At Cato Unbound, economist Peter Leeson has summarized some of his innovative research showing that the anarchy is, at least in many situations, superior to government.
Peter’s post is followed by responses by Bruce Benson (himself a leading libertarian anarchist scholar), Dani Rodrik (a prominent liberal economist), and Randall Holcombe, a nonanarchist libertarian scholar. Peter replies to the critics here (quite effectively, in my judgment).
I know there is a tendency among many to respond to defenses of anarchism with snickering or derision. Given all the harm caused by government (mass murder, genocide, repression, war, and so on), this tendency should be resisted. We should at least consider the possibility that there is a better way to organize society – that we can get all or most of the benefits of government while avoiding its often massive costs. Scholars such as Leeson, Benson, and David Friedman have made a serious theoretical and empirical case that anarchy is superior to government, even (perhaps especially) under modern conditions.
On balance, I remain unpersuaded (or at least far from wholly convinced). I will try to explain why in a follow-up post. However, I do buy the argument (advanced by Peter in his interesting paper on Somalia) that anarchy may be the best feasible alternative for some parts of the world. And I also believe that technology and economic institutions might develop to the point where this is true of more and more areas.
In any event, the case for anarchism needs to be taken seriously rather than just derided. If you are at all interested in anarchism, libertarianism, political economy, or the justification of government, you should check out Peter Leeson’s essay and the responses it has generated.
UPDATE: I see that many commenters are confused about the definitions of “government” and “anarchy” as those terms are used in this post and in Leeson’s(and also by most social scientists, legal scholars, and political theorists). Let me clarify. “Government” is simply an entity with a monopoly (or at least overwhelming preponderance) of force over a particular territory, usually financed by some system of coercive taxation. “Anarchy” is simply the absence, in a given area, of government as defined above. Thus, it is inaccurate (or at least misleading) to use “government” as a synonym for any and all forms of social organization or to claim that any system of lawmaking or law enforcement necessarily equates to government. People can use words any way the see fit, of course. However, using them in a way that basically defines anarchy out of existence is both unlikely to lead to a productive discussion and also contrary to the way the terms are used in most of the serious literature on the subject – by anarchist and pro-government scholars alike.
UPDATE #2: I have corrected the previously faulty link to Holcombe’s response essay.