*Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think*

by on May 2, 2014 at 11:15 am in Books, Economics, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new, forthcoming Peter Leeson book, available here.

1 Somalia May 2, 2014 at 11:18 am


2 Axa May 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

The absence of a internationally recognized state/dictator does not mean anarchy, not at least in the modern meaning of the word. Philosophers related anarchy with freedom and peace, I doubt those conditions are met in Somalia.

3 F. Lynx Pardinus May 2, 2014 at 11:41 am

What then would be your choice for country currently closest to your definition of “anarchy”?

4 Sean May 2, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Northeastern California; Alaska, outside the major cities. These are areas of predominantly self governance with resources to actual formal government intercedence when required.

5 Michael May 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

So your best examples of anarchic areas are…heavily regulated ones with strong government?

6 Somalia May 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

“Philosophers related anarchy with freedom and peace, I doubt those conditions are met in Somalia.” You’ve defined anarchy as a state of freedom and peace, i.e. you consider anarchy to be amazing by definition. A more common definition (from Wikipedia) is “a society without a publicly enforced government.” In other words, a society where the state (such as there is) lacks a monopoly on violence, e.g. Somalia.

7 Axa May 2, 2014 at 3:33 pm

I haven’t read the Wiki, just Kant and Bakunin.

8 jpe May 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm

I define anarchism as chocolate. I mean, who doesn’t love chocolate?

9 Rahul May 3, 2014 at 2:39 am

No True Scotsman?

10 Derek May 2, 2014 at 12:03 pm

No. The most telling examples are post leftist utopias.

11 Rich Berger May 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I see that Somalia comes up 50+ times in the book and has an essay in which it is discussed.

12 Thor May 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I have enjoyed Leeson’s writing before, and will read his new book.

The only thing I’ve read about Somalia was this, and it is excellent.


13 Psmith May 2, 2014 at 3:52 pm

But without government who will build the roads?!

14 MPS May 2, 2014 at 11:33 am

The problem with anarchy is there’s no way to stop a group of people from up and forming a government.

15 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm

If it’s a dysfunctional anarchy, then absolutely agree. If it’s a relatively well-functioning anarchy…then the concept of governmental authority is perhaps fatally undermine…and the average citizen would be much more inclined to resist any initaition of taxation. Can we have a well-functioning anarchy? No idea.

16 Norman Pfyster May 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I think he/she was making a joke.

17 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Perhaps you’re right. It’s lost on me though, this is one of the most consistent questions asked of anarchism….

18 Rahul May 3, 2014 at 2:41 am

Isn’t “well-functioning anarchy” an oxymoron? e.g. would it be acceptable to have structured systems in place intended to maintain the anarchy?

19 MPS May 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm

It was a joke but I like the joke because I think it points to something profound.

The libertarian => anarchist tends to view government as an institution of oppression. But the liberal => socialist views it as in institution that protects people from oppression.

We can imagine a story unfolding as follows. There is no government, just a bunch of people. I decide that I want to build a house somewhere, but someone else wants to build there too. I get together a gang of my friends to use our collective power to assert my preference. The other person tries to gather a larger alliance. Or maybe an otherwise disinterested alliance decides that by its preferences one of us has a greater “right” to the land than the other (perhaps one of us found it first, or perhaps one of us peacefully negotiated with the previous person who was on the land for it). Ultimately, the winner of these arguments is the alliance with the greatest power. It seals its power by convincing the most people — or the mightiest subset of people who can overwhelm any other subset of people — of its legitimacy. And this is how you form government. Government survives insofar as it can resist revolution by mightier subsets of people than those who are aligned with it. And the point is to protect people from oppression by weaker subsets of people, by imposing the will of the mightiest subset.

20 byomtov May 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm

You seem to be saying that a well-functioning anarchy would function well.

Hard to argue with that.

21 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Haha. But I’m not defining the ability to keep cartels from acquiring the monpoly power of violence as part of that functioning. That’s a function of government itself…to keep competitors out….I don’t think of that as a function of markets or anarchy. If the USA was full communist in 10 years, no private property, I wouldn’t look back and say “markets didn’t function well.” Maybe that makes no sense but that’s how I thought of it.

22 jpe May 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm

So what we need is some body of people to make rules and enforce them against forming governnent.

23 Just Another MR Blogger May 2, 2014 at 11:51 am

Obviously we do not need government. Without governments, we would be free to exploit the poor, reintroduce slavery, pollute as much as we want, and watch our opex and capex plummet to zero.

24 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Plus without government who would be there to make it illegal for poor people to work, to forcibly keep them in destitute countries, to imprison them for victimless crimes, to drive up the price of their food and housing?

25 Just Another MR Blogger May 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Don’t worry about any of that! My cartel buddies and I will drive up the price of their food and housing, and we’ll bring boatloads of workers from China and India–soon Utah alone will have a population of 400 million, and they’ll all be working in factories I set up!

Of course none of them will be imprisoned for victimless crimes, but I might just kill them and use their meat to feed my other workers–no government, so who’s going to stop me, right? The best part is that my workers get free food and I can squeeze more utility out of their flesh and bones. Win-win-win!

26 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Yes, the many civilized people in this country would have no problem consuming products from your cannibalistic, murderous, slave-run factory! With today’s lack of information technology, and ubiquitous news flow, no one would ever even hear about it. Also, with America’s extreme lack of violence or violent weapons, no one would track down you and your factory owners and put an end to your factory.

27 Just Another MR Blogger May 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Excellent point, Jordan–I suppose I would need to develop a deterrent to keep people from tracking me down and another deterrent to keep people from reporting on my factories. So I’ll just develop my own privately held nuclear weapons and kill any journalist immediately on sight.

You’re a clever guy–maybe I should hire you as my head of security! How does 20 cents an hour and I let your family live sound?

28 derek May 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm

And would stand firm against anyone trying to take away their IPhone!

29 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Your example is getting more and more convincing. You are right, you should be all set.

30 ummm May 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Pre- agrarian society was close to anarchism but naturally government coalesces as a means of establishing a rule of law when you have finite resources

31 dave smith May 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Good Grief. Bringing up Somalia as an example of the ultimate conclusion to Leeson’s ideas would be like saying we should never have government because of North Korea. And saying that we need governments to somehow ensure that we don’t pollute and exploit is an equally bad addition to this conversation. Many are exploited and there is much pollution where there are governments.

32 Michael May 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Actually, North Korea is a great example of why we shouldn’t have totalitarian governments and Somalia is a great example of why we shouldn’t have no government. You’re kinda proving our point–extremism in either direction is stupid.

33 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Actually Somalia is a pretty good example of why we shouldn’t have overreaching governments. It is a testament to the failure of Siad Barre’s “scientific socialism.” Somalia is also nothing like what we might envision a developed country push towards anarchy to look like. It is not even completely without government, as the Transitional Federal Government was around for many years post-collapse, and received international support. The TFG was often the cause of local instability and violence around Mogadishu. Leeson has some decent stats that seem to show Somalia marginally better off on many metrics, and Peter Little has stats on insurance-type contracts for transporting livestock that showed their prices decreased, implying violence was better for a decent period after collapse. I’m afraid all we can learn is that a really shoddy “anarchy” is probably marginally better than a really poor government.

34 derek May 2, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Indeed. Another great example of anarchy is Detroit. Anarchy is the direct result of the utter failure of government and society. If you don’t like anarchy, don’t support policies that lead to collapse.

35 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Also the opportunity set for “government” in Somalia is not very good, we can’t just transport Botswana’s institutions into Mogadishu.

36 dave smith May 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Your one sentence statement is significantly different than “Somalia.” Had the commenter Somalia wrote what you wrote, I would not have written anything.

37 Michael May 2, 2014 at 1:13 pm

dave, I imagine the other commenter didn’t explain because he thought it was self-evident. It is for most people.

38 Urstoff May 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Something being self-evident is just a reflection of one’s priors. Argumentation is always needed.

39 Somalia May 2, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Of course there is a range, but anarchy understood as the absence of the state is at an extreme when the state is understood as a monopoly on violence. To the extent that Somalia’s government, such as it is, lacks a monopoly on violence it is a prototypical example of anarchy. North Korea at the other end of the spectrum has a monopoly on violence and uses it to oppress its people. If the book had been titled “Libertarianism Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think” I would not have made the same crack.

40 Alrenous May 2, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I guess few are aware that Somalia has improved dramatically since their government collapsed. Except specifically Mogadishu, where the UN continued to lethally meddle, and where, coincidentally, the international airport and thus the reporters are.

Moreover, since that paper, Somalia has been re-taken. Last I checked, the distinctively-named Muslim Brotherhood had 70-80% of the territory.

41 derek May 2, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Darn it, how does one get on that gravy train? I want some Koch money! None of this cheap Obamacare/welfare/social security trash. I want real cash and lots of it.

42 Ricardo May 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm


How much does this book overlap with Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority”?

43 Jayson Virissimo May 2, 2014 at 4:11 pm

I would guess not very much. Huemer is mostly making an argument from common-sense morality, while I expect Leeson to make some kind of institutional efficiency argument.

44 Ricardo May 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Good to know. I found Huemer’s book to be convincing, but it still left me thinking: would that *really* work? It would be great if Leeson covered that ground.

45 Alexander May 3, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Looks like Lesson’s book is going to be fully focused on the functioning of an anarchical system, while half of Huemer’s book is devoted to this. Based on this evidence, I would say about half of Huemer’s book will overlap with Lesson’s. The contents of Lesson’s also approaches the question differently: whereas Huemer argues for anarchy in the areas of law, protection, and military (the three areas he believes are possibly left standing after the barrage of part 1), Lesson’s book looks at a broader range of problems and governmental functions (“social diversity,” “violence,” and “bad apples” as he puts it).

46 Rich Berger May 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Anarchy? How would we ban e-cigarettes without a government?

47 Jordan May 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Also, “Somalia” is really a misnomer now. You effectively have four regions, some with autonomous governments and not functioning all that poorly (e.g. Somaliland). About time the press recognizes this.

48 JCW May 2, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Interesting and surprising edge cases can teach us a lot, but books like this one have a way of eliding the fact that such cases also tend to have pretty stark limits.

49 JCW May 2, 2014 at 2:17 pm

On the other hand, I feel quite certain that this book would make a very, very good TED talk.

50 Steven Kopits May 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Is self governance the same as anarchy? Or it is delegation? Or privatization?

51 Brandon May 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm

What level does “self-governance” turn into regular ol’ governance?

52 Pasha May 2, 2014 at 11:20 pm


53 The Anti-Gnostic May 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

Good questions.

54 sam May 2, 2014 at 11:39 pm

I think people are being a little too metaphysical with their definitions of anarchy. Anarchy is no-government. Not no institutions. Anarchy is a set of alternative modes of social organization that are potentially just as complex in variety as government is.

55 The Anti-Gnostic May 3, 2014 at 10:44 am

Does anybody seriously think anarchy in Auburn, Alabama would look the same as anarchy in Mogadishu?

56 The Anti-Gnostic May 3, 2014 at 11:32 am

We’re beginning to pile up a nice list of modern experiments in what happens when the central government loses its monopoly on violence. Rural Central America, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan tribal areas, Somalia. I don’t think centralized governments bother much with Detroit or Camden other than to mail the checks.

Most (by no means all) self-styled an-caps I know would not be very good at anarchy. They are usually young, single, academic/IT and atheist. They don’t seem to have any patronage networks set up outside the state-sponsored institutions they inhabit. When the state-sponsored institutions start failing, they will have to do a lot of HTFU. The Kurds, by contrast, seem to have the networks in place to keep things together for their nation when the central governments in the states they inhabit start failing.

Lots of interesting issues that, from what I read, most an-caps do intellectual back-flips to avoid exploring. Maybe Leeson is an exception.

57 Jayson Virissimo May 4, 2014 at 1:47 am

Somewhat agree. At the very least, anarchists should study religious communities much more than they seem to.

58 Craig May 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

In an anarchy, how will professors at state universities get paid? Tyler?

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