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No closed society can sustain anarchy for prolonged periods of time

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/17/2008 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,154 times Debate No: 6269
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (2)




I would like to open this debate by defining the terms that the debate is based on and explaining my exact position.

It is my contention that any closed society based on anarchy cannot continue in that state for any prolonged period of time.

First, a few definitions, and then we can proceed to argument.

Anarchy: the absence of government (courtesy of merriam-webster online dictionary; I realize that there are other definitions, but this debate is about this specific definition)

Government: we define "government" here to be a centralized authority within a society that sets rules that govern the society as a whole and that has the power to punish in some form the members of society who break these rules.

"Closed" in this case means that the society does not recieve any additional citizens from elsewhere and cannot send its citizens out to governmental societies where they will be accepted.

An anarchy-based society is a society that lacks the centralized authority I described as "government". Therefore, there are three possibilities: (1) the society simply lacks rules; (2) the society is conditioned so that everybody would work with society's best interest in mind; (3) society would informally and collectively punish 'transgressors' (of universally understood and unofficial rules) without any need for centralization. I would like to address each of these three possibilities seperately and demonstrate that they indeed must lead to the creation of a government.

(1): If the society simply lacks rules, there would either be no incentive not to immediately turn on your neighbors for personal benefit, in which case society would collapse and splinter from the infighting (for evidence, see what happened in the Montreal Police Strike of 1969; after one night of strike, mobs had rampaged downtown causing $2 million (10.5 million in 2005) dollars worth of damage - although this might not seem like much given the circumstances, remember that this was after only 16 hours of government non-control:, or one would have to value their neighbors enough not to turn on them. However, there will always be some taking advantage of some people by others, and only loss of trust and personal watchfulness will stop that, leading to groups of people with mutual trust forming within the society. These informal groups would develop their own rules for conduct, thus establishing governments within the society and fracturing the society into a set of mini-societies, each with its own government.

(2): This state of affairs is impossible unless free will is removed, in which case I contend that it loses the aspect of a 'society', the same way that a hundred different computers networked together is not a 'society'. If free will is retained, then at some point (statistically speaking) someone will take an action for reasons other than the overall benefit of the society. (Removal of free will removes the entire point of anarchy as well, although this does not directly relate to my argument).

(3): If society could collectively punish transgressors, then society by definition must have rules, whether formal or informal. However, any set of rules has gray areas; certain actions under certain conditions might remain doubtful, or it may not be completely clear what someone did and therefore also whether that person broke society's rules or not. If society has a clear and consistent way to deal with these gray areas, then the administrators of said method are by my definition the government. If not, then society will remain divided in its punishment of said individuals. Consequently, those individuals would be punished by one side but not by the other. If this punishment is forbidden except as punishment under the rules of the society, the portion of society that believed that the protagonist was innocent would view the punishment meted out by the others as 'illegal' by their definition and would punish the punishers. The original punishers would retaliate, leading into a feud that would either (depending on the nature of the punishment) split society into two pieces (which would then split again or develop a government, by the exact same argument) or dissolve it entirely. If the act that is used as punishment is allowed in uses that are not explicitly punishment, then it is either completely ineffectual or will be abused by the citizens (they will 'punish' people not for breaking a rule, but simply for dislike or for personal revenge) prompting either the creation of a controlling body (a government) or the continued dissolution of the society.

Therefore, a society based on anarchy will always either splinter into smaller societies or a government will emerge and take control of the society.


Thank you for the debate. I would first like to start out with offering a definition
Society-the state of being with other people (Encarta)
It is quite easy for a society to exist without a government or rules. You only need to look at a group of friends. To meet your conditions
"(1) The society simply lacks rules; (2) the society is conditioned so that everybody would work with society's best interest in mind; (3) society would informally and collectively punish 'transgressors' (of universally understood and unofficial rules) without any need for centralization."
1.I don't know about you and your friends, but as for me and the people I hang out with we don't really have any rules. I didn't sign anything saying I agree not to still my bud's girl or that I wouldn't steal from him. Sometimes we randomly get in fights in the hall just for something to do. There really aren't any rules.
2.This is probably the condition that best fits a group of friends. You just don't want to make the people you like mad, and generally they give the same respect to you.
3.In my group of friends if someone hits you, you hit them back. Society doesn't punish the transgressor the offended punishes the transgressor. This rules out all need for centralization.
My friends and I have been hanging out since 1st grade so we've spent a good eleven years together. Not once in our society have we splintered off into different groups due to infighting nor has one person taken over and become the leader. The simple existance of friendships prove anarchy can exist for an indefinate period of time
Anarchy exists everywhere in societies today but only among small groups of people.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for your response. Although I do have a rebuttal for your argument, I also believe you have misread some of my original rules for anarchist societies - they're actually less strict than you would interpret them to be (giving you actually a little more freedom than you allow yourself). Anarchist societies do not have to meet all of the conditions that you quoted from my opening - they only have to meet the condition of being closed (more on that later) and the condition of not having a government (as defined in my original argument). In order to achieve this I contended that they would have to meet at least one of (not all) the conditions you quoted.

Now I will respond to your argument...

My first point is that your example is unfortunately invalid under my definition. I argued that no closed societies could sustain anarchy for any prolonged period of time. I'm not sure about your group, but my circle of friends is not a closed society. Although they are in general fairly static, people who are not in my circle of friends can get in (if they really want to) fairly easily and people who are in it can leave if they want to and be generally accepted elsewhere in society. So even if they choose not to, there is always that option, so your circle of friends (unless it somehow manages to prevent people from leaving even if they want to) does not meet the condition of being a closed society.

However, your argument does point out a problem with my definition: the definition of a "closed society" is rather too strict (what country with the possible exception of North Korea today could be called a truly closed society? ...but I believe that they too cannot sustain anarchy and that is part of the point I would like to debate), so the definition of "closed society" will be amended (unless you have an objection to the new definition) to be "any society such that it is extremely difficult for a large (greater than 10% or so of the total population of the society) group of people to enter or leave in a short period of time." Thus, although the United States was not a closed society under my first definition, it is now since 10% of the US population = 30 million people, and, if you imagine 30 million people flooding over the border (in either direction) you would have to agree that the logistical problems in making something like that happen would prevent it from happening easily in a short period of time (I know the number of illegal immigrants has reached 20 million or so, but (a) I'm not sure whether that counts people born to illegal parents in the United States and (b) it has taken decades to reach this figure and has been difficult for every single one of them).

All of your main points are covered in my argument that a circle of friends is not a closed society (by both the old and new definitions). However, your third point raises an interesting possibility that I feel that I should analyze now. That point is, although falling under the possibility I discussed of a collective informal justice system, unique enough to deserve separate attention. This possibility is that the offended punishes the offender. The problem here is also with the gray areas I described in my original argument - unless the punishment is not a 'crime' when applied outside of the justice system (for example, the death penalty is murder and a fine is robbery if not done within the justice system), the 'offender' may believe that he/she has done nothing wrong and will view the 'punishment' as a crime in and of itself, prompting retaliation (since justice is the job of the offended), which will be viewed as yet another crime by the original 'offended', who will retaliate, etc. etc. resulting in a major feud. As these feuds crop up, society will fracture. The difference with your group of friendsis that if two people get in a major feud, they are free to not be friends anymore, while in my definition of a closed society it's more difficult since one of the two parties must leave the society. Also, natural human ties will ensure that the bad feeling spreads, threatening to create more feuds or intensify existing ones. This scenario is only slightly different than the one I discussed in my original argument, but it might (depending on how you read my characterization of 'collective punishment') not quite fall under it (collective punishment could be anything from a kind of personal trade embargo and collective shunning to society spontaneously extracting physical punishment through some kind of volunteer). In any case, the problem with the system of having the offended punish the offender is identical to the problem with 'collective punishment' in general.


merlinator forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


As my opponent has forfeited his last round, I would like to simply state a few things and present some more evidence for my argument:

(1) (this is a pre-emptive counter to a potential argument my opponent could make): although you and your friends have not drifted apart during your 11 or so years of friendship, you cannot assume that the situation would be the same under the conditions of economic interdependency or other conditions in which it would be impossible for large numbers of you to switch to another society (i.e. from what you said you are all high school seniors or juniors, and I would therefore assume that you don't make all your money for yourselves and your friends - if everyone else died and you and your friends were the only people on earth and had to find your own food and shelter, etc. I would argue that you would develop an informal, but nevertheless real, government of sorts, where decision-making and rule-enforcing are organized and not spontaneous).

(2) More evidence that a centralized rule-enforcing group is needed: the 1919 and 1923 police strikes (Boston and Victoria): [] ; []

That is all I would like to say for now. I wish my opponent good luck in the final round.


merlinator forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by NeoConCommunist 7 years ago
*sigh* This is the second debate (out of only 4, only 3 of which were serious) in which my opponent only bothered to write the first round and forfeited the rest.
Posted by NeoConCommunist 7 years ago
I-am-a-panda: I accept, although the debate will be with my new modified definition of "closed society" (I amended it so that the United States and most other countries and large groups of people could be considered "closed").

brian_eggleston: my opinion is that not only can these "gangs" be considered small governments but that the original society would not even be a real society anymore - it would break down into smaller society along the lines of the "gangs".
Posted by burningpuppies101 7 years ago
about the second point.. ever read atlas shrugged? I think that galts gulch fits the terms quite nicely. i'm tempte to take this, just to argue galts gulch, but alas, i'm going to be unable to sustain a debate for the next 2-3 weeks, while i am on vacation...
Posted by crackofdawn 7 years ago
The thing about this is that you can see how this progressed through human history. With intelligence we started to form government. We first formed "gangs" but then to beat stronger "gangs" the weaker "gangs" would join together. This would continue and eventually a leader or lead group would have to be chosen making a government.
Posted by I-am-a-panda 7 years ago
NeoConCommunist - I will debate this with you after Christmas.
Posted by brian_eggleston 7 years ago
Interesting opening round. Clearly, people will band together, that is to say form gangs, for mutual protection, though these may not be based on geographical boundaries - they may be based upon shared values (left v right politics, Jews v Muslims, working class v upper class, etc.)

So this debate all boils down to whether or not "gangs" can be considered to be small "governments", at least in my opinion. I hope it doesn't generate into an exchange of semantics, that would be a shame.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by U.n 8 months ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture
Vote Placed by Ragnar 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: FF.