by Daniel Hawkins
What is government?
What is society?
How are the two connected?
These questions have been the subject of debate for centuries. And, really, if you’ve ever been in any sort of political debate—from debate about a local zoning law to one about a federal healthcare law—these three questions form the foundation of what we call “politics.” Of course, if you’re like most people, then you probably don’t directly ask yourself about these three questions or their implications in your daily life. When at a city council meeting or watching the news, the average person doesn’t think about the links between policies and taxation, police-power, and markets. But, I assure you, the links are real.
To really understand why things are the way they are, you have to examine how they got there. In other words, look at history. Consummate political thinkers like Plato, Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and Ann Coulter have all pondered the philosophies surrounding governance. But, for all their differences, these people all believe one common thing:
Government is necessary.
There are a few reasons why they think this, and why the average person thinks this. There is a rationale, though, a set of ideas—no matter how false or evil—that prop up this system. Mainly, people see the functions which governments carry out (or are supposed to carry out), and think, “No one else can do that.”
Social welfare, parks, healthcare, schools, infrastructure, courts, firefighting, police, utilities, and national security are some public services that those who support the State (for those non-libertarians, that’s the “Statists” we always talk about) would not and cannot be handled by private business or charity.
And, heaven forbid, even if these things were to collapse tomorrow, Statists believe total chaos would ensue. Nobody would, you know, continue being a rational person. No one would use the market to solve these issues. Nope. It would be a road-less world of war-lords and robber-barons. That is, until the mighty hand of Government reaches down from the heavens to save us all from ourselves. “Because”, Statists say, “government is inevitable. Sooner or later, anarchy breaks down and there will need to be a government.”
Because we have been taught to think that society and government are inextricably linked. We have been taught that they are inter-dependent, like thunder and lightning. With society, it’s thought, there will always be deficiencies. There will always be burglars, murderers, arsonists, etc. to warrant a State-run justice system. There will always be wealth inequality to warrant a Welfare State. And so on, and so on, and so on. The need for mutual protection and aid, to Statists, brought primitive Man together to form something called the “Social Contract.” Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote extensively on this theory. For some reason, instead of relying on things like voluntary trade, people apparently got together and said, “You know what we need? An all-powerful harbinger of poverty and death to tell us all how to live.”
But, unfortunately, these Social Contracts weren’t limited to the present parties. By virtue of our birth, we are evidently indebted to our holy protector, the State. Statists will not say this, of course, they will say we are indebted to society, but imply that the State is the vessel by which we owe others, hence the “we are the government” mantra. And, to them, we must deal with every pain and evil brought on by the State because “it’s necessary.”
But what if it’s not?
What if we can be different? What if it has been different?
Nestled in the fertile Jordan River Valley, in present-day Palestine, on the outskirts of an urban area, there is what seems to be a pile of rubble whose importance cannot be overstated. This rubble is the remains of the city of Jericho. This city isn’t just important in the Abrahamic tradition. Jericho is actually the oldest city on Earth.
If you’re looking at the origins of society, there’s hardly a better place to look. And, rest assured, Jericho is a city of wonders. Biblical archaeologists and anthropologists have obsessed over this city ever since the first shard of pottery was discovered there. The city, they realized, actually has about 20 consecutive settlements built over each other. The original inhabitants can only be termed “geniuses.” These people drew the blueprints for all towns in the future. The most amazing thing, though, is that they all this with absolutely no government.
About 11,500 years ago, all humans were nomadic. Understandably, because most of the earth was frozen over, except for small areas where animals migrated. Eventually, though, some group of people found a temperate oasis with a nearby spring. Instead of leaving in the winter, the people found it most efficient to just stay there.
With straw, mud, and sunlight, the people in the camp developed the ability to create houses. It’s not certain, but these were probably the first free-standing permanent dwellings in history. They were round, one or two-story homes, with mud and thatch roofs, and with hearths inside and sometimes outside. Bodies (as in many other ancient cities) were often buried underneath the family’s house. This is disgusting, of course, but this was a time when people were still figuring out how build a town. The valley where Jericho sits is fairly fertile and enjoys pretty mild temperatures, but the areas surrounding their settlement received more rain. So, as evidence suggests, they built a series of irrigation canals. This allowed for the cultivation of domestic crops, which may have never been done before.
A wall was eventually erected as well as a mud-brick tower that sat inside of it. In most cases, archaeologists would be quick to label the wall and the tower as “defensive” structures, but even mainstream archeology has concluded that the tower was for religious purposes and the wall to prevent floodwaters from reaching it. This, according to experts, was an incredible feat, and would have taken at least 100 days to complete with the help of more than 100 people.
After about 800 years, the settlement had grown to about 2,000-3,000 people. Keep in mind, this was when the total human population was decidedly smaller and spread out. Later, a group of nomads came to Jericho. It is not clear from the evidence whether or not the two peoples went to war, but there is no definitive evidence that they did. In any case, these new people were absorbed into the already existent population. The new population developed painted pottery, and also apparently painted and decorated the skulls of their ancestors. These show the first real development of art. The city was built upon further and further, and there is no evidence of violence during this period.
Eventually, Jericho was abandoned. Some say it was after the conquering by the Israelites (though archaeological evidence of this is missing), and the Canaanites. After the Canaanites, Jericho was conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Judeans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, and more recently, the Jordanians.
Again, we see this beautifully vibrant, forward-thinking society decimated by places with governments. We really cannot discount the value of Jericho, though. This society, with absolutely no government, survived for about 9,000 years. Think about this. The average government survives for about 200-400 years. Jericho, before the decades of war and conquering, survived 30 times longer than that. That means there were about 360 generations of people born in the stateless city of Jericho. Not only is it one of the longest-lasting civilizations in history, but it was one of the most innovative. Crops, houses, walls, art—all these things were basically invented in Jericho. They were invented in a place with no government to regulate human behavior. There’s nothing certain about how exactly these people dealt with each other, but we do know that their society was one to be envied.
Yes, to native English speakers, this name is hard to pronounce. I’ve been researching it for a couple of months now, and I still can’t pronounce it. But, trust me, this one’s important. Located in modern-day Turkey, near a twin set of volcanoes, the settlement of Çatalhöyük vies with Jericho for the oldest settlement on Earth.
Coincidentally, the settlers of Çatalhöyük not only traded with Jericho, but were probably the mysterious immigrants who brought painted skulls there. Obsidian tools have been found in Jericho, but they definitely originated in the volcanoes near Çatalhöyük. In exchange, the settlers took flint and sea shells from Jericho. But, before they were seasoned tradesmen, the settlers of Çatalhöyük were simple and smart nomads. Like Jericho, Çatalhöyük has several consecutive settlements built one on top of the other—about 18, actually—and they were just as innovative.
“But how do archaeologists know these places didn’t have governments?” asks the skeptic. “There can’t be any written records of an anarchist society 11,000 years before Christ.”
True, there is no written account of these places, so it’s impossible to have a first-hand account declaring that there was no government. But, researchers use the same techniques they do for any other civilization for locating evidence of government. Researchers look for public buildings, mainly. It seems simple, but for governments to function, they need offices. They need congregational areas, they need administrative centers, armories, treasuries, etc. They look for areas of concentrated weapons, areas of concentrated wealth, and for evidence of tributes to or worshiping of humans. Sometimes, they look for evidence of slavery. None of these things were ever found in Jericho, Çatalhöyük, or Harappa. In contrast, in the Chaldean, Assyrian, Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian civilizations (which are near the same age), all of these things are found. There was simply no plausible evidence that these three places were governed.
Another great clue for Çatalhöyük in favor of statelessness is the layout of the houses. To the average viewer, it would seem that the mud-brick and plaster houses were laid out willy-nilly. There was really very little room (if any) for walkways between. This is a pretty decent indication that there was little to no central planning of any kind in the community. Actually, the near 10,000 people probably walked around on top of the houses and entered through holes in the roof. Once through the holes, they would climb down ladders into the home. The homes were decorated with vibrant murals, and the inhabitants bought bright pottery and religious figurines from local artists. Like Jericho, the skulls of Çatalhöyük were painted to resemble the faces of the owners, so some historians deem this the first example of portraiture. One painting in a home of the nearby volcanoes is probably the first map/landscape painting. Eventually, the people even developed metal cooking utensils.
Like other early civilizations, the residents of Çatalhöyük were some of the first to try farming. Different cereals and legumes were the main crops, but these were still secondary to the more paleolithic practices of hunting and gathering. However, Çatalhöyük is usually noted among historians as the first area to practice the domestication of livestock. All of these feats were accomplished in Çatalhöyük, yet very few researchers mention that there is literally no evidence of a government there. If they do mention it, there is usually no more analysis of the effects of statelessness. I think we’re beginning to see a trend here, though. Like Jericho, Çatalhöyük survived for an inordinate amount of time—about 2,000 years, actually. This isn’t anywhere near the longevity of Jericho, but 2,000 years is still incredible. Consider what can happen in 2,000 years. 2,000 years ago, Christ was preaching in the Levant. 2,000 years ago, Ovid was writing the Metamorphoses. A lot can happen in that time, and in southern Turkey, it did. It did so—I will say this again—without government.
Harappa is the most investigated and most discussed society of the three in this article. And, though it is the last, it is certainly not least. Located in modern-day Pakistan, Harappa is considered by many to be the home to the Indus River Valley civilization, and to civilization itself.
Harappa lays claim to many achievements. For example, researchers have found some sort of writing all over Harappa, which likely predates Cuneiform and Phoenician (for those readers out there who have lives, think Stone Age chicken scratch). As for the overall layout of Harappa, it’s fairly similar to Jericho and Çatalhöyük. There are very basic, mud-brick houses, with the dead usually buried beneath the floors. There is evidence of farming and ranching. Any fortifications were likely to protect against monsoon waters, and there is no evidence of war or slavery. There are no notable religious or administrative buildings, definitely no treasuries, and no real signs of a stratified socioeconomic hierarchy.
What’s really unique about Harappa, though, is its organization. In stark contrast to Çatalhöyük, there are actually roads. Not only are there roads, but the area is laid out in an almost grid-like pattern. In the cities there is (get this) municipal drainage. That’s right, there is definitive evidence of public services being provided without a government. Stop the presses. Scholars note a sense of uniformity throughout the cities which make up Harappa. On top of the uniform writing system, there is a system of uniform weights and measurements used by traders and merchants. The religious figurines and children’s toys—though they do no indicate an organized, collectively recognized cult—indicate a sort of cultural homogeneity. It was Spontaneous Order played out in real life.
Not only did this work, but it made the civilization flourish. There is more than enough evidence to indicate that the Harappans traded with everyone they could. Namely, they traded with their neighbors to the West, the Mesopotamians. Though the Mesopotamians were Statists, the Harappans were not. The Harappan society was so advanced, in fact, that there were several families or companies that traded in and outside of Harappa, as far as Indonesia and Egypt. Each family or company used a unique seal with a logo on it. And, no matter what RBE advocates say, these early Neolithic people did use money. The really interesting thing is that in contrast with sites in France, for example, there is no uniform coinage in Harappa. That means that there was no central bank (which we still haven’t figured out how to do yet).
Scholars have assumed that the Mesopotamians had the advantage in trade (what with being a slave empire and all). But, upon further examination of Harappa’s raw materials, their transportation methods, and their rate of expansion, it’s pretty easy to say that it could have been the Harappans who were doing a favor for the Mesopotamians by trading with them.
Harappa was by far more advanced than Jericho or Çatalhöyük, but they all had very much in common. After a beautiful run of 3,000 years, Harappa vanished. The reasons for Harappa’s decline are murky. In all likelihood, we can chalk its fall up to bad luck. As the world transitioned away from the last Ice Age and more to what we see today, the monsoons around India grew more dramatic, leaving Harappa more or less a desert. Eventually, the Aryan people settled in the remains of Harappa, bringing with them their theocratic government, and the stateless trade empire that was Harappa was forgotten.
Let me just say that I am not an archaeologist, nor am I a paid historian. I simply look for my sources, read them, and synthesize them in the form of an article. From what I have found, these three civilizations are fantastic examples of stateless societies. Though there are no signs in these areas that read “Anarchists Welcome!” many seasoned researchers will tell you that many times, it’s about what you cannot see. You must understand, to these people, government was probably something foreign, if they even considered it.
You may have heard anarchists say things like “you practice anarchy every day at home.” It was the same for these people, if on a larger scale. I highly doubt there weren’t any problems in these places. No—problems must exist before solutions do. But, in spite of having no governing body, society happened. Social organization simply didn’t require compulsion or coercion. From farming to art to sewers, these people discovered civilization. What is civilization? More than practical innovation, civilization is the practice of living amicably with another person. Civilization is trading with others, speaking with others, and building a legacy with others.
So, time to answer the three questions.
Government is the process of ruling over another person.
Society is a voluntary association of people living and interacting with each other.
Hobbes was wrong. The social contract does not need to include anyone ruling over anyone else, as these three cases demonstrate. The “state of nature” is not a war of all against all. People can develop complex structures (physical and social) without asking for some magical sovereign’s permission before doing so. People do not need to force others into paying for anything to which they do not wish to contribute. Society is voluntary. Government is force, and you do not need it.
“Yes, okay, okay,” cedes Mr. Skeptic. “That’s great. But, you have to acknowledge that these societies existed thousands of years ago. Government has been the way of life for humans for centuries now. How can we really be sure that society without government will work for us today?”
Well, if I have not convinced you yet, you may be beyond convincing. But, there is some validity to saying that people live in a different context than they did in 6,000 BCE. People cannot just go from a State to Anarchy overnight…or can they?
- Never Been Tried? Part I: Moresnet
- Never Been Tried? Part II: Emerald Anarchy
- Never Been Tried? Part III: Fire and Ice
- Never Been Tried? Part V: Anarchy in the U.S.A.?
- Never Been Tried? Part VI: The Living Anti-Nation