This was written as a response to a reader’s query at Libertarian Home
A reader asks: “What is a stateless society and how are decisions made in this type of society?” As the asking was done anonymously via the search bar, I don’t know if what follows will be satisfactory, but I hope it is at least somewhat helpful.
We can kill two birds with one stone if we think in terms of mechanisms. The state is a mechanism that enables nonunanimous collective choices to be made. We might say – a little loosely – that a state society is one in which some decide for all. (For instance, in a democracy a majority decides for all, in an aristocracy a minority decides for all, and in a dictatorship one man decides for all.) Hence a stateless society is one in which some do not decide for all. Properly speaking, then, stateless societies do not make decisions, only the individuals who live in them do, though there may be unanimous decisions, of course. Politics plays no part in a stateless society, and, for exactly the same reason, neither do laws. (I should stress that the majority of libertarians who advocate the abolition of the state would disagree with me on this last point.)
Perhaps surprisingly, for the longest part of human history the question (were it asked), would not have been, “What is a stateless society and how are decisions made in this type of society?”, but “What is a state society and how are decisions made in this type of society?” The genus homo has been walking the earth for 2 million years and modern humans have been around for 200,000 years, but the first state, Sumer, came into being only 6000 years ago. Assuming we only want to count ‘modern humans’ as being ‘proper humans’, man has been stateless for 97% of his history. If we were using the language of climate change enthusiasts we would say “the science has spoken” and the “consensus” is for anarchy.
Happily, we are not talking about climate change. But neither are we talking about sociobiology. That for almost his entire history man has lived without government is not proof that he must now live without government. (Such a claim would be akin to those arguments that because of how humans lived, say, 40,000 years ago, certain behaviours are “hardwired” into us, hence the state must force men to act in a certain fashion. It is strange to argue that because a thing was done voluntarily it must be made compulsory; it is very strange to argue that because a behaviour is inevitable it must be compelled. And it would be stranger still if these same people were to go on to argue that, since history tells us statelessness is “hardwired” into man, government must be abolished.) But this is not important. What is important is to see that anarchy is not – as a trip to the “Anthropology” section of the library will swiftly confirm – something alien or unusual. Nor is it something belonging to science fiction. Least of all is it something impossible.