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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Competing, Non-Territorial Defense Agencies

Existed for several hundred years. The structure in which they existed is today called "the feudal system."

How did it work out? The agencies were continually fighting each other. Quite often, the way they fought was to try to kill as many of the clients of another agency as possible, so as to convince them that the agency they were with was terrible. But it was difficult to get the clients to defect, as often their own defense agency held them as virtual slaves (called "serfs"). The violence was so brutal and widespread that it led to the Peace of God movement.

So, let's try that again!

UPDATE: By the way, I understand: The competing defense agencies in your imagination don't behave anything like those nasty real ones did! Why, the imaginary ones, for instance, would never dream of enslaving their own clients, because... because, well, they'd look in The Ethics of Liberty, and it wouldn't be in there!

I have been reassured similarly by many Marxists that the Marxist utopias in their imaginations are nothing like the USSR.

31 comments:

  1. Other than the fact that it's 90 degrees off-axis from historical reality, this is a really cool piece.

    The serfs were not the "clients" of the "defense agencies." They were the chattel of the "clients" of the "defense agencies."

    The history of the end of feudalism is the history of those serfs retaining their own "defense agencies," formal and informal, from the Peasants' Revolt to the Levellers to the sans-culottes to the Continental Army.

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  2. As I said, Tom, I understand -- the USSR was "90 degrees off-axis from historical reality" as an example of Marxism as well.

    And Tom, I really don't think someone who thinks the Levellers and the Continental Army were part of "the end of feudalism" should be trying to lecture anyone about history!

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  3. Tom, second-grade insults are NOT going to make it by the great comment-moderator in the sky.

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  4. "second-grade insults are NOT going to make it by the great comment-moderator in the sky."

    Unless you're the one throwing them out there, you mean.

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  5. Tom, maybe you're insulted by my denigration of your historical knowledge. But although I'm just finishing a dissertation during the writing of which I did a lot of reading on the American founding, I can't think of a single case in which I saw the American Revolution described as a battle against feudalism, which generally is seen to have ended, in Western Europe, with the consolidation of the large nation-states from, say, 1300 to 1600 or so. So, when you criticize my historical view and then include something like that, well, that's fair game, I'd say, and a lot different from claiming you are devoid of thought! (Which was the insult I canned by Tom.)

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  6. Fascinating (to me) side note: Feudalism did not fully disappear in Western Europe until 2008!

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  7. I'm not sure, but this doesn't seem to be like a good interpretation of the feudal age, as I was thought in high school. But again; that could be wrong.

    A few remarks.

    (1) Like Knappster said; the legal status of the serves is more similar to chattel then clients. You say that they had freedom to leave their lord, but to what extend is that through? (I'm talking legal status, so I'm not talking about the technical possibilities, because libertarians wouldn't consider that to be important in those cases.)

    (2) I'm not sure about the 'constant' fighting and the damage done by it. How many fights were there and how many people died because of it? Again; memory could be wrong, but wasn't the feodal period 'famous' for using mercenary armies?

    (3) Even if it were an accurate picture; ideology still matters. The 'necessity' of 'socialist totalitarianism' is more an economic one than a moral one, as you well know. (Or has your vision changed on this too?)

    (4) Feodalism is, still, a geographical monopoly, rather than the vision of 'free and competing agencies'.

    A relevant point is that their is no such thing as utopia. But any 'libertarian anarchist' should argue that their are reasonable arguments that a society without a monopolistic organization in the fabrication of formal law can, in fact, work. Again: even if you don't believe the Rothbardian Law-Code - which not that many libertarians do - that doesn't mean that the vision of an 'anarchist' world should be abandoned. Anarchy, like government, has many forms. Rothbardianism is just one of them.

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  8. "(1) Like Knappster said; the legal status of the serves is more similar to chattel then clients. You say that they had freedom to leave their lord, but to what extend is that through? (I'm talking legal status, so I'm not talking about the technical possibilities, because libertarians wouldn't consider that to be important in those cases.)"

    I didn't say they had the freedom to leave their lord. I said these defense agencies attempted to capture their clients and legally bind them to them. Of course, metaphysically speaking, they always could "leave" (even if they might die in the attempt).

    "(2) I'm not sure about the 'constant' fighting and the damage done by it. How many fights were there and how many people died because of it? Again; memory could be wrong, but wasn't the feodal period 'famous' for using mercenary armies?"

    Well, the fighting was "constant" enough and horrific enough that it lead to the "Peace of God" movement. While I'm sure there were mercenaries during this period, they really were dominant somewhat later.

    "(3) Even if it were an accurate picture; ideology still matters. The 'necessity' of 'socialist totalitarianism' is more an economic one than a moral one, as you well know. (Or has your vision changed on this too?)"

    You are absolutely correct on this point -- the prevalent ideas amongst people are a very powerful force in what is possible at any time. However, do you really think the present population of the US, 70% of whom are apparently all worked up over the not-at-ground-zero not-a-mosque, is really "more advanced" than that of te people in the Moddle Ages?

    "(4) Feodalism is, still, a geographical monopoly, rather than the vision of 'free and competing agencies'."

    Now, that is just wrong -- there was no need for a knight who had pledged fealty to some lord to live in that lord's "territory" -- in fact, what existed was a chaotic patchwork of overlapping and interleaving feudal commitments. That is precisely what the consolidation of the large nation-states eliminated -- whether for good or ill, I'm not attempting to judge here, my only point being that our most recent experiment with competing defense agencies was perhaps not all that pleasant.

    I acknowledge that, perhaps, some future system of competing defense agencies might prove preferable to the nation-state system we have now. I post this only as an attempt to puncture the certainty that some people have in their abstract designs being "obviously" better than existing arrangements.

    We live in the City of Man, and not in the City of God. Attempts to apply the standards of the City of God to the City of Man are typically disastrous.

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  9. Thanks for your answer!

    I don't think you can really say that ideology is 'advanced'; I think ideology more 'is' and that the notion of 'advanced' or 'backwards' doesn't really apply to stuff like that.

    Ideology matters in an environment were people can choose the relevant actions. By assumption, this is restricted in socialism (as an economic perspective; I'm not talking about the moral ideology).

    The point I was trying to make is that - at least imo - it is conceivable that a 'anarchist' society - or, let's say, a new feodal society, for that matter - could be somewhat peaceful, whilst a full blown socialism can not be, for economic reasons - so 'ideology' matters somewhat less. (Either the system brakes down real fast, or it has to be somewhat of a dictatorship.)

    The people aren't burning the American Muslims with torches, are they?

    I agree with the thought that there are no utopias, but that doesn't mean that the idea of 'competing non-geographical organizations who pursue governance' doesn't attract me in a normative way. We need economics (and sociology, etc.) to investigate the reasonableness of it, and I would say it comes out relatively strong.

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  10. But any 'libertarian anarchist' should argue that their are reasonable arguments that a society without a monopolistic organization in the fabrication of formal law can, in fact, work.
    But they don't.
    And I am not even linking to some retard, like saltypig.

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  11. "The people aren't burning the American Muslims with torches, are they?"

    Not quite yet, Adriaan, but they have begun stabbing them in their taxicabs.

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  12. Scineram,

    these are 2 different contexts. A libertarian anarchist, when advocating a libertarian _system_ shouldn't say things like 'the market will always take care of things' and 'the competing firms will do x, y and z', but, imo, things like 'I don't think it's that impossible that it would work reasonably well because of x, y and z'. More nuanced and not as categorical.

    Gene,

    and that's said, but I wouldn't equate some loner stabbing with crowds burning up the torches. Crime out of bigotry is not the same as institutionalized violence against a certain minority, formal or tacitly accepted by the majority of the people.

    Kinsella is saying that we shouldn't argue for a system at all, and he gives a reasonable argument for it. (I would say that 'robbing' just begs the question.)

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  13. "and that's said, but I wouldn't equate some loner stabbing with crowds burning up the torches. Crime out of bigotry is not the same as institutionalized violence against a certain minority, "

    Yes, I agree, Adriaan, this is not YET a Holocaust directed at Muslims. But the German attitudes towards Jews in 1930 were not yet the Holocaust either -- but shouldn't we try to read the warning signs in advance?

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  14. Gene, I regret to say that I am so ignorant of history that I can't even tell what you're claiming here.

    Are you saying that in the feudal period, if you took, say, a 10 mi x 10 mi area, and counted up all the people that lived in it, then 10% of the people would be under the protection of Lord A, the other 10% under the protection of Lord B, etc.?

    I'm not asking that sarcastically, I'm genuinely asking. In the comments you say that knights could be dispersed, but that doesn't really mean anything. After all, CIA agents and US troops are scattered all over the world; that doesn't mean we have competing defense agencies in the sense we mean here.

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  15. True there!

    I must say; I don't have the historical feeling to be able to judge any similarities, but I'm not that afraid yet. (Maybe I'm naive; I don't know. I can't make a good assessment.)

    The reason why I'm not afraid of a new holocaust just yet is the following. Yes, there are bigots, but there are also people arguing against them. Granted; I don't know the USA that well, but I assume that the people against the mosque (and the muslims) are a loud minority, and not a supermajority, no?

    If it is a supermajority and if the rhetoric is adopted bipartisan, thàn I would get the fear.

    I would agree that being careful is in order and that arguing against the bigots is a necessary and important thing.

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  16. Gene,

    You write:

    "although I'm just finishing a dissertation during the writing of which I did a lot of reading on the American founding, I can't think of a single case in which I saw the American Revolution described as a battle against feudalism"

    You might try reading your Jefferson, then -- virtually his entire public life was dedicated to struggle against the remnants of feudalism, particularly in Virginia but certainly with respect to the revolution.

    "Are we not better for what we have hitherto abolished of the feudal system? Has not every restitution of the ancient Saxon laws had happy effects? Is it not better now that we return at once into that happy system of our ancestors, the wisest and most perfect ever yet devised by the wit of man, as it stood before the eighth century?" -- Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Pendleton, August 13, 1776

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  17. "You might try reading your Jefferson, then -- virtually his entire public life was dedicated to struggle against the remnants of feudalism..."

    So, Jefferson THOUGHT he was struggling against "feudalism"? Why should we accept his belief? The enlightenment dudes were generally not very good historians, for instance, writing off a thousand years of history as a "dark age," or imagining some mythical Anglo-Saxon past as "the wisest and most perfect ever yet devised by the wit of man."

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  18. One of the reasons why anarcho-capitalists advocate non-territorial defense agencies is that they want the costs of severing one's ties to one's defense agency to be low (that's the very argument that Molinari used in 1849, and it's also why Hoppe prefers smaller states over larger states). If medieval serfs had no way of leaving their lord while today’s state-citizens can usually emigrate from their states, it seems that feudalism is even less competitive (in the sense of "competing for customers") than contemporary statism. If you could show that abolition of their territorial monopolies would (be likely to) make defense agencies even less competitive, this would be very interesting and a strong argument against anarcho-capitalism, but you haven't done so.

    "I have been reassured similarly by many Marxists that the Marxist utopias in their imaginations are nothing like the USSR."
    They are right to point this out. What the Anti-Marxists have to show is that every attempt at establishing a Marxist society must (or is at least very likely to) lead to something like the Soviet Union; otherwise they can't use the history of the Soviet Union as an argument against Marxism per se.

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  19. "If medieval serfs had no way of leaving their lord while today’s state-citizens can usually emigrate from their states, it seems that feudalism is even less competitive (in the sense of "competing for customers") than contemporary statism..."

    I know, I know! The competing agencies in your imagination would NEVER act like that!

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  20. "They are right to point this out. What the Anti-Marxists have to show is that every attempt at establishing a Marxist society must (or is at least very likely to) lead to something like the Soviet Union; otherwise they can't use the history of the Soviet Union as an argument against Marxism per se."

    And this, by the way, is the rationalist delusion perfectly embodied: If one can't deductively PROVE that plunging off a cliff results in death, then the thousands of instances in which death followed the plunge mean nothing.

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  21. There's an essay/pamphlet by Robert Nisbet, "The Social Impact of the Revolution," in which he argues that much of colonial America did have at least a quasi-feudal character. But it all depends on what one considers "feudal" -- Nisbet's point is that pre-revolutionary America resembled France in the late years of the ancien regime more closely than many people think. He didn't mean that either system greatly resembled, say, medieval Poland.

    In any event, Tom is not alone in considering the American Revolution to be a revolt against "feudalism" of a sort. But even if one grants that, the history may suggest the opposite of the conclusion Tom wants to draw: it was the development of modern states (and armies) that displaced feudalism and "liberated" the individual.

    I've been struck by the passing resemblance anarcho-capitalism bears to feudalism -- they're both forms of landlordism, and ancaps rarely seem troubled by the idea that the "defense" agencies will have far more military power than than the people they're supposedly defending. If landlordship and military power are married (which is what one would expect), the result looks rather feudal.

    The trouble with anarchism is not that it's not largely correct about the state, but that every time anarchists propose a new system, they wind up creating a new state, even if they refuse to give it the name. This is a lesson one can take from Franz Oppenheimer and Bertrand de Jouvenel, both of whom provide useful synopses of how liberationist movements are constantly surprised to discover that after overthrowing one form of tyranny they are unexpectedly left with another.

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  22. "The competing agencies in your imagination would NEVER act like that!"
    Yes, in my imagination, competing defense agencies would be, um, competing.

    "If one can't deductively PROVE that plunging off a cliff results in death, then the thousands of instances in which death followed the plunge mean nothing."
    It's not like you gave thousands of historical examples of competitive legal systems that had bad consequences. Instead, you pointed out that completely uncompetitive defense agencies of a certain type (namely those that do not achieve their uncompetitive status through territorial monopolies) tend to do bad things and took this as evidence for the view that competitive defense agencies (which, as a necessary but insufficient condition, don't have territorial monopolies) are a bad idea. Surely you must give some argument for why this is supposed to be the case.
    Maybe you are trying to show that competitive, non-territorial defense agencies are likely to turn, after a while, into non-competitve, non-territorial defense agencies, but you haven't given even a single historical example of such an event.

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  23. Here's another way to put it: You seem to think that the bad behavior of non-competitive defense agencies that are, in one respect, similar to cempetitive ones suggests that competitive defense agencies would also behave badly. This seems to presuppose that the non-competitive agencies are more similar than not to the competitive ones. But this is what I deny. Competitiveness is more important than non-territoriality because non-territoriality is only a (necessary, but insufficient) constitutive means to the end of competitiveness.

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  24. "Yes, in my imagination, competing defense agencies would be, um, competing."

    Yes, well, those in the Middle Ages competed very vigorously indeed!

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  25. "You seem to think that the bad behavior of non-competitive defense agencies..."

    David, you just wrong here -- these agencies competed.

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  26. How did feudal lords compete if they enslaved their customers? Competition implies the right to freely choose between different defense agencies. Did serfs have this right?

    Of course feudal lords fought against each other (like modern states), but this isn't what anarcho-capitalists mean by "competition."

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  27. Yes, David, I know this is not how ancaps think ancap will pan out. And the USSR is not what a Marxist means by socialism.

    In any case, will serfs may have had little ability to re-align themselves with another lord, that was not true of free peasants, while the position of the nobles pledged to other nobles was mixed -- of course, as an oath of fealty, you weren't supposed to switch "agencies," but they often had over-lapping oaths, could buy out of t heir obligations, could claim the higher lord had broken his end of the deal, etc.

    So there was competition.

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  28. Okay, so a minority of people had the right to leave their feudal lords while most were glebae adstricti. Today most people have the legal ability to emigrate (a few are prisoners or conscripts). How is feudalism a better proxy for a competitive system than modern statism?

    And do you think feudal lords would have been more warlike if they hadn't been able to rely on the forced labor of serfs? Was the problem really too much competition?

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  29. "How is feudalism a better proxy for a competitive system than modern statism?"

    David, your competitive system is IMAGINARY. It never has existed and never will exist. I am just pointing out that the last time Europe had competing, non-territorial defense agencies, here is how it worked out. If modern nation states break down, neither you nor I nor anyone else knows if it will be like that again. I do know it won't be the fantasy-land imagined by Rothbard, Hoppe, etc. -- those are utopias, and sane thinkers know utopia means nowhere.

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  30. "I am just pointing out that the last time Europe had competing, non-territorial defense agencies, here is how it worked out."

    And I am just pointing out that, based on your own description of feudalism, feudal "defense agencies" had even less competition than modern states. (Of course, as long as there is no world government and emigration is not completely outlawed everywhere, there is alsways some measure of competition.)

    Whether Rothbard's system is utopian is irrelevant in this context. I am not arguing that feudal lords were competing defense agencies that differed in some respects from Rothbardian ones.

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  31. "And I am just pointing out that, based on your own description of feudalism, feudal "defense agencies" had even less competition than modern states."

    But they didn't. They had more. Based on my own description.

    This has really gotten pretty pointless.

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