Lion, Ox, cont’d

My original comments at Goulding’s highlight my skepticism about Xeer’s applicability to contemporary nation states and global, technologically-driven economies. In my last post, I attempted to mitigate my skepticism with a dose of generosity toward the concept, speaking in highly general terms about its embodied ideal, which, to me, is its emphasis on local consensus rather than on legislation obdurately codified by standing bodies far removed from the geographical locations which fall under those bodies’ jurisdiction.

However, as J.G. points out in the comments, “codification and permanent judicial institutions seem essential to developed economies,” so it appears I was mistaken to frame Xeer as the P2P system par excellence. It is, rather, an empirical case study of such a system, and in this case, history has show that it works better than the centralized system put in place by Western colonial powers.

I think Nick Steves recognizes the spirit of the last post. I find value in polycentric law as a corrective to centralized federal law, which always grows its power and never contracts. Steves writes:

Centralized law, and the power to enforce it, must exist at least sufficiently to keep separate subsidiarities from tearing each other apart . . . The trouble is that it is (apparently) impossible in the long run to keep centralized law from developing an increasingly large footprint . . . in which inevitably one subsidiarity manages to seize control and rip the others apart.

As described by Goulding, the Xeer system in Somalia does not have an “increasingly large footprint,” and, more importantly, it does not lend itself to special-interests spoils or power-grabs for resources because it’s there to solve conflicts as they arise locally, not to divy out spoils or resources en masse. For that reason, I find value in the system, which is not the same as saying that we should import it. 


Xeer is just one case study. Before building up any kind of political theory based on P2P law, the studies need to be multiplied so we can discover what are the “best practices” for such a system. I’m not saying I’m convinced about all of this. And I’m still not convinced that neocameralism isn’t workable. But neoreactionaries need to stop being purely against things and start being for things; to that end, building alternative political and/or economic theories is a worthwhile pursuit, and P2P seems a particularly generative idea to explore.


4 responses

  1. Handle

    Just an interesting tidbit: On Jefferson Davis’ plantation, (from which he was often away) he appointed his overseer as prosecutor who had to argue cases of any allegations made against any of Davis’ slaves in front of a jury of other slaves who determined guilt and punishment. The intent, apparently, was to ensure more leniency to avoid anything more than the minimal necessary (and thus uneconomical) damage to his human chattel and the maximum profitability of the enterprise.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:58 am

    • Fascinating. Do you remember where you read this?

      Off-topic: I’m afraid we’ll never have a complete picture of American slavery. Violence and brutality certainly existed, but it’s impossible to tell whether such brutality was an exception, a rule, or somewhere in between, and we’ll never know until an unbiased historian takes a fresh look at the fuller picture.

      June 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm

  2. nickHW

    Continuing on my theme that we have plenty of examples of peer-to-peer law at work in modern law: there is a very highly evolved set of laws that describe what to do for conflicts that do _not_ arise just locally, but nevertheless are adjudicated by a local jurisdiction:

    In short, the laws that govern who has jurisdiction when, by local rules alone, more than one court could assert jurisdiction. Conflict-of-laws law was developed almost entirely in a peer-to-peer fashion, primarily in late medieval and Renaissance Italy, by peer courts developing ways to respect each other to further the reputations of both for promoting the rule of law. Think of merchants, soldiers, and pilgrims travelling from Florence to Milan to Venice to Rome in Renaissance Italy, causing or falling victim to disputes in any of these places, when these were all independent polities often at war with one another, and it’s fairly easy to imagine the compelling needs that led to the development of conflict-of-laws laws.

    June 24, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    • Thanks a lot, nickHW. You’ve provided a lot of great info in this and your last post. I think you’re right that there are more recent precedents in the West of p2p law than we realize. I was actually starting to write a post about Home Owner’s Associations as a possible example, at the most extreme local level . . .

      June 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm

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