Peace Requires Anarchy


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Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland

By Joseph R. Peden

April, 1971 The Libertarian Forum [PDF]

Libertarians have often dreamed of escaping the tyranny of the State; some have sought to do so by seeking refuge in distant and uninhabited lands where they could live in solitary hermitage or in small communities held together by the principle of voluntary association and mutual aid. But historians know that such experiments seldom survive in peace for long; sooner or later the State finds and confronts them with its instinctive will to violence, its mania for coercion rather than persuasion, for compulsion rather than voluntarism. Such has been the fate of the Mormons and Mennonites, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Amish people, among others.

As exploited peoples all over the world are beginning to realize, their true enemy is always within their midst – the coercive violence of the State – and it must be fought constantly in the very heart of its dominions. Every libertarian must fight the State from where he is: in his home, his place of business, in the schools, community and the world at large. His task is to resist the State and to dismantle it by whatever means are at hand.

Historically, States do not dismantle willingly or easily. While they can disintegrate with startling speed, as in Russia in 1917 or France in 1968, almost always new States arise to take their place. The reason for this, I believe, is that men cannot bring themselves to believe in the practical feasibility of a society in which perfect liberty, security of life and property, and law and justice can be attained without the coercive violence of the State. Men have for so long been enslaved by the State that they cannot rid themselves of a Statist mentality. The myth of the State as a necessary part of social reality constitutes the greatest single obstacle to the achievement of a libertarian voluntarist society.

Yet the historian, if he but chooses to look and report his findings, knows that many societies have functioned successfully without the existence of the State, its coercive apparatus and monopoly of organized violence. It is my purpose here to present one example of such a society, one that existed for more than a thousand years of recorded history, terminated only by the massive military efforts of a more populous, wealthy and aggressive neighboring State. I will describe for you the millennial – long anarchic society of Celtic Ireland – destroyed after a six-century struggle against the English State in the wake of the military victories, confiscations and genocidal policies of successive English governments in the 17th century.

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