The alternative to the state, part 5: contract-based communities
“The future social organization should be carried out from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, starting with the associations, then going on to the communes, the regions, the nations, and, finally, culminating in a great international and universal federation. It is only then that the true, life-giving social order of liberty and general welfare will come into being, a social order which, far from restricting, will affirm and reconcile the interests of individuals and of society.” – Mikhail Bakunin
The movie Bowling for Columbine showed a headline about a town in the US requiring everyone to own a gun. Naturally, most people in the theatre with me shook their heads. What a bunch of ignorant townspeople, right? But if you are in a place where you know everyone has a gun, how likely are you to break into someone’s house? Wouldn’t be a very sensible idea, would it? But even if you think it is a stupid idea, is it right for you to impose your beliefs on others?
I don’t know why it needed to be a government decision, but at least it was local, which makes it easy enough to move to the next town if you don’t like it—far more reasonable than expecting someone to move to another country or go live in the woods. In a stateless society, no one would be expected to move, because the possession or non-possession of firearms would have been a stipulation of the rules one would have already agreed to to be permitted to live in the community in the first place.
Now, in every democratic country, we have a race, a fight—always of image over substance—to see who will take the reins of power, so that the winner can impose his or her beliefs on the entire population by force. Would it not make more sense to have smaller groups in which people could live by the values they want? If abortion is murder, disallow it in your community; but why should millions of people who disagree with you be forced to follow your values? The option—the right—should exist to secede. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, in Democracy: the God that Failed, points out that “[s]ecession solves this problem, by letting smaller territories each have their own admission standards and determine independently with whom they will associate on their own territory and with whom they prefer to cooperate from a distance.” (p117)
In my last post, I suggest a variety of ways of using privately-produced law, such as arbitration, dispute-resolution organisations and insurance, to get the benefits of ideal state services without being subject to the wayward decisions of the elite. This post goes into detail on another, related idea of anarchists: the community based on a contract. This and the next post propose seceding from the state and building stateless, or sovereign, communities.
The sovereign community
When moving somewhere new, people are usually subject to certain by-laws passed down by the municipality, if such a level of government exists. Such laws might include not letting one’s grass grow too long or driving under 30kph in a school zone. In general, the lower down the level of government, the fewer people it represents, the more accountable it is. A government that presides over only a few thousand people, in fact, is barely a government. Unlike any other government, it would have little or no bureaucracy, few powerful lobbies and people would not need to rally en masse to make changes. A group of a few hundred people who make decisions on consensus is not a government at all, as there is no one imposing decisions on others.
The ideal unit of human organisation is not the nation or the race but the community. Dunbar’s number, the number of individuals the average human can maintain a stable relationship with, is between about 100 and 200, most likely because we evolved in communities of this size. In a community, people grow up around each other and share a culture. They know and learn from and trust each other. True communities make only minor distinctions between family and friends. Their members will defend each other and the community. Rules (or laws) are best made on the community level, because it is much easier to come to a consensus and ensure that the rules represent the wishes of everyone. Rule enforcement, too, would be far easier, because the enforcers would know the offenders. Shaming, ostracism and reconciliation are all much easier. And we do not need to get rid of professional enforcers and prisons for the truly recidivist criminals; we just would not pay unrepresentative and uncaring institutions to do it for us.
The exemplary sovereign community would counter the objection that statists have that anarchy can only mean killing each other wantonly. People who believe in this nightmare scenario not only do not read anarchist ideas on preventing that possibility; they disregard the enormous differences between the modern world and the stateless world of old.
-First, we are used to peace. Many hunter-gatherer societies are used to war. We are accustomed to diversity of culture, language, skin colour, ideas and ways of living. We no longer react toward people we have never seen before as members of other tribes who are likely hostile. We are used to peaceful interactions with all the thousands of anonymous people we meet over our lifetimes and get into intractable conflicts with maybe twenty of them. People who like peace will defend and build on it, just like people who appreciate their freedom will not give it up easily.
–Even in the past century we have become more peaceful. The decades leading up to World War One were marked by militarism in Europe. War was seen as salutary for a nation and a man. This feeling is now accepted far less widely. One can see evidence for this claim in the statistics alone: people are killing each other less now (relative to population) than any time in history. See Steven Pinker’s the Better Angels of Our Nature for statistics on and possible reasons for this development.
-Second, we can communicate with those members of other tribes in town hall gatherings, dispute-resolution organisations, or just over the phone in ways that even one hundred years ago was impossible. World War One was caused in part by poor communication among the warmakers. Unsure of each other’s intentions and lacking the easy long distance calling we take for granted, part of the march to war was, in fact, a blind stumble of guesses. We no longer suffer from the same lack of communication. Equally importantly, stateless societies would not have vast war machines at their disposal.
-Third, where most people see the inevitability of war, a better understanding of the causes of war reveals that states have, for hundreds if not thousands of years, nearly always been the initiators of war and the causes of terrorism. They make war to enlarge the power and wealth of the people on top. Through taxation and debt, they force their subjects to pay for it. Without the apparatus of legal plunder and the build up of militaries, war is far less likely.
-Finally, we have all the ideas necessary for peaceful and prosperous living, from ideas of stateless, democratic decision making to how to take care of each other through mutual aid.
I conceive of “community” in very broad terms. It could mean cities or something even larger, if they can somehow be managed, as well as towns; cooperatives of farmers or workers; or whatever other associations they want to put together. Individual communities’ making their own rules would mean anyone’s kind of anarchism can be attempted. You could try a propertyless commune or a Galt’s Gulch (let’s hope the capitalists and the communists don’t engage in a Cold War); whatever you think makes the most sense.
I use the word “rules” to differentiate what I am talking about from “law”. “Law” has a number of definitions but this blog goes by that of law as an imposition by uncaring elites on a populace, which is what most laws are. “Rules” here mean the things people have decided to follow, not just to make others follow. They are what people agree to when going to a new place and can be changed when they no longer serve the common good.
Some sovereign communities will have leaders of one thing or another, as do most or all communities. Leaders are great, but it is hard to lead hundreds of thousands of people without an urgent, common cause (which is why a sense of urgency and a flat hierarchy are important for large corporations to stay ahead of the competition). But leading on a smaller level is not a problem. Small groups are more flexible and can act like teams more easily than big ones.
If a community decides on a code of rules, it can institutionalise them by having those who want to live there sign a contract. The contract would say that the people living there would adhere to those rules if they wish to remain there. Some stipulations in the contract might read
–adhere to the non-aggression principle. It is possible to build a community entirely on this premise, with very few other rules. Freedom would be maximised, though there would be other consequences as well.
–join the mutual aid network, or certain aspects of the mutual aid network, such as neighbourhood watch, health insurance, pensions for old people, and so on.
–no private property. People who believe property is theft would probably want that in writing.
–no violence whatsoever. This one is for pacifist communities. I would not want to take away someone’s right to defend him or herself, but pacifists have a different point of view, and if they want to organise on that basis, they should be free to do so. (The problem is, of course, the danger from outsiders; living high in the mountains may eliminate this risk.)
–immigration rules. As good as immigration can be for an economy and for opening minds, for one reason or another, it is possible that a community would not want too many newcomers. Perhaps it would put a strain on the local environment. Perhaps they just do not like Paraguayans. I do not like racism, but I do not force others to accept my beliefs. Let immigrants go where they are welcome, where they can improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
–the minimum drinking or drug-taking age, and which drugs are prohibited.
–no parental abuse or neglect of children, or else the community intervenes and adopts them until the parent is rehabilitated.
–no Walmart. If communities want to protect local business and even foster infant industries, they can erect barriers to trade as selective as they like. No to big box stores’ setting up in this neighbourhood (or even no buying from such stores and bringing it home). Nowadays, we have the ability to trade with millions of people around the world. A community that makes its own rules does not need to be hampered by one-size-fits-all laws, tariffs and sanctions over whole nations written for minority interest groups.
—Communities and individuals would be able to decide with whom, anywhere in the world, they would trade. Hoppe again: “Consider a single household as the conceivably smallest secessionist unit. By engaging in unrestricted free trade, even the smallest territory can be fully integrated into the world market and partake of every advantage of the division of labor, and its owners may become the wealthiest people on earth.” (p115) Secession promotes economic integration to the extent independent units want it.
—Sovereign communities would likely form confederations with others, as was the case in pre-British-ruled Ireland, with no violence involved in leaving the group. They may prefer to trade with others of similar values. This principle is similar to the idea of buying fair trade, supporting small businesses over big or boycotting companies that abuse their workers.
–how to make decisions, and when not to. Not all decisions need to be made collectively. A man is free to the extent he does not have to follow decisions he disagrees with. But for those decisions that are made collectively, such as building a road or a school, the rules should specify a decision-making mechanism. The process most respecting of the individual is consensus. Consensus is, of course, rejected as a way of making decisions on the national level, but that is why it is preferable to do it on a lower level, where important things like new rules and punishments can be discussed by the people they will affect. The higher the level, the less representative decision making is and the easier it is for a majority to trample on a minority.
—If the community is too big for consensus, let the decision-making apparatus split and different people can choose which to join without moving. “Community” does not have to be an exclusive territory. As long as they agree not to impose their policies on others, they can live next to each other in harmony. Given what we know about polycentric law, such an arrangement is possible.
–rules for arbitration. My last post propounded a free market in dispute-resolution, arbitration and enforcement. But it is possible that a single community will have a single organisation in charge of arbitrating disputes among members. It may have an authority figure charged with ensuring decisions are enforced. The village policeman is often a friendly, respectable, trusted, admired member of society. It is not necessary to do away with him just because we do not like the FBI.
–penalties for non-compliance. These might start with simply talking to the violator for breaking smaller rules once or twice. Next could be public reprimand—singling out the person for criticism at a community meeting, and asking him or her how he or she will address the problem. A larger offense might require monetary compensation, perhaps working to pay off one’s debt to the victim. As a major punishment for something the community considers very offensive, probably after one or more chances to reform, the community could kick out the offender (or put it to a vote). If the offender is irretrievably violent and the people believe he or she requires deterring or punishing, they can lock him or her up. Of course, a society based on polycentric law would deal with these things equally well.
Whatever codes of ethics communities decide on, there is likely to be a great deal of similarity among them. Free communities will probably agree on some variation of the NAP, participating in a neighbourhood watch or sharing the costs of policing the streets, and so on. Some might be more entrepreneurial or socialist or fearfully protective than others, but most will probably still adhere to common norms. And when they share best practices, people get better ideas. Anything is possible when millions of people are free to decide.