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October 25, 2010


Barry Stocker

Scott's though also gets interest from free market libertarians, not sure that's company you're seeking though Justin.
Good post

Pablo Policzer

Great post, but I'm not sure Scott is right about the absence of thugs outside the state. At least it's an open question. Steven Pinker takes the Hobbesian view and argues that pre-modern (and pre-state) tribal life is far more violent, by orders of magnitude:



Could the network you like (the Internet) be maintained without the ones you don't like (highways, air traffic — also trains, I guess, unless I'm missing some reason that's much easier)? What happens when a section of fiber optic cable needs to replaced? Local artisans make it from scratch? And where do integrated circuits come from? And who is updating Wikipedia articles, in English, about languages of Southeast Asia? Do they have to travel to Southeast Asia in a dugout canoe, or what?

Even older tedium-relief technologies, such as the book, are rather hard to keep going without a state, as the experience of medieval Europe seems to show.


Also: it may well be that post-state society would be much more violent than pre-state society was (again medieval Europe looks like a good example of this). The systems you mention (shame, elders, etc.) are not in place, and look hard to create from scratch, especially given that the people now living near you are not related to you in any way except as fellow citizens.

And one more point: you probably wouldn't need to appeal to the Zomian highlands to argue that, e.g., a retirement age which remains constant regardless of demographics is not among the minimum requirements for a just society.

Justin E. H. Smith

Abe, I concede there are some details to be worked out, and anyway if they can't be worked out I'm always happy to revert back to mere anarchism of the spirit.

The tedium problem is not a serious one: I only have the tedium-relieving strategies I do because of the state of the world at the time I came into it; I don't believe they really make me any happier than campfire stories make hunter-gatherers. (I noticed with interest, by the way, that while you are quite certain Wikipedia entries on Southeast Asian languages would not be kept up, you seem less sure that the lolcat phenomenon could not survive in a vacuum of state power).

The thug problem is perhaps a greater one. We know that hunter-gatherers practiced raids on neighbors in connection with cyclical intertribal feuds, but it was only with pastoralism that wars of expansion became routine. Professional armies appear only with the appearance of states, and again, while they might prevent some thuggish violence in some parts, they also appear to exercise their monopoly on violence at a scale to which warlords can only aspire.


The lolcat phenomenon is a fundamental manifestation of the human spirit which would be difficult indeed to suppress. Even well short of her second birthday, my daughter already says "'puter, picture, kitty cat?" whenever the laptop comes out.

The issue about state violence confuses me, I admit. It's hard not to believe, and almost everyone who's given thought to the issue for millennia now has believed, that life is generally more peaceful and secure within a state. And yet if you average over history, I see your point. (Socrates does take a view like yours in the Republic, as I understand it.)


And Thoreau says this (addressing both the thug problem and the tedium problem, perhaps): "I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers … And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers.… Though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time. I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough. The Pope's Homers would soon get properly distributed."

In our time it seems certain that his house would have been vandalized, however.

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