Can a society sufficiently function without a governing body, or is the State a necessity in upholding a relatively peaceful and sustainable lifestyle?
In today’s society, there are many people who rely heavily upon the State. Whether it is because it can provide for the general welfare of its citizens, build roads and run adequate transportation, or provide police for enforcement of laws and the protection of its citizens. In some people’s eyes it can be seen to uphold peace and order where there would otherwise be disarray and destruction.
However, what if the State were to disappear altogether; leaving the former society to fend for themselves without the protection and security of a governing body? Some of the most common questions surrounding this idea are: would there be chaos and dysfunction, independence and self-sufficiency or would there be a social rebuild and an eventual new State? The purpose of this essay is to explore these three different theories and argue that the State is fundamental for a society to function in a manner which is relatively harmonious and sustainable.
A common first conclusion when thinking of a society without structure is that it would be complete chaos. With no police to uphold the law and no law to begin with, it is easy to imagine the disorder that might ensue. However, before we look too much further into this idea, we must first define what a ‘State’ actually is; and while there is some controversy surrounding the definition, Max Weber’s definition seems best-suited to our current political environment: A State is an entity which, within a given territory, “successfully claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence”. This means that a State (limited by its geographical extent) has the power to exercise a legitimate use of violence as stipulated by its own laws and regulations.
However, imagine if the State, which imposes this legitimate use of violence to control and detain unlawful citizens such as rapists, were to vanish overnight. With no one to provide protection, people who, under the former State’s law were considered law-abiding, would now live in constant fear of others who would no longer face consequences for their crimes. It is evident that this state of anarchy- where people are left to do whatever they want, whenever they want- would cause wide-spread dysfunction, and would ultimately result in humanity’s demise.
As Ronald Sampson states in his publication ‘The Anarchist Basis of Pacifism’, “Nothing can ever legitimise this state (of anarchy)… terrible consequences ensue from this theory for humanity as a whole, in the shape of ceaselessly recurring war”.
Moreover, we must consider people’s morals in this chaotic existence. With no State to affirm what is right and what is wrong, the decision is left solely with the subject and can be heavily influenced by their dysfunctional environment. It is apparent then, that this is not a state of anarchy which would result in society operating in concord. Instead, it would be a disordered warzone, where different communities would be constantly attacked and overwhelmed by rival tribes.
What is evident in this theory is the constant violence and crime which would hang over what is left of society. This chaotic society would not lead to peace and rebuild, and it is therefore evident that the people would not be able to exist in a functional lifestyle or concordance and would instead be enveloped by ruin and devastation.
The second theory of anarchy proposes the idea that we, as a society, can live without a State in independence and self-sufficiency. In this concept, like-minded, judicious, and generally good people would come together and be allowed to act with autonomy; using farming and agriculture as a means of sustainability. These people would break into separate communities and tribes. While they are joined by the geographical boundary of the community, it does not mean that they act in the same way as a community we might see today.
As was described in a Political Science lecture by Xavier Marques of Victoria University of Wellington; “people who reside in these small communities would engage in what is called ‘self-help’, where a person takes their own security measures and does not rely on the wider community”. This means that, say there was a criminal who was stealing people’s shoes from their homes and was selling them off for money and goods; it is up to the individuals of the community to find the necessary means of security and refuge.
he community as a whole will do nothing to stop the criminal. This apparent selfishness is one feature of this theory which could jeopardise the eventual survival of the community. If people were not prepared to come together in times of strife, how are they meant to fend off invasions from rival communities? With a big enough cavalry, rival communities could pillage as they pleased, leaving the once content community in destruction.
Another problem with this theory is the health risks of living in close proximity to others. If one person were to catch a disease from a decaying animal, there would be no communal bank of medication to prevent the disease spreading throughout the whole community and causing many deaths. Or for that matter, if someone was to get sick in the community, people may not want to treat them and would be under no legal obligation to do so. Such collections of people do exist and have done so throughout history in the form of communes.
Whether it be the hippy communes of the 60s, some of which still exist today; or Israeli Kabbutzs, this agricultural style of living is proven to be viable and sustainable. However, on a larger scale- when dealing with a whole society- it is unrealistic to assume that everyone could live their lives without the help of others. Whether it is due to invasion, disease or physical inability, this theory does not support a sufficient and sustainable lifestyle in the long term.
The third and final theory of anarchy is the idea that after a State has fallen, society will eventually rebuild and a new State will be created. In this model, the process begins with people congregating in a specific area to form a community. Unlike in theory two, this community is not completely self-sufficient and members can rely on other members in times of strife and hardship. Whilst my sound like an ideal existence, it is unorganised. There is no communal medical bank where people can protect themselves from mass-disease and there is still no protection from invasion (much like in theory two).
The next stage in the development of the society comes when a leader emerges who would offer protection and organisation in return for small amounts of money. As the number of his or her services to the community grew, they would appoint certain people to control certain aspects of the community. Some might look after the health of the people, some might train the men of the community to fight and be ready to protect its people should the need arise. Others may look at the trade of the community, and how to maximise income from produce. Collectively, these people would govern the community-turned-society and the people would now belong to a State.
What is immediately different about this theory is that it is organised. The leader of the former community has constructed a governing body with people assigned to do different tasks. This greatly increases the success and survival of its population.
There is now somewhere which provides health care (hospitals), there are places where men and woman can train to become soldiers who protect and uphold the State from invasion (the army) and the State can provide opportunities of income for members of its society, and as Charles Tilly states in his book ‘Democracy’:
"State- building provided for the emergence of specialized personnel, control over consolidated territory, loyalty, and durability…” This illustrates that a person living in a society that is governed by a State has access to a variety of opportunities, which people living in the existence of theory’s one and two, do not. Through order and organisation, this governed society is able to function in relative peace and work in a sustainable lifestyle.
Throughout this essay, I have explored three possibilities of a society without a State or governing body. The first was an anarchical society in total chaos, where there was constant war and terror. Crimes would go unpunished and innocent civilians would live their lives in constant fear others. Warlords would emerge only to be overthrown or rebelled against and a singular governing body would either not last long or never rise to power. This state of anarchy would never result in a functional society, and with no law and order it would ultimately cause the destruction and demise of the people living in its existence.
The second state of anarchy was based around the idea of a self-sustained community, where everyone cared for and looked after themselves. While this may sound appealing, this almost selfish manner of existence would result in the eventual destruction of the community. With no soldiers to protect them from invasion and no stock medicine to aid in the protection from disease, the community would be subject to a range of attacks from which they would not be able to defend themselves. Therefore this type of anarchy would also be unable to sustain a functional lifestyle.
The third and final example of a society without a State is the State- rebuild theory. In this model, the State-less society will form a community which, overtime, will develop a governing body with specialised jobs and this will then form a new State. This state of anarchy is evidently the best-suited to creating a sustainable and functional society where citizens are offered favours such as health care and protection in return for money. The State is integral to society as it can provide order and stability, where there would otherwise be chaos and disarray. Its existence is therefore justified because it can provide these and more benefits to society where nothing else can.
Weber, Max. ‘Political Writings’. Cambridge University Press, 1994
Sampson, Ronald. ‘The Anarchist Basis of Pacifism’. Stuart Morris Memorial Fund, Peace Pledge Union, 1970 Marquez, Xavier. Victory University of Wellington, Lecture 5, 12th March 2013
Tilly, Charles. ‘Democracy’. Cambridge University Press, 2007
-------------------------------------------- [ 1 ]. Weber, Max. Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1994). [ 2 ]. Sampson, Ronald. The Anarchist Basis of Pacifism ( Stuart Morris Memorial Fund, Peace Pledge Union, 1970) [ 3 ]. Marquez, Xavier [Victory University of Wellington] 2013, Lecture 5, 12th March. [ 4 ]. Tilly, Charles. Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2007)