they aren’t supposed to be able to get without strong evidence of your guilt, but for some reason police can still stop you on the street, force you against a wall and go through your pockets on the mere grounds that you looked suspicious – usually because your skin was the wrong colour. Likewise, the state can monitor numerous features of your private life without any evidence of your engaging in criminal activities – Inland Revenue does it all the time -, police monitor phone calls near army bases under the pretence of “national security,” and it has recently become law that they can monitor the places you are visiting on the internet. And all this without having first obtained a warrant.

“Protection against arbitrary arrest,” which we can see that even the most liberal states only, at best, pretend to do, means that you cannot be arrested unless there is strong evidence against you. It is a reflection of the moral and common law rule that people are “innocent until proven guilty,” which also reflects the libertarian code that nobody should initiate the use of force – the only legitimate force is retaliatory. It is supposed to protect people from being arrested and thrown in prison, and held there whilst the police build a case against you. However, we have seen that states rarely stick to this rule.

But let’s imagine the anarcho-capitalist society. Under a statist system, if I complained to the government that the police were invading my privacy by monitoring my e-mails or where I went on the inter-net without having first obtained a warrant, the government will just say “are, but they need to do that to make sure you aren’t planning another May Day demonstration, plotting revolution, or looking at child porn,” despite the fact that the police have no evidence as to whether or not I am looking at child porn before invading my privacy. And there the discussion will end; it is the government that is violating my rights, so why should I expect it to stop?

Under anarcho-capitalism, however, I won’t complain to Murbard that Murbard are invading my privacy. I’ll complain to Protecto-squad. I’ll complain to a completely independent police force, unlike with the state. Remember the first basic discussion we had about why protection agencies won’t fight wars with each other but will be more likely to contract to acquire arbitration? It was basically this: Laws R Us go round to arrest John Smith, only to find John Smith has hired Protecto-squad to protect him against being arrested. In order to avoid costly violence, the two agencies will have a contract with each other to take settle their dispute via arbitration. But unless they can prove their case Laws R Us will lose, and not only lose, but be faced with a kidnapping charge. They are under much stronger incentives than are states, to prove guilt before they even attempt an arrest, because they face a wholly independent police force ready to protect the accused should their case collapse. This provides far greater security of the rights of the accused, especially against arbitrary arrest, than he or she could ever expect under a state.

A common objection to this vision of anarchy is that it will grow once more into a state. People argue that one firm will use force to drive others from the market, and so will get a monopoly. However, I have already said that the more a firm uses coercion, the more incentive its victims have to spend on protection against the coercive firm, and so the more incentive a competing firm has to protect them. In order to protect itself against retaliation by these competitors, the coercive firm must already be substantially larger than other firms in the market, meaning that it would have had to have been able to grow at a faster rate than others via non-coercive means. The only way this could have occurred is if economies of scale existed for it that did not exist for other firms. Some people (like Robert Nozick) argue that these economies of scale obviously exist, because it is the size and consequent strength of a firm that customers will look for when buying their protection services. However, I can’t see how this is a convincing argument. First of all, it is an economy of scale that would exist for all firms, not just the coercive one, and so would not give the coercive firm any advantage over its competitors. Secondly, it doesn’t seem very realistic. Imagine a stable and existing market for law and enforcement – consumers buy protection from private protection agencies, the majority of whose disputes are resolved through arbitration and private courts. It seems obvious to me that, since most disputes between protection agencies go to court, whilst the strength of the firm is an import factor, it is not the most important one – the ability to argue a customer’s case in court is. So size and strength are not major features that sell a firm’s services. In the first issue of the first volume of the Journal of Libertarian Studies there are many refutations of Nozick’s arguments against anarchism.

Many people would say that such a vision of anarchy is unattractive. They would argue that in such a society, because law and law enforcement are goods supplied on the market, laws will benefit the rich and the rich alone. However, this objection rests on a failure to understand the way the market works. Markets aren’t battle fields, like zero-sum games, in which you can either win or lose, and the one with the most money wins. They don’t pile all their resources into the hands of the rich. Take an example: Suppose you and I wanted cakes, but I had twice as much money to buy them with than you did. Well, this doesn’t mean that I buy all the cakes on the market. It means that two thirds of them go to me and one third of them go to you. Moreover, because we are buying cakes, we maintain the demand for cake, or perhaps even increase it, which results in an increase in supply.

Secondly, the idea that businesses are only interested in selling to the rich is not empirically viable: They aren’t. If businesses were only interested in selling to the rich, then Mars would be selling their chocolates at £5 each, rather than 50p. Or perhaps at prices that are even higher. Firms want to make as many sales as possible, and this means keeping prices down, not up. Thus prices will be the barest minimum above cost as is necessary to keep the firm in business. It generally costs governments twice as much to do anything as it costs anybody else. Empirical evidence can come from Soviet Russia, where the government had to invest twice as much into the state controlled economy in order to maintain the same GNP as was produced by the relatively free US economy. Or from the US Post Office – private firms make a profit selling at the same price the Post Office does when the post office is selling at cost. If the money that the US government spent on its legal system per year during the 1980s, and divided it equally between everybody in the US then it would come to forty dollars a year per capita (Friedman 1989, pp130). This means that it would have cost each person $20 to maintain a private legal system of the same quantity and quality as the US government provided during the eighties. How many people can’t afford $20 a year, and is it worth risking to creation of a state just for them?

You may be surprised, but people have actually questioned the idea that firms aren’t interested in only selling to the rich, and price there goods accordingly. There follows part of a debate I had with someone who actually was arguing that firms are only interested in selling to the rich. He pointed out the fact that Mars supplies more Mars bars to the rich “western” world than to Third World countries proves that Mars is interested in only selling to the rich. I still continued that it wouldn’t make any sense for a firm to only sell to the rich, because being rich didn’t make you more willing to pay a high price for Mars Bars, it just made you more able to. I admitted the fact that, due to the diminishing marginal utility of money, £20 is worth more to a poor person than a rich person. But then I pointed out the fact that my rich aunt doesn’t have piles of Mars Bars lying around her house. My opponent asked what on earth this was meant to imply, so I told him that it offered empirical support to the fact that you are not necessarily going to be anymore willing to buy Mars bars simply because you have a large bank account. My opponent responded:

“Do you mean to tell me that you actually believe this? You totally defy common sense when you offer this pretence of an argument that a person with a larger bank account will not be willing to pay a higher price for a given good than a poor person.”

Response :Yes I do seriously believe this. Why should the size of a bank balance play any determining role in how willing she is to pay for a Mars bar. Whether she is willing to pay for a Mars bar depends on, and only on, whether she likes Mars bars, and not at all on whether she is able to pay for Mars bars.

“A classic example is sporting event tickets. It is no accident that the poor are confined to the nosebleed seats for maybe 2 or 3 games a year, regardless of how much they enjoy hockey, while some rich puke is willing to drop 10K for a front row season tickets. Both may enjoy the game equally, but the big bank account of the rich man means that ‘he will be willing to pay a high price’ for his hockey game.”

Response :NO IT DOES NOT! The big bank account of the rich man does not mean that he will be willing to pay the price for his hockey game, it means that he is able to pay that price for his hockey game. Being rich does not make him enjoy hockey, and so does not make him willing to pay for it.

The price for the seats at hockey games (in a free market – remember that in present society the state awards planning permission and controls infrastructure which determines the layout of the building, which itself has probably received partially subsidies, and is also paid for by companies selling TV rights to broadcasting companies who pleased government licensing authorities enough to allow them to broadcast) usually taken by the rich is not determined by the fact that they are usually taken by the rich. The price of those seats is determined by the fact that they are better seats – they are situated in better locations, etc – which means that there is a higher demand for them.

“So Mars would be stupid to try to make a profit by choosing to price their commodities so that only the rich can afford them.” (here he is quoting me)
“But only the rich CAN afford them! That is a FACT. There are endless examples of goods and services that only the rich can afford, even in the Industrialised world. Eg. high priced hookers, fancy cars, plastic surgery, etc. Throw law enforcement into the pool and the rich will have the same monopoly on pigs as they currently do on the best goods and services.”

Response: Right, only the rich can afford them – only the rich can afford to cover the price of supplying them. But this price is not determined by the fact that only rich people can afford to pay it. If only rich people can afford to pay it, that either mean that the market is not free, or that the costs of manufacturing the commodity are so high that out of those willing to pay for the commodity, only those willing who are able to pay can afford to cover those costs.

“This is why Marx bars cost 50p a bar instead of £5.00” (quoting me again)
How much is 50p in pesos? How much does the average Colombian peasant make? Any bets on how many Mars bars he can afford?”

Response: Who cares – if Mars bars can’t be made more cheaply then those who can’t afford to cover the costs will have to go without, unless charitable contribution covers them. Socialism won’t suddenly make people more willing to spend their resources, including time spent working, in order to produce Mars bars, so it won’t reduce the opportunity costs of producing Mars bars – why are you assuming that people will be willing to work for less under socialism, when socialists believe that working people should be getting more?!

“This claim that there is no profit to be made by selling products to those that can’t afford them is obvious – you can’t sell if people can’t buy. But this by know means implies that I can afford to price my goods as high above cost as I want in the expectation that I can make enormous profits. Rather, I should price my good as close to cost as possible – and keep costs as low as I can whilst still making an attractive product – so that I can attract as many customers as possible, rich or poor.’
“Back to the sporting event example: One of the best examples that dispels this capitalist myth is that of big boxing cards in Vegas in which the rich are willing to pay so much for seats that profit can be maximized by selling tickets at obscene rates. As a result, they often get ¼ full houses for huge fights, but this doesn’t bother the capitalist promoters any… who cares about maximum satisfaction? All that matters is maximum profit.”

Response: Um – I want to make a big profit. I can cover expenses even though the house is only a quarter full, even if I price the tickets so that only rich people can afford to go (because, for some reason, once people earn over $50,000 they suddenly start to like boxing a whole lot more!). But that leaves me with my expenses paid, but with another three-quarters of the house I could fill, another three-quarters of the house that, if filled, would bring me pure profit.

What do you think a good capitalist would do? Would he leave the rest of the building empty? Or would he try to tap that pure profit by selling tickets at discount prices to fill up the rest of the building? (The debate ended here)

Another answer to the problem of poor people getting protection is this: are poor people little weaklings who, if nothing is done for them, sit back getting nothing? No – history books tell us of the efforts made in poor and working class communities of people organising their own means of acquiring their necessary goods. We have seen volunteer fire crews, we have seen the Friendly Societies provide insurance and social security to thousands, we have seen poor people found credit unions, we have seen the rapid growth of co-operative housing schemes. Why, then, should we suspect that the poor, where once they were able to organise their own means of getting what they want, suddenly cease being so able when it comes to protection. If poor people in one community, say 100 of them, all group together and hire the services of one protection agency, then, because they are all buying the services of the agency rather than one at a time, that is 99 less “people” that the agency has to advertise to. The agency is saved in advertising costs, it is guaranteed 100 customers, so doesn’t have to serve one whilst desperately worrying if another will follow. In short, it is in the agency’s interest to get such a deal. And this being the case, the agency could afford a slight reduction in prices. Just as peasant farmers in France were able to acquire machinery and crops buy co-operative buying, so will poor people in an anarchist society be able to acquire protection through co-operative buying.

A final answer to the problem of poor people getting protection relates to the nature of the provision of law itself. In this anarchist society, law would be private goods. We have already pointed out the fact that people would only ask their protection agency to get involved when they thought that they have been wronged. This implies that a claim against others is private property – if you harm me, I have a right to claim compensation from you. I have the right. Suppose that I was poor – too poor to hire a protection agency. I do own at least one piece of property, though – my claim against you. So I could sell this claim against you to someone rich enough to be able to enforce it. Perhaps, I would let them enforce the claim for me and in exchange give them a share of the damages. This is another means of providing protection to the poor.

In fact there is a great irony about this problem of poor people being able to acquire protection against crime under anarchism. This irony lies in the fact that this complaint often comes from socialists. Socialists often complain about the level of police violence and brutality we see around us in the modern world and in our own country – racism, wrongful arrest, mysterious deaths in prison cells, courts that may be racist or discriminating against the poor, police forces accused of being “institutionally racist.” They also note that a lot of this violence is perpetrated against poor people and minorities. However, for some reason they must fail to notice that the police force is a body of the state, the courts are bodies of the state. The service of providing protection against crime, the service of providing law and order, is a nationalised industry. It is a part of the public sector! Thus it is a service being provided by the state, just as socialists argue every service should be! It is the principle of socialism applied to law and order! So what are they complaining about?! Anarchism effectively privatises this industry (along with everything else, since there is no longer a state, and so no “public sector,” only voluntary associations of private people), and so, as with everything else, socialists worry about whether or not the poor will get adequate protection unless this service remains nationalised. Well you only need to look in the pages of Socialist Worker to find the answer to that: The industry is nationalised, and the poor are not getting adequate protection. I say let them organise their own, instead of forcing them to be dependent on a monopoly state.

In addition, what can we expect from this anarchist legal system in terms of the economic efficiency of the services it provides? David Friedman has approached just this issue,

“Suppose a set of law codes of the sort I have described exists, and that that there is some potential change in the legal rules prevailing between two enforcement agencies that would yield net benefits to their customers, and thus improve the efficiency of the legal system. If the change benefits both sets of customers, it is in the interest of the enforcement agencies either to persuade their arbitration agency to make the change or to shift to one that follows the superior set of rules. If it benefits the customers of one agency but imposes costs on the customers of the other, with net costs smaller then net benefits, it is in the interest of the two agencies to agree to the change, with the loser compensated either directly or by some other change elsewhere in the legal rules. In practice, since it is the arbitration agencies that specialize in legal rules, we would expect them to try to identify all such improvements and include them in the legal codes they offer to their customers.
“This argument suggests that any change in the existing set of codes that would produce a net improvement will occur. The result should be a set of legal codes that are economically efficient in the conventional sense.”
(Friedman 1996)

Thus, not only can law be produced without a state but it can also be produced efficiently. In other words, the benefits we would derive from it would exceed the costs of acquiring them. But it is important not to be utopian about this anarchy; there is room for inefficiency within the system, as Friedman explains:

“To begin with, in a world of non-zero information and transaction costs, an enforcement agency does not perfectly internalise the welfare of its customers, since it cannot engage in perfect discriminatory pricing. Furthermore, negotiations between enforcement agencies are not costless, so some opportunities for mutual gain may go unexploited. For these reasons, what we would expect is not a perfectly efficient set of legal rules but a set of legal rules with tendencies towards efficiency. Where a legal change benefits almost everyone we would expect to see it, but where it generates both substantial benefits and substantial costs, we would expect the system to do an imperfect job of balancing costs and benefits, and thus to at least occasionally get the wrong answer…
“Similar problems will arise with pollution law, where A’s right to sue B for polluting his air results in a reduction of B’s emissions and thus an external benefit for A’s neighbor C. They may well arise in other important contexts as well. In all of these cases, we would expect the legal rules generated by the private market to be inefficient. Whether they will be less efficient than the rules currently generated by courts and legislatures is not clear. Pace Posner, we have no good theoretical reason to expect those legal rules to be efficient either.”
(Friedman 1996)

Thus, in such a society law and law enforcement are provided on the market. Unlike states, there is no monopoly over the use of force, and, also unlike states, whether or not to pay for protection, and who to get it off is a voluntary decision. So the arrangement is still anarchistic. So, far from Hobbes’ vision of a society without the state, we see instead that it follows from Hobbes’ description of human nature that, without states, social structures would evolve, based on mutual co-operation; moral theories would evolve that would reflect the values necessary for ensuring the survival of said social structures; and a completely voluntary legal system could arise. This is anarchy, as follows from Hobbes’ view of people.

Murray Rothbard also connected the question of providing an efficient level of police protection to the basic argument that economists make of capitalism over socialism:

“In the first place, there is a common fallacy, held even by most advocates of laissez faire, that the government must supply ‘police protection,’ as if police protection were a single, absolute entity, a fixed quantity of something which the government supplies to all. But in actual fact there is no absolute commodity called ‘police protection’ any more than there is an absolute single commodity called ‘food’ or ‘shelter.’ It is true that everyone pays taxes for a seemingly fixed quantity of protection, but this is a myth. In actual fact, there are almost infinite degrees of all sorts of protection. For any given person or business, the police can provide anything from a policeman on the beat who patrols at night, to two policemen patrolling constantly on each block, to cruising patrol cars, to one or even several round-the-clock personal bodyguards. Furthermore, there are many other decisions the police must make, the complexity of which becomes evident as soon as we lift the veil of the myth of absolute “protection.” How shall police allocate their funds, which are, of course, always limited as are the funds of all other individuals, organisations, and agencies? How shall the police invest in electronic equipment? fingerprinting equipment? detectives as against uniformed police? patrol cars as against foot police, etc?
The point is that the government has no rational way to make these allocations. The government only knows that it has a limited budget. Its allocations of funds are then subject to the full play of politics, boondoggling, and bureaucratic inefficiency, with no indication at all as to whether the police department is serving the consumers in a way that is responsive to their desires or whether it is doing so efficiently. The situation would be different if police services were provided on a free, competitive market. In that case, consumers would pay for whatever degree of protection they wish to purchase. The consumers who just want to see a policeman once in a while would pay less than those who want continuous patrolling, and far less than those who demand a twenty-four-hour bodyguard service. On the free market, protection would be supplied in proportion and in whatever way that the consumers wish to pay for it. A drive for efficiency would be insured, as it always is on the market, by the compulsion to make profits and avoid losses, and thereby to keep costs low and serve the highest demands of the consumers. Any police firm that suffers from gross inefficiency would soon go bankrupt and disappear.”

Two historians, Terry L. Anderson and PJ Hill, have written a marvellous historical document that provides us with perfect evidence of the plausibility of this sort of anarchism. Their document is a study of the old American west – the “wild west.” During this time, poor communication and inhospitable country made the US government virtually impotent. Anderson and Hill are ready to admit that their example provides limited proof for the private supply of protection, as they say, “Although for much of the period formal government agencies for protection were not present, such agencies always were always lurking in the background. Therefore, none of the private means operated entirely independent of government.” Nevertheless, the impotence, and indeed virtual absence of government (an absence far more extensive than that of the Spanish government during the anarchist communist experiments in Spain in the thirties) makes this a qualified investigation into the possibility of anarchy. Anderson and Hill write,

“Although the early west was not completely anarchistic, we believe that government as a legitimate agency of coercion was absent for a long enough period to provide insights into the operation and viability of property rights in the absence of a formal state. The nature of contracts for the provision of ‘public goods’ and the evolution of western ‘laws’ for the period from 1830 to 1900 will provide the data for this case study.
“The West during this time often is perceived as a place of great chaos, with little respect for property or life. Our research indicates that this was not the case; property rights were protected and civil order prevailed. Private agencies provided the necessary basis for an orderly society in which property was protected and conflicts were resolved. These agencies often did not qualify as governments because they did not have a legal monopoly on ‘keeping order’. They soon discovered that ‘warfare’ was a costly way of resolving disputes and lower cost methods of settlement (arbitration, courts, etc.) resulted. In summary, this paper argues that a characterisation of the American West as chaotic would be incorrect.”
(Anderson and Hill 1979, pp1-2)

The major objection to anarchy and the provision of law and protection on the market is the potential such a society has for chaos. This potential is one that many histories and portrayals of the West seem to substantiate. History books, movies, and novels give us tales of gunfights, horse-theft, cattle rustling, and general disrespect for human and property rights.

“Recently, however, more careful examinations of the conditions that existed cause one to doubt the accuracy of this perception. In his book, Frontier Violence: Another Look, W. Eugene Hollon stated that he believed ‘that the Western frontier was a far more civilised, more peaceful, and safer place than American society is today.’ The legend of the ‘wild, wild west’ lives on despite Robert Dykstra’s finding that in five of the major cattle-towns (Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City, and Caldwell) for the years from 1870 to 1885, only 45 homicides were reported – an average of 1.5 per-cattle trading season. In Abilene, supposedly one of the wildest of the cow towns, ‘nobody was killed in 1869 or 1870. In fact, nobody was killed until the advent of officers of the law, employed to prevent killings.’ Only two towns, Ellsworth in 1873 and Dodge City in 1876, ever had five kilings in more than one year. Frank Prassel sates in his book subtitled A legacy of Law and Order,’ that ‘if any conclusion can be drawn from recent crime statistics, it must be that this last frontier left no significant heritage of offences against the person, relative to other sections of the country.’ Moreover, even if crime rates were higher, it should be remembered that the preference for order can differ across time and people. To show that the West was more ‘lawless’ than our present day society tells one very little unless some measure of the ‘demand for law and order’ is available. ‘While the frontier society may appear to have functioned with many violations of formal law, it sometimes more truly reflected community customs in conflict with superficial and at times alien standards.’ The vigilance committees which sprang up in many of the mining towns of the West provide excellent examples of this conflict. In most instances these committees arose after civil government was organised. They proved that competition was useful in cases where government was ineffective, as in the case of San Francisco in the 1850s, or where government became the province of criminals who used the legal monopoly on coercion to further their own ends, as in Virginia City, Montana Territory in the 1860’s. Even in these cases, however, violence was not the standard modus operandi. When the San Francisco vigilance committee was reconstituted in 1856, ‘the group remained in action for three months, swelling its membership to more than eight thousand. During this period, San Francisco had only two murders, compared with more than a hundred in the six months before the committee was formed’.”

We can also use history to strengthen the case for privately produced law through contracts with competing or “polycentric” courts. David Friedman has shown us that anarchism can produce a legal system that is economically efficient – one that maximises utility (a phrase welfare economists use to mean welfare). We have seen some of the economic arguments to show that this system will produce laws that please libertarians. But there is also historical evidence. Murray Rothbard has claimed that it is important for there to be a “libertarian legal code” – that there should only be laws that accord to libertarian principle. For example, courts shouldn’t be able to decide that all redheads are inherently evil and should be punished for the colour of their hair. There should be a set of rules that courts pledge themselves to follow.

Is this plausible? Without a government to centralise the production of law, to centrally co-ordinate its manufacturer, can we really expect the sort of objectivity that Rothbard asks for? Rothbard himself approaches this matter:

“Are such stable and consistent law codes possible, with only competing judges to develop and apply them, and without government or legislature? Not only are they possible, but over the years the best and most successful parts of our legal system were developed precisely in this manner. Legislatures, as well as kings, have been capricious, invasive, and inconsistent. They have only introduced anomalies and despotism into the legal system. In fact, the government is no more qualified to develop and apply law than it is to provide any other service; and just as religion has been separated from the state, and the economy can be serparated from the state, so can every other state function, including police courts and the law itself!
“As indicated above, for example, the entire law merchant was developed, not by the state or in state courts. It was only much later that government took over mercantile law from its development in merchants’ courts. The same occurred with admiralty law, the entire structure of the law of the sea, shipping, and salvages, etc. Here again, the State was not interested, and its jurisdiction did not apply to the high seas; so the shippers themselves took on the task of not only applying, but working out the whole structure of admiralty law in their own private courts. Again, it was only later that the government appropriated admiralty law into its own courts.”
(Rothbard 1996, pp228)

So entire legal systems were constructed to ensure the protection of property, person and contract, over all the seas, which cover most of the world’s surface. “…in medieval England, the entire structure of merchant law, which was handled clumsily and inefficiently by the government’s courts, grew up in private merchants’ courts.” (Ibid, pp224)

Nicholas Dykes, approaches the issue of the objectivity of this voluntarily constructed legal system:

“…there is nothing subjective about customary law. It is every bit as objective as the products of legislatures. Another compelling example cited by Bruce Benson is the Law Merchant of medieval commerce. This arose spontaneously to facilitate trade when Europe was emerging from the `Dark Ages’ and still forms the bedrock of modern commercial law.
“The Lex mercatoria was private, created by the merchants themselves, yet was universal, being recognised all over Europe and beyond. It was extremely efficient and cheap to run, and had its own courts with their own rapid and informal procedures. Rulings were followed without question because the judges were merchants themselves – who knew intimately what plaintiff and defendant were arguing about. Besides, it was in the interest of the courts and everybody else that judgments be reasonable and just.
“A defendant was of course free to ignore an unfavorable ruling, the court had no power to enforce. But to outlaw oneself in this manner was to put oneself out of business, for nobody traded with merchants who disrespected the merchants’ own law. Compliance was thus achieved without coercion, perhaps the most vital lesson the Law Merchant has to teach.
“The Law Merchant’s success was due to its objectivity. It was simple, clear, confined to essentials and, its raison d’etre, was a practical requirement of trade. It arose because merchants needed independent arbitration, and continued because it performed that service efficiently. Yet it was created and sustained voluntarily – without any involvement from government – and functioned effectively for centuries without costing a penny in tax. Although later submerged in most countries by the growing power of the state, the Law Merchant lives on today in the underlying principles of the (non-state) law which guides international trade.
“The history of the Law Merchant demolishes the notion that state-created law is a prerequisite for the free market. Prior to 1600 or so, commercial and contract law was entirely private – and vastly cheaper and more efficient for being so. In Bruce Benson’s words, the spontaneous generation of the Law Merchant ‘shatters the myth that government must define and enforce `the rules of the game’.’ Equally, the well-documented existence of customary law societies all over the world – in which law-generation, policing and justice were carried out effectively without government – shatters the myth that only state monopolies can create objective law…”

In the face of the need for some sort of process for resolving disputes over contracts, for some sorts of rules and guidelines for overcoming disputes in a peaceful manner, voluntary co-operation produced a legal system that stretched over most of the world’s surface. Without recourse to the assistance of states and national governments, rights were defined and protected even in despite of racial and national differences. Naturally, of course, states tried to get involved, and when they did they messed up, as Carl Watner shows:

“Wherever arbitration has existed, it has posed a threat to the supremacy of the State judicial system. Consequently, it has been co-opted, regulated, and controlled by the State, making its legal history a complex, and sometimes confusing, tangle…
“Until the early 1920s, court decisions, some dating back to the 17th and 18th Centuries, governed arbitration proceedings in the United States. Lord Coke’s opinion in Vynior’s Case (Trinity Term, 7 Jac. 1), decided in 1609, formed the basis for the common law doctrine that ‘1) either party to an arbitration might withdraw at any time before an actual award; and 2) that an agreement to arbitrate a future dispute was against public policy and not enforceable.’ The precedent established in Vynior’s case (from which it was extrapolated that the parties to a dispute ‘may not oust the court of its jurisdiction’ – meaning that courts may not be deprived of their jurisdiction even by private agreement) became ‘the controlling decision in American arbitration law’ until the New York State legislature abrogated the common law doctrine in 1920, and until a federal arbitration statute was passed in 1925. Other states soon followed suit, and for the first time in America, agreements to arbitrate future disputes were ‘legally binding and judicially enforceable.’
“These new laws actually undermined the credibility of commercial arbitration. Arbitration had flourished for hundreds of years in the absence of any State-guarantee that arbitration agreements would be enforced by the courts. History had already clearly demonstrated that mercantile conformity to arbitration agreements did not depend upon the existence of the State or its enforcement mechanisms. The Law Merchant had always prohibited appeals of arbitration awards. Arbitration tribunals were designed to avoid unnecessary litigation, as well as to render timely decisions which would not disrupt the pace of business transactions. The laws of the 1920s opened many a Pandora’s box by raising a host of questions about how the new statutes would be enforced, and by creating the opportunity to appeal arbitral awards to the courts.”
(Watner 1997, no page)

Merchant law is not the only example of a legal code produced by privately contracted courts. Far from it, most customary law is produced in such a manner. But there is a legal code that strikes a chord in the hearts of liberals and libertarians alike: The Common Law. Originally the Common Law developed out of a customary legal system in Anglo Saxon communities, the workings of which Tom W. Bell describes:

“The Anglo-Saxon legal system gives us a particularly good example of a legal system embodying the six features Benson finds throughout customary law. A system of surety, known as borh, provided the foundation of Anglo-Saxon law. Under the borh system a set of ten to twelve individuals, defined at first by kinship but later by contractual agreement, would form a group to pledge surety for the good behavior of its members. The group would back up this pledge by paying the fines of its members if they were found guilty of violating customary law. A surety group thus had strong financial incentives to police its members and exclude those who persistently engaged in criminal behavior. Exclusion served as a powerful sanction: ‘Every person either had sureties and pledge associates or one would not be able to function beyond one’s own land, as no one would deal with one who had no bond or who could not get anyone to pledge their surety to them.” (Leonard P. Liggio, ‘The Transportation of Criminals: A Brief Political-Economic History,’ in Randy E. Barnett and John Hagel III, eds., Assessing The Criminal: Restitution, Retribution and the Legal Process [Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1977])
“Such reciprocal voluntary agreements have a certain timeless appeal. Consider the modern parallels: like insurance agencies, the surety groups helped members to spread risks by pooling assets; like credit bureaus, they vouched for the good standing of their own members and denied access to outsiders who had demonstrated their untrustworthiness; like credit card companies, they stood behind the claims and acts of their members. Whether ancient or modern, these common solutions to common problems all arose out of the free and spontaneous cooperation of self-interested agents. (For in depth treatment of the borh system and its replacement after 1066 by the related but distinct and non-voluntary system called frankpledge, see William A. Morris, The Frankpledge System [New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1910], and J. E. A. Jolliffe, The Constitutional History of Medieval England [New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1961].)
“The Anglo-Saxon courts, called moots, were public assemblies of common men and neighbors. The moots did not expend their efforts on creating or codifying the law; they left that to custom and to the essentially declaratory law codes of kings. The outcome of a dispute turned entirely on the facts of the case, which were usually established through ritual oath-giving. The disputants first swore to their accusations and denials. Each party then called on oath helpers (including members of their surety groups) to back up these claims with oaths of their own. For the court to accept any one of these oaths, it would have to be given flawlessly — though the poetic form of the oaths made it easier to meet this requirement. Deadlocks were often settled by ordeals of fire or water. Berman points out that the ambiguity of oath taking and ordeals left room for flexible judgements, while the fear of supernatural retribution and the vital importance of a good reputation made perjury a matter that no one would take lightly. Consequently, these procedures were not simply mystical or ” crazy.” Similar points apply to most studies of customary law.
“Anglo-Saxon law had no category for crimes against the state or against society — it recognized only crimes against individuals. As in other customary legal systems, the moots typically demanded that criminals pay restitution or composition to their victims — or else face the hazards of outlawry and blood-feud. Murderers owed wergeld (literally, ” man-money” ) to their victims’ kin. Lesser criminals owed their victims lesser fines, elaborately graded according to the victim’s status and the importance of the limb, hand, digit, fingertip, etc., that had been lost. In recognition of the importance of private property, heavier penalties were also imposed for crimes occurring in or about the home, the most serious being hamesucken, i.e. smashing up someone’s house. This emphasis on the home reflected Anglo-Saxon law’s concern with protecting property rights, including the notion of a protected private space. The law codes of early medieval Europe consisted largely of lists of offenses and the corresponding schedules of payments. In issuing these, Kings were not legislating in the modern sense: they were rather codifying and declaring already existing custom and practice. Like the surety groups, the moot courts depended on voluntary cooperation. Berman writes that
Jurisdiction in most types of cases depended on the consent of the parties. Even if they consented to appear, they might not remain throughout, and even if they remained, the moot generally could not compel them to submit to its decision. Thus the procedure of the moot had to assume, and to help create, a sufficient degree of trust between the parties to permit the system to operate…(Berman, 1983, p. 56)
This Anglo-Saxon customary legal system protected the liberties of the English long and well. Royal law rose to domination only after a bitter struggle, and even then the lasting imprint of customary law helped England to remain a relatively free society.”
(Bell 1991/2, no page)

It is actually quite prevalent in customary law for court verdicts and sentences to be enforced by the victim or the victim’s family. For instance, in Medieval Iceland courts were private, the Godi, or “chieftain” (he – even she in some cases – was actually more of a religious posistion, like that of “kings” in Medieval Ireland) providing the court and picking the “judges” (they were our equivalent of jurymen and there were 36 on a court). The Godi was a role prescribed by a bundle of rights, called a Goddord. This bundle of rights was actually private property that could be lent borrowed or sold, so if you wanted to be a chieftain you found another chieftain willing to sell his Goddord. The Godi was a “thingman’s” (commoner) only link to the legal system, just as the local lord in Medieval England was a peasant’s only link to the legal system. However, unlike the Feudal system in Medieval England, the chieftain did not on all the land – it was privately owned by the peasant or his family – and the peasant was free to shift his allegiance from one chieftain to another as he saw fit.

The law was produced democratically by a huge meeting of Chieftains, and if a court found you guilty of breaking it, then the victim privately enforced the verdict. The typical settlement of a case under the legal system in Iceland was a payment called wergeld – man gold – you paid your victim or his heirs. If someone refused to pay the victim, then the victim would present evidence that the criminal was avoiding the sentence to the court. Then the court declares the criminal an outlaw, giving him a period of time to get out of Iceland. At the end of that time the victim or his heirs has a right to kill the criminal without impunity. If the victim is poor or weak then he can offer the right to collect the settlement to somebody else who gets half of it.

Murray Rothbard writes that the Common Law was developed over the centuries by competing judges who applied time honoured principles to cases rather than the arbitrary decrees of kings and governments. These principles were precedents produced as solutions to problems at hand, and often produced very libertarian rules to follow – hence the Common Law’s appeal to liberals. The judge’s task was to find the law – the underlying principle – in a solution so that it could also be applied to modern cases.

The original Common Law judges operated like private arbitrators. They were experts in the law who private parties went to with their disputes. There wasn’t anything in the way of a supreme court to override a judges verdict and whose decision would be binding on all. The imposed personal views of the judges were kept to a minimum by the fact that judges could only make decisions based on the cases brought to them by private citizens, and that the judges decision applied only to an individual case, unlike legislation which applies to all, and because the decisions were considered precedents to be followed in the future.

So the production and enforcement of law can be done privately, by voluntary organisations in a free market, or by other forms of voluntary co-operation; and there is evidence to prove it. The “wild, wild west” was largely an anarchist society in which protection of person, property, and social order were so provided, and society may have been even more peaceful than it is today. In the light of this, surely government must be an unnecessary evil.

The non-monopolistic, and hence anarchistic, nature of this provision of legitimate force was illustrated nowhere better than in the words of Benjamin R. Tucker, the individualist anarchist. FW Read wrote in the libertarian paper Jus that the idea of a “voluntary state” to which one paid taxes to voluntarily in exchange for the protection of one’s choice (this “voluntary state,” hence, being no state at all, but a firm) was absurd. He complained that it meant that there could be “five or six ‘States’ in England, and members of all these ‘states’ might be living in the same house!”

Benjamin Tucker, in the jounal Liberty, of which he was owner and editor, replied

“It is perfectly true that voluntary taxation would not necessarily ‘prevent the existence of five or six ‘States’ in England,’ and that “members of all these ‘States’ might be living in the same house.’ But I see no reason for Mr. Read’s exclamation point after this remark. What of it? There are many more than five or six churches in England, and it frequently happens that members of several of them live in the same house. There are many more than five or six insurance companies in England, and it is by no means uncommon for members of the same family to insure their lives and goods against accident or fire in different companies. Does any harm come of it? Why, then, should there not be a considerable number of defensive associations in England, in which people, even members of the same family, might insure their lives and goods against murder and thieves? Though Mr. Read has grasped one idea of the voluntary taxationists, I fear that he sees another much less clearly, – namely the idea that defence is a service; that it is labor both useful and desired, and therefore an economic commodity subject to the law of supply and demand; that in a free market this commodity would be furnished at the cost of production; that, competition prevailing, patronage would go to those who furnished the best article at the lowest price; that the production and sale of this commodity are now monopolised by the State; that the State, like almost all monopolists, charges exorbitant prices; that, like almost all monopolists, it supplies a worthless, or nearly worthless article; that, just as the monopolist of a food product often furnishes poison instead of nutriment, so the State takes advantage of its monopoly of defence to furnish invasion instead of protection; that, just as the patrons of the one pay to be poisoned, so the patrons of the other pay to be enslaved; and, finally, that the State exceeds all its fellow-monopolists in the extent of its villainy because it enjoys the unique privilege of compelling all people to buy its product whether they want it or not. If, then, five or six ‘States’ were to hang out their shingles, the people, I fancy, would be able to buy the very best kind of security at a reasonable price.”

Recalling that a state is, by definition, an organisation possessing a monopoly over the legitimate use of force over a particular geographic area, we can clearly see that this legal system involves no such thing, as is evidenced by the fact that people can live in exactly the same house, but under completely different codes of law! It is obvious that there is no sovereign authority, and hence that it is anarchy.

Consider this possibility, for example: I live in Eastern England have a friend in Kansas. It is possible, under this anarchist system, for he and I to live under the same legal system, thousands of miles apart, but our neighbours, or anyone in between us, for that matter, to belong to completely different legal systems. This is impossible when an organisation monopolises the use of force over a particular geographic area.

But there appears to be a problem with this libertarianism. Social structures will arise where there is a high chance of future interaction, and where people can get to know us, without the need for a state. However this implies that social order can only be maintained without the need for state intervention locally – in small communities. In our modern societies social interaction has transcended local units to national, and even international, levels of integration. Order can be maintained within small communities – localised anarchy is plausible – but how can it be maintained between communities? Anarchy appears possible on a micro-level, but not on the macro-level. We have already seen that the market can be used to transmit information about people’s needs and give incentives to meet those needs, so that numerous diverse ends can be satisfied, this providing economic order on a macro-level. However, such order rests on pre-existing conditions: Property rights have to have been decided upon and enforced, and there must be agreement to respect contracts. It might be suggested that property rights can be brought into existence by private court agreements, and enforced by competing firms. This would allow order to exist on the macro-level without the need for states. However, private courts and protection agencies provide services for payment. This implies that, prior to the existence of such private institutions, people must have exchangeable property rights, and there must be some binding force to contracts. A private legal system cannot initiate a system of social rules, because a system of social rules is necessary for the private legal system to exist in the first place.

Private property rights enable people to use their resources as they choose. However, how do the property rights, which are at the heart of the libertarian view of society, come into being? Suppose that you go, every day, to pick mushrooms in a field, and then, suddenly, one day, you go up to the field and find me with a gun, saying, “get off my land.” Due to my actions you are now prevented from doing what you were once able to do. I could say that I have acquired the land by non-coercive means, simply by using it, but you were using it too, and shooting you for trying to make the same claims I am making seems unjustifiable in libertarian eyes. It seems that the private control of resources cannot come about without forcibly interfering in the lives of possibly non-coercive people (picking mushrooms is non-coercive). It appears, then, that the property rights upon which libertarianism rests cannot come into being without violating libertarian rights. And, as Hobbes said “It is consequent… that their can be no propriety [in the state of nature], no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he can get it; and for so long as he can keep it.” (Hobbes 1996, pp85) It would appear that Hobbes was right, and a state is necessary to give birth to property. But the existence of a state is a violation of libertarian rights. Thus, should we conclude that the dream of liberty is an impossible one?

The only solution as far as I can see is that the agreements that provide the infrastructure of social order with a superstructure (whether that superstructure be a government produced by social contract, or the property rights and contracts necessary to maintain a competitive private legal system) must be self-enforcing. The difference between the Hobbesian state of nature and civil society lies not in a change in the motivation of people, but in the strategic situations that people face. In other words, agreements and the solutions to conflicts that people make in the Hobbesian state of nature transform the Hobbesian situation to another. This begs the question as to how, in a society with no mechanism for enforcing agreements, agreements can change the situations in which people interact?

Imagine two people are playing a game. Each player is confronted with the following numbers:

2, 5, 9, 25, 69, 73, 82, 96, 100, 126, 150

In this game the players will win a prize if they can each choose the same number, without conferring. How might each win a prize?

Each player will be looking for a number that is in some way special – a number they feel stands out, so that they think that the other player will notice it. For instance, to a mathematician the three square numbers are special, or perhaps the three primes. However, should they try to co-ordinate on a prime or a square, there is still the possibility that the other player will choose one of the other two, and that is assuming that they will choose primes or squares too. There is a possibility for non-random success in the game in the game because of, rather than in spite of, the player’s bounded rationality. Given sufficient scope, each number is in some way unique. However, because the players are limited to a small number of classification schemes, a correct choice exists.

Now suppose that two people are arguing over how to divide a pound between them. This situation is analogous to a bilateral monopoly bargaining game. At first glances it seems to have little in common with the numbers game above, due to the fact that the people arguing over the pound are able to communicate, whereas the two players in the numbers game cannot.

However, in another sense, despite the fact that the two people can talk to each other, communication is in fact restricted. Why is this? Well suppose that we are the people arguing over the pound. It is in my interest to persuade you that I will only be satisfied with a large share. If I will not accept less than ninety pence, then it is in your interest to accept ten pence, rather than hold out for more. However, you are motivated in exactly the same way. Since each of us are interested in persuading the other of the strength of our resolve, all claims to that effect can be ignored because they would have been made any way, true or false. Rather, what each of us has to do is to try and guess the other’s real demand, or rather, what is the fraction of the pound they will refuse to accept. But since it is this fact that we will be likely to lie about, it cannot be communicated. So we can tell that this game is similar to the numbers game precisely because the solution must be arrived at without communication. At a guess, it appears likely that the solution will be to split the pound fifty-fifty. In both games we are looking for a solution that is in some way special to both players, or, in other words, a division that stands out in someway.

In order to further point out the fact that the solution to the game depends on the particular categories that the players use, imagine that we had been brought up to believe that the relevant payoff is not money, but utility, and that the marginal utility of a pound is inversely proportional to our earnings – the more we earn, the less money we want. In this case the solution will not be a fifty – fifty split of the pound, but a fifty – fifty split of utility, implying a division of the money into shares proportional to our income.

The outcome, named after the game theorist Thomas Schelling, is called a Schelling Point. This outcome, chosen due to its apparent uniqueness to both players, is important to us because it provides us with a possible solution to the problem of co-ordination without communication. As we have seen, it can provide us with a solution to the problem of communicating in situations where communication is physically restricted, and in situations where communication is restricted due to the fact that parties have incentives not to tell the truth.

It is important to note just what a Schelling point is. The existence of a Schelling Point need not depend upon the salience of the players. There is not a single right answer to the problem. If we look at the numbers game, there was not a pre-set number that the players should have chosen. The way of winning in the game was not written in to the mechanisms of the game, but was wholly dependant on what numbers the players found significant, or thought that the other player found significant. Therefore, they could have chosen any number, but the numbers they co-ordinated on depended on how the players categorised the numbers – it depended on what sort of people they were. Likewise, with the situation in which we divide the pound into thirds there could have been many reasons for a particular division; perhaps we both thought that that particular division was the most just, that I, for some reason, deserved twice as much for you. The fact that the game theory we are using now does not include in its mechanisms any pre-set right answer, so there are many possible solutions to the problems, each dependent upon the subjective characters of the players, and there are many different reasons why players may agree on a particular outcome, is in no way damaging to my argument. In fact, it is my argument. There are many possible divisions of the pound, and many reasons why players may choose a particular division, so pointing out that the pound could be divided any way for any reason is irrelevant – the point is that a division was arrived upon. The players decided who is to get what, and so we get a contractual decision on property rights. A Schelling point is a point of commonality that exists in the minds of the participants in some social situation. The ability of players (or participants) to find this point depends on whether they have enough in common – after all, it is a point of commonality. For instance, one of the divisions of the pound was in accordance with marginal utility, because the players were brought up to think that utility was important. Therefore the division in accordance with the marginal utility each derives from their share of the pound was the Schelling point, and existed because of the players’ common up bringing.

Another interesting and important point is that, even though players cannot communicate their demands to each other, they can influence the outcome through what they say. This they do, not by communicating their own strategies, but by trying to alter the player’s categories – that is, the way the other player organises the alternatives – and thereby altering the Schelling Point that depends on those categories. For instance, one player, in the example just given, might remind the other of the importance of utility in their upbringing, in order to select the equi-utility Schelling Point. Basically, each player is trying to get the other to see the situation in a particular way – perhaps saying “look at it like this.” Can’t we see such behaviour occurring a great deal in bargaining processes?

The context in which the bargaining process takes place can also be altered by assuming that the bargaining process is itself costly. Perhaps this is due to time spent bargaining (and thus time lost doing other things), or in costs such as staying out on a strike. In this case, as long as players are faced with a large number of comparable alternatives, each proposal from a player will receive a competing proposal from the other player, but slanted a little further in his interest.

In order for a Schelling Point to provide a peaceful solution to the problem of co-ordinating without communication, all parties must think about alternatives in similar ways. These ways must be so similar that they can agree about possible outcomes that are special, and so are attractive as Schelling Points.

So people with enough in common with each other can agree on solutions to problems, despite disinclination or restrictions on agreement, because the people have the attractiveness or significance of a possible solution in common. This solution, then, is a Schelling point. Having developed the method for resolving the problem of how agreement on property rights can arise in a world without the means of enforcing agreements, we must now apply this method.

Consider two people living in the Hobbesian state of nature. Each is able to steal from or injure the other, but at some expense to themselves and, likewise, each is able to spend on their own defence. The first agreement that the two would make is a simple one: They must agree that conflict should end and some form of division of “mine and thine” must be established. This agreement is formed for obvious reasons – it pays both parties to at least agree to start the process of bargaining out of the state of constant war, even if they haven’t, at this stage, agreed on actual property rights.

The benefits of this co-operation will be divided in different ways, according to the particular property rights that the parties agree to. Therefore they must reach some agreement as to what property belongs to whom and whether one should pay tribute to the other. This situation, in which they are bargaining over property rights, is analogous to the bilateral monopoly bargaining game described above. Therefore the solution will be some division of the property that seems, to the parties, in some way special – a Schelling Point. Of course, each player will threaten to refuse to make any agreement on property rights unless they get the division that they want most, but, because this is the expected behaviour, each shall disbelieve the other’s threats. In the state of nature there is no monopoly over the use of force, so, for reasons explained above, there will be relative equality in ability to use force. If the two parties to the agreement, then, have roughly equal capacities to use force, and there is some natural division of the property – say, a stream dividing some farm land – then it is likely that the two will be able to reach some Schelling point at which they will agree to a division, to respect the other’s property rights, and pay no tribute. If one, perhaps slightly more able to use force than the other, demands a tribute, then the other will believably refuse to pay it, arguing that there is no natural limit to the tribute the other can demand – once you pay the danegold you can’t get rid of the dane. The cost to him would include not only the tribute, but also the available Schelling point, plus the risk of having to pay higher tributes in the future, plus the risk of the costs of conflict should he refuse to pay those higher tributes. All these costs add up to making it believable that he would prefer continued conflict and no agreement to pay tribute now rather than an absence of conflict and an agreement to pay tribute. Therefore the likely outcome of the bargaining process will be some mutually agreeable division of wealth, plus an agreement to respect property rights, plus no tribute.

This outcome is the Schelling Point that generates an agreement. However, the Schelling point that generates the agreement is itself, thereafter, a Schelling Point in future conflicts – it is a unique outcome of which all parties are conscious. Once the agreement has been made people can use a policy of “if you do not abide by the agreement, then I will return to the use of force, even if your violation of the agreement is small compared to the costs of conflict”. Such a policy is believable for the same reasons that the policy of not agreeing to pay tribute is believable. Therefore the signing of the contract establishes a new Schelling point and thereby alters the strategic situation, and the contract enforces itself, this outcome applying not only to the original contract, but also to all future agreements, too.

For instance, take an example offered by David Friedman: Imagine you and I have agreed that you have a property right in an orchard, and that I have a property right in an axe. You then offer me a bushel of apples to cut down a tree that is shading your orchard. I consent to the agreement and cut down the tree. But you refuse to pay me. What happens?

“So far as our physical situation is concerned, I am in no more able to compel you to pay me a bushel of apples now than I was before you made the offer and I cut down the tree-our material resources, our ability to hurt each other and defend ourselves, are the same as they were. Yet my threat to cut down your orchard unless you pay up is more credible than it would have been before, both because I have more reason to carry through on it and because you have less reason to resist it. Before, the attempt to get a bushel of apples from you would have been an attempt to move you away from the Schelling point established by the initial contract. Now it is an attempt to restore the Schelling point established by our subsequent agreement.” (Friedman, 1994, no-pages)

In other words, the desire to preserve an agreement established by a previously uncovered Schelling point is itself a Schelling point that will be used to provide the agreement to pay, and this second Schelling Point wouldn’t have existed if the first had not been found. Thus we have a way in which people can contract out of a Hobbesian state of nature:

“The process of contracting changes the situation because it establishes new Schelling points, which in turn affect the strategic situation and its outcome. The same analysis can be used from the other side to explain what constitutes civil society. The laws and customs of civil society are an elaborate network of Schelling points. If my neighbour annoys me by growing ugly flowers, I do nothing. If he dumps his garbage on my lawn, I retaliate – possibly in kind. If he threatens to dump garbage on my lawn, or play a trumpet fanfare at 3 A.M. every morning, unless I pay him a modest tribute I refuse-even if I am convinced that the available legal defences cost more than the tribute he is demanding.” (Friedman, Ibid).

Thus we have established a way that at least an informal system of property rights and a means of enforcing agreements can arise without a state. On top of this informal system it is now possible for individuals to make contracts and exchange wealth in the manner necessary to fund and maintain a market for law and law enforcement, which would itself further refine the property system and make it more secure. Thus we have shown how it is possible for a private property system – a civil society – to arise through purely voluntary agreements from a Hobbesian state of nature. We did not need to postulate the existence of a state in order to explain how property rights could arise; they might arise, crudely, by voluntary agreements, and by doing so would not represent a violation of libertarian rights. Neither do we need to postulate the existence of a state to maintain the civil society after it has arisen; at the micro-level, in most cases a social structure can be maintained without the need to use force, and at the macro-level, or in other cases, the provision of such a service can be provided on the market. The market being a system of voluntary agreements, such a legal system would be entirely voluntary, and would, therefore, not violate libertarian rights.

We can gain empirical support for our theory that property rights can evolve privately as social norms, by looking at Robert C. Ellickson’s book, Order Without Law. Ellickson studies the evolution of property rights in modern day Shasta county, California, where the land is divided into a patchwork of open range and closed range grazing areas for cattle. The official legal rule for open range farmers is, roughly, that each farmer is responsible for fencing out straying cattle, whilst the legal rule for closed range farmers is that each farmer is responsible for fencing his cattle in. Robert Ellickson examined what actually happens in Shasta county. Using interviews, aerial photographs, and searching the relevant documents, he explored how land use, fence building, and other issues are really dealt with in Shasta county. Having studies both open and closed range farms, he found that the legal rule about who was liable for straying cattle, where it related to cattle straying onto another farmer’s land, had no effect on farmers at all. He decided that law, as produced by states, is far less important than most people think.

In Shasta county, the interactions between neighbours as relates to straying cattle, weren’t controlled by the state’s laws, but by social norms, a private law code that was unconnected with anything to do with political authority. When a rancher was told that some of his cattle was straying, he had to apologise, retrieve the animal, and take the necessary precautions to see that it didn’t occur again. Any damage that the stray animal had caused had to be paid for by its owner. As the Schelling point theory suggests would be the case, the system was self-enforcing. Should a rancher consistently allow his cattle to stray, or refuse to pay damages for what harm it caused, then the victim would respond by applying social pressure leading to ostracism – spreading gossip about the offender and how he wouldn’t behave in a neighbourly way. If this had no effect, then the victim would transport the stray far away from both his and its owner’s property, forcing the owner of the stray to incur significant costs in order to recover the cattle. In really extreme cases, the animal would be injured. What neighbours did not do, even in severe case, was go to court.

David Friedman, commenting on the system of customary property rights in Shasta county, writes

“Ellickson’s central thesis was that close-knit groups tend to develop efficient norms. He concluded that while formal law is important and useful in human affairs, it is less important and less useful than generally believed. In a wide variety of situations, people not only succeed in resolving their conflicts without recourse to law, they do it by mechanisms that work considerably better than the legal system.
“I have discussed elsewhere the reasons why I believe that his thesis is a plausible one, and offered some evidence that the norms he describes are in fact efficient. The relevance of that discussion to this chapter is that the system of norms and norm enforcement that he describes is a simpler version of the sort of private market for law discussed in this chapter. There are no middlemen or arbitrators; everyone is his own enforcement agency; the only available court is the court of (local) public opinion. But the structure of the market for norms is the same as the structure of the market for law. Each person can choose whether to act in a neighbourly fashion towards each other person, and each pair of persons must in some way reach agreement on what that implies. If individuals fail to agree (or violate their agreements), the result is costly conflict. If, as Ellickson argues, such a structure tends to generate efficient norms, that is at least some evidence that a similar structure would tend to generate efficient laws.”
(Friedman 1996)

What Ellikson did not discuss, as perhaps he should, was how such a system of efficient property rights could come into being. The system of property rights appears to be well designed, but, whilst well-designed social norms may be the product of some religious belief, this does not appear to be the case here. It may well be that the norms are the product of evolution. Maybe societies with better norm’s than others conquer the less efficient, or are absorbed or copied by them. However, conventional ideas of evolution would suggest that this would occur over millennia, whilst the Shasta county norms evolved in far less time than that.

However, if we consider evolution concerning much smaller and more fluid groups than entire societies, maybe we would strike upon the correct answer. Supposing that we consider a social norm that can easily be followed by many small groups in a society, but is only applicable to members of that group – for instance, honesty between friends or work mates, groups with efficient norms will grow and prosper by recruitment. Other groups will imitate them, perhaps in order to survive, themselves, and similar groups will combine, maybe to reap the same benefits but on a larger scale. Where a system of norms is better than that of its competitors, it will spread throughout a society. As circumstances change and different problems arise, the process repeats itself on a smaller scale, producing diversity within the system relating to the local propensities of its various rooting units. The most important point, though, is that property rights can and have arisen without the need for a state.

One Hobbesian argument against anarchy is that of the tragedy of the commons. Writing in the 1950s, the economist Scott Gordon neatly summed up the position:

“Everybody’s property is nobody’s property. Wealth that is free for all is valued by none because he who is foolhardy enough to wait for its proper time of use will find that it has been taken by another. The blade of grass that the manorial cowherd leaves behind is valueless to him, for tomorrow it may be eaten by another animal; the fish in the sea are valueless to the fisherman, because there is no assurance that they will be there for him tomorrow if they are left behind today.” (Gordon 1954,pp124-42)

The argument is simply another form of the Prisoners’ Dilemma, only here it is of ecological value, because it relates to a sustainable use of the environment. The idea is, if just anybody can use the strip of grass that I am using to graze my cattle on, then, should I stop grazing for some of the year, others will come along and use it instead of me. This way, I lose out, so it is in my apparent interest to continue grazing, just as in the prisoners’ dilemma it is in my apparent interest not to co-operate but to free ride. But continuing grazing will prevent the grass from re-growing, so it will eventually run out. Hence, like in the prisoners’ dilemma, the apparently rational choice for the self-interested egoist to take is actually the one that leads to a worse outcome. The biologist Garett Hardin rediscovered Gordon’s argument when preparing a lecture on population. He said,

“The rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course of action for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another… But this conclusion is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein lies the tragedy. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” (Hardin 1968, pp1243-8)

Hardin’s conclusion was that of the classical Hobbesian: “Coercion is a dirty word to most liberals now but it need not be forever.” A little bit of oppression, in Hardin’s view, would do the world a good. Unfortunately, his belief in the tragedy of the commons is simply wrong, and so his conclusion cannot follow. The rational egoism that his neo-Darwinistic view of human nature implies actually leads free individuals to voluntarily formulate rules for regulating the use of resources – for determining property rights. Why? Because it is in their rational self-interest to do so.

In his book, The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley writes,

“The rocky fractal coast of Maine is ideal for lobsters. They swarm in the deep, cold-water inlets and off the coasts in considerable numbers. For hundreds of years they have been trapped and supplied as a delicacy to the rich of Boston and New York. In principle anybody can become a lobster fisherman. A licence is cheap and readily available from the state, so there are few legal barriers to entry. There is no limit on how many lobsters each fisherman can catch, so long as he does not kill breeding females or lobsters below a minimum size. The profits are good and the equipment is relatively simple.” (Ridley 1996,pp 229)

This situation seems like a libertarian’s heaven – enterprising individuals can easily acquire the means to go into business trapping lobsters, and then selling them for a healthy profit to people in Boston, and all with practically no interference by the state. It also seems to bear obvious features that non-libertarians will point to in an attempt to destroy the libertarian position – features the importance of which people generally take for granted, but libertarians apparently seem to ignore. As Ridley says, “All the ingredients are in place for an environmental disaster.” There are no environment laws preventing over farming of the stock. At the margin, a lobsterman apparently (to him) stands to benefit more by expanding his efforts, even though this will diminish the stock available (perhaps to extinction) and so make him worse off in the long run, because if he doesn’t somebody else will. A classic example of the prisoners’ dilemma. However, until recently, the lobstermen in Maine have been thriving. They have not over fished the lobsters, and, in fact, catch roughly the same number each year, and have done so for over fifty years. Why did the ecological disaster that the non-libertarians predicted not occur? Because libertarianism works, that’s why:

“The answer lies in a single phrase: property rights. In legal principle, as we have seen, anybody can trap lobsters anywhere. The fishing grounds are not privately owned. In practice, you would be well advised to think twice before setting up on your own. The whole coastline is divided into territories, each of which ‘belongs’ to a particular ‘harbour gang’. Although it is illegal to cut somebody’s traps free from their buoys, it happens regularly to any intruder. Although there are no legal boundaries, each fisherman knows from landmarks on the shore exactly where he and other members of the gang must cease trapping. The territories are so precise that they can be easily mapped after a diligent questioning of the existing lobstermen.
“The territories are jointly owned by the whole gang; there is no individual private property. If there were, the system would be unworkable, because lobsters move around at different seasons and a small territory that an individual could manage would be too small to be a reliable source of lobsters. Instead, the members of the gang move their traps at different seasons to different parts of the territory, which may cover 100 square miles.”
(Ibid, pp 229-30)

This provides an excellent example of how property rights can arise without the states supervision. The natural features on the coastline that the different gangs use to demarcate the boundaries of their respective pieces of property represent obvious points where property may be divided, just like a stream flowing through a meadow provides an obvious division to two people disputing over the land. This, coupled by their similar cultural backgrounds, gives disputing gangs a Schelling point that they can co-ordinate around, and so they can arrive at a decision of what belongs to who.

A similar example is that of the English commons, in Medieval times, as Ridley explains:

“Medieval commons were not disastrous free-for-alls. They were carefully regulated communal property, just like the lobster fisheries of Maine. True, there were very few written rights and not many obvious written rules about who could graze them or cut coppice wood on them. To an outsider, they looked like a free-for-all. But try adding your cattle to the common herd and you would soon discover the unwritten rules.
“In practice, an English Medieval common was a complex spider’s web of jealously guarded property rights held under the supposedly benevolent umbrella of the lord of the manor, who owned the common, but only on the condition that he did not interfere with the rights of the commoners. There were rights of common of pasturage, estovers, turbary, pannage, piscary and common in the soil. Translated, these were rights to graze, cut wood, dig turf, turn out pigs to eat acorns, catch fish, or take gravel, sand or stone, and these rights were privately owned by individuals. As the manorial system broke don, commons came in effect to be owned jointly by those who possessed these rights in common, rights that were extinguished, converted or trampled in the process known as the enclosure. But commons were never free-for-alls.”
(Ibid, pp232)

In the present day, on the Pennine moors, one of the old rules of the medieval commons still remains – stinting. A sheep is able to graze where it likes, but the shepherd is not free to add any new sheep. He owns a number of ‘stints’, each of which entitles him to graze a ewe. This ewe must have been born on the moor, and be ‘hefted’ to a flock already there. A hefted ewe is one that knows its place on the moor and will stay there all year, unlike an unhefted ewe, which will wander the moor. The number stints is calculated so as to ensure that the moor is over grazed. In medieval times most village commons had stints in this way, but now they have been fully commoditised – they can be bought and sold for money – the English commons are in effect privatised communal property. Much the same has always applied to coppices in English woodland: The rights to cut wood were privately owned.

“In the absence of government interference, people are remarkably good at developing ways of solving the collective-action problem for environmental restraint between themselves, whether in a two-hour experiment in Indian or a three-thousand-year experiment in Bali. So how is it that they so signally failed to stop themselves exterminating the megafauna of North and South America, Australia, New Guinea, Madagascar, New Zealand and Hawai? How is it that the hunting practices of the Amazon Indians bear not the slightest taint of ecological virtue?
The simplest answer is probably the right one. Animals move; irrigation systems do not. The key to solving common problems is the assertion of ownership – communal if necessary, individual if possible.”
(Ibid, pp241)

Hence the answer to Ridley’s question. Owning mastodons or kangaroos was harder than catching them, because when you caught them you killed them, but owning them you have to be able to control them. Hence, even if a tribe or an individual could prevent strangers from hunting on their territory, they couldn’t prevent the game from moving onto other people’s territory, in addition to the problem of locating trespassers. Or, on the other hand, regulations designed to control the hunting of animals did evolve, but broke down on occasions when the scarcity they were meant to enable people to cope with temporarily broke down.

“Evidence for the idea that people sustainably exploit only those things they can own comes from the fact that valuable living resources in tropical rainforests are generally treated with much more restraint if they do not move. Jared Diamond reports that New Guineans exhibit a conservation ethic only where individual rights are owned by individual people. A tree of a certain rare kind preffered for hollowing out as canoes belongs to he who finds it, and this rule is respected. The owner can therefore wait until he needs a new canoe until he fells it. Likewise, a tree used for display by certain birds of paradise is privately owned by whoever finds it first. The owner has the sole right to shoot the birds for their prized decorative plumes.”

In North America, before the white men arrived, Native American’s used to sustainably trap beavers. Near the beavers dam could be found notches or marks upon the trees that were used to tell who owned the trapping rights to that particular dam. Or, to use another example provided by Ridley, take the use of megapode eggs. Megapodes are large, chicken-like birds that live on the islands of Australasia and the Eastern Indies. Unlike many birds, megapodes do not incubate their eggs. Instead they bury them in compost heaps so that the heat of the rotting vegetables provides this service for them. Or, occasionally, where they are living on volcanic islands, they dig down into the sand and lay there eggs there, so that the geothermal activity can incubate them. One such beach in New Britain attracted 53,000 birds.

Megapode eggs are large, rich in protein, and a delicacy. Hence many people compete to harvest them. One person, or one community usually owns one compost heap or one beach where the megapodes lay their eggs. This private ownership is crucial to the conservation of the birds. In a site at Harku, a small island in the Moluccas, 5,000 eggs were discovered. The rights to harvest the eggs were owned by one man, who paid an annual fee, and left twenty-percent of the eggs to hatch – obviously, because if he didn’t leave some to reproduce, he would run out; the “nesting” site is his property so he cares for it in his own interest.

“The difference between megapode nesting sites, beaver dams, bird-of-paradise trees and canoe trees on the one hand, and mammoths, tapir or herring on the other is that the former do not move. Property rights in the former are easily asserted, marked and defended. The thing that prevented our ancestors sustainably exploiting mammoths and elks was the fact that it was impossible to operate property rights in wild animals. These property rights need not be individual – they could be communal – but they were the key to ecological virtue.” (ibid, pp242)

Many wild animals need enormous grazing/hunting grounds. They, therefore, travel around a lot, and hence, make difficult things to own. However, it is becoming easier. Plane or helicopter, making it easier to see what the animals are up to, can be used to patrol large game reserves. Even better, often animals are tagged with transmitters allowing them to be tracked. Often complex, these transmitters can sometimes even tell us about how health an animal is. Such devices are often used at sea.

Jean Jacques Rousseau once wrote,

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, thought of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stake and had filled in the ditch and cried to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that that the earth belongs to everyone and that the earth belongs to no one.”

The answer to Rousseau’s question is, of course, Not Much. As we have seen, it was the fact that he owned the nesting site that gave the megapode egg harvester the incentive to leave enough to have some to repopulate his stock. Without this, he would have starved. It was the fact that Native Americans privately owned the right to trap beavers at particular dams that meant that there were beavers to trap at the dam – until the white men came. It is because the right to graze a ewe on the commonly owned Penine Moors is privately owned that the land is still fit for grazing. And it was because the right to cut wood in communally owned copses was privately owned that ensured that wood-cutters left enough of a tree to cut more wood next winter. And, of course, if we want to sustainably exploit those animals we need to use to live, then digging ditches or planting stakes, which Rousseau so opposed above, is precisely what we ought to do. Wild animals that roam about are difficult to own and, hence, difficult to conserve. The best thing to do, then, is to make sure that they don’t roam about by putting them in fenced enclosures.

The trouble is that Rousseau, and many like him, fondly look back at the time of the commons, believing it to be a wonderfully egalitarian time. Many “social revolutionaries” do the same today. Unfortunately they are very badly informed. As Ridley points out,

“So it is nonsense to argue that just because something is communally owned it must suffer the tragedy of the commons. Common property and open-access free-for-alls are very different things. The old pre-enclosure English commons as a genuinely egalitarian place open to all is a nostalgic myth. Hardin was apparently unaware of this, and what he wrote was based on theory, not fact.” (Ridley 1996, pp233)

Before the Enclosures, the land may have belonged, as Rousseau wanted, to everybody and nobody, but the rights to use it were privately owned, and it was this that kept people alive.

But what happens when the state gets involved? What happens when the state takes on the role of looking after the environment and ecological issues, regulating the use of resources in order to ensure a “sustainable” level of consumption – or, even worse, nationalises them. The answer is simple: Disaster.

“Leviathan [political authority] creates tragedies of the commons where none were before. Consider the case of wildlife in Africa. All across the continent countries nationalised their game during colonial regimes and after independence in the 1960s and 1970, arguing that it was the only way to prevent ‘poachers’ wiping out this commonly held resource. The result was that peasants now faced competition and damage from government owned elephants and buffalo, and had no longer any incentive to look after the animals as a source of either meat or revenue. ‘The African farmer’s enmity towards elephants is as visceral as Western mawkishness is passionate,’ said the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service. The decline of African elephants, rhinos and other animals is a tragedy of the commons created by nationalisation. This is proved by the fact that it has been spectacularly reversed wherever title to wildlife has been re-privatised to communities, such as the Campfire programme of Zimbabwe in which sport hunters bid to buy rights to kill game from committees of villagers. The villagers rapidly change their attitudes to the now-valuable game animals on their land. The acreage of private land devoted to wildlife has increased from 17,000 to 30,000 square kilometres since Zimbabwe granted title over wildlife to landowners.” (Ibid, pp236)

Another example of the failure of government regulation is with irrigation systems in Asia, where the damage governments cause is even more striking than that in Africa. Traditionally irrigation systems in Nepal consisted of a delicate bargains between the owners of the headwaters and the owners of the fields down-stream. Obviously, if owners of fields up stream waste water, then they leave their downstream neighbours dry. However, out of self-interest, they are usually more generous, maintaining diversion dams. Maintaining these dams is hard work that users give in exchange for a fair share of the water. Consequently, when governments intervene, as they did in Kamala, to build a permanent diversion dam, the only effect was to upset any existing deal between the owners of the headwaters and the owners of fields, remove any incentive for those upstream to be good neighbours to those downstream, and so reduce the amount of water available to users downstream. The project was a complete failure: Irrigation systems run by the public sector, in general, average twenty percent less crop than those that are run by the farmers themselves, and are usually less equitable.

“The Turkana people living along the Turkwell River near Lake Turkana [northern Kenya] once fed goats upon abundant acacia pods that fell from the riverside trees. From outside this looked like a free-for-all: all herdsmen used all the trees. But it was in fact not an open-access free-for-all, but a carefully regulated piece of private (communal) property. If anybody tried to let his animals browse a certain clump of trees without first negotiating permission from a committee of elders, he risked being driven off with sticks and, for a second offence, being killed. The government then intervened during a drought to regulate the browsing of the Turkwell trees. A new situation therefore developed in which the herder faced a genuine free-for-all; the government, not the elders, owned the trees. Tragically, and predictably, the trees were over-browsed and killed. Yet, bizarrely, so strong is the prejudice against private property among environmentalists, that the expert who described this case tried to make it an argument against privatisation, not against nationalisation.” (Ibid, pp235)

On Bali, an Indonesian island, almost every accessible inch of hillside has been terraced and turned into rice paddy fields. The sustainable farming of these fields is not a problem to the people who do it. The farmers grow their own seeds, use no pesticides or fertilisers as a sort of algae in the fields takes nitrogen from the air, and rice has been grown in Bali since 1,000 bc with the same method of irrigation for almost as long. Water is channelled from mountain lakes and streams along irrigation pipes and canals and down to the subaks, or farming villages, on the hillsides.

At every branch point in the canals is a temple, at which worshipping is apparently all about making offerings to the neighbouring temples upstream. These temples decide when each of the subaks shall have its water to plant its rice, and hence, when its time to plant the rice, as, traditionally, each subak plants its fields at the same time or leaves its fields fallow at the same time.

Then, in the 1970s, along came the Green Revolution, as the International Rice Research Institution, promulgating new strains of rice, and promising greater yields if people did not leave their fields fallow between crops. The out come was a disaster as shortages of water and viruses born by insects ravished crops. Scientists were called in to find out the cause of this dramatic failure. One of them, Stephen Lansing, put the whole problem into his computer to find a solution. It found that before the Green Revolution the virus was killed when each subak left its fields fallow, as it had nowhere to live. Because each subak planted at different times enough water was ensured for all. The system that the Green Revolutionaries were interfering with was no mere hide beaten tradition – it was an ingenious solution to problems of scarcity. Nobody invented this system. It stands as proof that order rises from chaos due, not to the way people are bossed about, but due to how individuals react rationally to the incentives that they are presented with. As Ridley sums up, “The result was synchrony within the subaks and asynchrony between them. All without the slightest hint of central authority. Government, in the form of rajahs or socialists, has done nothing to create the system; it only levies a tax.”

“Wherever you look, the reason for environmental troubles in the Third World turns out to be caused by a lack of clear property rights. Why do people mine rain forest when they could farm it for nuts and medicines? Because they can own the logs in a way that they cannot own them when they are trees. Why is Mexico exhausting its oil reserves more quickly, less efficiently and for less money than the United States? Because property rights to oil are better secured in America. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto argues that the poverty of the Third World is to be cured largely by creating secure property rights without which people would have no chance to build their own prosperity. Government is not the solution to tragedies of the commons. It is the prime cause of them.” (Ibid, pp238-9)

Property rights provide a near perfect solution to a problem that many people argue can only be solved by state intervention – the tragedy of the commons, where, it is believed that, because resources are owned by no-one and everyone, they are cared for by no-one. What is more is that the appropriate property rights that provide solutions to particular instances of this problem, generally evolve where the resource is not legally owned by anybody, so that such examples provide explicit evidence that property rights can arise through the free actions of free individuals without the intervention of states. Property rights can evolve and be secured without the need for a state, and people are generally better off when they do than when states regulate the use of resources.

“The same conclusion applies to pollution and conservation in modern Western economies. Polluting companies adore regulation by government, because it protects them from civil suits and discourages new entrants to their business [thus allowing them to charge monopoly prices]. They are terrified of environmental pressure from property rights asserted through the common law:

“Together trespass, nuisance and riparian rights have effectively empowered people to preserve or restore clean land, air and water – too effectively, apparently, for governments, which have worked assiduously to undermine property rights and the environmental protection they have fostered.” [Here Ridley has quoted Brubaker’s Property Rights in the Defence of Nature]

“Private property is often the friend of conservation; government regulation is often the enemy. Yet such a conclusion enrages environmentalists, who almost to a man and woman blame Western traditions of private property and greed for the damage that is being done to the environment, and recommend government interventions for the solution. There is, I believe, a simple reason for this. Private property or communal ownership by a small group is a logical response to the tragedy of the commons, but it is not an instinctive one. Instead, there is a human instinct, clearly expressed in hunter-gatherers, but also present in modern society, that strongly protests at any hoarding. Hoarding is taboo; sharing is mandatory. In Eskimos, anybody suspected of not sharing even his last cigarette is shamed into giving it to the group. This hoarding taboo is the root of the common disapproval of private property. The Napoleonic code and the Hindu law of partible inheritance, which enforce the division of property among many heirs, is part of this tradition…
“If government were perfect, nationalisation would work as well as such people hope. But government is imperfect, at least as much as markets are imperfect. It always diverts money to itself, whether corruptly or through Parkinson’s law. In addressing the environment, government is the cause of most problems, not the solution to them, precisely because it creates tragedies of the commons where none existed before. Would New Guineans cease to cut trees or shoot birds of paradise merely because they belonged to the government? Perhaps, if the government of New Guinea could afford fleets of helicoptors hovering over the forest day and night with orders to shoot to kill. But that’s hardly the government most of us want, or would wish upon others.
“Ecological virtue must be created from the bottom up.”
(Ibid, pp243-6)

All these examples Ridley provides lend themselves to our general argument perfectly. Property rights can and do evolve distinct from the influence of states and monopolistic legal systems. They can take many forms, communal or individual, but whatever form they take they are private – at least as much individual private property as you local barber shop, or as much communal property as the corporate property your friend shows off in when he’s driving the company car. Private property, not public property, not state property. And where such private property rights have been allowed to evolve without the intervention of states or political authority, they have secured ecological virtue and ensured the efficient and sustainable exploitation of our environment. Where states have intervened, on the other hand, through nationalisation or regulation, they have lead to environmental disaster. Nothing Ridley’s argument implies naturally benevolent people motivated solely by self-sacrifice. On the contrary, most of his book comes from the eyes of an evolutionary biologist. Richard Dawkins, in The Times Literary Supplement, says that “If my The Selfish Gene were to have a Volume Two devoted to humans, The Origins of Virtue is pretty much what I think it might look like.” This from the crown prince of neo-Darwinism! Ridley himself states that “Our minds have been built by selfish genes, but they have been built to be social, trustworthy and co-operative.” (Ibid 1996, pp249) All his cases of the voluntary creation of property rights to decide who controls the use of what, then, prove that co-operation results from the free actions of Hobbesian people. Indeed, it was because people are self-interested that the cases of government intervention we examined lead to disaster – remember the case of the Turkana goatsmen who found, after the trees their goats grazed on were nationalised, they no longer had to ask permission to use the trees, and so over-grazed them.

There are a number of conclusions we have reached. First of all, if we agree with Hobbes’ view of human nature, then we certainly do not what Hobbes’ dictatorship. Indeed, we are unlikely to even want a democracy, for concentrated power in the hands of a rational self-interested person is a threat to general utility, and the widest power can be dispersed is to root it in every individual. This represents the most realistic check to the abuse of power, but it also equals anarchy. So only when anarchy is instigated will we be likely to expect the use of force against the rights of others to be best restrained, because it costs most then, and pays the least.

Secondly, social life is not like a prisoners’ dilemma, because the prisoners’ dilemma is a one off game, whilst in real life the future counts. In repeated games of prisoners dilemma, Tit For Tat is the rational strategy for both players to adopt, and Tit For Tat, when playing itself, leads to mutual co-operation. Thus, when the chance of future interaction is great enough, mutual co-operation is the rational choice for self-interested egoists. The theory proves it, but the theory is also backed up by the experiences of every day life.

Thirdly, people’s rights can be protected by private organisations that lack the state’s monopoly over the use of force. Disputes will be settled through arbitration, which is less costly than violence, and such private organisations will contract the arbitration services they think their customers most want. Such an anarchic legal system will actually produce laws that maximise general welfare, maybe even more so than states do. Empirical evidence from many historical examples proves this.

Fourthly, property rights can arise by free agreement between self-interested individuals, taking the form of social norms. Such property rights are likely to be economically efficient as well as environmentally sound. Empirical evidence from the world around us proves this. These property rights can be used to secure the services of the before mentioned private protection organisations, and so may be refined as is needed by the private legal system such anarchist institutions produce.

All this follows from Hobbes’ view humans as naturally self-interested. Therefore, if Hobbes is right (about human nature) then he is wrong (about the need for strong political authority). Government can be done without.



“What we are concerned with, in terms of definition, is a cluster of doctrines whose principal uniting feature is the belief that government is both harmful and unnecessary. A double Greek route is involved: the word archon, meaning ruler and the prefix an, indicating without; hence anarchy means the state of being without a ruler.”
George Woodcock, The Anarchist Reader, pp11

“Absence of government; disorder; confusion”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, pp42

“1 lawlessness and disorder. 2 lack of government in a state.”
Collins Pocket English Dictionary, pp16


“By derivation, anarchism is the doctrine which contends that government is the source of most of our social problems and that there are viable alternative forms voluntary organisation. And by further derivation the anarchist is the man who sets out to create a society without government.”
George Woodcock, The Anarchist Reader, pp11

“The theory that all forms of government are undesirable.”
Webster’s New World Dictionary of American Language, as quoted by David Friedman in The Machinery of Freedom, pp111

“…the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished.”
Benjamin R. Tucker, Instead of a Book, pp9

“Doctrine advocating the abolition of government.”
Collins Pocket English Dictionary, pp434


“Person bearing (esp. sovereign) rule (often of), whence ~ SHIP”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, pp1095

“Person who governs.”
Collins Pocket English Dictionary, pp434


“1. Rule with authority, conduct the policy, actions, and affairs, of (State, subject) despotically or constitutionally; regulate proceedings of (corporation etc.; ~ ing body, managers of hospital, body, or school, etc.); be in military command of (fort, town). 2.Exercise function of government.”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, pp531

“Rule, direct, or control.”
Collins Pocket English Dictionary, pp219


“One who governs, ruler”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, pp532


“1. Executive policy-making body of a state. 2. Exercise of political authority over a country or state. 3. System by which a country or state is ruled.”
Collins Pocket English Dictionary, pp220

“(More modern word for) GOVERNANCE; portion of country ruled by a governor, province; system of governing, form of polity; body or successive bodies of persons governing a State, the State as an agent, and administration or ministry.”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, pp532

“The exercise of influence and control, through law and coercion, over a particular group of people, formed into a state. Government has many kinds, and the following distinctions should be noted:
“(i) Constitutional and non-constitutional: in the first power is limited by a constitution, in the second it is not…
“(ii) Absolute and limited. This distinction concerns the extent to which a government’s power is limited by other agencies within the state (law being principal among them), as opposed to other state.
“(iii) Political and non-political… Certain institutions, concerned with the representation, adjudication and conciliation of interests within the state, are deemed to have a ‘political’ character, the most important among them being courts of law. Government can, however, exist without such institutions, and even without law, in which case it may be despotic, or merely primitive.
“(iv) In addition to those basic distinctions, various classifications of government have evolved, for example according to who holds power and in who’s interest. The principal ones now recognised are monarchy, democracy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and tyranny.”

Roger Scruton, A Dictionary of Political Thought, pp189-90


“First, the state is a sovereign body, in the sense that it claims complete authority to define the rights of its subjects – it does not, for instance, allow subjects to maintain customary rights which it has neither created or endorsed. Second, the state is a compulsory body, in the sense that everyone born into a given society is forced to recognise obligations to the state that governs that society – one cannot opt out of those obligations except by leaving the society itself. Third, the state is a monopolistic body: it claims a monopoly on force in its territorial area, allowing no competitor to exist alongside it. Fourth, the state is a distinct body, in the sense that the roles and functions which compose it are separate from social roles and functions generally, and also that the people who compose the state for the most part form a distinct class – the politicians, bureaucrats, armed forces and police.”
David Miller, Anarchism, pp5

“Writers in the tradition of Max Weber treat having a monopoly on the use of force in a geographical area, a monopoly incompatible with the private enforcement of rights, as crucial to the existence of a state. As Marshall Cohen points out in an unpublished essay, a state may exist without actually monopolising the use of force it has not authorised others to use; within the boundaries of a state there may exist groups such as the Mafia, the KKK, White Citizens Councils, striking unionists, and Weathermen that also use force. Claiming such a monopoly is not sufficient (if you claimed it you would not become the state), nor is being its sole claimant a necessary condition. Nor need everyone grant the legitimacy of the state’s claim to such monopoly…
“A state claims a monopoly on deciding who may use force when; it says that only it may decide who uses force and under what conditions; it reserves to itself the sole right to pass on the legitimacy and permissibility of any use of force within its boundaries; furthermore it claims the right to punish all those who violate its claimed monopoly. The monopoly can be violated in two ways: (1) a person may use force though unauthorised to do so, or (2) though not themselves using force a group or person may set themselves up as an alternative authority (and perhaps the only legitimate one) to decide when and by whom the use of force is proper and legitimate.”

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp23

“Sovereignty is the most fundamental of the distinctive features of the state as it has been conceived and understood since the sixteenth century. Some theorists have authority for making, interpreting, and applying a system of law over a defined territory. Other theorists have laid more stress on ‘political’ sovereignty, the possession of coercive power sufficient to enforce obedience internally and to maintain independence in external relations. The two forms of sovereignty in fact go together, because the effectiveness of legal authority depends in the last resort on its being backed by coercive power superior to any possessed by individuals or groups within the state.”
Encyclopaedia Britannica 17, pp609

“The state… is a form of social organisation which differs from all the rest in two respects: firstly, that it claims the allegiance of the whole population rather than those who have opted to join it, and secondly, that it has coercive power to enforce that allegiance.”
Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action, pp107


Tom W. Bell, “Polycentric Legal Systems”, 1991/92

Nicholas Dykes, Mrs Logic and the Law, Libertarian Alliance, 1998

David D. Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism, Open Court, 1989

David D. Friedman, “A Positive Account of Property Rights”, 1994

David Friedman, “Anarchy and Efficient Law,” from For and Against the State, John Sanders and Jan Narveson eds. Rowman and Littlefied Publishers, Inc, 1996

Scott Gordon, “The Economic Theory of a Common-Property-Resource: the Fisheries,” Journal of Political Economy 62, 1954

Garett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons, Science 162, 1968

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Oxford University Press, 1996

Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, its basis and Principals, Freedom Press, 1993

Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue, Penguin, 1996

Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty, Fox and Wilkes, 1996

Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action, Freedom Press, 1996

Carl Watner (eds), A Voluntary Political Government: Letters from Charles Lane, Michael E Coughlin, 1985

Carl Watner, “Stateless Not Lawless”, 1997

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