Post-State

2004-03-03

I'm currently reading, and providing pre-publication feedback on, a long essay that one of my e-pals has written on limited government vs. no government in the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Here are some musings inspired by my first reading of his paper (which is a veritable blockbuster)...

Back when I dismissed the historical and anthropological evidence for the viability of stateless societies, I thought that such societies were "primitive" and therefore that the lessons learned from such societies were not applicable to our modern, advanced societies. I mean, c'mon, the Kapauku people of New Guinea and the medieval vikings of Iceland? Folks who dismiss that evidence probably wear their statism as a badge of honor because the state is associated in their minds with modernity, industrialism, and the progress of technology. After all, how could we enjoy the benefits of modern living without large corporations and the legal protection they enjoy (for example)?

Part of how I would address this is to discuss the historical progression of state-formation going back 5,000 years or so (discussed in The Emergence of Societies by John E. Pfeiffer), the pre-state societies that preceded those early civilizations, and the possibility of post-state societies that represent an advancement over statism. After all, even politics is a technology: a tool for human living. If it doesn't serve human needs, we can develop something better, and I do think that polycentric, voluntary law would be a "technological" improvement (speaking of polycentric law, I've found the work of Randy Barnett to be quite convincing; he and Bruce Benson provide a one-two punch if you ask me). So I think a post-state society would be similar to pre-state societies, but different in some important ways (e.g., in the particularism of the law, the full definition of contracts, the sophistication of the economic mechanisms involved -- all of which will apply and extend what we've learned in the advanced market societies over the last 500+ years). This gets back to the fact that what we're talking about here is market anarchism, not pre-market anarchism in which arbitration occurred through more customary means such as appeal to a wise person or a small council of leaders (as in some of the North American Indian tribes). Indeed, anarcho-capitalism will be a kind of capitalism and much better for that fact, I think. So we are not just appealing to pre-state traditions here (although there was much of value in those societies): we are appealing to the future of humankind and attempting to discover a sustainable human order through political progress in the truest sense of that word.

A related idea is that pre-state societies were simpler and that the state is necessary to deal with the complexity of modern life. I think part of the argument for a post-state, anarcho-capitalist legal order is that things are changing too fast for the state to handle, and that the increasing speed of change and increasing complexity can best be managed through the more flexible mechanisms of the market economy. So we see here a progression:

  1. Customary law was appropriate for pre-state societies in which things changed very slowly (i.e., for life before the agricultural revolution)
  2. Legislative law was (or may have been) appropriate for state-led societies in which things changed somewhat quickly and radically
  3. Market law is appropriate for post-state societies in which things change ever more quickly and radically

I don't know whether that argument is right; it has a surface plausibility, but would need to be worked out more carefully. However, I am open-minded enough to think that legislative law may have been the best we could do at a certain stage of human cultural evolution; it's just that it has outlived its usefulness and now it's time to move on to a more dynamic legal order based on market mechanisms.

Or so it seems to me right now.


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