Some Thoughts on Non-Coercively Organizing Territorial Defense in a Stateless Society — Overcoming the Free Rider Problem

To a large extent, discussion of this issue tends to be dominated either by anarcho-capitalists who think in terms of for-profit protection “firms” or insurance companies, or communists and syndicalists who for the most part don’t frame issues in terms of the “non-aggression principle” or “initiation of force.”

So where does that leave those of us who believe in voluntary association and reject the concept of a “police power” even at the most local level, but also don’t conceptualize a stateless society primarily around competing business firms in the cash nexus?

Let’s start from the assumption that any post-state, post-corporate society is unlikely to be organized around any particular ideological template or organizational model — whether For a New Liberty, Alongside Night, or a prefab macro-scale anarcho-syndicalist model — any more than the capitalist historical formation that emerged in the late Middle Ages was. We’re far more likely to see a hundred flowers bloom, with a wide variety of today’s nascent networked institutions growing up and interlocking into a coherent successor system with emergent properties — and under pressure of necessity supplanting functions previously performed by states, corporations and other large-scale hierarchical institutions as the latter become exhausted and hollowed out.

Imagine, against the backdrop of a lot more failed and bankrupt states, the continued development of mutuals, alternative currency systems, p2p networks, community-suppported agriculture, squats, land trusts, cohousing projects, eco-villages and Transition Towns, etc., coordinated to varying extents with and through networked movements like Occupy, Syntagma and M15.

What we’re likely to see is local economies in which a great deal of economic activity is carried on through small shops and collectives exchanging with one another on the market, and a great deal more is carried out on a subsistence basis using high-tech tabletop machinery of various sorts in the informal and household sector.

When the hollowing out and collapse of welfare state and corporate safety nets, most safety net/support functions are likely to be carried out by a wide variety of ad hoc primary social units (extended family households, multi-family or neighborhood cohousing projects or communes, squatter communities, mutuals and fraternal lodges, and other voluntary networks and federations of all sorts, acting as income-, risk- and cost-pooling networks. Within such primary social units, some members will probably produce goods and services for the outside market economy and win “foreign exchange” for the household or community to purchase goods available only through outside exchange. The rest will engage in direct self-provisioning and production for use inside the primary social unit.

Such networks, perhaps networked on larger neighborhood levels, will likely organize the provision of public utilities, security against robbery and violent outside intrusion, and healthcare and sustenance for the aged and sick. Being born into such a primary social unit, just like being born into an Open Field village in the Middle Ages, would entitle one to access to some amount of land or other means of production and a promise of support from one’s comrades in hard times, in return for duties to undertake one’s own share of the work when capable — essentially the unwritten contract that prevails in the nuclear family today.

The key to organizing territorial defense on a large scale, through federations of such voluntary primary social units, is to overcome the free rider problem by bundling defectable and non-excludable territorial defense functions with excludable, non-defectable service obligations already provided through such associations. One of the duties of members of primary social units, in return for access to a plot of land or a workshop and guaranteed old age support and healthcare, would be to provide support — in one form or another — to a territorial militia raised from federations of such communities.

A good fictional example is the Dunedain Rangers in S.M. Stirling’s post-apocalyptic Emberverse series. There were several free communities of several thousand people in the Pacific Northwest, including Clan Mackenzie and the Bearkillers, into whom members were born with automatic duties and entitlements to benefits, so long as they remained. Choosing to remain in the community at the age of majority, and receiving its safety net and community defense protections, entailed the free choice to work and provide militia service with one’s comrades. Territorial defense for all these communities was undertaken by the Dunedain Rangers, occupying a chain of frontier outposts and conducting regular patrols. The Rangers were supported by regular contributions from the allied communities.

Of course, absent a coercive state and barriers to voluntary association, it is theoretically possible to organize delivery of excludable services like local utilities and safety net functions on a discrete basis, without bundling in any networked territorial defense functions. But it is likely that communities in which such services are bundled will tend to be more secure — and hence more successful — than atomized communities in which they are not bundled, and thus to prevail through an invisible hand effect.

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