We move, in thought and imagination, from the Mediterranean to the Baltic sea. Interesting that the great flourishing of the contracting and trading spirit, the “yes” and “no” of promise, the voluntary mutually beneficial meeting, has taken place in the development of instruments that carried the embodied spirit away from the gaze and control of the coercive forces of earthly lord and king–the ship, the sail, the rudder, the trading outpost and the attraction to centers of trade.
In our broad and superficial survey of history there are the Greeks and the Romans, the Middle Ages (always a dark and fearful period), then the Renaissance (yay!) and the Modern (who doesn’t want to be modern?). Now of course it is cool to be postmodern, whatever that means. may I be post-post modern? Behind the Greeks and Romans was the flourishing of the Phoenicians. Similarly, hidden from view, prior to the Renaissance and during the late High Middle Ages was a bright spot of messy, active, insecure flourishing of human spirit in what came to be known as the Hanseatic League.
What, through the 12th to 15th centuries, united southern England, coastal Belgium, coastal Netherlands, Southern Sweden, Southern Norway, northern Germany, Eastern Russia? Voluntary contract and trade. In fact, the contract that became the Hanseatic League was formed by those who wished to protect themselves both from the pirate and the tyranny of lord and prince.
To what, at its zenith, did over 200 cities, that’s right dear reader–200, from England to Russia join voluntarily? The pledge of mutual protection and free-trade that came to be known as the Hanseatic League.
What, before any “Renaissance” or “Modernity” most effectively satisfied need and enabled the sharing of the prosperity of far flung regions including the movement of copper, silver, fish, flax, furs, grain, honey, iron, resin, salt, and textiles? What enabled the mutually beneficial meetings that allowed for the transmission of know-how, recipe, method, strategy, procedure, technique, new use, new discovery, new sources. It was the Hanseatic League.
Were there dues? Of course. Was the private-property protection of each city decentralized and local? Of course. Did this result in a reduction to anarchy and tribal warfare? Of course not. It was an early flowering of what the Puritanical Libertarian hopes to see again.
You see, dear reader, there is nothing that incentivizes the good behavior of the police force or the army like the threat of disassociation or boycott. Under the coercive institution we now call government such institutions are largely immune from such incentives. But not so under voluntary contract.
The Hanseatic League flourished for longer than the United States has yet been a territorial domain. The later dominance of the northern-German cities, the Netherlands, England can be explained, at least partially, by this largely hidden from view profusion of free-trade. It is always the progenitor of power and resource.
The Hanseatic League was disrupted by the Black Plague (also seemingly a product of trade!) and the rise of prince and lord who banned their operation here and there. The league was not dissolved until 1862! But, by then its power had been long diminished through threats and conflict with kings of various domains such as Sweden and Russia. In addition, internal squabbles and dissension contributed to a breakdown of unified strength.
Such is the story of even efforts at voluntarily contracted unity. Marriages fail. Contracts are broken. Business partners sue each other. There is no Garden of Eden like utopia anywhere. The question is always one of costs and benefits regarding earthly matters. The Puritanical Libertarian does not assert ease and comfort in the protection of private property and the liberty which accompanies it. At any moment the empowered trader can become the coercive taker. But that doesn’t justify the acceptance of coercive taking or the resignation to its justifiability even if resignation must be made to is perennial practical possibility.
The Puritanical Libertarian will not argue as some do. Here is, succinctly, what they say: “There is the threat of theft and assault. So, it is justified to establish theft and assault (government).” No. The argument has never worked and never will.