The Art of Not Being Governed
Anarchy: The Unknown Ideal
The Art of NOT Being Governed, by James C. Scott.
This book looks specifically at one region of the world in order to tell the story of anarchy – anarchy in the sense of no sovereign authority able to define the law and live above the law (it is in this sense that I use the term throughout). The region the author describes is the highland area of Southeast Asia, from Vietnam west to the easternmost tip of Northeast India.
The subtitle of the book is: An Anarchist History of Southeast Asia. I find this intriguing. One of many objections raised to anarchy as a means of organizing society is that of a lack of examples where anarchy has “worked” in the past.
Anarchy: It Can’t Work Here and There Are No Examples in History
Consider this query: where has anarchy worked? Those who defend anarchy have likely had this question thrown at them in every conversation. Those who believe anarchy equals chaos likely have thrown out this question in every conversation.
First, what does “worked” mean? Worked for whom? Worked how? The same can be asked about the state. When has the state (defined as the legal monopoly of force over a given geographic region) worked? Worked for whom? How?
For those who don’t want to be under the threat of coercion, inherently anarchy works. For those who prefer peaceful means of relationships, anarchy works. For those who believe the initiation of force is wrong, again anarchy works. For such people, in fact it is the only form of structuring society that “works.”
For those who believe it is right that man lords over man, anarchy does not work. For such people, the state certainly works. For those who believe that the same act could be either legal or illegal, depending on the employer of the actor, the state works. For those who believe that force and coercion is the proper means by which to order society, the state works.
But where has the state worked in regards to those areas of our lives the state says it is working on? The state has taken on many challenges, supposedly for the benefit of its subjects: managing the economy, peaceful coexistence with others in the world, elimination of poverty, teenage drinking, illicit drugs, health care, etc. Can any of these endeavors undertaken by the state be deemed successful? The list of state failures is exactly as long as the list of state-run programs. Should the burden of proof of the benefits of considering anarchy and opposing the state really be on the proponent of anarchy?
Anarchy: The Historical Record