Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Done Lit Out for the Territories

I've been reading James C. Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of South Asia lately. The professor's argument, boiled down, is this: The idea of viewing certain groups of people as "primitive" or "barbarian" is a state-centric view, applied to people who have chosen ways of living that keep them out of the ambit of the State. Most of his evidence is drawn from his analysis Zomia, an upland massif of South Asia spanning parts of China, Burma, and several other countries.

To be sure, there's something to the argument; at any rate, something can be made of it. Even in a Lockean system (and Professor Scott nods toward Lockeanism, but that is not, I believe, where he is coming from philosophically -- he appears to be making more of a "commons"-based anarchist argument), the role of the State is to secure the liberty of its citizens (protection against invaders from without and criminals within). If one were so inclined, one could characterize it this way:

"Just over those hills there are the Bad Guys. They dress funny, act funny, worship funny, and all they say is 'bar bar bar.' And they're looking this way, and they're coming to burn your crops, steal your livestock, jostle your womenfolk, carry off your children, and extract tribute from you.
"In the name of the King, I am here to offer you sturdy farmers protection from the Bad Guys Over the Hills. All you have to do is, uh, well, pay taxes, render a few days of corvée labor working on the King's Road and the King's Wall we'll be building, uh, well, right through your pasture there, I guess, according to the Royal Surveyor, and, uh...say, is that your daughter? Wow, she's cute! About sixteen, is she? I might be able to find her a place at Court. Fine strapping sons, too, I see. The King's army can use likely lads like those."
Having said so, have I disposed of the question in a manner acceptable to anarcho-capitalists like myself? I have not. That will take more doing, and once in a while those Bad Guys Over the Hills are every bit that bad and then some.

But what Scott is proposing isn't really new, or limited to Zomia. The state periphery is always the province of those for whom life in the State doesn't sit well. "Lighting out for the Territories" is a significant part of U.S. history, and various bits of badland and hill country even now form a sort of refuge where the king's writ does not run, at least not as efficiently as it does in the settled valleys and flatlands.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

People were not only smaller and lived closer to water: they were more broadly and deeply educated

By way of relaunching my blogging career, such as it is, I wish now to share with you a pair of passages I recently read. Here's the first:
No man stands out a grand and solitary figure; mental pictures are constantly painted of what the people think and as to what the people will or may do: when the bulk of the people do not think at all; for as Henry Ford long ago discovered, to most minds thought is 'absolutely appalling,' and what very naturally the masses want to do is enjoy themselves thoroughly and cheaply.
And here's the second:
To-day slavery consists in binding ourselves to the myth that nations are economically independent and that prosperity can be cultivated by trade barriers and protective tariffs. Were it possible to-morrow to establish universal free trade throughout the world, then within a generation would nations be so completely de-capitalized, for wealth would become so distributed, that international war would be deprived of its reason and become inane.
The first passage -- to me, at any rate -- could have come from one of today's behavioral economists, although I doubt many behavioral economists would quote Henry Ford with approval. Alternatively, one supposes it could have come from that branch of libertarian/anti-statist thought that refers dismissively to "the sheeple" (not without evidence, one must admit, and one must also concede that among those expressing such views is Albert Jay Nock).

The second could have come from just about anyone at the Mises Institute.

In fact, both these passages are from the same author, in the same work, within two pages of each other. The author is the British general and military theorist J.F.C. Fuller, writing in The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant; the first passage can be found on pages 410-411, and the second on pages 411-412.

It's an interesting juxtaposition, says I, and the more so for having been written in the late 1920s, by a career officer in the Royal Army. Even more interesting is the fact that Fuller elsewhere in the book writes approvingly of Frederick W. Taylor; principles of scientific management (in the context of industrial-scale endeavors) and individual liberty appear on the surface to be little related, although one may suppose that liberty of contract remains the guarantor of the individual's liberty. Of course, when the political means has been employed to interfere with the ability of competitive enterprises to enter a market, and the state has eliminated the individual's ability to work unclaimed land (Nock writes on this in Our Enemy, the State: note that the preceding link goes direct to a PDF of the book), the exercise of liberty of contract increasingly resembles an academic exercise.

What do I make of it all? I don't know, although I am inclined to agree with Fuller's second passage. I have long believed, though, that most of those making up "the masses" are capable of far more than they know or have been taught to believe. One must be careful with such formulations, though: as a rule, I do not believe in false consciousness as advanced by collectivists. Finally, I am impressed with the apparent scope and depth of General Fuller's scholarship and education as expressed in his ideas (whether or not I agree with all of them) and writing ability. In addition to the work cited, I recently read Fuller's Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, and it too is well written and a fine piece of scholarship; I think one would agree, whether or not one agrees with Fuller's rather boats-against-the-current assessment of Grant as a general.