About ten years ago, the Belgian philosopher of law Frank van Dun published a paper entitled “Concepts of Order.” In that paper he gives, among much else, an account of what he calls the convivial order. In this order, “people live together regardless of their membership, status, position, role or function in any, let alone the same, society.” It appeared in a book “Ordered Anarchy: Jasay and His Surroundings,” published in 2007 as a tribute to Anthony de Jasay. It has been preserved on the Internet on Anthony Flood’s website here [1].

Around the same time, the German-American libertarian philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe published a paper, “The Idea of a Private Law Society” [2]. That paper outlines some of the institutions, which might maintain order and justice in societies without political states.

Recently, I re-read Frank van Dun’s work in this area, and I find it seminal. I was surprised and rather disappointed to find no evidence of anyone having tried to build on his framework in the intervening decade or so. So today, I’ll try to build on the theoretical ideas of Frank van Dun and the practical suggestions of Hans-Hermann Hoppe. I’m going to sketch a picture of how people might be able to live together, and resolve their disputes, without a state or a “sovereign.”

Frank van Dun’s ideas

I’ll give, first, a brief summary of Frank van Dun’s paper and the message I took home from it.

In the first part of the paper, he considers the causes of, and potential cures for, interpersonal conflict. He identifies four strategies for minimizing such conflict. Two of these, Unity and Consensus, he labels as political strategies. The others, Abundance and Property, are economic.

There’s much that can be said about these strategies. In particular, it’s questionable which of them, or what combinations of them, can be effective in the long run. However, van Dun favours the Property approach, on the grounds that it is the least demanding. He observes that “the property-solution appears to require no more than an adequate organization of self-defence.” And he says: “In so far as people respect each other’s property, there is order and justice; in so far as they do not respect it, there is disorder and injustice. Indeed, justice is respect for the natural order, i.e. the natural law, of the human world. Thus, justice requires human persons not only to respect other human persons but also their rights to the extent that these do not upset the natural law nor result from an infringement of it.”

In the second part of the paper, he introduces the convivial order, which he equates to the classical liberal concept of natural law. Later, he relates it also to John Locke’s state of nature, which, Locke says, is “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature. [3]”

Frank van Dun uses the word convivial in its literal meaning from the Latin, living together (samenleving in Dutch), as opposed to forming a society (maatschappij). Happily, this word in English has also a secondary meaning, of feasting in good company. So, my take on his phrase convivial order is that it is an order, in which people live together well.

He calls dealings between people convivial if they “conform to the patterns (or laws) of friendly exchange among independent persons.” He says that the laws of conviviality “must be discovered; they need not be invented.” (I myself would go further, and say that they cannot be invented.)

He contrasts ius with lex, the justice of the convivial order with the enforcement of obedience that is characteristic of social or “legal” orders. And he says: “The ius-based order of conviviality is in its principles the same always and everywhere.” Further, he says: “The fact that some people are more prominent or influential than others does not entail any difference in their status under the laws of conviviality.” (Nor – in my view, at least – do race, gender, place of birth or residence, religion, sexual orientation and the like make any such difference. In the convivial order, people are to be judged only by what they do, not by who they are). Therefore, in the convivial order, all are morally equal. Or, as I’ve put it elsewhere: What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa.

He also says: “In a convivial order… people appear only as themselves, doing whatever they do under their own personal responsibility. There is nothing like a social responsibility in the convivial order.” I find this to be a key point. And it comes about, because the convivial order is more primitive (or primary) than social orders. Indeed, the convivial order can exist even prior to, or in the absence of, any lex-based societies.

He gives some examples of unconvivial behaviour: “physical intimidation and threats, lies and deliberately misleading utterances, and the like.” And he says: “One who engages in such things places himself outside the law… by failing to deal with another as a free and equal person.”

In the third part of the paper, he discusses the convivial order in relation to societies. At the outset, he says: “The convivial order requires no social organization.” He says: “Although societies can be formed and operated on principles that are compatible with the convivial order, social orders are not necessarily compatible with the convivial order.” And he says: “In justice, withholding the benefits of membership is the only proper way in which to enforce social rules and regulations. The ultimate sanction is expulsion…”

Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s ideas

Hans-Hermann Hoppe, too, begins with property. He gives a fairly standard libertarian defence of property. He traces the (only) just means of acquiring property, from the right to the fruits of one’s labours, through original appropriation, productivity and voluntary trade. (Though he doesn’t go as far as I do; for me, all justly acquired property represents part of someone’s life, that was used up in acquiring the property. And thus, property is life; and to take away justly earned property is to take a part of the life of the person who earned it.)

He then discusses a major error of classical liberalism, its acceptance of the necessity of a state. And he shows how the error has been compounded by the sham of “liberal” democracy.

He develops his idea of private law societies in several stages. First, a society without a political state, and in which there is only one set of laws; that is to say, private law. Second, freely financed and competing private protection agencies. Third, a society in which the state has been replaced by these private protection agencies. And fourth, a development of the third, in which in addition there are voluntary societies, each with its own code of law.

He goes on to outline some of the institutions likely to arise in private law societies. He identifies three such. One, insurance companies. Two, police and detective agencies. And three, independent, external arbitrators and arbitration agencies.

The convivial animal

From here on, the ideas in this essay, except where ascribed to either van Dun or Hoppe, are my own responsibility.

Long ago, Aristotle described Man as “a political animal.” What he meant was that humans naturally form communities at various levels, such as families, villages and cities. At the time he wrote, the most evolved type of community was the Greek city state or polis; hence the word “political.” This description has been the subject of much controversy.

Aristotle thought that the city state, perhaps because of its claims to self-sufficiency, was “prior by nature” to (or, in my wording, “more primitive than”) the households and individuals in it. I can’t agree with this. For me, the fundamental social group is the family. For the family is the smallest social unit, which can exist indefinitely. But the fundamental unit of society – that is to say, the primary and original unit, from which all societies are built – is, and can only be, the individual. I wonder why Aristotle didn’t ask himself questions like: Before the first city state, what was the unit of social organization? And: City states cannot exist without families and individuals, so how can the city state be prior by nature to the family or to the individual?

The city state in which Aristotle lived was the highest developed form of human society up to that time. But he seems to have been blinded by this into believing that the city state was the be all and end all of social organization. And so, for him, the state was more important than the household, the family or the individual. Only in a city state, he thought, could people live their lives to the full. And anyone, who was not part of a city state, was an outcast and an outlaw.

In thoughts such as these, he was probably following his teacher Plato. For Plato’s political schemes are noted for their elevation of the state above the individuals who inhabit it, and of the rulers (“guardians”) and their hangers-on (“auxiliaries”) above the rest of the people.

My take, however, is quite the opposite. In my view, Man is not a political animal, but a convivial animal. It’s in human nature to live together. Part of our nature is to build societies, indeed; but those societies are not “prior by nature” to the family or to the individual. For me, it is the convivial nature of human beings which enables us to build the societies, including families, households and (formerly) city states, which can help us live to the full. Societies are defined by the individuals who agree to form them, not individuals by the societies they live in.

And so, my aim today is to try to outline a structure of relations between people, which can enable convivial individuals to live, and to live well, in order and justice.

The laws of conviviality

Frank van Dun writes in his paper about the laws of conviviality, and gives some examples. But he doesn’t try to list them. To do so is a formidable task. But it’s a task I myself have already attempted, most fully in a paper titled “Rights and Obligations” [4].

My approach is as follows. For every valid or claimed “human right,” there is an ethical obligation, and vice versa. For example, a right not to have x done to you maps to the obligation, “Don’t do x.” Now take a list of generally accepted, or reasonably proposed, “human rights” and obligations. Remove the misguided “rights,” such as social security and “free” education, which can’t be implemented without violating the rights of others. Remove the putative obligations, which are no more than the customs of a particular society. Remove also those that apply only to those who have agreed to take on a particular responsibility, such as marriage. We are left with just the general rights and obligations, which are common to all human beings. Now convert those, which are expressed as rights, to the corresponding obligations. Et voilà, we have our list!

Of course, this is hard to do, and I can’t claim that my list is in any sense “right.” (It’s certainly incomplete). It might be better to convene a quorum of ten or a dozen convivial and ethically expert greybeards, and have them (us) agree on a detailed list of the laws of conviviality. But, broadly speaking, I’d expect that any such list would include elements like the following:

  1. To be peaceful unless attacked. Not to commit, to promote or to support aggressions, physical or otherwise, against innocent people.
  2. To respect others’ rights, such as life (in the sense of not being murdered), property, privacy and security of person.
  3. To uphold a general presumption of freedom of action, absent any valid constraining factors.
  4. To respect others’ freedoms, such as freedom of speech and association, freedom of movement (subject to others’ property rights, but without any “encirclement” that would prevent people from moving or from receiving visitors), freedom to marry (or not) and freedom from compulsion to belong to particular associations.
  5. To accept responsibility for the consequences to others of your willed or irresponsible conduct.
  6. To compensate those you unjustly harm.
  7. If you have children, to accept responsibility for bringing them up and educating them.
  8. To treat other convivial people in good faith, without lies, deceit, fearmongering or other dishonesty.
  9. To strive to be independent, and not willingly to let yourself become a drain on others.
  10. To strive to keep to your side of any contracts you voluntarily enter into.

Convivial, Unconvivial, Disconvivial

A convivial act is one in accord with the laws of conviviality. A person, who does only convivial acts, is a convivial person. (Or would be, if such a perfect individual existed).

An unconvivial act is one which breaks the laws of conviviality. However, an unconvivial act doesn’t necessarily make the person who does it into an unconvivial person. Firstly, because in our daily lives, we often do things that, strictly speaking, are unconvivial in some small way. But we do them, not because we want to harm anyone, but only because the costs to us of not doing them are far greater than the costs, to those affected by them, of us doing them. If we are to be convivial, however, we must be willing to allow others similar latitude in return. An example is: “I’ll accept a reasonable amount of noise from your ghetto-blaster, if you’ll accept a reasonable amount of exhaust from my car.” I call this convivial tolerance.

Some unconvivial acts, though, do have effects on others sizable enough to merit offsetting. In such situations, and in accord with common sense, convivial people should require the perpetrator to provide restitution or compensation to the victim, usually by means of a property or financial transfer. Once this has been done, and if the act was free of mind-states such as malice or irresponsibility beyond the bounds of reason, then the perpetrator can be re-admitted to the convivial order. I’ll give the name convivials (or convivial people) to those who, by and large, obey the laws of conviviality, and do not let themselves slip out of the convivial order.

However, persistently repeated harmful acts, and acts fuelled by malice or unreasonability, are worse than merely unconvivial. The word I’ll use for these acts is disconvivial. And by extension, I call those that perform disconvivial acts disconvivials.

In particular, those that seek to harm or inconvenience other people, or to violate their rights or restrict their freedoms, are disconvivials. As are those that lie, or try to deceive or to suppress the truth, about matters affecting others. Those that seek to create or to amplify problems for others. Those that promote or support aggressive wars, re-distributory taxes or other political policies that harm innocent people. And those that try to disclaim responsibility for damage they cause, or to set themselves above the laws of the convivial order. Including, I must say, most of today’s politicians, many state functionaries, many in the media and some big company bosses.

The convivial community

Convivial people do not constitute a society. They have no president or chairman, no officials and no goals as a group. However, they do form a community – as Frank van Dun describes it, “a categorization of people with some common property or relation.” And this community is bound together, convivial to fellow convivial, by the shared property of conviviality.

Disconvivials, on the other hand, are both a drain on, and a danger to, convivial people. They fail to behave as our fellow human beings. By their conduct, they show that they are not fit to associate with convivial people. And since the convivial order is more primitive than any social order, are we convivials not justified in shunning the disconvivials, and seeking to exclude them from our societies? And are we not justified in withdrawing from, and distancing ourselves as far as we can from, those societies in which disconvivials have control or significant power? Including pressure groups, political parties and states?

The guarded convivial order

The convivial order is vulnerable, as Frank van Dun says, to aggression and coercion. It’s also vulnerable to the misleading or browbeating of people through lies, deceit or fear. So, how might we seek to secure it?

Here’s my vision of what I call the guarded convivial order. In such an order, convivial individuals each do what they see as necessary to preserve the order. In the process, they construct a form of governance; but one which has no central point at which power can collect.

Is there a need for a legislative?

I start by assuming that our quorum of greybeards has already done its work, and done it well. That is to say, we have the laws of conviviality written down, clearly, succinctly and as completely as possible. They are freely available to the general public. And many convivial people know them, understand them, and agree that they are fair and just.

I can think of only two situations, in which changes or additions to the laws of conviviality might be necessary, and our greybeards might need to reconvene. First, if new knowledge becomes available, at the philosophical level, on the right ways for convivial people to behave towards each other. That’s very rare. And second, if new, unprecedented situations arise (for example, because of new technologies) which were not considered by the original quorum. Almost as rare.

So, there’s no reason for our greybeards to revise or extend their work on a regular basis. Otherwise put, the convivial order requires no legislative. Indeed, to avoid any temptation to invent new “laws,” the convivial order must not have a sitting legislative (or even a standing one). And it should be a long and complex process, requiring the consent of those affected, to make any change to the laws of conviviality.

The executive

The guarded convivial order must provide a way for individuals to bring those, whom they suspect of significant breaches of the laws of conviviality, to justice. Thus, it does require an executive in some form. And because in the convivial order everyone is morally equal, it follows that everyone has the right to bring suspected offenders to justice. In the guarded convivial order, everyone is part of the executive. This is hardly rocket science; for the idea of the “citizen’s arrest” goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. And, as John Locke put it [5]: “For in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do.”

Such a right requires, as is guaranteed by the laws of conviviality, that every convivial individual must have means of self defence. In fact, it requires more. Every convivial individual must have access to means to restrain any suspect or suspects of a breach of conviviality, even if physically stronger than himself, for a limited period and for the sole purpose of bringing them to justice. I won’t détour here on to the subject of guns. At the risk of sounding science-fictional, I’m thinking more along the lines of robots with the ability to physically restrain people without causing them any actual damage. And they might become even more effective if combined with a future system of personal transport.

Absent such fantasticalities, however, we are driven to more prosaic solutions. So, here enter the first of Hoppe’s institutions of private law societies: police. What a little old lady can’t do without a Smith and Wesson, a private police society may well be able to do by dint of training and teamwork. Those not confident in their own abilities as arresters can delegate the job to their chosen police society, in exchange for a fee or subscription. It’s important to note, though, that these are not state police. They have no moral privileges that our little old lady does not. They may not, within the laws of conviviality, do anything she may not do.

Associated with these are Hoppe’s detective agencies. Their function is – at various stages in the case, from initial arrest through to trial – to investigate the facts, and prepare objective summaries of one or both sides of the case, which can be put before an arbitrator. They may operate either on behalf of the victim or victims, or of the accused, or be sub-contracted by the arbitrator himself.

The judiciary

In the guarded convivial order, the roles of judges and magistrates in today’s legal systems are taken by Hoppe’s arbitration societies. In many ways, though, their jobs will be easier than those of today’s judges and magistrates. For, first, the laws of conviviality are simpler and clearer than the tangles of, mostly bad, “laws” made by generations of conniving politicians. And second, the judgement process, having no political aspect at all, will be far more objective than today.

In principle (and to a large extent in practice), any two arbitrators, given the same case, will arrive at the same conclusion. Furthermore, arbitrators must be required to publish their decisions, the factual statements on which they were based, and the reasoning that led to them; and to make these freely available to all. This enables their verdicts to be checked by independent third parties. And these third parties include what I call “quality reporters” [6] – the free and objective replacements for today’s muzzled, politicized and biased press and media.

Restitution and compensation

The primary function of the arbitrator is to determine, from the facts of the case, what if any restitution (and compensation too, if full restitution isn’t feasible or sufficient) is to be provided. In many cases, the arbitrator will order the perpetrator (or perpetrators) of a breach of conviviality to make a payment to the victim (or victims). The terms and conditions, under which the payment is to be made, are included in the judgement.

The arbitrator has no power to enforce the restitution or compensation he has ordered. So, it’s possible that the perpetrator may refuse to make the payment, or may default on it for other reasons. At this point, an institution Hoppe doesn’t mention comes into play: the bailiffs.

Here’s what the bailiffs do. First, they advance to the victim the compensation he is owed. And second, they take on the burden of recovering the debt. For this purpose, in addition to the compensation awarded and the arbitrator’s own costs, an insurance premium is added to the debt to cover the possibility of default. If they can’t recover the debt, they go back to an arbitrator – preferably, a different one – for further action.

From the point of view of a victim, there are two advantages to this. First, he receives the compensation he is owed as soon as is practically possible. And second, he need take no part in the process of recovering the debt. However, the victim must have the option to bypass this procedure. He can either collect the debt himself, or if he so wishes, forgo it.

Graduated ostracism

Libertarian theories of justice usually stop at (or before) this point. They do not take account of situations where the damage intended is far greater than the damage actually caused. (The example I like to use is the incompetent terrorist, who plants in a public place a bomb that fails to go off). They also fail to cope with situations, such as a perpetrator refusing to pay compensation ordered, which in today’s legal systems are dealt with through devices like “contempt of court.”

In such cases, common sense tells us that the perpetrators deserve harsher penalties than simply those dictated by restitution or compensation. Such acts are equivalent, in the convivial order, to crimes in today’s legal systems. Thus, in the guarded convivial order, there must be available some equivalent of a “criminal law” penalty. But how can we impose such a penalty in practice, given that everyone must have the right to impose it?

Fortunately, Frank van Dun already answered this question, when he said, of convivial justice: “The ultimate sanction is expulsion.” Now, the community of convivial people isn’t a society; it has no membership from which to expel anyone. But people as individuals can, if they wish, withhold the benefits of their conviviality from those that, in their considered opinion, don’t deserve it. And so, they can ostracize those that breach the convivial order. And the level of ostracism can vary, according to how many are willing to take part in it, and how strongly they feel about the matter.

I envisage that, if an arbitrator finds that further penalty is warranted beyond restitution and compensation, he can issue a “card” along with his judgement. Perhaps there might be a three-card system. A green card is a warning. It is a suggestion that convivial people might like to consider ostracizing the perpetrator. A yellow card goes further; it recommends that convivial people should ostracize the perpetrator, if they come across him. And a red card intimates that not only should convivial people withdraw all contact from the perpetrator, but they should consider also ostracizing those that associate with him.

Of course, there need to be safeguards. We can’t have people unlucky enough to look like Tony Blair being rejected by everyone just because Tony Blair has received a much deserved red card. So there needs to be, at least, biometric information published along with judgements, and people will need means to check whether an individual they meet is, or is not, subject to a card.

Furthermore, cards will have a time limit. They will be annulled after a period specified by the arbitrator, if the individual does not commit any more disconvivial acts in the meantime.

Protective custody

Some individuals are a danger to others if allowed to roam freely among them. To deal with this situation in the guarded convivial order, some form of protective custody is necessary.

Such custody, I think, can only be voluntary. To an individual clearly dangerous to others, the arbitrator could, I suggest, offer two options; a more serious card without custody, or a less serious card (or no card at all) with custody. I doubt that many, given the choice between a straight red card and a green card with a period of protective custody, would choose the red!

Importantly, this custody will not be punitive in any way; though, of course, the individual is required to pay for it. And in particular, it will not prevent the individual in custody from receiving visitors, and it will seek to avoid placing any restriction on his ability to earn. He probably has, after all, a debt to pay off.


As Hoppe says, unfair or biased arbitrators would lose customers quickly. So much so, that I expect that arbitrators, like other businesses, will carry out extensive quality controls before publishing their judgements. However, if a bad judgement has been made, even sacking the judge doesn’t help the victim of that bad judgement. Thus, there must be an appeal procedure.

I expect that there will probably grow up a market of “re-arbitrators,” who review and carry out quality controls on cases already judged. They might work on behalf of the original victim, or the perpetrator, or – most likely – a third party such as an insurance company. If successful, they would be able to claim damages for their client against the original arbitrator.

In contrast to the state, there can be no “final court of appeal.” Instead, there will be a hard limit on the number of times any case could go to re-arbitration. I suggest it might be two.


As in Hoppe’s vision, insurance companies will compete to provide protection services. I envisage them as a “one-stop shop” for police, detective work and access to arbitration, as well as insurance against no-fault accidents. And they agree in advance with other insurers how to choose which arbitrator is to judge disputes between their respective clients.

I envisage that these insurers will charge their clients by subscription, probably yearly or monthly. As with car insurers, the price will vary according to the size of the risk insured against, where the client lives, and his level of no-claim bonus. Most people will take out such subscriptions. Nevertheless, some highly independent people (self-insurers) may choose to do their own police or detective work or both. Or, perhaps, to go directly to arbitrators or re-arbitrators for their services.

Societies in the convivial order

In the convivial order, individuals may form or join societies as they wish. Flower arranging societies, musical ensembles, football clubs, boxing clubs, religious groups, business companies, lifestyle communes, insurance societies, arbitration societies, police societies and many more. As Frank van Dun points out, “it makes sense to personify societies and to regard them as artificial or conventional persons defined by their constitution and social decision-rules.” Membership of such societies is signified by a contract between the individual member and the society. And leaving a society is always possible, even if it may involve a pre-agreed forfeit.

Each of these societies has its own rules, which may sometimes vary from the laws of conviviality. And, as Hoppe suggests, these variations can give rise to competing codes of law.

For example, the Catholic Canon Law Society might have an additional rule, which prohibits its members from performing or undergoing abortions. And a boxing club might waive the responsibility of its members for injuries caused to other members during training or boxing matches, provided of course that specified safety precautions are taken. But there must be a general expectation that any such variations, adopted by particular societies, are kept to the minimum necessary.

Further, these variations only apply to dealings between members of the society. Dealings between individuals who aren’t co-members of any one society (or weren’t, at the time of the dealing) are to be governed entirely by the laws of conviviality.

In conclusion

The order I’ve sketched, which I call the guarded convivial order, bears in many of its institutions a strong resemblance to existing systems of law and justice. At least, when those systems are operated honestly. However, there are some major differences between the guarded convivial order and politicized legal systems.

  1. The guarded convivial order has no state and no sovereign. There are no morally privileged individuals or classes, and there is no central point at which power can collect.
  2. The laws of conviviality are simple and clear enough to be known, understood, and accepted as just and fair, by most if not all convivial people.
  3. There is no legislative. To change the laws of conviviality is a long, complex and consensual process.
  4. Judgements are as objective as possible. The main remedies are restitution and compensation.
  5. Punishments for disconvivial (criminal) acts take the form of ostracism, with protective custody as a voluntary alternative where needed.
  6. There is a simple appeal procedure, with no requirement for any ultimate “authority.”
  7. Individual societies may have their own rules which, while they must be based on the laws of conviviality, may vary as required. But dealings with non-members must always be governed by the laws of conviviality alone.



[3] Second Treatise of Government, §4.


[5] Second Treatise of Government, §7.

[6] See section 19 in


  1. Quibble: I think by “legislative” you mean “legislature”.

    Interesting article, indeed, but it seems to me the convivial society needs to be cognisant of what happens on its fringes. On the not unreasonable assumption that humans are fallible, it might find itself sharing a border or losing a dispute with a disconvivial society. Some form of militia, perhaps with a regular base (cf the IDF) would seem to be called for. And would ostracism really be sufficient to deal with serial murderers, psychopaths and the violently insane? That system seems to me merely to displace the ostracized one and his depradations on to some other collection of convivialists who don’t deserve such a presence in their midst.

    The problem with proposing stateless societies is that, for them to function as designed/desired, the entire human world would have to become ‘stateless’ and convivial. How likely is that?

    • Some very good questions; thank you very much, Peter.

      I looked up the words in Webster’s and, interestingly, “legislative” was first coined as an adjective in 1640, and became a noun in 1642. “Legislature” didn’t become current until 1654.

      You’re right, the ultimate goal is world-wide conviviality. But in this essay, I deliberately didn’t address how we get from where we are to the desired end; that’s for another day.

      What I will say is that I don’t envisage there being a convivial society or societies, as such. Convivial people are a community, not a society; we don’t have to be formally organized or geographically concentrated. Indeed, the situation we face today is one of convivial humans, all over the world, being oppressed by disconvivial political classes. Today there are no geographical borders between convivials and disconvivials.

      I suppose it’s possible that a convivial movement might take over a particular country, in which case some form of border and militia would indeed be temporarily required to defend against disconvivial neighbours. (But the border would have to be very porous to incoming convivials!) However, I think it’s more likely that small convivial “islands” of people might start working together, gradually expanding their numbers and reach, and linking up until the disconvivials have nowhere to hide.

      As to serial murderers, psychopaths and the violently insane, I did consider a fourth grade of “card,” the permanent red, equivalent to outlawry or shoot-‘em-on-sight. I left it out so as not to over-complicate my system; but I’m open to persuasion on that one.

      • [quote]”As to serial murderers, psychopaths and the violently insane, I did consider a fourth grade of “card,” the permanent red, equivalent to outlawry or shoot-‘em-on-sight. I left it out so as not to over-complicate my system; but I’m open to persuasion on that one.”[unquote]

        I would have thought that serial murderers, psychopaths and the violently insane would be very rare beasts indeed in a convivial society, if they would exist at all, otherwise how could a convivial order arise in the first place? A prerequisite for a convivial order would be some sort of social system in which the pathways to criminal and anti-social behaviour and other dysfunctions are removed. It would require either the abolition of private property and some kind of communistic system, or a very wide and equitable distribution of private property with self-directed production and minimal reliance on market forces. Without the right social relationships of this kind, a convivial order would probably not be possible.

        Of course, I predicate this on the assumption that serious criminality and anti-social behaviour are, at root, caused by social issues rather than a genetic/biologic factors. In other words, I think criminals are made, not born. But if I’m wrong about that, then your convivial order looks even more precarious to me, because it would mean you are confronted with a genetically disconvivial class that would present a constant threat to the convivial order irrespective of the socio-economic basis of the society.

        • Tom,

          Whether disconvivial behaviours (psychopathy and so on) are caused by nature or by nurture is a very controversial issue. My own best guess is that a small percentage of individuals are genetically prone to them, and a rather larger number will do them if they find they can get a benefit from doing them.

          In a convivial order, those that do these things will be ostracized. Ultimately, they will find it hard to reproduce, and if they don’t reform themselves they may even end up starving. I would therefore expect that the genetic disconvivials would be squeezed out of the population after a few generations. Furthermore, I expect that others who see this happening will understand that it isn’t in their interests to behave in these ways.

          In contrast, the kind of communistic systems that you suggest will always have a ladder of power, which attracts psychopaths and others prone to disconviviality. As Hayek said, “A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers.” So you’re likely to get the very worst individuals acquiring power in such systems. As, indeed, seems to have happened in those places and times where communism or similar have been tried.

          • To be clear about this, are you then saying that a convivial order could arise under the present social system and that the only change needed would be the abolition or withering away of the state? Admittedly that would be an epochal change in its own right, nevertheless I am seeking clarification because you appear to be saying that a convivial order can be sustained even in conditions of significant material inequality and even when some of the population is propertyless. Have I got that right?

            I ought to clarify that a communist system does not entail ‘material equality’. Rather, it involves equal access to resources, which are considered the common property of the community. Marxism, communism, socialism, etc. (I regard these terms as synonyms) in their pure form have nothing to do with “totalitarian powers”. Unfortunately, Hayek simply didn’t understand what he was talking about on the subject of political ideologies. Mises, too, overreached himself on this and didn’t do the work to grasp and understand what Marx was saying. To be generous about it, we could say that when they referred to ‘communism’ or similar, they were influenced by state capitalism in the USSR and Eastern Bloc and were using those as a reference point, but those countries were not communist societies.

            I should emphasise that I am not advocating communism. My point is more that in order to create the kind of society you envisage, I would have thought that there would have to be some fundamental change in the underlying economic structure. I use communist (or communistic) systems as a possible socio-economic basis for a convivial order. I could just as easily use distributism or social credit as a possible basis for ordered conviviality. Indeed, I allude to these in my original post.

            On the topic of ostracisation, I can see how this might work in the case of very serious instances of disconviviality, such as murder, where it is likely an entire community would wish to shun an individual, and of course there are historical precedents for this. It does come with its own problems – for instance, in the Old West, outlaws would band together and commit more acts of disconviviality. But it could be workable system.

            I think where the idea would run into problems is in less serious cases (and also in the more serious cases where the offender has a large amount of sympathy in the community). Most people who commit acts of disconviviality will have family and friends who will simply ignore any arbitral order that the offender be ostracised. It would not, in truth, be an ‘order’ at all, but merely an arbitral award that can be adhered to or ignored by the community-at-large. Even in the case of murder and other serious offences, the offender will simply remain in the community and life will go on as before, since his own family and friends are hardly going to ostracise him. This is especially so if the offender has a family, who will depend on him. In larger, urban communities where interpersonal relations are less important for commercial life, most offenders will simply carry on as before and any order that they be ostracised will be of null effect. I don’t see any market-based solution to this, since it amounts to the community voting with its feet and is a solution in its own right.

            I suppose the consequence of nullification will be that you will have selective justice taking place, with persecution of ‘outsiders’ and loners, who are easy to blame, as no-one will want to see members of their own family or community persecuted. This is not necessarily an argument against your idea, just an observation about one of the pitfalls.

            • Tom,

              As your questions are inter-related, I’m going to have to try to answer them all at once. Hence the length of this missive!

              There would surely be major changes in the economic set-up as a result of getting rid of the state. Just for starters, big companies will lose their ability to lobby for subsidies or advantages for themselves, and to use state power to harm their competitors. And “economies of scale” (where they exist) will become less important, as opportunities open up for smaller companies, some (but not all) with a more local clientele. These, I think, will be a double whammy against the big corporate and former statist interests.

              I’d envisage, over time, a re-structuring of the economy on a bottom-up basis. It might turn out something like the vision put forward by people like Kevin Carson, e.g.: “networked local manufacturing, garage industry, household micro-enterprises and resilient local economies.” More prosaically, I’d expect that the one and two-man band, and the small partnership, will become normal. And family companies, I expect, will enjoy a resurgence.

              One consequence of all this will be to increase the power of individuals and small groups in regard to ostracism. If people don’t like what other individuals or groups of people have been doing, they can ostracize them not just socially, but economically too. At one level, this will provide another hit against the big corporations. But it will also make it harder for offenders to get away with things. Now the “card” system I described is, as you point out, advisory only; it doesn’t force anyone to take part in ostracism. Nor should it; for, per Blackstone, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” And the support of family and friends may be sufficient that an offender feels no bad social consequences from being ostracized. But economically, he may well be in trouble if no-one will buy his wares beyond his family and friends. At the least, he will lose his economic independence. And in the extreme case I call the “red card,” many people may feel impelled also to boycott his family and friends if they support him.

              As to inequality, I’ll consider, first, income. As John Locke said: “different degrees of industry were apt to give men possessions in different proportions.” That won’t change. And those who develop and make good use of their talents, and apply them to creating or delivering things others want, will always be worth more than those who don’t. I don’t envisage that a top footballer, for example, will be either expected or willing to settle for the same wage as an unskilled labourer. Nor should anyone grudge the entrepreneurs (the risk takers of the economy), or the highly skilled people who use their abilities to help drive science or technology forward, the fruits of their efforts when they are successful.

              That said, I think there will be somewhat less income inequality (at least within companies) in the new system than the old, if only because the companies are smaller. My own experience in different size businesses suggests a (very) rough rule of thumb that, when the responsibility multiplies by ten, the pay should roughly double. So the head honcho of a company of 1,000 people (which will be very large indeed in the new system!) deserves about eight times what the average workers at the bottom get. That’s a lot less income inequality than today.

              Second, property. Starting from a zero position, and ignoring extraordinary items such as gifts and legacies, property is the sum over time of income minus expenditure. Some, because of their greater talents and efforts (and perhaps greater thrift), will justly amass more property than others. I don’t see anything wrong with this; indeed, many people see it as “upward social mobility,” and think of it as a positive good.

              Where communist style systems fail, I think, is in their idea that there is a point beyond which individuals should not be allowed to have “too much.” I’m thinking of those who accept the idea of personal possessions, but reject “private property” in things like land, and buildings, and money. Even leaving aside the issue of who decides what is “too much” and who has breached it, this seems to me to be forcing people into a hand-to-mouth existence. For it makes it impossible for people to build up a reserve, either for projects in the future, or for a rainy day.

              Third, poverty and propertylessness. I think the easiest way to answer this is to copy and slightly abridge a section from my book “Honest Common Sense.” So here goes:

              “To look for solutions to poverty, I’ll re-arrange the causes of poverty… under three headings. First, things which are the individual’s own fault. Second, things which are someone else’s fault. And third, things which are no-one’s fault.

              If an individual’s poverty is caused by that individual’s own fault, the remedy is in the individual’s own hands. No more need be said than: get earning, and if you’re still in debt, pull yourself out of it.

              If, however, individuals are poor through someone else’s fault, then it must be the responsibility of those at fault to fix the problem. And those at fault, almost always, are the political class and their cronies.

              Furthermore… those that denied access for the poor to the free market, or supported or benefited from unjust and dishonest institutions or policies, should be made to compensate those they harmed, and if appropriate punished for their crimes too.

              In the last case, where individuals’ poverty is no-one’s fault, then it’s appropriate to set up schemes of insurance or mutual aid. Such schemes existed in the 19th century, for example the friendly societies. But they were elbowed out by welfare states. In a totally free market, re-vitalization of such schemes should be enough to ensure that no-one is poor through no fault of their own. But even so, charity is always available as a final back-stop.”

              • Neil,

                Thank you for your reply and for your generosity in taking the time to do so.

                I will look over this later and respond. I am impressed you are responding to me at all. It’s very generous of you to do so, as you are under no obligation and I would understand perfectly if you just ignored me. My posts are really for my own benefit anyway, as it helps me to order my thoughts if I set things down. I have a habit of tearing things apart, not out of malice, but as a way of trying to understand new ideas. I think libertarianism is growing on me, and that is in no small measure due to your work and also your generosity and courtesy in responding to my posts.

                • Tom,

                  You are too kind. Our discussions are very useful to me too, because they make me think about where my ideas may be weak, or not well enough expressed.

              • Neil:

                (i). At the moment, I don’t believe that in the society you envisage removing the state would lead to fundamental economic change. This is because there would still be owners and non-owners and a market system, thus the fundamental relationships that determine economic activity would remain in place. In that context, removing the state and statism amounts to window dressing. In a sense, what you would have is disguised statism, with institutions that wield the sort of power and influence that resemble what we would expect in a statist society.

                Hypothetically, let’s say Person A owns a few acres of land whereas Person B doesn’t own land at all and is entirely dependent on his labour to make a living. Under your system, obstracism probably would have little or no bearing on Person A but could be a life or death matter for Person B. That’s not to suggest that Person A would act with impunity and I suppose you could also argue that Person A could not achieve his economic standing unless he respects conviviality in the first place and avoids significant disconvivial acts. Nevertheless, in principle what you have in that hypothetical example is a power hierarchy and moral inequality. Can you persuade me otherwise?

                (ii). Turning to communism, in a communist society, the matter of income would be irrelevant, as there would be no money or competitive basis for accessing resources in the first place. It is not that everybody would have the same income, rather it is that there would be no incomes at all and thus the question of income equality would not even arise.

                Thus, the following paragraph of yours in which you attempt to summarise a communist social system represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what communism is:

                [quote]”Where communist style systems fail, I think, is in their idea that there is a point beyond which individuals should not be allowed to have “too much.” I’m thinking of those who accept the idea of personal possessions, but reject “private property” in things like land, and buildings, and money. Even leaving aside the issue of who decides what is “too much” and who has breached it, this seems to me to be forcing people into a hand-to-mouth existence. For it makes it impossible for people to build up a reserve, either for projects in the future, or for a rainy day.”[unquote]

                There would be no concept of “too much”, since all resources would be under democratic control, and held in common with free access for all, or self-directed by individuals and small-scale economic units.

                That does not mean that everybody in communism would be worth the same or that there would be material equality. Different people will still have different talents and abilities, some people will be worth more than others economically, and so on. However, in a communist society a footballer for instance would play football for satisfaction or enjoyment, or because of a need to excel in sport. The question of income would not enter into the equation, since he would have no need to be rewarded in any monetary sense as money would not exist, nor would there be any system of property. Thus, the entire equation is different under communism and you can, I am sure, see why I have raised this in the context of conviviality, as it would seem to me that communism is a very good fit for what you propose.

                Just to clarify, are you saying that a communist system should be considered disconvivial on philosophic grounds (e.g. absence of property)? Or is your objection to communism more practical?

                Let me stress again that I am not advocating communism. However, I would hold that a convivial order could not arise or be sustained without the abolition of competitive economic structures, and I am simply citing communism as a concept that would potentially provide a sound and sustainable basis for a convivial order. I could equally cite distributism or social credit, or some other social system based on equitable principles.

                (iii). I have nothing to add on your comments about poverty and propertyless, since what you say is axiomatic to a market-based social order. I can only rest on what I have already said above, in that a convivial order would, as you concede, require moral equality as a prerequisite, and that being the case, property provides us with an example of moral inequality, as a practical result, if not a principle, and with or without the backing of state power.

  2. Reply to Tom Rogers (1 December, 2016 at 2:31 pm)

    Eh? Getting rid of the state wouldn’t lead to economic change? For starters, it would get rid of re-distributory taxation. That would leave productive people with a lot more to spend on trade with their convivial fellows, instead of on politicians, bureaucrats and the lazy and dishonest. And, once a commodity-based currency or currencies were re-established, it would get rid of engineered inflation too. Even better, it would leave the statists without any power to make any more aggressive wars, or bad laws to damage the economy.

    Your comparison of the landed Person A with the landless Person B is actually an eloquent criticism of the state as it exists today. For B, who has nothing with which to support himself except his own talents and skills, gets hit for huge amounts in income and other taxes. Whereas A receives political kickbacks, such as wind farm subsidies.

    As to communism, I don’t know of any examples of communist settlements which have prospered, or which have continued to exist for more than a very few years. Robert Owen’s 19th century settlement at New Harmony, Indiana is a good example of this. It looks as though a major reason for its failure was that the most productive people, on whose efforts the entire community depended, didn’t feel appreciated.

    And I’m not sure what you mean by all resources being “under democratic control.” My cynical mind interprets this phrase as meaning the wolves (the powerful) having everything and the chickens (ordinary people) nothing.

    All that said, the convivial order set-up I’ve outlined won’t stop you, or anyone else, forming a socialist commune if you want. As long, of course, as you treat decently and convivially those outside, who don’t want to join your commune. On the other hand, whether or not your socialist commune would allow a breakaway group to leave and start their own free market society, isn’t clear to me from what you have said.

    As to the philosophical basis for property, if you want a fairly standard libertarian viewpoint, look at the Hans-Hermann Hoppe paper I referenced. Or, for a more nuanced view, try the first section of Frank van Dun’s paper. But for me, perhaps the strongest argument for the market-and-property system is that it gives people an incentive to behave well towards others; to seek to do things, for which others are voluntarily willing to pay. As opposed to seeking political power to be able to rule over them against their wills.

    Finally, I’m not sure you’ve understood what I mean by moral inequality. Moral inequality means that some individuals are allowed to do things others are not. For example, that taxation is “legal” while theft (exactly the same action) is not. Or that the government intercepting your e-mails is “legal,” but if you do the same back to them, you’re a criminal “hacker.” Property inequality is not necessarily moral inequality.

    • Sorry I did not reply to this. I don’t have time at the moment to provide a fuller response, besides which with the passage of time I have lost track of all that we were discussing, but I will focus here on the last paragraph in the above post.

      When we discuss ‘moral equality’, it’s not that we are at cross purposes. I do understand what you are getting at, but my point is that property inequality can also produce a type of moral inequality that is equivalent to that involved with states and which is of much the same effect. I think in your very last sentence, the phrase “not necessarily” is key. The point is that property inequality can produce moral inequality, if not in principle, then certainly as a practical outcome.

      I actually illustrated the point in my previous post, when I touched on how property relations can influence the formation of moral and civic responsibility. If I don’t own land or capital or the means of my own living and I am entirely dependent on others, then the consequences to me of disconviviality might be severe and may extend to my death, whereas if I am wealthy and own extensive property, I have less of an incentive to uphold conviviality in my private dealings, which becomes more an abstract matter of honour. If I do fall into disconviviality, what will be the consequences for me? I already own my means of living, why would I care much for your arbitration societies and their rulings? Of course, I simplify the point greatly, but you can, I hope, see the point being made.

      Thus, I would argue that in considering the problem of moral privileges, we must take into account the relative power of the actors involved and their social relationship to property and capital; and if your convivial order is to retain a market system and property ownership, then I would say this is an embryonic basis for another state: indeed, where there are significant inequalities of wealth, this could amount to nothing more than disguised statism. This, I would suggest, is how the progenitors of state formations first evolved in human societies.

      However, I appreciate that in your comments on conviviality in the original piece, you did imply that the sustainability of a convivial order would depend on some kind of practical equality (“an abundance of property”, I think was the allusion).

Leave a Reply