Another One Bites the Dust

When anarchists want to point to working, stateless social orders, one the frequently point to is the great medieval trade fairs. Well, oops"It finds that contract enforcement at the fairs did not take the form of private-order or corporative mechanisms, but was provided by public institutions."

(Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.)


  1. Anonymous12:52 AM

    Sorry, but even I noticed that the MI posted a Turgot article on their websites just a couple of days ago about this very issue.

  2. Anonymous6:27 AM

    mises institute?

  3. Ah! Thanks, Argosy. Back in my day, we usually said LVMI. I have now found the Turgot piece and read it.

    Noiselull, you either did not read the paper I linked to, did not read the Turgot piece you cite, or did not read both, because they certainly do not discuss the same "very issue" as each other!

  4. In brief, Turgot's issue was, "Why did they have fairs rather than markets in the Middle Ages?"

    The issue in the paper I posted was, "Who did the contract enforcement at those fairs?"

    Clearly completely different questions. "Even I noticed" that, noiselull.

  5. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Noiselull may be under the impression that the Mises Institute is under continuous surveillance by all serious thinkers in economics.

  6. I've never used that example so I'm still in the clear! Hurray!

    Now, if the 'wild wild west', medieval Iceland or Ireland turn out to be enforced by monopolistic public institutions, I have a problem!

  7. In Medieval Iceland, the central authorities had enough power that:
    "At the Conversion of Iceland in 1000, the Althing decreed in order to prevent an invasion, that all Icelanders must be baptized, and forbade the public celebration of pagan rituals. Private celebration was forbidden a few years later."

    So there was a state religion and state-banned forms of worship.

  8. Medieval Ireland is a tangled history of warring kings. Not "no leader," but lots of 'em!

  9. Here is a map of the kingdoms of Ireland in 1014, in the middle of the supposed "anarchy."

  10. Yes, "anarchic" in that a whole lot of people were fighting to rule:
    "By 1261 the weakening of the Normans had become manifest when Fineen MacCarthy defeated a Norman army at the Battle of Callann. The war continued between the different lords and earls for about 100 years and the wars caused a great deal of destruction, especially around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest and held them after the war was over."

  11. It is true that Medieval Ireland had a customary law system, a lot of it had to do with kingship, i.e., the leaders (Greek 'archon') of different clans. So, nope, not anarchy.

  12. Nobody argued that it was ideal - or so I hope.

    Also; I'm not sure if being able to ban a religion ipso facto proves a monopolistic public institution.

    Furthermore; the presents of 'leaders' - even coercive ones - doesn't invalidate the conclusion usually drawn, as far as I can see. (Proving that interaction mainly worked through public institutions does, but those two are not the same.) There *is* a difference between the modern state and Ireland and that difference *is* relevant for the 'is anarchy viable' debate.

    Nobody said - I hope - that Ireland (or iceland) was libertarian-Rothbardian-David Friedman anarchy.

    Furthermore; the presence of kings, leaders (or even states) doesn't necessarily mean that enforcement mechanisms of what people consider to be good and valid behavior work through them. (A state could just be a state, without bothering with policing society.)

  13. Why would you say that 'kinship' is incompatible with 'anarchy'? I'm puzzled, because I see no reason to find them incompatible. :?

    Do you use the word 'anarchy' in a very limited sense that as soon as some are leaders, the word can't be used anymore? (Because than even Rothbardian anarchism couldn't be called anarchism; which, seems to me, is but a very specific branch of it.)

    Take the clan system of Somalia; there is a lot of fighting, warlords and what not. But the clan system itself is compatible with the idea of anarchy. Just because it's not the ideal type of Rothbardian Anarchy doesn't mean it's not anarchy. (Just because no state is the ideal type state of *whatever philosopher* it doesn't mean it's not a state. And so on.)

  14. "KinGship," Lode, not "kinship."

    Having a king is pretty much incompatible with anarchy, right?

  15. I'm not sure why that would be?

    Does the presence of a bunch of roving bandits means it's not anarchy? How about a spiritual leader? How about a bunch of leaders who work through force?

    Suppose there was a institution that has a monopoly on violence and can do whatever it pleases. However; it refrains from acting as 'police', 'justice' or 'law enforcement' in any way (unless if asked for directly). Is this a situation of anarchy or not? Because the relevant part of society - the part that Aristotle would call 'politics' - is not hierarchic, but anarchic, I'm inclined to say it is.

    The presence of kings doesn't disproof the relevant anarchic situation. Anarchy - as I see it - is not the absence of a state, but the absence of certain kind of monopolistic, public institutions. There could be a monopolistic organization, but it doesn't mean it's a public institution that carries society. If a king doesn't 'police' or 'make rules' or what not - unless consulted - it doesn't mean it's a archic situation, or does it?

    Wether or not any specific society is one or the other depends on judgement; it cannot be a priori decided based on such simplifications as 'there were kings, ergo, there can't be anarchy'.

  16. "Does the presence of a bunch of roving bandits means it's not anarchy?"

    It sure means it's not a very good example for anarchists to point to as a working anarchy!

  17. Depends on how you structure the argument, no?

  18. Well, certainly there are misleading ways one could structure the argument that would make this situation look good for the anarchist's case, but so it is with any evidence.

  19. Lode, it is certainly true that these are not states like modern France or Japan. But, then again, *nothing* before 1500 or 1600 was a modern state, was it? So why focus on them?


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