1,000 years of Irish Anarchy

People often cry out that there are not any historic examples of anarchy working “in the real world”.  (as if the brutal rule of government is working out for the people)  One example that lasted for much longer than the USA has lasted so far, is Ireland. At Anarchopedia you can read the following:

Celtic Ireland (650-1650)

In Celtic Irish society of the Middle Ages  and the Early Modern period, courts and the law were largely anarchist, and operated in a purely stateless manner. This society persisted in this manner for roughly a thousand years until its conquest by England in the seventeenth century.

In contrast to many similarly functioning tribal societies (such as the lbos in West Africa), preconquest Ireland was not in any sense “primitive”: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe. A leading authority on ancient Irish law wrote, “There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice… There was no trace of State-administered justice.

All “freemen” who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath’s members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their “kings.” In contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kinship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Professor Peden states, “the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its members constituted its territorial dimension.

The “king” had no political power; he could not decree or administer justice or declare war. Basically he was a priest and militia leader, and presided over the tuath assemblies.

Celtic Ireland survived many invasions, but was finally vanquished by Oliver Cromwell’s reconquest in 1649-50.

This most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts first came to my attention while reading Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty. This was a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but they were basically anarcho-capitalist in the modern sense of the phrase. This Celtic society was not some primitive society or tribe but rather it was a highly complex society. Ireland for centuries was the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized society in all of Western Europe. And all without a government!

Rather than forcing people at gunpoint to serve on State controlled juries as in our “modern” empire, Rothbard explains how it worked in Ireland for a millennium: “… the professional jurists were consulted by parties to disputes for advice as to what the law was in particular cases, and these same men often acted as arbitrators between suitors. They remained at all times private persons, not public officials; their functioning depended upon their knowledge of the law and the integrity of their judicial reputations.”

Ancient Celtic Ireland had no State: “There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice … no trace of State-administered justice.” Meditate on that fact for a moment. One Thousand years of no state and Ireland was the most culturally advance society in Western Europe? My goodness, is that not proof enough that market anarchy works?

UPDATE: I later wrote a look at evidence that Ireland was an anarchy for much longer than just 1,000 years. You can read that here.

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3 thoughts on “1,000 years of Irish Anarchy

  1. Hello Mark.

    I don’t know if it’s too late to leave a comment. But anyway…

    I’ve read (as suggested) the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Connaught and various others for a postgrad project on climate in the British Isles during the Middle Ages.

    The thing that struck me, while I was looking for other stuff relating to my research, was the apparent level of violence in Irish society, with what seemed to be high levels of warfare, lootings, burnings etc etc. They weren’t alone in this, of course, if you look at any other medieval primary source.

    In any event, I thought that this was worth a mention.

    All the best to you.

    Paul Farquharson.

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