I recently, courtesy of Google, came across a piece by Brad DeLong critical of my views. It argued that there were good reasons why anarcho-capitalist ideas did not appear until the nineteenth century, reasons illustrated by how badly a stateless society had worked in the Highlands of Scotland in the 17th century. I wrote a response and posted it to his blog, then waited for it to appear.
Today I discovered what I should have realized earlier—that his post was made nine years ago. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that my comment did not appear. The issues are no less interesting now than they were then and his argument is still up to be read, so here is my response:
Your initial argument rejecting a stateless order on the evidence of the Scottish Highlands is no more convincing than would be a similar argument claiming that Nazi Germany or Pol Pot's Cambodia shows how bad a society where law is enforced by the state must be. The existence of societies without state law enforcement that work badly—I do not know enough about the Scottish Highlands to judge how accurate your account is—is no more evidence against anarchy than the existence of societies with state law enforcement that work badly is against the alternative to anarchy.
To make your case, you have to show that societies without state law enforcement have consistently worked worse than otherwise similar societies with it. For a little evidence against that claim I offer the contrast between Iceland and Norway in the tenth and eleventh centuries or northern Somalia pre-1960 when, despite some intervention by the British, it was in essence a stateless society, and the situation in the same areas after the British and Italians set up the nation of Somalia, imposing a nation state on a stateless society. You can find short accounts of both those cases, as well as references and a more general discussion of historical feud societies, in the webbed draft of Legal Systems Very Different From Ours, a book I'm currently working on; comments welcome.
So far as the claim that the idea of societies where law enforcement is private are a recent invention, that is almost the opposite of the truth. The nation state as we know it today is a relatively recent development. For historical evidence, I recommend Seeing Like a State, whose author goes to some lengths to make it clear that he is not a libertarian while giving a perceptive account of the ways in which societies had to be changed in order that states could rule them.
As best I can tell, most existing legal systems developed out of systems where law enforcement was private—whether, as you would presumably argue, improving on those systems or not is hard to tell. That is clearly true of, at least, Anglo-American common law, Jewish law and Islamic law, and I think of Roman law as well. For details see my draft.
In which context, I am curious as to whether you regard yourself as a believer in the Whig theory of history, which views it as a story of continual progress, implying that "institutions A were replaced by institutions B" can be taken as clear evidence of the superiority of the latter.