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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7128/the-rule-of-law-without-the-state/

The Rule of Law without the State

September 12, 2007 by

Were there such a category, Somalia would hold a place in Guinness World Records as the country with the longest absence of a functioning central government. When the Somalis dismantled their government in 1991 and returned to their precolonial political status, the expectation was that chaos would result — and that, of course, would be the politically correct thing to expect.

In fact, writes Spencer MacCallum, Somalia’s pastoral economy is now stronger than that of either neighboring Kenya or Ethiopia. It is the largest exporter of livestock of any East African country. Telecommunications have burgeoned in Somalia; a call from a mobile phone is cheaper in Somalia than anywhere else in Africa. A small number of international investors are finding that the level of security of property and contract in Somalia warrants doing business there. FULL ARTICLE


8 September 12, 2007 at 9:31 am

The U.N. should take their $2 billion and give it to a coalition naval force to destroy the Somali pirates.

Anthony September 12, 2007 at 9:41 am

“Some clan will control that apparatus. To avoid being exploited by other clans, each must attempt to be that controlling clan.”

Not entirely dissimilar to Western democracies then…

Mark Plus September 12, 2007 at 10:02 am

Why don’t libertarians from developed countries migrate to Somalia, then?

TLWP Sam September 12, 2007 at 10:35 am

I could give a not-so-quaint answer but many a Libber would roll their eyes and say “oh please!”.

Yancey Ward September 12, 2007 at 10:42 am


Probably the same reason that liberals in the United States don’t migrate to Sweden.

Harry Valentine September 12, 2007 at 10:42 am

If Somalia can survive and even prosper somewhat WITHOUT a central government, then perhaps so could Iraq. Iraq historically always was a collection of autonomous groups and may go back to being that way after the USA leaves.

TLWP Sam September 12, 2007 at 10:50 am

But I suppose on a more seriously note, if it could be shown that the U.S.A. is a dying sinkhole whereas Somalia is a model for a new and better nation and only going to get better then many a American would/should migrate (get out while the going’s good?). Maybe many a U.S. Libertarian is probably fantasizing like Homer Simpson with his roast pig saying “it’s still good, it’s still good”.

“It’s gone Homer”. “I know”.

Quenton September 12, 2007 at 11:20 am

It would seem to me that the main reasons not to emigrate to Somalia would be:

1. You wouldn’t be a member of a clan, and therefore would not be protected under the law.

2. Somali cities (especially Mogadishu) are currently war zones where Ethiopian/TNG soldiers, and Islamic radicals are all indiscriminately blowing each other up with little regard for civilians. It doesn’t really matter which side wins either. All parties involved commit the same atrocities and ignore any idea of liberty.

3. Little modern infrastructure. These things could be built in time once the civil war is resolved, but you would have to do without for a good while. I personally would rather this be completed before I leave my hot and cold running water behind.

Somalia has succumbed to the one problem that “lawless” areas have always faced, they were unable to maintain their independence in the face of a stronger, more organized outside group. It’s the same sort of problem that the Celtic tribes faced right before they were practically wiped out. Liberty will not permanently flourish using the loose confederacy model until an effective method of defense can be devised to protect them from outside aggressors using state power.

To be fair, the Articles of Confederation did a pretty good job of this. The Colonies were never conquered by outside forces. They were conquered from within. Ironically enough, this happened because of the desire to create a stronger method of defense for the Confederation.

Once this paradox is solved we may very well find that liberty will flourish again on a more permanent basis.

Anthony September 12, 2007 at 12:35 pm

Liberals not moving to Sweden is not a good analogy – I suppose a better one would be Cuba (although Cuba is not analogous to Somalia.) Quenton outlined possible reasons why. However, I don’t see why I should have to give up my holdings – I would rather see the governments leeching off me collapse and be destroyed than give up my holdings at all.

What libertarians should seriously consider is seeing how they can aid Somalia move forward.

Fundamentalist September 12, 2007 at 12:36 pm

Before you get dewy-eyed about Somalia, you may want to read about former-Dutch Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, now in the US with the AEI. Somalia is a very conservative Muslim nation that still practices female circumcision at a very young age. Females have all the rights of females in Saudi Arabia and less than those in Iran.

Also, you might add that the violence in Somalia began with the attempted take over by Al Qaeda. Our guys (Black Hawk down) were fighting Al Qaeda and their Somali partners before we knew what Al Qaeda was.

Nevertheless, I’m happy for the progress Somalis have made. Their law is very similar to that of native tribes in the US.

Scott D September 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Good answers, Quenton. I would also add:

1. Cost
2. Language
3. Limited Career Options

Just because the Somalis share some of our libertarian peculiarities doesn’t mean we’ll all get along fine there. You might as well ask me why I don’t move to the moon, since there’s no state there either.

simon September 12, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Wooohooo !!

Anarchy works. Lets disband the government and try it in England. :)

Anthony September 12, 2007 at 1:49 pm

The sooner the British state goes and I no longer have to deal with it, the better. :P

Yancey Ward September 12, 2007 at 2:00 pm


The unspoken point I was making was that the US is “home” for both implied groups (American liberals and libertarians (I was assuming Mark was American). I just get annoyed with the shallow argument that is always put forward by one’s detractors whenever one lauds a foreign system of governance- and this annoyance is directed at whatever side first raises it, whether they are talking about Cuba, Somalia, or Sweden. I can find no reason for an American to emigrate to either of the first two, and I doubt the net movement for the last is even close to being zero.

Yancey Ward September 12, 2007 at 2:03 pm

Of course, on the topic of Somalia itself, I find it unlikely that, whatever non-state cooperation there is, is going to survive long-term. There are various factions fighting a violent civil war to become the governors of the country. In this regard, I find myself siding with Quenton’s viewpoint.

John September 12, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Thank you for the article. Interesting, unsettling and provocative.

However, I think such work would go over better if you didn’t sugar coat and/or make light of Somalia’s problems.

I think the great pains you take to show how Somalia has made progress are hard to take with great pleasure, even for a libertarian like me, because you don’t speak more completely about the whole picture and all the negativity that surrounds Somalia.

Skeptics about libertarianism in general would find the article more convincing if you weren’t so cavalier and flippant about Somalia’s problems.

Good info even though it needed more scope and honesty.

John September 12, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Furthermore, I think you should have pre-emptively addressed the first question someone might have when reading those stats you provide:

How much of that is a result of foreign aid and UN contributions that do not reflect economic progress?

I mean there are more doctors and radios in the country, for example, because Leeson is counting ones brought in by the UN and and humanitarian groups, it makes the stats seem silly. I don’t know if this is the case but it would be good to know.

Anthony September 12, 2007 at 6:49 pm

John, to be fair, the article is more or less a taster of the book the article makes reference to. Hopefully the concerns you voiced will be tackled by that work.

André Dorais September 12, 2007 at 7:19 pm

Excellent article! I am planning to buy this book and I wish the Somalis stronger institutions without a State. Maybe one day they will teach us, i.e. the democracies, a lesson in freedom.

John September 12, 2007 at 8:39 pm

anthony, I’m sure those points and others do get more attention in the book. What concerns me is the article will strike non-libertarians who could very easily be much less charitable than me and come away thinking libertarians are shameless in the pursuit of any silver lining in the worst of circumstances to minimize the human factor and promote an ideological point.

I personally can look past such first impressions and see the larger point in its intended perspective. However, I’m not so sure some political writer looking for some cheap shots would so be so understanding with the chance to to poke fun and and create embarrassment for libertarianism. I’ve seen far more easily defensible points get misrepresented for such purposes THAT is what concerns me. I hope you understand that.

Anthony September 12, 2007 at 9:47 pm

John, yes, believe me, I know how unscrupulous some individuals can be when it comes to mischaracterizing libertarian viewpoints (e.g. Rothbard’s view on selling custodial rights to children or Hoppe’s views on immigration.) Without having read the book though I can’t comment as to what extent the author has addressed such concerns, though they’d indeed have done well to have mentioned them in the article.

Bruce Koerber September 12, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Dear Spencer Health MacCallum,

Thank you for bringing this example of indigenous law to our attention. It is interesting to see how significant property rights are to its foundation.

I will use the book you referred to in my research.

All of the stirrings of interventionism and all of the interpretations have muddied the waters and so it is easy to look at Somalia as a skeptic, but there is clearly a foundation within that society that has cohesive qualities and those knowledgeable about classical liberalism know that property rights are of primary importance.

No one is saying to put Somalia on a pedestal and declare it the shining example. However there is a reason why it has not gone to ashes despite all of the forceful impositions of intervention and despite the absence of a central government. Examination of the elements of classical liberalism present in the indigenous laws leads to an explanation of the reasons why.

Liban Ahmed September 12, 2007 at 11:28 pm

A very persuasive argument but hopefully you are not an anarchist. We Somalis can still prosper with central government provided that they leave the entrepreneurs alone. A lot people tend to forget that we are business minded by nature.

James Redford September 13, 2007 at 3:00 am

Hi, Liban Ahmed. Yes, many of us here are anarchists. The Ludwig von Mises Institute is mainly composed of anarchists. But we are anarchists of a certain kind: free-market anarchists, also called anarcho-capitalists, or libertarian anarchists, or Rothbardians.

We strongly support the existence of private businesses engaged in voluntary trade.

The legal system we desire is in many ways similar to the Xeer system in Somalia, the traditional legal system of Somalia which functions to maintain people’s genuine property rights without a state.

Possibly when you think of the word “anarchist” you associate with that word negative connotations due to it’s popular association with collectivist so-called “anarchists,” and due to the governments of the world training their subjects from birth to fear this word (and the concept it expresses) and to recoil from it. If so, then it’s no wonder that you would want to distance yourself from such a word.

But here we simply use the word in its objective sense as meaning absence of a government (i.e., a state), which properly describes Somalia’s traditional legal system, the Xeer.

Since you read and write English, further below I provide links to articles which fully detail our position regarding the illegitimacy of the state and what a just legal system (in many ways similar to the Xeer) would consist of.

As a Somali, you should be proud that many outsiders find much of value with your traditional legal system, and that we view many aspects of it not as a source of academic anthropological study, but rather as a workable system for the betterment of all mankind.

To others here who have commented regarding libertarians possibly dismissing Somalia’s hardships in our praise of some of the aspects of its stateless legal system, I don’t believe that’s a legitimate criticism. For one thing, one simply can’t abstract Somalia away from its history under brutal governments (that were backed by governments from other countries) which left that country a wreck. It’s totally unrealistic to expect Somalia to overnight go from that to being a capitalist power-house that is the economic envy of the world–all the more so considering the constant meddling with Somalia by the United Nation, the United States, and other governments in attempting to set up another government there, which as Spencer H. MacCallum pointed out in his article, is in great part responsible the warlords and fighting in Somalia (not least because such warlords and fighting are directly being funded by said governments in said attempt to install a government). But our point is that Somalia is doing much better without a government than when it was under a government, and indeed is doing better than its neighboring countries which are under governments (or at least it was previous to the recent invasions and warfare brought by outside governments).

As far as the possible criticism that Somalia’s form of anarchy should be expected to handle invasive meddling from outside governments, and hence that if it fails to do so this somehow shows that anarchism isn’t a workable system, this too is not a realistic criticism. After all, no form of government which could exist in Somalia would hold up to such intensive meddling. If anything, the radically decentralized nature of Somalia’s stateless power structure is the very thing which has enabled it to resist for so long such intensive meddling. Were a government controlling Somalia to exist, then the Western and neighboring governments would merely have to direct their efforts to taking over that government in order to have taken over the country.

Whatever is to be Somalia’s fate with all this outside govermmental meddling–e.g., should a controlling government manage to be installed over Somalia–Somalia has already proven that a stateless society is quite workable, and furthermore, that a society can prosper without a state. And indeed, overwhelmingly, the main problems we see with Somalia are not derived from its condition of statelessness, but are due to governments. That in itself is amazingly telling–or, it certainly ought to be telling.

Liban Ahmed, in explanation of our position, below are some excellent articles concerning the nature of government, of liberty, and the free-market production of defense:

“The Anatomy of the State,” Prof. Murray N. Rothbard, Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Summer 1965), pp. 1-24. Reprinted in a collection of some of Rothbard’s articles, Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Washington, D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974) http://mises.org/easaran/chap3.asp

“Defense Services on the Free Market,” Prof. Murray N. Rothbard, Chapter 1 from Power and Market: Government and the Economy (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, Inc., 1977; originally published 1970) http://www.geocities.com/vonchloride/marketdefense.html

“The Private Production of Defense,” Prof. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter 1998-1999), pp. 27-52 http://www.mises.net/journals/jls/14_1/14_1_2.pdf

“Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security,” Prof. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Winter 1989), pp. 27-46 http://www.mises.net/journals/jls/9_1/9_1_2.pdf

“Police, Courts, and Laws–On the Market,” Chapter 29 from The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, Prof. David D. Friedman (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Co., 1989; originally published 1971) http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/Machinery_of_Freedom/MofF_Chapter_29.html

Concerning the ethics of human rights, the below book is the best book on the subject:

The Ethics of Liberty, Prof. Murray N. Rothbard (New York, New York: New York University Press, 1998; originally published 1982) http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/ethics.asp

Paul Marks September 13, 2007 at 7:05 am

The article needs some work.

The area known as Somalia was only “traditionally a stateless society” if one does NOT define a state as an organized group using force or the threat of it to impose their will (which is the normal libertarian definition of a state – seeing it, in a way, as being rather like organized crime).

However, you also say “central” government so you have covered yourself.

The “coloninal powers” (Britain in the case of Somalia) did not set up Western style governments to “serve their interests” (that is Marxist “captialist imperialism” doctrine) – they set them up because that was the custom of the time (basically the 1960′s). Nationalizing X, Y, Z, (which is what post independence governments normally did)was not in the interests of the former coloninal powers.

Lastly, and most basically, WHERE ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

If you are talking about the area of Somalia round Mogadishu the article is not accurate.

The history of the area round the capital is as follows:

Various warlords, not “no government” but several governments (this was the time of the international intervention in Somalia – you know “Black Hawk Down”), then a grouping of various factions into a government.

Then a take over by an radical Islamic regime, then a Ethiopian invasion – in support of the previous government (the one made up of various factions including some of the old warlords).

Now if you are talking about the area in the north of Somalia (“Somaliland” and so on) you should say so.

Then we can talk about the traditional clan elder based government up there.

Oh, by the way.

There was indeed a stong mobile telephone company in Mogadishu – and yes indeed it managed to defend itself against various warlords.

So your article was NOT all wrong – it just needed more work.

There were a few elements of anarchocapitalism at work – but the overall position was not stateless (far from it).

James Redford September 13, 2007 at 7:45 am

Paul Marks, a government (i.e., a state) is that organization in a society which is generally successful at maintaining a coercive regional monopoly over ultimate control of the law (i.e., on the courts and police, etc.)–this is a feature of all governments; as well, historically speaking it has always been the case that it (and, by extension, those it authorizes) is the only organization in society that legally obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for voluntarily contracted services rendered but by coercion.

From what I’ve read, the so-called Transitional Federal Government only exists in southern Somalia, and that even there it doesn’t actually have much control. Even the city of Mogadishu is mostly controlled by clans and factions, not the so-called Transitional Federal Government.

TokyoTom September 13, 2007 at 8:28 am

Somalia has succumbed to the one problem that “lawless” areas have always faced, they were unable to maintain their independence in the face of a stronger, more organized outside group. It’s the same sort of problem that the Celtic tribes faced right before they were practically wiped out. Liberty will not permanently flourish using the loose confederacy model until an effective method of defense can be devised to protect them from outside aggressors using state power.

What Quenton rightly notes here of course is the story of what happened to the American Indian confederacies, and broadly throughout history. Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” comes to mind.

But of course the threat is an internal one as well, and history is proof that peoples must be constantly vigilant as to both internal and external threats. States have grown both by promoting internal wealth while defending against attacks, but also by conquering weaker peoples and states. The trick is preventing elites from coopting the state.

Obviously we’re not doing too well at that. A focus on restoring checks and balances, transparency and checking the influence of concentrated wealth is essential. It would be naive to expect that elites will allow the state to vanish.

JonBostwick September 13, 2007 at 6:11 pm

States do not grow by promoting internal wealth, they grow by commandeering wealth.

They destroy all competition in the protection industry, then they take what they will.

And they use their protection monopoly to conquer or enlist every other industry.

What part of the mafia parallel do you not understand?

Fundamentalist September 13, 2007 at 6:55 pm

Somalia is no different than other tribal regions of the past, such as the tribes of North America or the Israelis in the Old Testament before the had a king. But what are the limitations of tribal societies, and why have they not advanced economically as have societies under governments?

One problem with tribal societies has been that they limit impersonal exchange. Family ties are used as the main enforcer of rules. In many tribal societies, the individual depends upon the extended family for help in times of trouble, or to buy a car, so a strong incentive exists to maintain those ties. Cheating a family member is also considered a terrible crime. But what we would call “cheating” when employed against someone outside of the family, tribal societies often extoll as merely being a wise businessman. That’s why in most of the world where family and tribal identity are strong, almost all businesses are family owned and operated. In addition, transaction costs are very high in tribal societies, because when you’re dealing with non-family, you have to invest much greater time and resources in the hunt for a good deal and to prevent yourself being cheated. And it’s difficult to raise funds for entrepreneurial ventures from people outside the family. Even the large companies listed on the stock exchange in Saudi Arabia, a fairly advanced tribal society, are mostly family owned.

Another reason raising funds for ventures is difficult in tribal societies is that every family member is responsible for every other member. So when one person does well financially, he often has to share the wealth with an extended family, leaving little to re-invest.

And tribal societies tend to be very risk averse. So investments tend to go into real estate and ventures with many years of known success. Finally, tribal societies emphasize conformity and make life difficult for members who are too different.

Tribal societies aren’t 100% as I’ve described. There are many exceptions, but they’re more like what I’ve described than not.

The real genius of successful governments has been the encouragement of impersonal exchange, which is a result of a good court system that treats everyone somewhat equally. This pretty much Douglass North’s message about the role of institutions in economic development. Institutions were created that treated family and non-family members alike and enabled impersonal exchange, thereby lowering transaction costs and expanding the market.

Anthony September 13, 2007 at 7:04 pm

Jon, don’t soil the mafia’s good name by associating it with the state. :P


Taylor September 13, 2007 at 9:57 pm

This article was interesting, but I can’t help but wonder what effect the various international humanitarian missions active in Somalia within these time periods had on the “welfare and well-being” statistics displayed in the text.

Is there any analysis that shows that these various aid projects, gov vs. private or even gov. and private taken together, helped, hindered or were overall ineffectual in terms of improving the well-being of Somalians under any system? In other words, are we getting a perhaps overly rosy view of anarchy’s contribution to quality of life in Somalia?

Anthony September 13, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Well given that Austrian economists deal quite substantially with and have the analytical toolsto analyze the effect of extra-market institutions on the market, I would expect any complete analysis of Somalia to cover such things.

James Redford September 14, 2007 at 3:54 am

Taylor, below are the World Bank’s figures on so-called “aid” to Somalia.

“Somalia Data Profile,” from World Development Indicators database, World Bank, April 2007 http://devdata.worldbank.org/external/CPProfile.asp?PTYPE=CP&CCODE=SOM

Official development assistance and official aid (current US$)
2000: 101.0 million
2005: 236.4 million

In my reading of Somalia’s history it doesn’t seem like it’s much of a factor in Somalia’s development. Besides which, it wouldn’t account for such things as Somalia having the cheapest telecommunications rates.

Also see the below article:

“Spiegel Interview with African Economics Expert: ‘For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!,’” interview of James Shikwati by Thilo Thielke, translated from the German by Patrick Kessler, Der Spiegel, July 4, 2005 http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363663,00.html

James Redford September 14, 2007 at 4:34 am

In addition to the interview of James Shikwati linked in my previous post, regarding so-called “aid” to Somalia, see the below articles:

“How the Culture of Aid Gave Us the Tragedy of Somalia,” Michael Maren, Village Voice, January 19, 1993 http://www.netnomad.com/vvsomalia.html

“‘Doing God’s Work,’” Murray N. Rothbard, Rothbard-Rockwell Report, March 1993 issue http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard80.html

Brendan September 16, 2007 at 11:16 am

I read Von Notten’s book, and try to follow what is happening in Somalia. Thank you for the article. I also did a public access TV show on Somalia and kritarchy in Reno, Nevada.

One thing about defending a stateless society against aggression by a nation state–the argument advanced that it is difficult appears to forget that the stateless society has the same advantages we see in Iraq and Afghanistan–it does not have to defend a territorial capital. So long as it is willing to fight irregular war, the enemy can conquer territory, but lose the war.

While G. Washington was concentrating on uniforms and drills and winning a few major battles, the war in the South was largely won by irregulars.

If the South had not a wartime strategy of defending Richmond, New Orleans, and Vicksburg, with most of the emphasis on Richmond, the capital, it might have prevailed by irregular war bleeding the Union troops.

Yes, the Irish were crushed by the English war machine supplied by taxes gathered by a centralized monarchy. But, then again, Michael Collin’s irregular war did far more to bring English power down than DeValera’s insistence on fighting a nationalist statist war. It is no coincedence the Arabs study the IRA’s tactics.

Yancey Ward September 16, 2007 at 12:06 pm


Yes, an irregular resistance can defeat a larger, better equipped enemy for the reasons you outlined, but I would point out that you need to be facing a foe that will actually be willing to concede defeat and leave you alone. However, that is not the only option- your foe can can simply proceed to exterminate you, or move and confine you to the most inhospitable areas. In other words, your defense depends upon the level of morality of your opponent, or what level of humanness he assigns to you.

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