Anarchy Saturday   Leave a comment

I’ve been listening to Patriot’s Lament again, and I always think deep when I do.

There lives within me a desire for liberty that, I believe, is innate to human beings, encouraged by American ideals, and actively pursued by many Alaskans. My forebears showed signs of being liberty seekers. They were not content to live in big cities or to remain in Europe. They crossed oceans, moved to the edge of civilization and then, ultimately, headed to the Last Frontier.

I find myself far more afraid in a big city with millions of people within sight than in a wilderness surrounded by large predators. I can defend myself in the wilderness because I know the dangers and I’m armed, whereas in a big city I must rely on the civility of my fellow humans who have usually disarmed me “for my own good”. I think I, in consultation with my Savior, am the best determiner of what is good for me, my children and my business. I believe that my community is capable of working out the big issues without federal or even State of Alaska oversight and that in most cases, we neighbors can just talk and figure things out without a cop.

I hate the state, but … as I explained to the guys on Patriot’s Lament one Saturday, I am not completely convinced that we can completely abolish the state and everything will be fine.

(*Patriot’s Lament is a local program on KFAR 660 AM hosted by anarchists – very nice, very well read fellows – the Bennett brothers and Steve Floyd – who believe we could abolish all government and be just fine. That is the traditional definition of anarchy, btw.).

As James Madison, Father of the Constitution, noted –“If men were angels, government would not be necessary.”

Humans are, in my experience, not angels.

I admire the Bennetts and others who want to go it alone with rugged individualism and much of what they say resonates with me, but I also have this gut check that says if human beings living in community don’t establish some guidelines of behavior, things will quickly devolve into chaos – what some people call erroneously call “anarchy”. I don’t believe no government (anarchy) necessarily means roving bands of thugs abusing the populace (chaos), but I think it’s likely to go that way.

When I’m conflicted, I research. I ran across Mark S. Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan, which attempts to make a libertarian argument of a strong-ish central state. As I had never heard a libertarian argue that way, I was intrigued.

… the belief that individual freedom exists only when the state is frail misunderstands the source of liberty. The state can be more or less effective in the pursuit of its goals—it can be stupid or smart—and it can be used for illiberal, totalitarian ends. But ultimately a healthy state dedicated to the public interest makes individual freedom possible.

Looking at social order from the perspective of legal history and anthropology, Weiner identifies a pattern of order that he calls the “rule of the clan”, which does not require a strong central state, but relies on a set of rules and social norms which are inconsistent with libertarian values of peace, open commerce, and individual autonomy. He argues that the atrophy of the state would lead to an undesirable resurgence of the rule of the clan.

The clan is a natural form of social and legal organization—it is far more explicable in human terms than the modern liberal state—and people quickly, reflexively turn to it in want of an alternative… we humans naturally build legal structures based on real or fictive kin ties or social networks that behave much like ancient clans.

According to Weiner, rule of the clan entails three phenomena:

  1. Extended family membership is vital for social and legal action; individuals have little choice but to maintain a strong clan identity.
  2. Informal patronage networks along lines of kinship and patriarchal family authority; government is co-opted for factional purposes and the state that develops treats citizens as childish dependents to be managed rather than as autonomous actors.
  3. Antiliberal social and legal organizations tend to grow when the state is weak or absent, allowing for the formation of petty criminal gangs, organized crime associations, and international crime syndicates, which bear strong similarities to clans.

Weiner grounds his analysis in the research of legal historian Henry Maine who distinguished between the Society of Status and the Society of Contract.

Weiner grounds his analysis in the tradition of legal historian Henry Maine, who distinguished between two types of societies. The Society of Status is oriented toward the extended family group while the Society of Contract orients toward the individual.

The Society of Status is an example of an honor culture. Weiner writes,

In honor cultures, a person’s social worth, including his or her self-worth, is inextricably bound to the perceived honor of his or her extended family and each of its members. By the same token, members of the family are held collectively liable for wrongs of any member… members of a kin group are deeply dependent on each other for their general social standing. …This value system supports a decentralized constitutional structure for two reasons. First, it fosters the ability of kin groups to enforce their own internal rules—it exerts powerful pressure to conform. Second, it helps diverse kin groups within a single region to coexist in some measure of harmony.

This brings to mind the clan wars of Sicily and Appalachia. When disputes arise between members of  different clans and clan elders cannot agree to a settlement or abide by mediation, tensions can quickly escalate to direct confrontation. Weiner writes that such confrontations are usually eased by acts of proportional retribution, but of course, people being people (not angels), sometimes the retribution is not proportionate to the original offense, and the reciprocal exchange of violence between clan groups can swiftly escalate. In the absence of central authority with the power to control the clans, the feud can quickly spin into a multifactional civil war.

Feud is the Achilles heel of clan-based government.

Weiner cites examples from history and contemporary societies where clan systems work fairly well (medieval Iceland and the Nuer of southern Sudan) and where the clan system results in chaos.

In Gaza under the rule of the clan, incidents such as a crash between a car and a donkey cart, or an argument about whether a vendor can change the equivalent of a five-dollar bill, lead to protracted feuds in which scores of people die. In 2006 alone, human rights observers in Gaza traced 214 acts of revenge, resulting in 90 deaths and 336 injuries, to clan feuds.

Clan provides order, but it is not necessarily peaceful order. Clan-based societies also contrast with liberal states over concerns of shame and guilt. In shame cultures, a person’s behavior does not create the shame. Shame is a response to community judgment. In liberal societies, guilt stems not from a disapproving community, but from a bad conscience. It is solitary and can be suffered in secret.

This different affects how people treat strangers. In many clan societies, a household is expected to be a generous host to strangers, offering the household’s best food and sleeping quarters. Not to do so would bring shame upon the household and the entire clan. However, in a commercial transaction with such a stranger, there is no sense of guilt from failing to live up to one’s bargain or from cheating the stranger. There is little sense of obligation in dealing with members of a different kinship group. The thought is “I got mine and that’s my purpose. Why should I care if I cheated you to get it?” And the culture agrees with that thought pattern.

In the West, the value system is reversed. We feel no obligation to show ultra-generous hospitality to strangers who come to our neighborhood, but we would feel guilty about cheating a stranger in a commercial transaction. Complex economic systems require that strangers deal honestly with one another when they exchange goods and services, which favors the Society of Contract, because commercial obligations are inherently binding, regardless of the identity of the party to the contract.

What we think of as the rule of law does not exist in clan-based society. The law there seeks to preserve the coherence of the community rather than protect the individual.  Although Weiner doesn’t mention Muslim society and Sharia law, I couldn’t help seeing the parallels, particularly over the institution of feud:

When modern legal tools aren’t available, the most effective legal mechanism for maintaining order is a tool that was invented millennia ago: a culture of group honor, collective kin responsibility, and feud.

Feuds have local variations in practice, but the basic form is the same in stateless societies, societies with an incomplete state, and societies where the state is weak… lost honor, targeted killing, the formation of kin alliance, reciprocal killing, peacemakers, blood money, harmony … lost honor, targeted killing, …. Individuals have no legal identity independent of their clan. Harms suffered by individual kin are seen as injuries to the group. Actions taken in response to those harms are pursued by the group because solutions are collective in nature.

Yet clan values have enduring appeal. Contract societies allow citizens to forge their own individual lives, but status societies provide their members with deep social and psychological security. Contract societies foster economic growth stemming from individual competition, but status societies focus on social justice. Liberal societies offer citizens personal freedom while the clan provides its members with a powerful feeling of solidarity and community. Weiner writes:

… From a legal perspective, societies of Status are not a distant Other. Instead, they are what liberal societies would quickly become, in a process of evolutionary reversion, if we lost our political will to maintain an effective state dedicated to public purposes.

So, as a conservative with libertarian leanings, I distill Weiner’s thesis to three points:

  1. a decentralized order is possible; it is natural for human societies to form into clans rather than degenerate into the Hobbesian war of all against all.
  2. the natural decentralized order is highly illiberal and anti-individualist, because it requires a set of social norms that bind the individual to the clan.
  3. under the rule of the clan, peace is broken by feuds, commerce is crippled by the inability to put trade with strangers on a contractual basis, and individual autonomy is sacrificed for group solidarity.
  4. in the absence of a strong central state, the rule of the clan is the inevitable result. In order to graduate from the society of Status to the society of Contract, you must have a strong central state.

I agreed when his anthropological descriptions of various clan societies made a credible case that their illiberal aspects are a source of their political stability, but I tripped on Point 4. I am not persuaded that a strong central government is the only alternative to a clan-based society and Weiner doesn’t fully develop the argument. The Rule of the Clan helped me to understand the challenges citizens of Western societies face in communicating with and relating peacefully to cultures that retain strongly clan-based norms, but I think the argument that only a strong, activist central government can maintain the society of control requires more evidence.

But it does give me discussion points with the Bennett brothers on Saturday morning.

Posted October 5, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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