When did the idea of stateless societies appear first?
Stateless societies have been described in history, anthropology and other social sciences since before the 20th century, although not as a complete political theory. In political science, Gustave de Molinari’s work “The Production of Security”, 1849, is often considered the first systematic presentation of the workings of a stateless society.
What followed, however, was a century of increasing state control, including communist and fascist dictatorships. Then, suddenly, starting in the 1970’s, we find an increasing number of systematic treatises on just about all aspects of a stateless society. Pioneering works were “The Market for Liberty” by Morris and Linda Tannehill, 1970, “For a new Liberty” by Murray Rothbard, 1973, and “The Machinery of Freedom”, by David Friedman, 1973. The timing probably had to do with the disappointing results of all the wars the states were fighting, wars against poverty, against, drugs, inequality, and communism. Whatever the reason, the idea of a stateless society appeared in different places but at the same time. Once again, it seems, “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”, to quote Victor Hugo.
History of the OboxPlanet
Spoiler-alert: the OboxPlanet does not exist, and neither does its history.
Here is one version that gets told on the planet:
Once upon a time, before 1750, there were states and kings and countries all over the planet. But most of all, there was poverty . All throughout history, the great majority of people lived more or less on a subsistence level. In good times, the populations started growing, only to starve, freeze and die when times got rougher, the so-called ”Malthusian trap” phenomena. This fact severely limited the amount of taxes that any existing state could impose on their population. If they increased the taxburden beyond a few percentage points, their population would revolt or simply starve. For most ordinary folks it mattered little what type of ruler they had: no society really outperformed others by leaps and bounds.
This changed dramatically with the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in 1750 in England, and for the first time in human history, a great part of the population kept getting richer, not by a few percentage points but steadily up to 5, 10 or even 50 times.
One precondition for this development was the philosophy of individualism, the idea that humans have the right to do as they please and the right to keep the fruit of their efforts. The attitude toward state involvement got summed up in the call for “laissez-faire, laissez- aller”. These ideas were well developed in England and Scotland as well as with the English settlers that moved to the colonies in America. These settlers rapidly gained experience in self-rule. The tolerance for the English king decreased. In 1776, they started their war for independence.
With their victory in the war for independence, the American settlers got rid of the English King as their overlord. Unfortunately, instead of enjoying their freedom, the colonies soon established a new overlord, the “United States” government. As if to demonstrate its importance, they decided to establish a new administrative district and a whole new city for this central state government, “Washington, D.C.”
This is where the OboxPlanet took a different turn. After the settlers got rid of the English king, they decided to abolish all other remnants of England’s colonial administration. Some were abolished completely, others were turned into voluntary regulatory bodies. There were no more organizations with the power to enforce their edicts, no legislators, no state bureaucracies, and no more taxes. The former colonies reverted to self-rule, and they became a stateless society.
Freed of all state taxes and bureaucratic restrictions, the population prospered immediately. This inspired the French Revolution, which in 1789 followed the American example and also got rid of all state institutions in France. Revolts soon followed all over the world, such that by 1820, there were no more state institutions anywhere on the planet.
This may sound like an unlikely scenario, for some even too nice to be true. But take a second to think about it. Imagine yourself in 1750 and consider some proposals of what was going to happened on Earth:
- The first scenario is the expectation that after thousands of years of stagnation, there will probably be no miracles. If things go well, people on average will be two to four times richer in the year 2000.
- The second scenario is the Earths history, in fact. England’s population is, on average, 40 to 50 times richer than in 1750. At the same time, the state spends 200 times more money per person than in 1750. Laws, bureaucrats and policemen are controlling and regulating people’s daily lives in minute details, down to what you can work, sell, plant, drink and what medicine you may take.
- The third scenario is the OboxPlanet. People are many hundred times richer than in 1750 and there are no more states, and no more groups of people who can enforce their rules onto others by force.
Which scenario would you have bet on? Which scenario would you have preferred?