McMaken wrote a bunch of stuff, so I’m going to trim out a small quote and link – and you can read it all it you like.
It is often forgotten that common people have an amazing tendency to liberate themselves, whenever they can wriggle out from under the bootheels of oppressors.
When you think about the European Middle Ages, for example, you might think only of autocratic kings. You seldom recall the medieval urban communes.
Similarly, when one thinks of “old American sexual culture,” one tends to think of sexually inhibited Puritans, not the Oneida hippies:
McMaken references Hoppe:
and as far as I can tell, Hoppe is more worthy of my time and mental effort than McMaken. Still, I am grateful to McMaken for reminding me that Hoppe has been on my to-read list for years.
I think McMaken might motivate me to start reading Hoppe if he keeps writing like this.
if we imagine a world described by Mises, in which self-determination is marked by a dynamic and locally-based system of choice and secession among political regimes, we gain what is fundamentally a system marked more by choice than by monopoly — unlike the current system of large states.
Choices Are Limited, Even in a Stateless World
Now, some anarchists may object even to this
by claiming that one must be provided with an unlimited number of societies and governments to choose from. But if one were provided with unlimited choice in governments to live under, it would be the first time in the history of the world that anyone attained the possibility of unlimited choice in anything.
In the real world, choices are always limited, whether by physical realities, time, or by the willingness of others to voluntarily do business. One does not have the ability to choose a “perfect” hamburger restaurant at exactly the price point one desires, even in a totally free market. Although entrepreneurs have provided an immense variety of hamburgers to choose from, one can only pick from the available choices. “Unlimited freedom” (in the sense of being able to do whatever one wants wherever one wants) can not exist.
The same is true in choosing among political regimes under which to live. Even if one had the ability to create one’s own personal state, one would still be limited by the realities of scarcity. The issues inherent in such an autarkic endeavor, including problems of economies of scale, the division of labor, and the issue of enforcing contracts, are the reason that most people would simply elect to embrace membership in some type of state or civil government, preferably after considering a number of possible options.
(See here for more on the difference between a “state” and a civil government.)
It is indeed true in any realistic scenario that certain types of regimes would remain unavailable, or at least unavailable at a price desirable to most of the population. But this would be true even in a totally unhampered market for regimes. This is true for the same reason that by the mid-1980s it was nearly impossible to rent a movie on Betamax at the local video store. Resources tend to flow toward products and services that enjoy the most widespread demand. This is not a market failure, but simply entrepreneurs attempting to make the most of scarce resources.
So, just as Mises suggested, there will always be some practical limitations to attaining the so-called model of “perfect” anarchy. But, in a situation such as Mises’s scenario — in which the option of exit always exists — the stakes involved in joining any particular political grouping would be much lower. In a voluntary situation such as this, taxes become “fees” since payment is effectively voluntary. And they are voluntary even in cases where a person cannot find a jurisdiction that aligns with his desires perfectly. When a consumer chooses a product or service that most closely aligns with his desires, we still consider the purchase voluntary, even if he could not find a product that perfectly reflected his imagined ideal.
The Problem of Defense
Anyone familiar with the work of Mises knows that he was not naive about foreign policy. Mises also understood that — contrary to the often-repeated claim that centralized and “strong” states are the most powerful in terms of diplomacy — the most liberal and decentralized states often commanded the most economic power, and thus the most political power in the international sphere. This in itself is a reason to liberalize and decentralize regimes in pursuit of more effective self-defense.
As an illustration of the nuance of Mises’s views on this matter, we find that built into Mises’s view of self-determination and secession is his recognition that some of these secessionist and independent regions may wish to, as Mises put it, “attach themselves to some other state.”
Why would a state want to attach itself to another state? Well, advantages can come with membership in existing and powerful political associations. There are advantages in terms of military defense and also in terms of trade if trade is facilitated by means of customs unions or other guarantees of free trade within states.
The United States as originally envisioned — as a customs union and a confederation for military defense — was created for this purpose, with a specific eye toward attracting new territories for voluntary membership. Indeed, prior to the 1860s, the US was a very weak state in which political and military power was heavily decentralized down to its member jurisdictions.
It is likely that Mises was aware of this example as well as the fact that Europe itself contained several historical examples of membership-based regimes that existed to provide services of defense and legal administration.
The most notable example of this is the Hanseatic league — a trade federation of sorts — which international-relations scholar Hendrik Spruyt describes as “an interesting case because it suggests an alternative logic of organization to that of the sovereign state.” As a membership-based organization, the League “could raise an army, decree laws, engage in social regulation, and collect revenue.”
Unlike a state, however, the League — composed of commercial and urban centers across northern Europe — could not compel membership (although it could expel members), nor did it have a capital city or a direct relationship with the taxpayers of the member jurisdictions. Member cities and towns, each of which had one vote, met on occasion to vote on policies and goals for the League.
As described by Spruyt, cities and towns would pursue membership in the League to take advantages of the League’s services in providing defense from foreign states and from pirates. Membership also allowed easier trade with other League members and with cities outside the League that the league’s agents had opened to trade through diplomatic means.
In short, the League offered the services of a state without exercising a monopoly over the internal governance of member jurisdictions. Those issues that did not warrant league-wide involvement were addressed at the regional or purely local level.
Obviously, in a scenario like this, there are real advantages to membership since the cost of dealing with meddling foreign states and pirates and can be rather high. Cities that had greater need of these services were more active members, while more marginally attached cities were less involved. The complexity, fluidity, and voluntary nature of membership in the league emphasizes its ability to allow localized self-determination while nevertheless providing the benefits of defense and facilitation of trade.
Although it was not the only organization of its kind, the Hanseatic league was among the most influential and successful. Like other city-leagues, Spuyt notes, the league had no “clear hierarchical authority and formal territorial borders.”
Additionally, the League was often successful militarily, and in this regard was able to compete with the more traditional monopolistic states that surrounded it. It survived from the 13th century to the 17th century, outlasting many competing regimes.
Nor was the Henseatic League alone in this type of political regime. Spruyt continues:
the “burghers formed these leagues with the explicit purpose of defending towns against the encroachment by the nobility. Militarily they promised each other mutual aid against the common enemy… they assessed troop contingents which each town had to provide…Juridically, the leagues defended the towns’ rights of self-governance…There were a considerable number of such leagues.
The Swabian-Rhenisch League proved in 1385 that such leagues could muster considerable military might. The league consisted of about 89 towns and could field an army of 10,000.”
The city-leagues did not invent the concept of mutual defense, of course. The idea is as old as politics, although with the triumph of pro-state ideologies by the turn of the 19th century, these voluntary mutual-defense non-states such as the city-leagues disappeared. Nevertheless, the concept of mutual defense, as employed by the city-leagues, persists to this day, precisely because it works.
The Defining Characteristic of Anarchism and Radical Decentralization is Choice