George Mason University


A review of Peter Leeson’s ‘Anarchy Unbound’

Anarchy Unbound by Peter Leeson is the newest addition to the academic anarcho-capitalist literature, books and articles that attempt to engage mainstream academia on the topic of anarchism. He begins by setting an admittedly low bar, why anarchism works better than you think. Then he takes you on historical examples to show how self-governance can produce better outcomes than governments.

I strongly recommend this book. It is the clearest exposition of the George Mason approach to anarchism. That being said, reading it, I can more clearly identify a growing gap between popular anarchism, exemplified by attendees of Porcfest, and academic anarchism.

Popular anarchism is a social program, an argument that a stateless society today can lead to better outcomes than most countries. Snapping ones fingers and replacing the state with Friedmanesque, non-territorial, dispute resolution agencies would improve social outcomes. Transitioning is, or course, tricky, but can be ignored for the current discussion.

The primary critique of anarchism is that it is unstable. If a state is inevitable, than anarchism as a social program is, at best, an unachievable ideal. Unfortunately, Leeson never investigates the inevitability of states. As such, I do not think his book has much value for those interested in the possibility of actually enacting of a modern stateless society.

The most recent research suggests the state emerges whenever there is a surplus of wealth that can be expropriated. Raul Sanchez de la Sierra studies villages in Congo, a country whose central government can barely project power outside the capital. He finds pseudo-states emerge in these villages when the price of cobalt rises. On the other hand, nothing of the sort happens when the price of gold rises, as gold is easy to conceal.

This suggests a different research path for those interested in the possibility of a modern anarchist society than Leeson has followed. Rather than investigating stateless societies, anarchists should examine the emergence and growth of states. Under what condition are states inevitable? Do those conditions still exist? Responsible advocacy of anarchism requires answers to these questions. Unfortunately, few are currently considering them.