Mises Wire

Coto Mixto: Anarchy in Galicia

A concrete example of an anarchic order existed within Spain, on the current border between Spain and Portugal, in the kingdoms of Castilla and Galicia. By “anarchy” I mean the abolition of centralized power, not the abolition of authority as leftists conceive it to be. One such regime was called Coto Mixto. It was a small territory located in the basin of the Salas River. Coto Mixto’s residents avoided the control of Spain and Portugal from approximately 1143 to 1868. It measured thirty square kilometers and was part of the Orense diocese.

The one thousand inhabitants of Coto Mixto (according to the 1864 census) did not have a king or feudal lord and maintained historic privileges. Its social structures could be considered anarchic because the mayor, called the judge, was elected by one family head every three years in an assembly, and he was advised by three men of the different villages within the region. It worked similar to a contemporary neighborhood’s association, in which one member per house chooses one chairman every one or two years. Furthermore, laws were immemorial unwritten traditions and customs, not distant from the natural law.

During seven centuries, they kept historical rights recognized by the other kingdoms, such as free choice of citizenship, tax exemptions, and nonmandatory military service. No security forces had jurisprudence inside Coto Mixto, and any person could be arrested or deprived of his wealth, although locals gave people accused of murder to Spanish forces if the evidence was conclusive. They also had rights of asylum and farming freedom, so they could grow tobacco, which was—and to this day still is—a state-enforced monopoly in Spain. They could have practiced free trade thanks to the “Camiño Privilegiado,” a commercial route between Portugal and Spain in which no foreign authority could impose tariffs.

There is no evidence of higher criminality in the free society of Coto Mixto compared to Portugal or Spain, contrary to the statist claim that anarchic societies are insecure. Moreover, locals were devout Catholics, and they respected all traditions and cooperated for the common good; it appears, therefore, the idea that we need the state to enforce morality and virtues is another myth. Finally, this anarchist society was stable for seven centuries without any war and without any need of a state to keep peace, prosperity, and stability.

Having considered the virtues of this regime, we must then ask the question, Why did Coto Mixto disappear? The reason was that the liberal government (in Spain, we refer to this historical period as Jacobin liberalism) of Queen Isabella II saw in Coto Mixto one problem for their homogeneity and egalitarian goals.

Thus, they started a smear campaign against the mixtos in the name of national security, claiming that the hundreds of people benefiting from mixtos favored smuggling and crime. As we have seen, such claims are obvious slander, but it was enough for the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal to sign an agreement called the Treaty of Lisbon to partition off the territory of Coto Mixto in 1864. The locals finally surrendered in 1868.

There are a lot of questions about real anarchy. Could anarchy with order work? Sure, because it is the natural system of human organization based on natural law. Could this system last over time? Yes, but we should remember that Coto Mixto lasted for such a long time due to feudal rights and the passivity of the Spanish and Portuguese governments. As soon as these powers so desired, they did away with all the historical legal customs and liberties just because they had more powerful armies, similar to any modern government doing away with any constitutional limits to their power.

The idyllic solution of splitting Europe into hundreds of political units without any state being bigger than Liechtenstein or the small principalities of the Holy Roman Empire will be difficult if we do not look back to the past and consider feudal rights again, not as evil institutions but as a viable alternative to the increasing centralization of the state power of a few bureaucrats in Brussels, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, and all the international bureaucratic institutions controlled by elites who want a world state. Secession can only be possible if citizens of close city-states never legitimize military attacks against their neighbors. Without a victory in the culture war, all secessionist and anarchist movements will be smashed with the disproportional use of force.

Coto Mixto is just one example in a long list of ordered forms of anarchic societies. For more examples, the reader can refer to the American West (nineteenth century), Celtic Ireland (650–1650), the Icelandic Commonwealth (930–1262), Rhode Island (1636–48), Albemarle (1640–63), Pennsylvania (1681–90), and Cospaia (1440–1826). Anarchy is not impossible.

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