Community, Anarchy and Liberty
by Michael Taylor

His overall argument is:
  1. Anarchy requires community, because "community makes possible the effective use of social controls which are an alternative to the concentrated force of the state." [140] And because "controls which can be effective within the small community cannot generally have great impact on relations between people of different communities." [167]
  2. Community requires a rough equality of material conditions
  3. Rough equality of material conditions requires a community that believes in the obligation to share surpluss goods. It requires altruistic values.

Coercion and Force

He describes anarchy as having only a limited degree of concentration of force and pure anarchy as having no force concentration and no political specialization. [9] He fails to distinguish between offensive and defensive force. He only cares about concentration and specialization.
"For a threat to be coercive it must bring about compliance and it must do this by proposing a sanction which the recipient expects to be imposed in the event of non-compliance and which makes the non-compliant action (together with the imposition of the sanction) substantially less attractive than the compliant action (without the sanction)." [14]
By this definition, coercion is a threat that works. It need not be a threat to use force. Libertarians tend to define coercion as force or the threat of force. The libertarian definition is supported by Webster's Dictionary. Later [18] he asks, "Doesn't an employer coerce a man when he successfully offers him atrocious pay for a job without which he and his family would starve?" Yes, this is coercion by his definition. But so what? By his definition, coercion is not necessarily wrong. He seems to have fooled himself here by applying the negative connotation of the ordinary definition of coercion to his own definition.
"Exercises of power in effect alter the set of alternatives facing the agent, not the agent's attitude towards the (original) alternatives." [21]
In a pure anarchy, nobody is denied the use of force, or of threats to use force, in seeking to redress a grievance, remediate wrongs or deter others from committing them. A basic social control in primitive stateless societies is the threat of retaliation--'self-help justice' carried out against the offender (and perhaps also his close kinsmen) by his victim or the victim assisted by his close kinsmen or, if the victim is dead or incapacitated, by his kinsmen alone. One form of this is the feud. [81]
"Abilities are not to be confused with freedoms, though to have the ability to do something may make the freedom to do it a more valuable one." [147]
He sees three basic alternatives: the state, the market, and the community. Libertarians tend to regard the state and the market as the total universe.

The State

"the most basic function of the state is to ensure that internal order is maintained (possibly so that extraction can continue smoothly to the benefit of a dominant class...)" [7]

"the state tends to undermine the conditions which make the alternative to it workable, and in this way makes itself more desirable." [57]

It does this by weakening property rights and private contracts.
"As part of this process, the formation--in the face of centuries of 'tenacious and widespread resistance'--of the modern national states in Europe involved 'co-opting, subordinating or destroying' village councils and other deliberative assemblies and 'abridging, destroying or absorbing' a variety of rights previously lodged in less inclusive political units, including the right of households to pasture animals on the village common and the right of the head of the household to punish its members." [58]

"Societies without a state are subjugated, colonised or absorbed by states." [130]

Sanctions without the State

The principle types of social controls in anarchies are (1) the threat of "self-help" retaliation, (2) the offer of reciprocity and the threat of its withdrawal, (3) approval and disapproval, the latter especially via gossip, ridicule, and shaming, and (4) the threat of witchcraft accusations and supernatural sanctions. All four types of social controls can be effective only in groups that are relatively small and have little turnover in their memberships. [91]

Two additional types of control that could be available in anarchist societies are (5) free-market protection services and (6) arbitration services. These have the advantage of not requiring small communities.

Among the Nuer, "fear of incurring a blood-feud is, in fact, the most important legal sanction within a tribe and the main guarantee of an individual's life and property." [82]

Voluntary sanctions: reciprocal giving, withdrawal of reciprocity, ostracism, excommunication, expulsion, approval and disapproval (which may give rise to shame and a sense of guilt), gossip and social criticism, public criers who chant grievances, reprimanding, derision, lampoons, sarcasm, irony, wit, public shaming, harangues delivered from a house-top, threats of sorcery, punishment by ancestral spirits, punishment by kwoth (the central deity of the Nuer, who is offended by incest among other things). [82-88]

"a person can feel guiltshame is felt as a result of disapprobation, so presupposes consciousness of public exposure." [84]

"Fissioning is a normal part of the life of all stateless societies... When a local community in such a society grows too large for its members to work local land, a part of it splits off and establishes a replicate community on new land. The same thing happens in cases of persistent internal conflict, the disaffected or unpopular faction moving out to establish an autonomous community elsewhere. This ... facilitates the maintenance of social order without a state, by removing sources of disorder and by keeping the community small enough for it to remain a true community, hence able to operate effectively the alternative social controls." [135-136]

Geographical limitations can inhibit fission.
"If the agricultural land varies greatly in productive potential ... then splitting off and forming a new community would be unattractive, because relatively costly, once all the better land had been occupied." [138]
Another factor inhibiting fission would be the proximity of enemy or rival societies.
"The presence of enemies may not merely inhibit the normal process of fissioning; actual fighting or the threat of it may prompt a fission of communities." [138]

"it inspires little optimism about the viability of anarchy in a crowded world and even less optimism about the prospects for the emergence and durability of an anarchy set in a sea of states." [139]


Voluntary means of social control work better in small communities: reputation, gossip, offers of aid, threats to withdraw aid. [19]
"If community is characterized by shared values and beliefs, direct and many-sided relations, and the practice of reciprocity, then it is clear that communities must be relatively small and stable." [32]
As the size of the group increases, mutual monitoring becomes increasingly difficult. [53]

There is a positive correlation between matrilocal societies and peacefulness. [73]

He describes some of the rites of passage that adolescents in primitive society undergo. [77-78]. It is not clear which of these barbaric initiation ceremonies he recommends. He seems to view them all favorably.

"these sanctions, which make a contribution to order in every society, are much more important in those small, face-to-face communities in which the individual is well-known to most others, typically expects to spend his entire life, and is usually dependent on the goodwill of others for vital economic cooperation..." [84]
In modern secular communities, shaming and ridiculing are rare and not approved by the members. [89]
"reciprocity must be practiced if the threat of its withdrawal is to be an effective control. Furthermore, the effectiveness of gossip, ridicule and shaming in maintaining social order depends not only on smallness and stability but on the other two features of community--shared beliefs and values and direct, many-sided relations; for a person who does not deal directly with those around him or has only one-sided or specialized relations with some of them, and has few values and beliefs in common with them, is unlikely to be very sensitive to their criticism. Thus the two most important means of maintaining social order in stateless societies--those based on reciprocity and on approval and disapproval--together depend on community for their effectiveness." [93]
These societies discourage talent, intelligence, foresight, savings, and investment. They encourage superstition, short-sightedness, and poverty. The primitive mentality is like the mentality in the slums.

I suspect that the reason the communities that Taylor cites have no state is that they are so poor and unproductive that they have nothing to steal and cannot support parasites. They achieve freedom from state oppression at the cost of living in extreme poverty and barbarism. This is not an appealing tradeoff.

He seems blind to the fact that if a society adopts the moral standards of one of the anarchist communities that he cites, it would devolve to a subsistence level economy, which could only support a sparse population, which could not support civilization, and which would condemn most of the original population to starvation.

He undermines his view of community by admitting that it undermines autonomy:

"For autonomy to be an 'available ideal,' the individual must have the capacities and inclination for subjecting his values and beliefs, norms and principles to critical scrutiny, he must be able to make out of this critical process a coherent set of values, beliefs, etc., and he must be able to choose or to create (with the cooperation of others) an appropriate role or character with which he 'identifies.' Clearly, these processes and choices are conceivable only in a pluralistic society." [160]
He regards the problem of relations between communities as a problem that has not been solved:
"I have not seen a plausible solution to this problem of intercommunal relations in the literature of anarchism or anywhere else, and I do not have a solution which I find persuasive myself." [168]


"A very rough equality of basic material conditions is one of the necessary conditions of community." [3]

"Egalitarian anarchic communities did in fact survive for millennia." [3]

These communities were egalitarian in that nobody had much.
"Primitive agriculturists produce only to meet their needs (and the most primitive agriculturists, like hunters and gatherers, could do this in only two to four hours of 'work' per day), and in the absence of any pressures they appear never to want to intensify their efforts." [132]
The anarchy that he is interested in is a society in which there is equal, extensive participation in social controls, defense, distribution of resources, and collective decisions.
"to the extent that a society lacks political specialization and to the extent that force is dispersed, to that extent also must there be equal participation in whatever political functions remain." [10]
In the kind of anarchistic community that Taylor endorses, equality is maintained by living in a subsistence economy in which "each household has limited objectives: it is a 'satisfier', not a maximiser. Having provided for its needs, it goes no further." [107] He neglects to spell out the drawbacks entailed in this kind of society: no civilization above the barbaric level, no books, no science, no electricity, no travel outside the tribal borders, no medicine, short life expectancy, and so on.
"Kinsmen must assist one another, and so if one has a surplus of a good thing he must share it with his neighbors. Consequently no Nuer ever has a surplus." [109]

"The !Kung San call lack of generosity 'far-heartedness' and 'browbeat each other constantly to be more generous and not to hoard'" ... "In the Melanesian society studied by Michael Young 'sorcery was, and still is, greatly feared by those who would display uncommon talent or a conspicuous degree of wealth"... "Similarly, among the Bema, ... to be permanently more prosperous than the rest of the village would almost certainly lead to accusations of sorcery." [112]

Taylor undermines his own argument for equality:
"The position we have arrived at, then, is that state formation has its roots not in the growth of economic inequality but in the combination of conditions which strengthen the leadership that is found in every stateless society and conditions which make fission impossible or undesirable." [138]

Year Read: 1997

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