Peace Requires Anarchy

David Friedman On Medieval Iceland

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David Friedman, son of Milton Friedman, is an economist and anarcho-capitalist.

In his 1979 essay Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case Friedman examines “the legal and political institutions of Iceland from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.” These political institutions of medieval Iceland are of interest to the anarchist because, as the title of the essay suggests, they involve private enforcement and private creation of law. Once one understands how the service of law can be provided privately in a society without a government, then everything else seems to easily fall into place. (Note: Medieval Iceland was not quite anarchy, but the fact that creation and enforcement of law were provided privately means that an examination of medieval Iceland can be a good way of understanding how an anarchist society could potentially provide law.)

Upon completion of his examination, Friedman reaches the following conclusion:

Whatever the correct judgment on the Icelandic legal system, we do know one thing: it worked–sufficiently well to survive for over three hundred years. In order to work, it had to solve, within its own institutional structure, the problems implicit in a system of private enforcement. Those solutions may or may not be still applicable [to today’s societies], but they are certainly still of interest.

According to his Wikipedia page: “Friedman advocates an incrementalist approach to achieve anarcho-capitalism by gradual privatization of areas that government is involved in, ultimately privatizing law and order itself.” He offers how this gradual privatization might occur in the appendix of his essay:

The first step in applying the Icelandic system of private enforcement to a modern society would be to convert all criminal offenses into civil offenses, making the offender liable to pay an appropriate fine to the victim…. The second step would be to make the victim’s claim marketable, so that he could sell it to someone willing to catch and convict the offender…. Once these steps were taken, a body of professional “thief-takers” (as they were once called in England) would presumably develop and gradually replace our present governmental police forces.

Unlike some anarchists, I am optimistic that one day governments will be abolished and peace and anarchy will be achieved. Having said that, I would not be too surprised if 100, 200, 300 or more years from now, most societies are still ruled by coercive governments. So anarchy may be a long way off, but I am optimistic that one day the status quo will be that the vast majority of people will not consider government aggression acceptable. While it is possible that humans will go extinct before this stage in our social evolution I do not think it is very likely. Truth has a way of spreading, slowly but surely.

So having said this, what is the most likely way that a free society will be achieved? Perhaps it will be achieved by gradual privatization as Friedman advocates. Who knows? In any case, a necessary first step will be to spread the idea of anarchy far and wide to everyone.

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Author: PeaceRequiresAnarchy

“A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.” – Roderick T. Long

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