Suddenly, Anarchy

I once asked columnist Joe Sobran if he believed government was a necessary evil, or if he thought it might be an unnecessary one. He paused to think it over then said, very gravely, “I have no idea.” A few months later, he rejected in one of his columns the labels “conservative,” “libertarian,” and “anarchist,” choosing instead to call himself a “reactionary utopian.” He defines that as someone who wants to “go back to a better world that never quite existed.”

I reckon I am in the same boat. I need a new name for myself. For years, I have argued that government should be limited to only a few basic functions, most notably the common defense. Now, as the events of the past year have unfolded, it has become clear that government is just as incompetent at protecting people as it is at all the other things it tries to do. The “war on terrorism” predictably is turning out to be as big a flop as the government “wars” on drugs, poverty, and racism. And all at the expense of the average American’s ability to live his life freely and peaceably.

So what does someone call himself when he has no confidence in the state, but still cringes at the term “anarchist”? Even if anarchists are no longer Chesterton or Tolkien’s “whiskered men with bombs,” are they not often in our day libertines, drug-addled activists, and other assorted moral misfits? Of course, the truth of a proposition is not dependent upon the nature of its adherents, so perhaps the more important question is – can a stateless society work?

The jury may still be out on that question; however, examples of such societies apparently do exist. A few years ago, anthropologist Spencer MacCallum reported on the condition of Somalia following the disastrous U.S. military invasion. That country, he noted, operates as a “kritarchy” (or “rule by judges”), with society organized around organically developed bodies of tribal law called the Xeerada.

“In essence,” MacCallum noted in a June 1998 article for The Freeman, “the Xeerada are alike in protecting freedom of movement, free trade, and other individual freedoms, and forbidding the contrary – including taxation and legislation.” According to MacCallum, the Somalis have tried, with some success, to attract people and commerce “by opening areas within their tribal lands for development, inviting businessmen and professionals the world over to come take advantage of the absence of a central government or other coercive authority.

“In this way,” MacCallum adds, “Somalia’s statelessness might prove to be a uniquely valuable asset in the modem world.” He concludes that the Xeerada promise to become “one of the great bodies of customary law, like Anglo-American common law or Jewish traditional law . . . . . These legal codes are flexible, responsive, and can be maintained without a large central state or legislative apparatus.”

Well, I guess we’ll see. Given the current situation in America, where state functionaries are daily warning us to be on Double Secret Alert against more death and destruction of an unspecified nature while making new enemies for us abroad and abrogating our freedoms here at home, it certainly seems high time for more of us to consider alternatives to the state-dominated society.

Meanwhile, I have more reading to do. Triumph, Harry Crocker’s recent single-volume history of the Catholic Church, notes the Church’s 19th-century opposition to the creation of centralized states in Italy and Germany. No one needs to be reminded of what those states did in the 20th century, but certainly the fact that monolithic government is a recent creation – and not the natural and normal order of things – deserves to be more widely recognized.

Maybe “anarchist” really isn’t such a terrible label. Mr. Sobran, whose work I admire, more recently concluded, “The force-system we call the state is worse than superfluous. It interferes with and frustrates the natural urge to cooperate; at worst, it embitters human relations. The paradigm of state-behavior – massive organized force – is war.”

And if current events don’t validate this conclusion, I don’t know what ever would.

This article was origionally published in

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