Propertarian Camp Fire

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of propertarians gathered for a camp fire.

Immediately they set about trading their favorite stories: various creation myths for the birth of property and of the state.

“I always liked the stationary bandit myth,” volunteered Wilson.

“I haven’t heard that one,” said Duke, “do tell?”

“Once upon a time, we lived in a Lockean paradise,” Wilson began, “where most people respected one another’s natural rights. In fact, the very basis of such rights was this tacit endorsement implied by mutual respect. But there was a problem: such respect was not enough to band people together for their mutual defense. The disrespectful were much better at organizing the use of force, and nomadic bandits would occasionally pass through and wreck people’s lives. Then some shrewd bandit thought to himself: why engorge myself today when I can be set for life? So he and his thugs settled down in a town and demanded a share of the people’s produce. He fended off the nomadic bandits, as well as other stationary ones who wanted to expand into his turf, not for the good of his people but to maintain his cash cows, which is all they were to him. He found that he could get less out of his people if they stole from one another or started feuding, so he established courts to adjudicate disputes and police to enforce their decrees. And that is how the first state was born.”

“I rather enjoyed that,” remarked Duke.

“I think it’s a story that tends to get proliferated by our kind of people to unfairly frame the debate from the start,” Nathan noted, though his tone did not necessarily imply a criticism.

“I would agree with that,” Wilson conceded.

“Allow me to offer an alternative,” Will piped in, “in the beginning, in our hunter-gatherer days, life was a very fragile thing. Rather than being peaceful people who occasionally were attacked by warlike people, all people needed to be a little warlike to survive, and yet still relied heavily on mutual respect and coordination within their tribes. The tribe chose the strongest, the noblest, the most decisive and wise to lead them in their hunts and in defending themselves against rival tribes, and making war.”

“As the years went by and humanity flourished, some populations began to settle and begin farming. The chosen leader of the tribe became the ruler of a settled society. Some of these societies collapsed; one of the notable things among those that did not is that they developed property rights. The state and property co-evolved.”

“Much more likely to be accurate,” The Celt chimed in, “stationary bandits are a libertarian slant. The aspects of property that make it essential for a society’s long-run flourishing are well known. The story of the bandit and the peaceful farmers is too much a fairy tale; humans were never entirely peaceful and never entirely warlike. And they became much more peaceful, by the numbers, after they’d settled into agrarian societies with kings and courts and militaries. Will’s story is more in line with history.”

What’s history got to do with it?” Duke asked, “Stories are stories. They can all be equally true while being inequally historical.”

They stared at him for a long time after that.

“No one can ever tell when you’re joking,” Glurri remarked with a grin.

“I know. It’s a problem.” Duke sighed.

The storytelling waned then, as they gathered marshmallows to roast in the fire.


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