Superstition and self-governance

Peter T. Leeson on OUPblog:

Portrait_of_a_Franciscan_Friar_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Jacopo_Bassano_Jacopo_dal_PonteIn eras bygone, in societies across the globe, governments didn’t exist—or weren’t strong enough to provide effective governance. Without governments to govern them, the members of such societies relied on self-governance.

Self-governance refers to privately supplied institutions of property protection—whether designed by individuals expressly for the purpose, such as the “codes” that pirates forged to govern their crews in the eighteenth-century Caribbean, or developed “spontaneously,” such as the system of customary law and adjudication that emerged to govern commerce between international traders in medieval Europe. Reliance on such institutions, especially in historical societies, is well known. Less widely recognized or understood is historical societies’ reliance on superstition—objectively false beliefs—to facilitate self-governance.

Consider the case of medieval monks. Today monks are known for turning the other cheek and blessing humanity with brotherly love. But for centuries they were known equally for fulminating their foes and casting calamitous curses at persons who crossed them. These curses were called “maledictions.”

Read the rest here.