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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/3793/wouldnt-the-warlords-take-over/

Wouldn’t the Warlords Take Over?

July 7, 2005 by

A common objection to a purely free society is that it would quickly degenerate into constant battles between private warlords. I take on that objection and argue that freedom can’t fully suppress warlordism but it can make it costly. In any case, the addition of a state wouldn’t help. The voluntary arrangements of a private property society would be far more conducive to peace and the rule of law, than the coercive setup of a parasitical monopoly government. FULL ARTICLE


anarkhos July 20, 2005 at 8:04 am

Have any of you had something stolen? It sure doesn’t sound like it!

I have. Did the cops do anything? HA!

No private cop would either. The whole concept of cops is ridiculous. The only system which would prevent theft of anything not nailed down is a large volunteer organization a la the guardian angels. Sure, some firms would hire ‘police’ to protect their property, but that doesn’t make economic sense for the rest of us. The same is true for firefighters today.

Think about how people would protect their lives and property if cops didn’t exist–which is practically the truth today except people are blind to that truth.

Get real folks. Cops are for breaking up mobs, giving traffic tickets, and seizing property. There would be no room for this crap in an an-cap society.

Michael A. Clem July 20, 2005 at 9:33 am

Actually, it was Curt Howland who said that the unity of command was false. My comments were the short paragraph just after Curt. But I’ll bite with another comment. The surgeon analogy isn’t a good analogy because it doesn’t make anything clear. In any particular operation, one person has to be in charge. But this hardly prevents the competition of doctors. Do you have only one doctor who provided all of your operations, from tonsillectomy to appendectomy to heart surgery?
By the same token, any particular case of rights-protection may have a “final arbiter” in the sense that there is no point in pursuing a case futher after arbitration, but there is still plenty of room for competition among arbiters. Just as some doctors are better than others, or specialize in particular areas, some arbiters will be better than others and could specialize in particular areas of law.

Larry N. Martin July 20, 2005 at 9:51 am

anarkhos, I would say that today’s cops act the way they do because of the monopoly on force that they have. The incentives for protecting rights and property have been diminished. Lots of people hire “police” today, private police or security forces, largely on the idea that preventing theft is more cost effective than retaliating after the fact. In an ancap society, some retalation will still be necessary, but with the focus on and incentives for preventing crime in the first place, there shouldn’t be as much need to engage in retaliatory force.

Bruno Panetta July 20, 2005 at 11:34 am

There is a wonderful report from the BBC on Somalia which illustrates this topic:


In particular

“Driving 50km (30 miles) from one of the airstrips near the capital, Mogadishu, to the city, you pass seven checkpoints, each run by a different militia.

Life in Somalia is ‘poor, nasty, brutish and short’
At each of these “border crossings” all passenger vehicles and goods lorries must pay an “entry fee”, ranging from $3 – $300, depending on the value of the goods being carried – and what the militiamen think they can get away with.

There is no pretence that any of this money goes on public services, such as health, education or roads.”


“While Siad Barre is commonly referred to as a dictator and people were press-ganged into fighting wars with Somalia’s neighbours, some now remember with fondness that schools and hospitals were free.

It is now estimated that only about 15% of children of primary-school age actually go to school, compared with at least 75% even in Somalia’s poor neighbours.

In Mogadishu, many schools, colleges, universities and even government buildings, have become camps for the people who fled to the capital seeking sanctuary from fighting elsewhere. [...]

Somalia is a pure free market,” one diplomat told me.

And the central Bakara market certainly looks to be thriving. Some businesses, such as telecoms, are also doing well, with mobile phone masts and internet cafes among the few new structures in Mogadishu, a city where many buildings still bear the scars of the heavy fighting between rival militias of the early 1990s.

This large pile of notes is worth about $210
But is a pure free market a good thing?

Speaking from a theoretical point of view, some economists might say so, but in the very harsh reality of Mogadishu, it means guns and other military hardware are freely available in a market not far from the city centre.

I was advised that it was too dangerous to visit, as customers were constantly firing the weapons to make sure they work before buying them. [...]

We all seem to enjoy criticising our governments but life in Somalia shows the alternative is far worse, as Hobbes wrote 350 years ago.

A former Somali army major, now a refugee in London, summed up life without a government very well.

“There is nothing you can do when kids with guns steal everything you have, even your clothes. I’m from a small clan, so I was unable to fight back,” he said.

“Here, there are rules which people respect and so you can get on with your life in peace.” “

Michael A. Clem July 20, 2005 at 12:04 pm

I’ll let somebody who knows more about Somalia address the details, but that last line is very interesting. Why are there rules that people respect? How does having a monopoly on the use of force influence people in respecting the rules that the monopolizers enforce? How much respect do Americans have for speeding laws, cheating on their taxes, or the War on Drugs?
I think we’re talking about a socio-cultural influence here, and not about respect or fear of the authorities or punishment for breaking laws. People respect laws that are reasonable and make sense. The less reasonable those laws are, the less people respect them. If anything, the monopolization of the use of force tends towards or at least enhances less reasonable laws, breeding more disrespect and willingness to obey laws.

tz July 20, 2005 at 12:55 pm

The first question is whether law is objective or not, but if it is (as I maintain, though call it the Tao after CS Lewis, or Natural Law), then the rest ought to fall into place.

According to Objectivism, there would ideally be an Objectivist government enforcing Objective law. Yet it is not clear how such a government and its laws would be created by real, less than 100% rational men, even if they agreed on their objective. Who is to say what Objectivist law ought to be? How would it be derived? Who will claim to be the authoritative final arbiter, and how will they justify their position?

If law is objective, then it ought to be able to be derived from first principles and would not have any contradictions. We have AI programs that can help there today, but I don’t think that the Mideval scholastics would have had trouble with it. I don’t need an incoruptable final arbiter to get a correct answer when adding a column of numbers because the answer is either objectively correct or incorrect. Can I bribe a ruler so a foot will be 13 inches (well, there’s odometer tampering)? There may be subtleties, or attempts to bring law to where it ought not apply so it won’t work.

One of the points to a jury system is that all 12 have to calculate and return the same answer before we can consider it valid. If we expand to jury nullification (the law must make sense too), and better review of judges and the law itself to keep it simple, clear, and consistent, it would probably work out.

If law is objective the same way mathematics and physics are, then a correct law (and a decision involving it in a trial) should make as much sense and be repeatable just the way proofs or experiments are.

And I suspect the jurists and lawyers 200 or more years ago would have agreed with that.

And someone mentioned that we need a community enforcement like the Guardian Angels in a comment above. That is what I mean when I say we only believe in rights that we will actively enforce for others. If everyone works to keep other’s property safe, it usually works better than appointing a few to do the task. Even if you have police, having an active citizenry is more important.

Allen Weingarten July 21, 2005 at 7:05 am

First, I must apologize to Michael Clem, for attributing to him what was written by Curt Howland.

tz writes “According to Objectivism, there would ideally be an Objectivist government enforcing Objective law. Yet it is not clear how such a government and its laws would be created by real, less than 100% rational men, even if they agreed on their objective…”

Here *the approach is not to look for an ideal formula, but to examine how things are actually done.* Ayn Rand’s model was our Founders, while their model was previous governments. Their first principles were stated in the Declaration of Independence, beginning with We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Similarly, although AR writes about capitalism, she states that “what existed in practice…was not pure capitalism”. In other words, man’s institutions are an admixture or what is good and bad. She attributed the gains made by man to what followed Objective law, and the losses to what departed from it.

Perhaps this describes an essential difference between those who advocate Objective law and those who advocate anarchy. The former are concerned with what has actually improved man’s situation, while the latter operate in terms of pure ideals. Actual succeeding enterprises are akin to engineering, while following pure ideals are how one establishes theocracies.

Michael A. Clem July 21, 2005 at 9:20 am

While I appreciate that creating and maintaining a working political system requires hard work, like engineering, I’m still waiting to see the “engineering” details that Objective Law would require. Building a bridge on flawed principles is a sure way to watch a bridge crumble and cause more harm than good.
Is Objective Law self-evident? It was long self-evident to people that the sun moved around the earth (look up in the sky–isn’t it obvious?), and took more sophisticated scientific knowledge to realize why that view was flawed. In the same way, while there may indeed be objective law, it is apparently not obvious or self-evident, except perhaps in the most simplistic ways (“murder is wrong”).
Thus, it behooves us to find the appropriate system or means to derive objective law. Democratic vote? Theocratic authoritarianism? Philosophical argumentation? Constitutional Republic? None of these are clear or obvious ways to discover objective law. But we do have some ideas that worked in the past, like common or customary law. Without the monoplization of force, common law courts discovered law, they didn’t legislate it.
If there is objective law to be found, and yes I think there is, the best way to find it is through the decentralized and demonopolized system of anarcho-capitalistic, polycentric law. And if we eventually discover a solidly scientific way of determining objective law instead of through empirical trial-and-error, an AC system will provide the best opportunities for actually implementing that process.

Allen Weingarten July 21, 2005 at 6:47 pm

I wrote “Perhaps this describes an essential difference between those who advocate Objective law and those who advocate anarchy. The former are concerned with what has actually improved man’s situation, while the latter operate in terms of pure ideals. Actual succeeding enterprises are akin to engineering, while following pure ideals are how one establishes theocracies.”

Michael Clem responded “While I appreciate that creating and maintaining a working political system requires hard work, like engineering, I’m still waiting to see the “engineering” details that Objective Law would require.”

Thus, I gave ‘engineering’ as the recommended approach for establishing government, in contrast with that of pure theory, and Michael responds by once again treating the issue from the perspective of pure theory. He is of course free to say and do whatever he pleases, but he has in no way addressed my explanation as to how Ayn Rand proceeded to analyze the government formed by our Founders, and addressed within the Declaration of Independence.

tz July 21, 2005 at 8:28 pm

It goes back before the founders. I have noted that CS Lewis pointed out a convergence of moral codes over THOUSANDS of years.


I would also note than only Confuscianism, the Mosaic law of Judiasm, and it’s Roman Catholic variant have lasted for centuries.

The engineering approach might be the most practical, and there are starting points. Also, as a practical matter, it is easier to program something to follow the sun as if it did move around the earth.

We could wait for psychologists or sociologists try to determine why some structures work (e.g. families) or just do what works.

The problem with AC or Polycentric law is that there’s no reason to think average people should “buy” or accept a correct result over a wrong but beneficial result. People seem to “buy” socialism in the current system. What is popular isn’t always what is true.

If they all sported variants of the Tao, with differences at the margin, it might be AnCap, or PolyCent, but there wouldn’t really be a difference – they would be selling a nearly identical commodity.

Michael A. Clem July 22, 2005 at 10:16 am

For cryin’ out loud, Allen, are you waiting for me to become a “political engineer”, or can you at least give some examples of how political engineering is supposed to work? TZ, what are some of those ‘starting points’?

What is popular isn’t always what is true.

And what is true isn’t always popular, I agree. But one thing economics has taught me is that there are economic limits constrained by nature. The consumer can’t literally buy whatever they want, although increased productivity provides more consumer options. Without political coercion, socialism simply isn’t a viable, cost-effective option.

Allen Weingarten July 23, 2005 at 6:29 am

Michael Clem posted “For cryin’ out loud, Allen, are you waiting for me to become a “political engineer”, or can you at least give some examples of how political engineering is supposed to work?

I had given our Founders as the example of the engineering approach, for they began with the pressing problem they were faced with, and employed their knowledge of the successes and failures of previous governments. Another example is Themistocles, the statesman who saved ancient Athens. Perhaps however, Michael is not requesting an example, but seeks to know ‘What is the difference between the approach of pure theory and that of engineering?’

In science, models are viewed as corresponding to reality. The theory is applied, whereby the reality is treated as though it were the model. Conversely, engineering begins with a problem, where it uses the precedents of dealing with comparable problems, which include taking advantage of succesful theories.

With regard to government, engineering emphasizes the current realities, along with what has succeeded in the past, as well as applying what intuition is available. Its aim is not perfection, but improvement to the extent feasible. In contrast, the theocrat is strictly guided by explicit purity. He tests his result by how it conforms to his doctrine. (It may be noted that the purist is often unable to recognize any difference between the mode of applied theory and that of engineering.)

brooks July 25, 2005 at 4:19 pm

==Strange, brooks, that you think the current system isn’t doing a good job, but that it’s still better than an AC system. In what way does the monopoly on force help criminal law enforcement?

Without a monopoly on force you have competing police forces. What we know of competing armed forces is that they either fight and one wins, or they fight and no one wins so they agree to a truce and form a cartel to decide on territory, or they don’t fight at all and they form a cartel to decide territory. (A cartel might not actually form but they may just decide to not invade each others turf or get in each other’s way.)

Another problem is the undefined rules of rule. One area could be a generally benign ruler, others oppressive and thuggish. There would be no universally agreed upon individual rights, no agreed upon rules for everyone in a single region or between regions, and no agreed upon rules on who and how rules are decided within and between regions. Given the likely warlord like nature of a future totally stateless police mechanism, likely the warlord would decide within his own region without input from the people or his neighbors, and the neighbors would more likely then not expect the same.

This either leads to wars between armed factions, bad for everyone, or oppression under the gang of your region.

Charles Warren August 10, 2005 at 5:44 pm

I was very entertained by Paul Edwards quote from scripture where he spoke of the Prophet Samuel’s warnings about establishing a monarchy. Now let me clue you all in on the context of that quote.

The Israelite tribal militias and “judges” had triumphed over Bedouin raiders like the Amalekites and Midianites. But now it faced a problem it really couldn’t handle. The Philistines. The Philistines were refugee Minoan Greeks, offshoots of a wave of barbarian invasion called the Sea Peoples who swept across the Eastern Mediterannean like Vikings at the end of the Bronze Age. They were civilized and advanced and organized. The Israelite militias were no match for them. Their chariot armies dominated the coastal plain so thoroughly that they gave it their own name. Philistine. Palestine. To beat the Philistines, the Israelites knew they needed a king with a regular army. The Israelites outnumbered the Philistines but they needed to get organized.

There has been much nonsense about rogue police agencies being restrained by “contract”. Hey, guys, warlords sustain themselves by pillage. Pillage works. And there has been much nonsense about the customer base of “rogue police agencies” drying up to put them out of business. Kinda leaves out the fact that the people with the guns make the rules.

Modern developed societies are not warrior cultures. Few men have weapons skills. “Rogue police agencies” are trained, well armed professionals and as such will have no difficulty enforcing their will on the public around them.

An earlier poster pointed out that capitalism requires the state. I should think that would be obvious. Trade requires sea lanes that have been swept clean of pirates by the regular naval forces of the dominant naval power of the time. Trade requires “The Kings’s Peace” to suppress brigandage and robber barons. Trade routes are easy to disrupt and profitable for brigands to do so. Order is not a given.

Paul Edwards August 10, 2005 at 6:05 pm

I’m always happy to entertain you, Charles.

So they made the right decision after all. Good.

On the other hand, it’s funny; your description of the Philistines reminds me of something. But what. Oh yes, Washington and its armies flung far and wide across the planet.

Tracy Saboe October 21, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Thanks for this article Bob.

I just used it for reference in a discussion with somebody.


RJ Miller October 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm

This article has proven itself over the past few years to arguably be the best introduction to market anarchy for the skeptic.

I will likely cite this hundreds of times until the day I die.

Thanks Murphy!!!

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