1 vote

Enjoying The Deep End question from "Does Anarcho-Capitalism Allow..."

Enjoying The Deep End asked a question here:


With a little rephrasing, it's a really interesting question:

"What is the fewest number of people among whom the idea of government can exist?"

Can it be two? Three?

I don't know the exact answer, but at least I can explain why it's a difficult question, and I think I can give, perhaps, a rough estimate.

It's related to a very important question: What is the minimum number of people required to produce a self-sustaining economy?

This question includes many "hidden" questions. What is the level of technology for that society? What are the external challenges from which it must defend itself?

In any case, this second question is related to the first because in order for government to arise, you need an adequate economy to support a parisitic ruling caste.

An immediate corollary is that you won't have it with two people, or three. You need more people than that just for the economics. In any case, we can see this confirmed. It is difficult to recognize any society with fewer than (at least) dozens of people in which the idea of government would be recognizable.

With smaller numbers of people (say dozens), some peculiar circumstance is also required. You either need some kind of residual inherited tradition of rulers---i.e., it doesn't arise naturally, or perhaps the condition could be religiously induced. Even the oft cited case in which one person enslaves another, there is no question about what is happening. The slave, nor anyone else, has any delusion about legitimacy.

And this is really the defining characteristic of government. You need enough separation between the ruling caste (or some other peculair circumstance) for at least someone to think the enslavement of the ruled by the rulers is legitimate.

I'm pretty sure you can have a vibrant economy with 5000 people, and therefore the possibility of government entering the minds of some will definitely be a danger. If there were no prevailing psychosis, i.e., if these 5000 people were the result of an intentional anarchist expansion, it would probably still be very unlikely that the idea of government could/would arise in a society of 5000 people.

With 15,000, there might be enough separation/lack of interaction that some will contrive to enslave others with some claim of legitimacy. Even then, I don't think it would be likely to arise "out of the blue."

While 5000 and 15,000 are certainly plausible numbers, the root cause in most cases of this magnitude, i.e., county "government" is probably due to tradition.

That probably doesn't give a minimum number. Given a strong source of apriori delusion, you might be able to have "government" in a society with 50 or 100 "primative" people. Of course, in this case, there is a good chance that the idea will quickly destabilize and destroy such a small society.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
deacon's picture

No matter the title

One is never above another,each is their own gov unto themselves,So,I 'd say
1,with many forms of gov's under each individual.

If we deny truth before your very eyes,then the rest of what we have to say,is of little consequence

comparison to parent/child

I disagree that the parent child relationship provides an example of government.

Strangely enough, it can be the case that children can be "tricked" into thinking that their parents can do things which would be wrong for them to do, but most of the time, these things are either actions of abuse on the part of the parent, or simply actions which are not really wrong for anyone, but concerning which it is convenient for the parents to impose restrictions on the children, sometimes for reasons of maturity.

Neither of these is present when the idea of government is operative, and I still think the actual doing of genuinely *wrong* actions by the rulers (along with perceived legitimacy) is a defining characteristic of government. That's what it's all about. When parents do that, we don't call it government, we call it abuse.


It can be added that the benefactors of the idea of government, the rulers, have historically tried to paint themselves as benevolent parents, and the relationship between the ruled (slave) and the rulers (masters) as one comparable to child and parent. But this is just part and parcel of the propaganda associated with the idea of government.

Expanding on the parent child relationship

It's primarily a relationship of investment. The parents are literally creating something in their own image, passing on their own knowledge, beliefs, physical traits, and investing in the success of their children. Economic success, so that they have someone to take care of them in their old age. Success in having their own families, to continue the process with future generations. The familial bond and investment is one of investment and stewardship over generations.

Is that a good analogy to government?

Do parents tax their children? Do parents govern their non dependent adult children? No, and no. Does the government age and depend on the next generation?

Society is an organization has some parallels; its everyone investing in an infrastructure that is mutually beneficial, like mutual aid and defense. Young people are expected to care for old people more broadly than just the nuclear family. Young people who have no direct family are expected to be cared for and raised up by some society-institution, with a public focus, not just blood relation or personal friendship with the parents.

If every function which modern governments, and public institutions more broadly, fulfill, was fulfilled fully within family or extended family entitles, as it once was, then there would be no state besides conquering armies. There'd be no need for voluntarily organized governments with popular support (not for politicians, but for the state in general).

We're far, far away from a time where families can provide these services. Some people believe that in a world with no government, firms would sprout up to provide all these services in a stable, efficient way and so on. For those of us who don't buy that, we support the existence of some government, because it benefits us and our interests.

It depends on the type.

Is the relationship one of teaching peace, understanding, and learning to teach independence for each individual? A system where information and goods are shared to create a balance with renewal in mind.

Is it a relationship of theft, violence, and deceit. A program where knowledge and independence are stifled to control your will and thus create broken beings that need a stylized system of control to navigate life.

But about myself I will not boast, except as it concerns my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:5). Let the unbelievers seek praise from each other; I wish that which is from God alone.

I'd go with...

...a minimum of one. Robinson Crusoe on his island sets the rules for how he will interact with the island, himself, and how he will interact with anyone else who might end up on the island, or at least in the area he is 'claiming' as his dwelling, etc. As rule-maker, he is governing: self-government, but also government in terms of any potential visitors to his area (domestic policy) and people he may eventually discover in areas he hasn't 'claimed' (foreign policy).

It's a separate question whether such interactions with potential neighbors will involve coercive, aggressive force to steal, kidnap, or kill, in which case his governing has crossed the line into what I'd call 'statism'.

The minimum number is TWO.

The essence of "government" is the idea that one person has authority over the other, backed not only by physical force and threats but by moral right.

That pretty much describes the early parent-child relationship, hm?

For "government" to exist, those comprising "government" do not necessarily have to be economic parasites on those they rule. Granted, that's usually how it works, but the essential idea of "government" only depends on one person's moral right to rule another -- the parasitical relationship is merely a byproduct: those who have the power and the right to confiscate your earnings will usually choose to do so.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...

That would be a relationship

That would be a relationship of dependency on the one side, and stewardship on the other.

Liberty thrives best when people are least dependent economically, and least dependent for security, on others. We have drifted far from the level of individual / family autonomy, largely for economic and technological reasons, and so have voluntarily given up the levels of political autonomy earlier generations had.

A person with no economic autonomy, working paycheck to paycheck for corporation, itself entwined with the government, and dependent on publicly provisioned services he could never afford or manage on his income, will never have political autonomy, and won't demand it.

The project is to reverse that trend as much as feasible within modern technological and economic conditions. Or, hope those conditions move in a favorable way toward individual economic and physical security autonomy.

So it seems...

...like an emerging technology which would allow local manufacturing of essentially everything you need out of the most basic resources around you, independent of global or larger, regional supply chains, would be an autonomy-enabling technology. I imagine those who wish to maintain coercive control over society will work overtime to severely limit who has access to such things. Regulate it to death.

Who knows

Impossible to predict what tech will do.

Think we're...

...on the cusp of seeing an Atomically-Precise Manufacturing (APM) Revolution in the first half of this century (see K. Eric Drexler) -- if so, the old Industrial Revolution manufacturing systems will dissolve and crumble; and radical, local abundance in material goods will emerge, just as radical abundance in information was made possible with the nanoelectronics revolution. (3D printing would be a crude forerunner example of this kind of thing.)

They kind of let the information cat out of the bag for the masses, with the Internet. Wonder if they'll try to clamp down on the individual being empowered in this new way.