Stephen T. Byington

Precedents for Anarchistic Society





This is probably the first explicit text in which anarchy is viewed as panarchy (to each the government or non-government of his/her choice). It is also a very lucid argumentation of the practical possibility and functionality of anarchy, beyond general prejudices and personal fears.

Source: Liberty, May 5, 1894



Anarchism has the disadvantage of never having been tried under civilized conditions. It appears to work well in certain savage tribes described in Spencer's Justice, and in some of the Esquimau tribes. But the conservative will explain that this is because they are naturally inoffensive, and will not believe that their Anarchy can have helped cause their inoffensiveness. Therefore he will not cease to say that Anarchy cannot effectively repress invasive acts; that the protective associations will spend half their time fighting each other, and the other half chasing criminals whom they cannot catch. It is certainly fair to answer by asking how bad they would have to be to be worse than the State; but it is also worth while to look for what we can find of historical precedent.

In the most ancient social organizations of which we have knowledge, citizenship and jurisdiction depended on family. A man was born into such a tribe; therefore the tribe had a right to command him, and to enforce its commands wherever it could find him, while he had a like right to claim its protection wherever it could reach. These rights and duties were, in some cases at least, inalienable.
We sometimes find this form of order carried even into city life, as in pre-Mohammedan Arabia. The history of Mohammed's life shows us several instances in which a city is inhabited by two or more independent tribes, and the different sections of the city go to war with each other. But it does not appear that they were more disorderly, or fought more, than the tribes of the same turbulent blood in other circumstances. At least, the system was able to live, and give satisfaction to those who lived under it, till overthrown by a power which also overthrew great empires.
This ought to be an answer to those who think that two police agencies cannot coexist in the same place; for there never was a people who “needed a strong government” more than these Arabs.

But this system has been changed in the direction of greater liberty. A man can now change his citizenship, and the laws to which he is subject, whenever he chooses, - provided he will leave his country. Now, imagine what some fine old Tory of the clan system would have said if this change had been proposed to him. “How Anarchistic! A man would be able to escape from all the laws that bind him by simply running away! Law and order would utterly cease!” But the world has survived it. Anarchism proposes to increase the liberty further by removing the condition that a man must leave his country. This would introduce no difficulty, it seems to me, that the world has not got along with fairly well in one or another of the systems which have existed.

But why to go to ancien history? Kansas City is much handier. The State line runs right through the edge of the city, among populous streets. Men who live on the same street are subject to different laws, and look for protection to different powers. Kansas saloons are built up to the State line. The theoretical difficulties in the way of a Missouri policeman's chasing a man into Kansas are much greater than those in the way of two Anarchistic associations exercising police power on the same ground. But Kansas City claims to be a highly prosperous place.

When New York and Jersey City are connected by tunnel or bridge, nearly the same predicament will arise. The impossibilities of Anarchism are about to be introduced in New York. Why do not the defenders of public order protest against the improvements?

Worse yet. Under Anarchy every man would be subject to his neighbor's association to this extent, that the association could punish him for clearly invasive acts. But today, in every civilized country, there is a large body of men who are under no law whatever. Envoys and consuls are responsible to no one but the government which sends them. Cromwell once hanged an ambassador for murder, but no one ever dared follow the example. If a consul commits a crime here, all we can do is politely to request the consul's royal master to recall him as persona non grata, and to punish him at home in such a way as may seem adequate. This privilege extends to the foreign representative's retinue also, including, I believe, even households servants.

It is the uniform practice of Christian countries to maintain as against non-Christian countries the ancient principle that their subjects in a foreign country are not subject to the laws of that country. This privilege is always provided for in treaties. Hence the European in such a country is bound by no law but such as his consul will enforce. In places like Cairo and Jerusalem there are considerable colonies of at least half a dozen nationalities, each of which is responsible solely to its consul. I never heard of a proposition to unite all the European, not to say all the city, under a single authority.

But Anarchism - oh, oh!


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