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Opinion: American Frontier -An Example of Practical Anarchism

John C. Grabill - Wikimedia

Some probably wonder why I spend so much time talking about things like mutualism and the night watchman state. The reason is that these interesting anarchist ideas show libertarianism does not necessarily need to always end in chaos & destruction. These anarchist concepts, with mutualism literally being the first form of modern anarchist thought to be created for today's world, have actually been implemented in the real world (including in several communities in the United States) without leading to the stereotypical death and devastation many seem to associate with liberty nowadays. Various communities in the American frontier - or the Wild West as some like to call it - practically implemented these ideas. Most communities were night watchmen states: states with the least possible number of powers that still exist to uphold the law.

On top of all that, some Wild West towns and communities were almost perfect representations of how mutualism should work. Depending on where you lived in the West, the main bank and financial institution where you lived could be a mutual savings bank where the decisions on what the bank should do are made by those who open accounts with said bank. On top of that, people owned property, but it was owned by people who occupied said property and/or actually used that property to provide goods/services for the community.

Some fields would be opened to public use, but others would be property owned by those who wished to use the property to start a ranch, create a farm, or simply occupy the territory to live there. You generally would not see a powerful corporation own a lot of territory it never intended to use simply to create artificial scarcity & keep entrepreneurs who would actually use the property from using it. Rarely would you see somebody hold a bunch of land or waterways or vital resources without providing value in the community like a schoolyard bully trying to keep something from everyone else just to be a jerk. If some had property, it was because it was in use either because someone lived there, someone was providing a genuine good/service to the community with the property, or both.

Also, as I pointed out before, these communities were generally more peaceful than their statist east coast counterparts. The communities of the Wild West had fewer clashes with Native Americans than the American government & were more likely to trade or peacefully coexist than get into fights; only about eight bank heists happened in the entire American frontier across a period of 40 years; 1/3rd of all cowboys were Mexican and 1/4th were black, so there were more opportunities for minorities in this libertarian society than other parts of the country; & all of this lasted for generations. The book The Not So Wild, Wild West written by Terry Anderson talks about how well the libertarian communities of the Wild West worked from 1830 to 1900, a period of seventy years or about two generations and two decades since 25 years is considered a generation. This is a pretty long time for an anarchist community and some consider some Wild West communities to last from 1830 to 1912, meaning that it lasted close to three generations, which is pretty long for even more authoritarian communities to last. To put that in perspective, the third Dynasty of Ur lasted only 50 years (or two generations), the Qin Dynasty lasted 14 years (less than one generation), and the Soviet Union lasted only 69 years with far less freedom (lasting one year shorter than the short estimate and about thirteen years shorter than the long estimate).

Plus, unlike the more authoritarian examples, the Wild West ended with the Closing of The Frontier and various outside forces destroying this free community instead of some kind of internal conflict or strife putting an end to everything. Other more authoritarian communities tend to fall due to inherent flaws in a system built on controlling everyone's lives or continuous fighting with rebellious individuals battling for their freedom. Even thought the Wild West was not perfect, it was far from the dystopia Hollywood and other sources depict it as and shows how a functioning libertarian community can exist without turning into a chaotic free for all & even if mutualism and the night watchman state are not without any issues, they were ideas that were practically used in the real world at some point in time in the United States, not just written on paper!

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