I’m looking forward to the new Beowulf (which I’ll have a chance to see locally in 3-D), but I still have an unquenchable fondness for this beautiful 1998 animated version. Admittedly it’s just half an hour long and massively overpriced, but it’s more faithful to the original in both letter and spirit than any other version has been, and clearly more so than the new one will be. The new one is Robert E. Howard’s Beowulf, as it were, but the 1998 version is Tolkien’s Beowulf. (Or to put it another way, the new movie – with its “I am ripper, tearer, slasher, I am the teeth in the darkness, I am Beowulf!” business, has the roaring, swaggering feel of an Irish saga like Táin Bó Cúailnge, while the older version has the grimmer, more somber character of an Icelandic saga. An Icelandic hero wouldn’t say “I am ripper, tearer, slasher!”; he’d say something more understated, like “you’ll receive small thanks here.”)
In related news: for an mp3 of Tolkien reading his poem “The Hoard,” inspired by the Beowulf story, go to this page and choose the third file.
Some interesting reference choices, given Iceland and Ireland’s status as alleged market anarchies. Does Anglo-Saxon England hold a similar reputation?
The case for Iceland’s anarchist status is pretty solid in my opinion. David Friedman’s evaluation has met with approval by scholars like Jesse Byock, Sigurdur Lindal and Birgir T. Runolfsson Solvason. Solvason actually cites Friedman favorably in his 1991 article “Ordered Anarchy, State, and Rent Seeking: The Icelandic Commonwealth, 930-1262.” That view has the support of scholars without an ideological ax to grind, which lends it a lot more credibility.
Ireland’s case is murkier. I’ve read a lot of things that conflict with Joseph Peden’s thesis. In his original article, “Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland,” he originally claimed that the tuatha were non-territorial, even though it’s clear that they weren’t, and the membership was transferable, even though it was based on kinship, with transfer being difficult and requiring a change of location. Only Brehons and skilled craftsmen moved freely between tuatha.
Continuing, he says that “Without the coercive apparatus of the State . . . the Irish were unable to sustain any large scale military force in the field for any length of time.” Except that we know the provincial kings were maintaining standing armies by the 11th century, and employed Scottish galloglaigh mercenaries after the Gaelic Resurgence.
In his discussion of kingship, he focuses on the elected tuath chiefs and dismisses the issue of the High Kinship as a mostly ceremonial institution with no real powers of rulership. This is true, at least prior the 9th century, but it completely ignores the issue of the provincial overkings, who eventually did come to wield a similar power. It’s unclear whether their authority over the tuath was a form of voluntary clientship, the result of intimidation and conquest, or some combination of both. Given that the accounts of Irish war focus mainly on the provincial kings, I’m inclined to think that power flowed from the top down, at least from the 9th century onward.
Looking in the Catholic Encyclopedia, I may have found an explanation for this later trend toward centralization:
“But outside of the Free-tribesman (the Féine and Céile) there grew up gradually a class of tenants who were not free, who in fact must have been in something very like a state of servitude. These were known by the name of ‘fuidirs’ or ‘bothachs,’ i.e. cottiers. They appear to have been principally composed of broken men, outcasts from foreign tribes, fugitives from justice, and the like, who, driven out of or forsaking their own tribes, sought refuge under some other chief. These men must have been natural objects of suspicion if not of detestation to the free tribesmen, and, being themselves absolutely helpless, and having no tribal rights of their own, they became entirely dependent upon their chief, who settled them down upon the outlying or waste lands of the tribe, or possibly at times upon his own separate land which as chief he held in severalty, and imposed upon them far heavier tolls or rents than the law permitted to be exacted from any other members of the tribe. As Ireland became more troubled by Northmen, Normans, and English, this class of tenant increased in numbers, so many tribes were broken or destroyed, and the survivors dispersed to find refuge in other tribes and under other chiefs. In this way there grew up gradually, even under Irish law, a body of tenants to whom their chiefs must have stood in the light of something like English landlords.”
So essentially, the inability of these people to assimilate created a vast labor-force of extra-legal serfs that contributed to the chieftain’s wealth, thus increasing their ability to raise armies and subdue neighboring territories. This practice would have always existed to some degree, but the vast displacements created by the Viking would have dramatically increased the effect. That’s explains the intensified warfare of the the 9th and 10th centuries, and the rise of powerful figures like Brian Boru and Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill.
If Peden’s description of Brehon law in “Property Rights in Celtic Ireland” is accurate, then it truly is an impressive example of a non-state legal system. But given that war and conquest of the tuatha by provincial kings happened anyway, despite being illegal, one wonders how accurately it reflects the lived experience.
It reminds of the libertarian commentary on the Somali clan law. It may reflect some aspects of society, or past society, but doesn’t account for warlords or the Islamic Court Union. That some anarcho-capitalists point to it as an modern example is just embarrassing as hell, and does much to discredit their ideas. If Somalia didn’t exist, anarcho-communists would have to invent it.
This rambles a bit. I’d like to hear your opinion on these societies?
“massively overpriced”? Well, it’s a video that’s only available in academic pricing for school use, which are usually priced a lot higher than movies on home video, since they’re being shown to more people. So this sucks if you want to buy a video for home use, but $40 for a half hour is downright affordable compared to some academic-version-only videos that are out there:
How about the classic short “Rainbow War”, which costs $95 for 20 minutes:
And then there’s Bill Nye the Science Guy, where the full series costs … well, just click on the link. Now THAT’s overpriced:
Oh, I know all about expensive academic videos! But hey, I want to buy this one for home use!
Incidentally, I don’t know why these guys don’t list their videos on Amazon; they’d get some buyers, even at those prices.