Search This Blog

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Might Makes Right: Marauding Bandits

Marauding bandits use violence or the threat of violence to steal and then use the resulting gains for whatever they fancy.  While marauding bandits are generally considered immoral, the legend of Robin Hood shows that marauding bandits are not universally considered inherently immoral, since Robin Hood and His Merry Men were nothing if not marauding bandits*.  In the case of Robin Hood, it seems that the ends can justify the means if the bandits take from those who are rich and/or not well-liked and/or not particularly innocent and the bandits give at least part of the plunder to the poor or other "deserving" group or cause (I suspect they kept most of the loot for themselves - that's why they were merry, or as Robin Hood sings in the animated film "Shrek", "I steal from the rich and give to the needy, I take a wee percentage, but I'm not greedy").  The tales of Robin Hood and other similar stories and legends transform Marauding Banditry from being immoral and despicable into at least sometimes being honorable and even heroic.

From a sheep's perspective, a shepherd and a wolf have a lot in common and they both look like marauding bandits.  One fleeces you and eats your young (and maybe you) and the other eats you and your young.  The sheep might be somewhat grateful to the shepherd for protecting it from the wolf, but that protection comes with a cost and if the shepherd is particularly incompetent or bad, the sheep might be better off with just the wolf.  The primary difference is that the shepherd is more powerful than the wolf and might makes right so "shepherd" has a good connotation while "wolf" has a bad one.

A government has many things in common with marauding bandits.  Both use violence or the threat of violence to take from those too weak to resist and use the resulting gains for whatever they fancy. "Government" generally has a better connotation than "bandit", but from the perspective of the populace, the government may actually be worse than bandits because the populace at least has a prayer of protecting themselves from bandits while the might of the government is overwhelming.  It's a popular notion that the government provides benefits that couldn't otherwise be obtained by the populace, while the bandit does not, but this notion assumes that the populace could not provide those benefits for themselves.  This notion seems unlikely to me, since the government is comprised of people - the same people that make up the populace, so it's unclear why those same people in government would suddenly be able to provide those benefits.

Each of us has some shepherd, wolf, and sheep in us.  Each of us is tempted to be part of the government to shepherd (and take from) others to do those things we think should be done (i.e. that which we fancy), each of us is tempted to swindle, loot, beg, borrow, or steal and play the part of the wolf, and each of us is consigned to live in society and play the part of the sheep.  In the end, each of us is going to attempt to maximise our power and the power of those people and things that are important to us by playing our roles as best we can.

Notes:
* Depending on exactly which version of the folklore of Robin Hood one is considering.

42 comments:

Harry Eagar said...

I can think of one government service that citizens cannot -- or at least historically did not -- provide that government does an excellent job of providing: roads.

There are many, many more, but roads are kind of obvious, don't you think?

Let's say, though, that your remarks about government and sheep are apposite. They would apply, a fortiori, even more strongly to religion. Yet I seldom on never hear of small gummint types railing against religion.

Just the opposite, if anything.

Annoying Old Guy said...

With regard to only government being able to provide providing roads - not everyone agrees on that. You might also look up the history of "toll roads".

"Yet I seldom on never hear of small gummint types railing against religion"

Of course - one can easily change religion without changing anything else. Try that with government. You made this same bogus point with regard to taxes. Do you really not understand that government is coercive?

Bret said...

I'm neither taxed nor regulated by religion, so I simply don't have much to say about it.

Yes, the government can and does provided many goods and services to the populace. Slave owners provided goods and services (food, clothes, shelter, etc.) to slaves. In these cases the marauding bandits supply goods and services to get more out of the sheep so it increases the sophistication of the marauding entity to be a bit above the typical bandit. Note that the goods and services are paid for by fleecing the sheep - the government provides nothing directly.

Harry Eagar said...

Well, it does provide the structure, motivation, organization and management.

Toll roads have not amounted to much. Ever, anywhere.

And I do not know of any example of a toll road that was built without a government charter.

Closest I could come to an historical example would be some of the ferries in the middle ages, or -- if you want to be really generous -- the toll posts that real robber barons established on the Rhine.

Bret, the reason you are not regulated and taxed by a religion is due solely to intervention by the secular government. At every time and place in history without such intervention, you'd have been closely regulated, heavily taxed and tortured and murdered for objecting.

So, right there we have a service that only government can provide.

Harry Eagar said...

Well, it does provide the structure, motivation, organization and management.

Toll roads have not amounted to much. Ever, anywhere.

And I do not know of any example of a toll road that was built without a government charter.

Closest I could come to an historical example would be some of the ferries in the middle ages, or -- if you want to be really generous -- the toll posts that real robber barons established on the Rhine.

Bret, the reason you are not regulated and taxed by a religion is due solely to intervention by the secular government. At every time and place in history without such intervention, you'd have been closely regulated, heavily taxed and tortured and murdered for objecting.

So, right there we have a service that only government can provide.

Annoying Old Guy said...

What service is that? Taxing and regulating? But you just said religions could do that as well. Or do you mean only the Crips can protect you from the Bloods?

Bret said...

I think it's likely true that only the Crips can protect you from the bloods.

Keep in mind that in the post I didn't say anything about shepherds and wolves going away. Might makes right implies that there will always be competition for the lead looting spot or spots. I'm just pointing out the similarities between the marauding bandit, the shepherd, and the wolf.

The sheep is always screwed.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Bret;

This is what I meant when I referred elsewhere to Eagar have a very tribal mentality - to him it's completely different if it's the Crips or the Bloods and he can't understand why we can't understand that. Of all people, Glenn Greenwald has a decent column on this point.

Peter said...

At every time and place in history without such intervention, you'd have been closely regulated, heavily taxed and tortured and murdered for objecting.

This would be in sharp contrast to secular authorities in the relevant periods, who were ground-breakers in tolerance of dissent, proportionate sentencing, the rule of law, etc.

Hey, Harry, do you know how many people were put to death by the Spanish Inquisition (which was controlled by the Spanish secular authorities)? About three thousand over several centuries. By the Roman Inquisition controlled by the Vatican? Slightly over a thousand over the same time period. How does that compare with the record of 20th century secular governments?

Bret said...

Peter,

Isn't it quite a stretch to consider the Spanish Inquisition to be even vaguely secular? Or maybe I learned that part of history wrong?

Bret said...

aog wrote: "Of all people, Glenn Greenwald has a decent column on this point."

Maybe not so surprising that a foreign columnists isn't too thrilled with either the Crips or the Bloods. Having a very powerful foreign government with unchecked power, particularly to kill people anywhere, anytime, for any reason, must be a least a little unsettling.

erp said...

bret, i interpreted peter's remarks as meaning secular authorities were running the church during the spanish inquisition as well as before and after and are still calling the shots.

aog, if we weren't all going over the cliff with them, i could get quite a kick out of it as the boys and girls wake up and realize they've been played.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Bret;

Greenwald is a USA citizen. He's also a doctrinaire leftist, which is what makes his column a surprise (to me, at least).

As for Peter's remark, I took it the same way as erp. The Spanish Inquistion had a lot of the flavor of our current eco-fascists, using the religion of the day to settle purely secular political scores. The institution itself was created by Ferdinand and Isabella specifically to put in under direct control of the local monarchy instead of the Pope (or other religious authority).

Peter said...

Yeah, Spain had always been the Vatican's enfant terrible in hijacking Catholic obscurantism for the benefit of its rulers. The Inquisition was one example, Franco another. In both cases the Vatican was wary and, something Harry would say is impossible, helpless.

Harry's nostrums are based on: a) a wild exaggeration of the Church's power and control (As his buddy Stalin said, "How many divisions dows the Pope have?); and b) the assumption that every fanatical bishop and cleric reflectd top-down Vatican thinking and c)a quaint, almost Disney-like, fairy tale about the nature of secular governments. If you take the Middle Ages, the church was vastly more progressive, humane and tolerant than its secular counterpart (which is why everyone moved heaven and earth to be tried in Church courts rather than Royal courts), but in Harry's enchanted kingdom they were all like Burlington Vt. But you know Harry. It's like that old secular mantra about how religion has caused more death and oppression than any other cause in history. Not only is it untrue, it is wildly untrue and ten minutes of reflection by anyone with even a passing historical exposure would make that screamingly clear. But it doesn't matter, Harry & co. will keep on repeating it ad nauseum. I suppose I can forgive him for it for old time's sake, but I don't know if I can forgive him DOUBLE-POSTING IT EVERY TIME!!!!!!!

Bret said...

Peter, if the double posts really bother you I can delete the extra one. Let me know.

Peter said...

No, Bret, double posts don't bother me. Harry chanting his secular catechism nonsense does, though. :-)

Hey, Harry, you big old wonderful cuddly guy, as Monty Python might say: "You're a looney!!"

Harry Eagar said...

Not historically true that people in the Middle ages preferred ecclesiastical courts. They preferred royal courts.

It is true, though, that secular authorities stepped in to shortcircuit the witch trials once a) too many citizens had been killed; or b) the church began burning the relatives of the local suzerein.

I wonder if any of you know about Guanajuato? My guessis niot. (Hint: it has to do with Katyn)

Peter said...

Here, Harry.

Now, find us one link--just one--about anyone who tried to flee ecclesiastical courts for royal courts because he thought he would be treated less harshly.

Peter said...

Although in fairness to you, Harry, it occurs to me that the term "less harshly" is relative. I must consider that you may find being strung up in a medieval dungeon without food or water after having been stretched on a rack and your fingernails pulled out to be less harsh than being forced to recite a few dozen Hail Mary's.

Annoying Old Guy said...

I ask in hope but not expectation of explanation - Mr. Eagar, to which witch trials do you refer?

Harry Eagar said...

Almost all of them.

My source for the preference for royal courts is S.B. Chrimes, 'English Constitutional History,' a text in the Open University.

Not everything is on the Internet. (Chrimes taught me that justice is consumed as a commodity like beer, a new idea when I read it 40-odd years ago. I would say that justice is, at best, an imperfect market.)

There were other Inquistions than in Spain. In fact, they were everywhere but England. It is a myth that the Spanish Inquistion was secular.

The Inquisitions were not the only White terrorists, which is why I mentioned Guanajuato.

It is a myth that White terror was less murderous than Red. The only way to maintain the myth is simply to not count most of the White murders. Which is why Guanajuato is relevant.

Hey Skipper said...

... but from the perspective of the populace, the government may actually be worse than bandits because the populace at least has a prayer of protecting themselves from bandits while the might of the government is overwhelming.

There is one service government provides that isn't available any other way: a solution to the Hobbesian security dilemma. Generally speaking, the violent death rate plummets where ever there is a functional central government. (Of course, there are irrational religious-ideological exceptions.)

Steven Pinker's latest book, "The Better Angels of our Nature" explains it well.

Bret said...

Mostly true.

In "Anarchy, State, Utopia", Nozick argues that if a government didn't exists ("Anarchy"), people would contract private agencies to provide security and justice. Eventually, the strongest one would become the de facto government and then probably the actual government.

So Nozick would both agree with you and with me. With you because a government would always evolve from anarchy, even if anarchy was a possible state. With me, because by definition, the government has overwhelming force and the populace can't possibly overcome it, making it worse than marauding bandits if the populace wishes the government would go away.

Harry Eagar said...

Governments are city things. McNeill called cities a disease of the countryside; and archaeologists in Nubia showed by excavating cemeteries that remote farmers ate better when governments collapsed in Lower Egypt and could not collect taxes.

But independent farmers are vulnerable to real brigands. If Nozick had been right, the west Europeans would have provided common defenses against the Vikings, but that didn't happen.

It is only since the Enlightenment, and only in western European-influenced states, that Pinker's idea holds. White governments seldom or never held down the violent death rate.

Guanajuato is relevant here, too.

Bret said...

Why would've the Europeans expended effort to defend against the vikings? It doesn't seem like it would be worth the effort to me.

erp said...

Bret, there were no "Europeans" at the time. Only scattered barbarian tribes.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Bret;

The Viking raids could be quite devastated - very classic brigandage.

I wonder about Eagar's chronology - the Viking raids were from around 800-1100 AD. Certainly by the end of that period there were strong European governments. That's after Charles Martel took over France, and the King Arthur mythos dates back to the 600s, indicating that kingdoms existing in the British isles well before the Viking raids. I will be churlish and point out that the Vikings raided northern Europe, not Western. What Eagar's actual point is, I can't discern in all of this.

Bret said...

Maybe my questions wasn't so much "why" as "how". Wasn't a lot of it pretty much random attacks from the sea? Without satellites, extensive spy networks, etc., how does one first defend against such an attack against remote villages and/or how does one track the boats across the water to seek revenge?

Where the vikings conquered and then ruled, as far as the population goes, seems more like meet the new boss, as much a bandit as the old boss.

Admittedly, this is a period and place in history that I haven't really studied much, so I'm not sure.

In the end, it wasn't a bunch of free people who could decide whether or not to put defense in place to oppose the vikings anyway. It was basically warlords who made the decisions and who probably rationally decided it wasn't worth it to defend their people. Much better to fleece the sheep for what you can get.

Susan's Husband said...

Ah, yes, actual defense that didn't involve arming the subjects would have been extremely difficult. That's a key problem in governance, that many of the things that help your people also make the government less important. A key lesson our Founders implemented but we as a nation seem to have forgotten.

Harry Eagar said...

The only part of all that which is accurate is that y'all haven't studied the Vikings.

I'd have said London and Dublin and Paris -- all Viking targets -- were part of western Europe.

Barbarian tribes, eh? I suppose erp refers to the bearskin-clad monks of Wearmouth and Lindisfarne and Jarrow, which were in fact the most sophisticated places west of Constantinople at that time and were sacked again and again by Vikings.

This is not the place to retell the history of the Dark Ages but there's a reason they were called the Dark Ages.

erp said...

Harry, my comment was that there were no united Europeans to take on the task of fighting the Viking marauders and I don't think Bret was referring to monks in his comment. In fact there are still no united Europeans available to fight off modern marauders.

Annoying Old Guy said...

"The only part of all that which is accurate is that y'all haven't studied the Vikings." translation - "I have no facts or evidence, but I do have faith you are wrong".

Harry Eagar said...

Well, i could have explained what is known to all students of the dark age, that there wasn't a King arthur, that the merovingian state had dissolved by the time of the Viking irruption etc., but it's just a blog post, for pete's sake.

Harry Eagar said...

Well, i could have explained what is known to all students of the dark age, that there wasn't a King arthur, that the merovingian state had dissolved by the time of the Viking irruption etc., but it's just a blog post, for pete's sake.

Bret said...

Harry,

True, just a blog post, and not a post that's particularly focused on dark ages political and military organization. Though I always find discussions of history interesting.

You could, at RtO, do more posts about history. I would enjoy that. You (and the rest of the commenters here of course) are also always welcome to do a guest post here.

Annoying Old Guy said...

The point of King Arthur is not whether he existed, but that there is a debate about it, which wouldn't be the case if there were actual kingdoms at that point in British history, before the Vikings.

Harry Eagar said...

Depends who you believe. Hume, in is History of England, wrote about the Heptarchy, 7 kingdoms in what is now England. Later historians were disparaging about the Heptarchy.

If the question is, why didn't Nozick's idea apply against the threat of the Vikings, the answers vary. French historians (possibly of Norman extraction) like to say the Viking threat was overblown.

Historians of Russia says the Vikings were a progressive influence -- there really were barbarian tribes in that part of the world -- and that if the liberal government at Nizhi Novogorod had not been suppressed by the nobles of, eg, Moscow, the subsequent history of Russia might not have been so grim (see, eg, 'The Icon and the Axe')

My point is, there is history of the Viking, however contentious parts of it are; and you can study it in the library.

I have been revolving in my mind the assertion that unorganized and ungoverned people could freely associate. The only historical example I can think of is late, limited and only doubtfully supportive of what I take to be Nozick's idea.

I have forgotten the name of the this historian, but he published several articles in the Journal of Economic History in the '70s (my copies are buried deep in the basement) claiming that in the unorganized territories of the US, the miners established a working government before the US government got around to imposing any order.

That's the closest I can come up with. Everywhere it, it was pretty much sauve si peut, so far as my studies show.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Whether it's debated depends on who I believe? I think that's proof it is debated.

"Nozick argues that if a government didn't exists ("Anarchy"), people would contract private agencies to provide security and justice. Eventually, the strongest one would become the de facto government and then probably the actual government"

How does the history of the Vikings relate to that? I read it as the emergence of every larger and more powerful states (as a general trend) which agrees with Nozick. That is, people bonded together in larger groups. As usual I can't say if your view makes any sense because I can't figure it out.

Harry Eagar said...

Only they didn't do that.

I picked the Viking period as the clearest I could think of to test the idea.

There had been a central government, which dissolved. The people in the area were not mere savages. Despite what erp may think, the 'barbarian tribes' had by that time been living in the world's most sophisticated empire for up to 500 years.

So the populace had political experience. They didn't have to reinvent the wheel.

But they didn't coalesce in mutually supportive associations. They stood and died in despair and alone.

In places, brigands with good weapons announced they would protect the defenseless farmers or merchants, but they didn't do a very good job against the Vikings, and when the Vikings weren't around, they plundered their sheep with about the same conscience as the Vikings were displaying.

The great thing about history is that it limits the imagination. I can imagine that people would associate in self-defense, maybe, but finding examples of people really doing it is harder.

Annoying Old Guy said...

An example of Nozick's thesis.

Bret said...

Actually, I think one of Nozick's (and the hardcore libertarian ideology's) failures in thinking is that fact that any successful entity is going to be a target for looting.

The success of the Internet and the current looting and control by both large private companies and government worldwide is a good example of that.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Bret;

Haiti is another excellent example.