State, Clan, and Liberty


mhstahl's picture

Interesting review, I'll have to put that book on the reading list.

It appears that the author gives a fair account of what is known anthropologically of "customary law" or "clan-based" societies, for that I am thankful.

That said, from the review it does not sound like the author is making a case for a "libertarian"(which seems to be less the author's position and more the reviewers) central state so much as he is making the case that states provide the framework for periphery benefits-such as freeing people from needing to belong to a clan or group for individual protection. The review outlines fairly well what I'm familiar with in customary law-or clan based- societies, but rather than pointing out how these societies are not libertarian he focuses on the "goodies" that modern states provide to some individuals.

He seems aghast that, on occasion, clans engage in small-scale warfare-how this-and it is true, but in very limited circumstances and scope-can be a serious criticism in the face of the large-scale and horrific warfare carried out by modern states is beyond me.

The Vikings, a hybrid clan society-and not a perfect example for many reasons, raped burned, and plundered their way across Europe-yet all the horror they wrought is insignificant to that done by one bomber crew of the Eighth Air Force in the name of, as the detestable Churchill put it, "pleasure."*

Two wrongs don't make a right, but neither is utopia feasible.

He puts heavy emphasis on the lack of contract enforcement between clans as a detriment to "commerce" is, to an extent, but widespread trade exists in current customary societies and can be shown archeologically back to the very earliest modern humans-and indeed to some ancestral(or similar, if you prefer) species. All the state does is to inject overwhelming force into trade...force that is almost always subject to remarkable corruption. How could it not be?

Cheating, and even outright theft, are not uncommon-and sometimes even celebrated in such societies-but this is because the onus is on the trader or property owner to not be fooled, and to sufficiently secure their own goods, rather than being on everyone else to not cheat or not take what is unsecured through threat of state force. Which is more in keeping with non-aggression? And even individualism?

State provided 'individualism' isn't really individualism, neither is state provided "private property", and mutual benefit(and risk)collectivism is not coercive. In most of the customary law societies that I'm aware of, one can simply renounce the clan, join another, or form some other sort of protection society. Almost all of these sorts of societies recognize some sort of "outlawry" as other words, they are voluntary can go out on your own(or be cast out as Eric the Red was before he settled Greenland)-though it might be inadvisable, and nobody is then obligated to protect you at all.

If you want true "natural law"-that is what it looks like.

Yes, if you want your precious "rights", if you want strangers to be coerced into paying for your personal and property security, if you want to avoid full responsibility for your actions, if you want a market regulated by laws rather than caveat emptor, if you want psychopaths from another state to bomb you because of actions of "leaders" for whom you-relative to customary societies- have no control; then, indeed, you want a state.

Well, go have one...I'm not interested, thanks.

Anyway, thanks for posting.

*Churchill's full quote, said several times in context to questions about bombing German military over civilian targets was, "business before pleasure." Both were bombed with manic intensity. That is the sort of creature one finds in the leadership of modern states, and who you trust to provide "individualism", Mr. Weiner.

I'll take the Vikings.