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.

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