Archive | July 3, 2009


I received an email today asking why the anarchic situation in Afghanistan hasn’t evolved toward a peaceful system of protection agencies as market anarchist theory predicts. Here’s the answer I sent back:

For one thing, anarchy doesn’t fully exist in Afghanistan; the u.s. is desperately trying to prop up a government, and they’re importing plenty of money and guns to make it happen. (Ditto for Somalia, mutatis mutandis; though Somalia’s been working out better because the population has a longer history of polycentric law.) For another, so long as everyone shares the default assumption that there’s going to be a monopoly state sooner or later, then everyone strives mightily to make sure their gang rather than some rival gang is in position to control that state once it materialises. Now a relatively peaceful anarchy can sometimes emerge even from a situation like that (there are some medieval examples), but it’s a lot easier when that assumption is given up.

A good analogy is the wars of religion that ripped Europe apart during the 16th and 17th centuries. The common assumption that fueled those wars was the assumption that every territory had to have a single monopoly religion. Obviously that generates a zero-sum game where everyone strives to make their religion the monopoly one – since if one religion is going to have the monopoly, everyone would rather have that be their own rather than the other guy’s. What brought religious peace to Europe was the idea of religious toleration – or in other words, the realisation that something other than a single victorious monopoly religion might count as a peaceful resolution of religious differences. Once people realise that the same thing applies to political toleration, it’ll be a lot easier to develop and maintain a polycentric legal order. (This is also a good example of how politics depends on culture. Just as governments end up better or worse depending on the prevailing cultural assumptions, so do anarchies.)

Any further suggestions, O readership? If so, I’ll send my questioner to the comments section here.

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