Pre-Christian Ireland and Deductive Reasoning
by Ben Stone
(audio article below)
Yesterday’s Bad Quaker Dot Com article (Monday June 13th, 2011) was an excerpt from Murray Rothbard’s great book, For a New Liberty, a Libertarian Manifesto. The segment detailed a period of Irish history that’s one of the best documented examples of a successful libertarian society lasting over 1000 years. Rothbard was careful to leave out speculation and strictly stated his argument in a scholarly fashion while sill making his point, that private law and courts are not only functional, they are more desirable than socialist law and courts. Rothbard knew his work would be highly scrutinized so he documented everything and made the most conservative argument, leaving aside some key information that would have made his bigger point harder to prove. I have to assume he knew his book would be a guiding beacon for future generations of libertarians, but I don’t need to speculate that he knew that, had he made the slightest unsupported statement, his whole work would have been discredited.
I work under no such restrictions. I do not write under the microscope of the scholarly elite in the company of universities and professors. I am a self-educated common man of limited means. Every word I write is aimed at people like me. I do not ask for the acceptance of the scholarly and if I was to receive their praise I would thank them and then I would be more likely to toast them with a cheep American lite beer than a fancy imported wine. It’s for this reason that I’m free to speculate and trust deductive reasoning to come to some conclusions about history.
Rothbard said, “This was ancient Ireland—an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the seventeenth century.” What Rothbard didn’t speculate on was the beginning of that “libertarian path”. What Rothbard knew was that the documentation of this libertarian period began roughly 600AD when Christian monks and priests, fleeing the violent upheavals surrounding the fall of the Roman Empire, found refuge in the Emerald Isle. They were confused by the lack of centralized government and even more confused by the legal system, so they described it in their writings as best as they could. When we understand this situation we should ask some obvious questions. What was going on before the monks and priests arrived? Was there an event that started this libertarian period? Is there a logical origin of this libertarian period? Rothbard’s speculation was limited by peer-level critique. I have no such restrictions, so I will answer these questions using deductive reasoning and logic while examining some of the actual evidence we know to be true.
Something to remember about Iron Age Celts:
Whenever one thinks of the Celtic tribes of Europe, one should always keep two words in mind: Roman influence. Rome considered the Celtic and Germanic tribes “barbarians” because they didn’t speak a “civilized language” such as Latin or Greek, and they were difficult to negotiate with. And when you think of Romans negotiating feel free to substitute the words bribe and intimidate, as these were the basic methods of Roman negotiation. The reason negotiation was difficult was that the Celts and Germans tended to be decentralized and were generally a loose confederation of clans and tribes. There was no central authority to bribe or intimidate. So the Romans were limited to interfering with small Celtic groups that were near their border. This meant that, every now and then, a Celtic tribe or clan would simply get tired of Roman harassment and would either turn on the Romans and attack them directly, or pack up and leave their home in hopes of finding a land free of Roman harassment. Often these groups would not be of a pure Celtic culture because of their exposure to the unethical practices of Romans. So rather than following Celtic traditions, they would simply invade and muscle their way into new areas much like the Romans.
Now let’s get some facts about Ireland out of the way. The written word, in the modern sense, came to Ireland with the Christians. There were forms of written communications prior to the Christians, but those forms were not useful in transmitting complicated information. Therefore having no written history prior to the Christians, we have two sources of information from which to draw our conclusions. We have the oral traditions and we have the evidence from archeology. The problem is that oral traditions suffer the fate of changing with each generation and archeology without a written record tells us very little about politics. However, oral traditions and archeology can tell us much if we simply pay attention to what they don’t say.
Oral Traditions of Pre-Christian Ireland
Roughly 500 years after Christianity came to Ireland, Monks began codifying the oral traditions of the people. One result of this activity was a compilation called the Book of Invasions. The Christian clergy attempted to assemble the oral traditions and tell the story of the invasions of Ireland by the Celtic tribes around 700BC to 500BC. The problem with the Book of Invasions is that the clergy had a massive incentive to lie about Ireland’s history. After all, the last thing the Christians wanted to do was paint a picture of a prosperous pagan history where waves of immigrants were peaceably assimilated into the existing libertarian culture. Yet that is exactly what happened for the most part, with the Viking immigrants between 800AD and 1200AD. Unlike areas where Vikings attempted to immigrate into regions controlled by a State, the Vikings blended into Irish culture and adopted the legal system, since it was much like their own. It is very likely that the Celtic tribes that immigrated in 500BC behaved in much the same manner as the Vikings. Additionally using the Book of Invasions as a guide, no real cultural upheavals are revealed. Only a series of small skirmishes that may well have stretched over a 200-year period. And it’s quite possible that, considering they were writing about oral traditions that were 20 to 50 generations old, much of the war-like activity described in the Book of Invasions actually took place around 100BC when Swiss Celts attempted to forcibly immigrate into southern Ireland while escaping Roman forces.
So then, the oral traditions and the written histories show no actual evidence of any significant cultural upheaval or shift. Lacking any actual evidence of a cultural shift, there is no logical reason based on oral traditions, to set any backward looking limit on how old libertarian Ireland was. We can only say with certainty that it was present when the Christians arrived and it ended with the English invasions of the 1640’s.
The Archeological Record of Pre-Christian Ireland
Ireland is rich in archeological sites ranging from the Middle Stone Age forward to present day. Burial mounds and standing stones dot the isle from tip to tip and from horizon to horizon. But outside of the hill fortresses built in Southern Ireland to repel the invading Swiss Celts of 100bc, there is only one site in Ireland that would indicate the presence of a pre-Christian State, and it’s in the range of 5500 years old. There is an abundance of evidence of farm development, rich trading communities, and centers of art and religion dating from every timeframe going back some 9000 years, but only the one site at Newgrange that gives any actual evidence of the existence of a State. In all likelihood, due to its similarity to sites in England in the same time frame and its location on the east coast, the Newgrange site may be evidence of a short lived State that was connected to or a part of the same State-building culture that infected central England at the time. Either way, there is no archeologically supported reason to assume the possible State-builders at Newgrange had any long term or wide spread influence on the greater Irish culture.
I make my conclusion not as the State sponsored intellectuals will do, by assuming the State to exist everywhere except where it is absolutely proven it is not, but with the assumption that where there is no hard evidence that the State existed there is no logical reason to imagine one into existence. As I have stated before, the State is a religious myth that requires faith in the unseen. People acting on those beliefs perpetuate the evils of the State and we perceive the results as if the State were real. When in fact the State is simply an excuse for evil people to act out their aggressions without accepting the responsibility or the repercussions for their actions.
When groups of people live peaceably for extended periods of time, openly trading and exchanging goods and services with their neighbors, there is no logical reason to record the events for posterity. The recording of history developed for the sole purpose of glorifying the State and convincing the people of the necessity of the State. Without the constant flow of propaganda from the State people begin to question what good the State serves and they begin to wonder if the State is worth their sacrifices. So when we see successful ancient cultures with no hard evidence of a State we should never assume that a State was there nor should we assume the people were too stupid or too poor to have a State. We should instead realize that the vast bulk of real human history took place without a State. We should realize that some if not all of the greatest accomplishments of mankind happened in Stateless societies.
Anyone thinking back about history should come to grips with the fact that all States are, at their core, socialist in economic structure. That being the case, they are inherently unstable and inefficient. Boom and bust cycles are a guaranteed aspect of their nature and when a State booms it builds glorifying edifices to itself, but when it busts nothing is sacred. Waves of humans die of starvation or slaughter. This is the characteristic of the State that the court historians and court jesters lie about and try to hide. But this simple fact stands out as the archeological evidence of a State. Where the State thrives the land will be scared with massive wasteful edifices followed by mass graves displaying starvation or slaughter.
When examining its pre-history, Ireland lacks these scars of the State. Many writers, researchers, and scholars try to force a false history on Ireland in the misguided hope of giving ancient Ireland a glorious history to rival the great empires and States of Southern Europe, but this is a disservice to the Emerald Isle, its peaceful people, its rich heritage, and its diverse culture. Every man woman and child who’s veins still pump the blood of the Celts, should stand up for the truth and reject the State as a part of our past and as a part of our future.