James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia argues that the Zomia people of Southeast Asia consciously chose to live without government and that their choice was sensible. Yet basic economic reasoning, reflected in Hobbes’s classic account of anarchy and the state’s emergence, suggests that life without government would be far worse than life with government, leading people to universally choose the latter. To reconcile Scott’s account of the Zomia peoples’ choice with this reasoning, it is necessary to elaborate the mechanisms of private governance that could make life under anarchy tolerable and thus plausibly render statelessness a sensible option. To deliver a powerful, rather than glancing, blow to Hobbesian thinking, this essay argues that anarchist histories must focus on governance mechanisms.

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