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Number 603, January 16, 2011

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isn't so much another point of view as
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Somali ad hoc Traditions and Spontaneous Defence Production
by Jim Davidson

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Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

The recent situations with Shaun Lee in Cole County (Jefferson City) Missouri and (some time back) Pete Eyre, Adam Mueller and some homophobic twat named Jason in Jones County, Mississippi have inspired a number of useful threads about mutual defence networks, the spontaneous production of defence services, and an agorist rapid response team that ought to make J. Neil Schulman proud of having most thoroughly developed the idea 32 years ago in his novel Alongside Night.

These ideas should be explored and developed by multiple teams. There should be competition in defence service providing primarily because of our extremely bad experiences with having all law, all justice, all police, all defence services emitted by a monopoly of pigs. It is time to apply the lessons of the free market as revealed and explained by the likes of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and others. Decentralise, compete, stay free. Centralise, suffer monopolies, and become enslaved—the choices seem stark in contrast.

In this essay I plan to explore some of the experiences that Michael van Notten wrote about in his posthumously-published master work The Law of the Somalis. You should probably get a copy of this book from Red Sea Press. I think Amazon has it, and if you are still boycotting Amazon for de-hosting Wikileaks, then find it on

Ad Hoc Courts
What does it mean, ad hoc? The words are Latin and mean, translated, "for this." The concept is from Roman times and refers to a solution developed for this particular problem rather than for general use. For example, an ad hoc committee would be organised for a particular situation, and it would disband when that situation was fully resolved.

Of course, there is a danger in creating an organisation, and we call that danger, "the egregore." It refers to the sort of "life of its own" which an organisation takes on, because those who serve the organisation tend to either be replaced, or to serve to advance the organisation's existence. So, for example, there used to be a fight against polio. For that purpose, ad hoc, there was a charity formed, "the March of Dimes." They collected dimes, and other contributions, and funded both research and treatments (like iron lungs and leg braces for crippled children).

Polio has now been treated thoroughly, and its spread has been limited. I'm not going to get into the "vaccination" controversies. I'll simply say that we can point to the polio problem as having been alleviated very thoroughly. I know some polio victims, so I cannot say it has been eliminated. But it is easy to see where "the March of Dimes" stopped being able to raise as much money for polio interventions.

What did they do? They changed their purpose from polio to birth defects. I think that was roughly at the time of the thalidomide poisonings. (Looked it up. Yes, roughly 1958 they changed their purpose to alleviate infant mortality and birth defects. October 1957 thalidomide was marketed as the cure for morning sickness, so about a year later the birth defects explosion took place. Incidentally, a year after thalidomide was banned for use in the USA, the FDA was granted (1962) much broader powers.)

Let's look at Somali practice. In Somalia there are no standing courts. Instead, when a tort or a crime takes place, a court is formed "for the purpose" or ad hoc. The court comes into existence to discuss the negligent act (tort) or the crime. It ceases to exist when the matter is resolved. Those who were involved in the court's work go back to doing what they do for a living.

Now, before we look at how that works, in Somali culture, let's ask for a moment what is going on in USA culture. What is the "American" approach, and why is it full of fail?

The answer is "standing courts." Courts which are not disbanded, but which stand around persistently. And why has that been a bad idea?

Very simply because what the court cannot abide is bankruptcy. And since it has a monopoly in its jurisdiction on providing judicial resolution services for civil and criminal law, the court can manipulate others in government to provide it with "business." An empty court room means no fines, no court fees, no money to pay the judge. So the court gets the county and city to make up laws about things that are not evil in themselves or mala in se to use the Latin, but are wrong because they have been prohibited—mala prohibitum. It is not wrong to drive 185 miles per hour, but you can be stopped for doing so, ticketed, fined, and the court reporter, bailiffs, sheriff, and judge all get paid. Whee.

So, for example, Pete, Adam, and Jason were charged for having a beer in the fridge of a recreational vehicle in Jones County, on the interstate highway. They were allegedly stopped for having no permanent licence tags on their vehicle. Their vehicle was illegally searched without their consent because the Jones County sheriff is a brutal authoritarian pig.

And it gets worse. Civil asset forfeiture laws mean that the sheriff can confiscate pretty fast cars that he wants to drive. He "sells" these at auction in various counties, and sometimes the notice of the auction isn't published and only the sheriff and his cronies show up to divvy up the loot. So the politically connected get wealthy and the rest of us have these parasites feeding off us.

Okay, so how do these ad hoc courts work for the Somalis? The judges come from the people in the community. Now, I'm going to take a moment here to disparage aspects of Somali culture.

Judges are men. I don't think they are exclusively men, but I do think there is a pervasive thread of sexism in Somali culture. Men have three or four wives if they can afford to do so. Women are chattel. Slavery is not a distant memory in their culture. I do not like sexism, domestic violence, physical abuse of women, and I saw plenty of it in Somalia. It was not my country, so I didn't do as much about it as I have been willing to do here. There are also pervasive threads of xenophobia, religious fundamentalism, and other problems in Somali culture. I'm not suggesting you move there. I'm suggesting we look at what has worked for them.

As my late friend Micahel van Notten pointed out in his book, clan culture in Somalia is much like the clan culture of the Celts and Norse and other peoples throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. There have always been these traditional laws.

But there is no code of Somali law. The law is not so much published as it is discovered. The law is simply the understanding of what is just, what is wrong in itself, and a long history of what has worked to resolve conflicts. In British and USA culture it is sometimes called "common law" and refers to traditional precedents.

So each person in Somali culture has a judge. You choose your own judge. If you don't like the rulings of a judge, you choose someone else to be your judge. As with Icelandic anarchism, there is competition for judicial services. Good.

Let's say a crime is committed. Person A has stolen a goat from Person B. The victim talks to his judge. The judge sends word to the family of Person A. The judge for Person A goes and talks to her.

Maybe this resolves the crime. Misunderstandings happen. One goat looks much like another. Person A returns the goat to Person B. All is well. Maybe the goat gave birth—the kids are provided also.

Maybe this doesn't resolve the crime. Person A claims the goat is her own. A court is called into existence by the two judges. The two of them seek to resolve the conflict. They cannot. Now they call into the community for a third judge and choose from amongst the elderly and respected members of the clan, or the two clans if there is more than one clan involved. The three judges now sit in judgement and arrive at a solution. Now the judgement is delivered.

Person A persists that she is wrong. She appeals the judgement to the community. More people gather, meet, discuss this situation. Probably under some convenient acacia tree or the like. And when the community has validated or overturned the judgement, that is it. If the criminal wants to go "outlaw" then she runs away, but her family and clan pay the compensation.

Compensatory Justice
Wait, what? Compensation? You mean, there isn't a fine? Of course not. Fines go to pay for the permanent building, its infrastructure and utilities, the judges who are permanent, and the apparatus of the state, mostly city and county commissions to go make up more infractions and the police to go nab them.

No, in Somali justice, the victim of a crime is compensated by the criminal to satisfy the judgement of the ad hoc court. If the criminal runs away, the criminal's family pays. Michael van Notten proposed to replace clan and family with insurance, and so we were going to have our free port on the Aden coast have a rule that all foreigners without clan were to bring proof of insurance, general liability insurance to the tune of $1 million. Policies for such are available, typically for a few hundred dollars a year. No insurance, no admittance.

Every crime has a compensation. And compensation is the end of the story. Once the criminal pays compensation, the crime is erased. Although no one ever speaks of the crime again, the family does watch the criminal to be sure she doesn't cost them more trouble.

What about murder? Yes, there is a price. I think it was 60 camels when I last checked, and the camel was running roughly $800. So, call it $48,000. Or about 160 years of the average "salary" for Somalis.

What about a judge committing a crime? The compensation is doubled, and all goes to the victim. Why? Because the judge commits two crimes: he betrays the community which expects him to bring order rather than disorder. And he harms the victim.

What about incarceration? It is not traditional practice. Banishment is traditional—the repeat offender or crazy person is escorted out of town and sent away from the community. Living outside the law can be miserable and brief.

What about tort? Same thing. The two parties, one negligent the other victim, are in touch with their judges. The compensation is less for killing someone by being negligent, but there is still compensation.

What if the victim doesn't run away and won't pay, and the victim's family or clan won't pay? Then there is war. A blood price has to be paid for murder. The Italians called it "vendetta." And we have seen where that leads.

Ad hoc Military
The word for an ad hoc military is "militia" in English. In Somali culture the militia is called up whenever there is a perceived threat. If the threat proves to be nothing much, the militia disbands. Every Somali man is armed, and every Somali who owns a truck (typically a Toyota Land Cruiser or a big Toyota pick up, or a Mercedes Benz lorry) also owns heavy armament (.50 calibre machine gun, one pounder anti-aircraft gun) to mount in the bed of the truck.

The elders of the clan meet to choose a war leader. The war leader commands the militia during the conflict. When the war is over, the leader steps down, the militia disbands, everyone goes back to work for a living.

What if the war leader won't step down? In 1993, the USA military sent "Task Force Ranger" to Mogadishu to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The USA military fired on a peaceful clan gathering of the Habr Gidr clan, slaughtering about a hundred Somalis who were trying to get the clan to settle differences with the UN over the attempted seizure of their radio station. Then there was a series of battles as the USA military tried to find Aidid. The book Black Hawk Down chronicles some of the slaughter committed by USA military forces "going cyclical" and massacring hundreds of Somali civilians, because the USA military is run by rat bastard mass murderers.

In 1995, the USA military airlifted Aidid to a "peace" conference in Nairobi. He agreed to become president of Somalia. In September 1995, his troops slaughtered Somalis in Baidoa. His clan elders met, signed his death warrant, and appointed one of his body guards to carry it out. He was killed in 1996.

Simply put, the Somalis won't have a king. They have many traditional stories about elders meeting to choose a king, then thinking better of it and having the king killed. Somalis are fiercely independent.

You don't have to like Somali culture. You don't have to adopt any of their methods. But you ought to look at the bloodshed in your streets and understand that your system is broken.

Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, and anti-war activist. His 1990 venture to offer a sweepstakes trip into space was destroyed by government action as was his free port and prospective space port in Somalia in 2001. His 2002-2007 venture in free market money and private stock exchange was destroyed by government action in 2007. He's going to Mars if he has to walk. His second book, Being Sovereign is now availble from Lulu and Amazon. He is currently working on a book about travel to Mars with John Wayne Smith, a book with international fugitive Chad Z. Hower on his story, a book on sovereign self-defence, and a book compiling his letters and essays in The Libertarian Enterprise since 1995. Contact him at or Come visit the Founding Fiesta of the Individual Sovereign University 4-6 March 2011 in Kansas City.


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