Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Rothbard on Ireland and the Stateless Society - A St. Patty's Day Special

What connection can possibly be drawn between Murray Rothbard, a non-believing Jew, the Ould Sod and a saint of the Church?

That was the ruse to get you to read on.  This has nothing to do with religious belief but plenty to do with Murray, ancient Ireland and liberty.

In his classic For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Professor Rothbard makes a compelling case for a stateless society.  To dismiss the blarney that such a world is a pipe dream, he cites numerous historical precedents when humans coexisted harmoniously without the benefit (impediment?) of an overarching state structure.  Among his examples is ancient Ireland.  He writes:

“The most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts, however, has been neglected by historians until very recently. And this was also a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but where they operated within a purely state-less and libertarian
society. This was ancient Ireland—an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the seventeenth century”

Up until the English takeover Ireland was,a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the
most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe.”

Yet for over a millennium: “ancient Celtic Ireland had no State or anything like it. As the leading authority on ancient Irish law has written: ‘There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice. There was no trace of State-administered justice.’”

Rothbard explains that the ancient Irish maintained justice and order via a network of 80-100 voluntary associations known as tuaths.   The tuaths met periodically to discuss and agree upon operating rules.  Those who were unhappy with the policies of their tuath were free to leave and join another tuath. 

However, legislation was sparse.  For the most part the law was similar to English Common Law practice.

“…the law itself was based on a body of ancient and immemorial custom, passed down as oral and
then written tradition through a class of professional jurists called the brehons. The brehons were in no sense public, or governmental, officials; they were simply selected by parties to disputes on the basis of their reputations for wisdom, knowledge of the customary law, and the integrity of their decisions.”

The decision of the brehons were enforced,

“Through an elaborate, voluntarily developed system of “insurance,” or sureties. Men were linked together by a variety of surety relationships by which they guaranteed one another for the righting of wrongs, and for the enforcement of justice and the decisions of the brehons. In short, the brehons themselves were not involved in the enforcement of decisions, which rested again with private individuals linked through sureties.”

In short, the Irish were governed by private contractual laws.  These laws were developed over time by custom and enforced socially by the community at large.

“…this system applied to all offences, aggressions and assaults as well as commercial contracts; in short, it applied to all cases of what we would call “civil” and “criminal” law. All criminals were considered to be “debtors” who owed restitution and compensation to their victims, who thus became their “creditors.” The victim would gather his sureties around him and proceed to apprehend the criminal or to proclaim his suit publicly and demand that the defendant submit to adjudication of their dispute with the brehons. The criminal might then send his own sureties to negotiate a settlement or agree to submit the dispute to the brehons. If he did not do so, he was considered an “outlaw” by the entire community; he could no longer enforce any claim of his own in the courts, and he was treated to the opprobrium of the entire community.”

Rothbard concludes:

Thus, we have indicated that it is perfectly possible, in theory and historically, to have efficient and courteous police, competent and learned judges, and a body of systematic and
socially accepted law—and none of these things being furnished by a coercive government.

Thus the Irish lived in relative peace for over a thousand years without a centralized, compulsive state authority.

The same could be said of the ancient Hebrews. From the time of their re-entry into Canaan after fleeing Egypt, they lived under the written law of the Torah which was administered by local “Judges”.  This lasted for about 200 years until they demanded a strong central authority for their security.  The final Judge, Samuel, warned them that this strong central authority, the king that they wished for, would:

“…take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.

He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.

He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers.
He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials.

He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves.

He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work.

He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.”

Sure enough the Hebrew kings did all of that.  Within three generations the kingdom was divided and at war with itself.   In time the Hebrew people would be conquered, enslaved and exiled from their homeland.  This example gives concrete proof to Ben Franklin’s axiom that, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.

Thus the two key takeaways from this essay should be:

1.    The State, whose existent is rationalized by the supposed protection of its subjects often extracts onerous costs and ultimately fails in its mission

Saints be praised, begorrah!

Related Posts:

The Wisdom of the Ancients
The State (Huh - Good God Y'all) What It Is Good For?

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