Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Disagreeing A Little With Van Rijn

Nicholas van Rijn says:

"'...the League was once a free association of entrepreneurs what offered goods and services but did not force them on nobody. It is not private outfits what fights wars and operates concentration camps, it is governments, because governments is those organizations what claims the right to kill whoever will not do what they say.'"
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 285.

If the goods sold include the necessities of life, then we do not need to be forced to accept them! Or rather we are indeed forced to buy food but by our own physical needs, not by anyone holding a gun to our heads. Private outfits do not fight wars?

"The Polesotechnic League...set its own policies, made its own treaties, established its own bases, fought its own battles..."
-Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), p. 146.

"'If we bring back that information, there'll be no more trouble with the Adderkops. Not after the League sends in a few Star class battleships and threatens to bombard their planet.'"
-The Van Rijn Method, p. 566.

Private companies are capable of fighting private wars unless restrained by government forces. And the East India Company ruled in India.

But van Rijn's account, while counterposing private outfits to governments, does not explain the origin of governments. I suggest that companies offer goods and services in order to accumulate wealth for their owners and shareholders and that it was the accumulation of wealth that generated governments. In the very earliest societies, there cannot as yet have been any distinction either between rich and poor or between rulers and ruled. A tribe, like an extended family, acted together, hunting and gathering for immediate consumption, but not as yet producing any surplus of storeable wealth. Low productivity precluded slavery. The labor of one supported only one. A slave would starve if anything that he produced was taken from him. Therefore, no one could as yet be enslaved. Some individuals would have given a lead or have been consulted for advice but would not as yet have had either the means or the motive to impose their will on anyone else.

When at last a state, initially just a body of armed men, emerged and differentiated itself from the rest of society, it not only imposed a ruler's will but also, more fundamentally, protected his property: herds, goods and slaves. Theft had become possible. There were now goods that could be stolen, therefore some people motivated to steal them. In modern society and in the Solar Commonwealth, private property is protected by public laws, police, courts, prisons and armed forces. A character in "The Saturn Game" has "...a copy of The Machinery Of Freedom..." (The Van Rijn Method, p. 12) (see here). This book argues for a society with private corporations but no state. This sounds like a good premise for an sf novel.

Meanwhile, however, van Rijn's properties on Earth are protected from thieves and looters by the government of the Solar Commonwealth. So I see private enterprises and public authorities as two sides of one coin rather than as opposed forces. I previously discussed "Issues in Mirkheim" here.

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