*The Art of Not Being Governed*

The subtitle is An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia and the author is James C. Scott of Yale University.  Here is a summary from the Preface:

…I argue that the [Southeast Asian] hill peoples are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects in the valleys — slavery, conscription taxes, corvĂ©e labor, epidemics, and warfare.  Most of the areas in which they reside may be aptly called shatter zones or zones of refuge.

Virtually everything about these people's livelihoods, social organizations, ideologies, and (more controversially) even their largely oral cultures, can be read as strategic positionings designed to keep the state at arm's length.  Their physical dispersion in rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structure, their pliable ethnic identities, and their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders effectively serve to avoid incorporations into states and to prevent states from springing up among them.  The particular state that most of them have been evading has been the precocious Han-Chinese state.

Highly recommended, this is a book Gordon Tullock would love.  So far it has received surprisingly little publicity but it strikes me as essential reading about Afghanistan as well.  Here is a much earlier Crooked Timber post on Scott.


I think we've found out who John Galt is!

I have a post about an interview he did on this idea here.

I'm reading his "Seeing Like a State" now, good stuff.

The Swiss could fall into this category with the Hmongs and Pashtuns as hillbillies who resist domination by large lowland states. Still, there are certain differences amongst them in say, pharmaceutical innovativeness.

In other words, if Afghanistan is the ideal stateless society where men can freely thrive and build great things as Ayn Rand forecasts, why aren't we purchasing something more than black tar from them?

Because Afghanistan is not a stateless society. Afghanistan is a society with *MANY* states, all competing for authority. Shariah law is ruthlessly enforced, the local warlord takes much higher taxes than anything in the west, and in many ways life in Afghanistan is more rigidly controlled than any Soviet command economy. Afghanistan is also the location of generations of state-sponsored warfare funded by billions of tax dollars.

An example of a modern stateless society would probably be something like Christiania, or perhaps Burning Man. Not what Ayn Rand predicted, for sure... but certainly not the disaster that government-worshipers such as yourself would predict either.


It may be that there is more than a single variable involved. It may also be the same things that make a geography tame-able by markets make them harness-able by governments.

They do a pretty good job supplying us with opium I believe, but you might have me on that one as governments make this possible.

What is stateless about Christiania or Burning Man? They may have incredible amounts of autonomy, but they very clearly exist within a state that chooses to tolerate them.

Government-worshipper? Now there's a strange pejorative.

spencer - my thoughts exactly.
Even warlords must have trouble extracting that amount of a well-armed people's income - hence the opium trade I suppose. Good on them for producing it - frankly I need a bit of puff to alleviate state-propagated pain of every sort

It is not the tyranny of the state, but the tyranny of the elders that controls these peoples lives. Talk to some Hmong and you will see that living in a moving village is like living in a small town...everyone knows your name, and social control is very high. As are customs.


Even warlords must have trouble extracting that amount of a well-armed people's income - hence the opium trade I suppose. Good on them for producing it - frankly I need a bit of puff to alleviate state-propagated pain of every sort

Farmer is right. Nobody is going to produce or build anything when it can arbitrarily be stolen by thugs with weapons. This is the history of most of civilization before 1800. In modern states, you at least have a legal right to your property minus a predetermined percentage to be taken by the government. The system works which is one of the reasons Afghanistan is dirt-poor compared to the rest of the world.

I'm surprised nobody ever brings up Kowloon Walled City in these discussions of stateless societies. Kowloon Walled City existed as an essentially anarchic enclave within British-ruled Hong Kong until it was demolished in the 1990s. It came to be dominated by Tong crime families who seem to have supplied day-to-day law enforcement services. When there was a murder there, the Hong Kong police under the British were more or less forced to investigate but that was about the extent of government involvement in the enclave.

Damn. I probably have to read this. Seeing like a State is one of the books that changed the way I see the world (and I was *already* libertarian!!)

Afghanistan disproves free markets. We know this because large governments and militaries have left them completely alone.

Andrew hit it on the head. Ha.

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