Works in Practice, Just Not in Theory?
By Arnold Kling
On the topic of anarchy, Peter T. Leeson writes,
Pirates created one of the earliest forms of written constitutions they called their “articles, which codified many of the rules that governed their ships, as well as punishments for rule breakers. These included rules specifying the division of booty, “laws” against theft, and even workman’s compensation insurance to support crew members injured in battle.
To apply punishments and resolve disputes between crew members, pirates created an office called the “quartermaster.” Crew members controlled quartermasters both through their articles, which prescribed the “laws” quartermasters could apply, and by democratically electing crew members to this office.
I am not sure what to make of this pirate example. Does it illustrate the feasibility of anarchy? Or does it illustrate the natural emergence of government?
Whenever we pre-commit to resolving disputes peacefully, we are creating an institution that operates like government. Typically, this pre-commitment involves giving the government formal monopoly over the legitimate use of force, what I call the Arbiter with the Golden Scepter.
I would tend to define anarchy as the absence of any pre-commitment to resolve disputes peacefully. I think that is a common-sense definition, but it does not seem to be what Leeson has in mind. Instead, his article tends to emphasize the emergence of peaceful dispute-resolution systems.
Perhaps Leeson would define anarchy as a pre-commitment to resolve disputes peacefully, but without conceding a monopoly on the use of force to any particular body. Perhaps some forms of international trade fit this model. But the pirate example does not, which leaves me confused.