The Blog

Leaders, Who Needs 'em?

With the American Presidential Inauguration Day now upon us, here are 6 reasons why we don't need 'em.

With the American Presidential Inauguration Day now upon us, here are 6 reasons why we don't need 'em.


The European Nation smashed the world record for running with no government in 2010-11 at a blistering 589 days. Everything went pretty smoothly during that unique period, with administrative housekeeping tended to by an interim Government, which avoided any big decisions. Although Belgium was called a "failed State" by a Member of the European Parliament for England - among others - it is worth noting that the latter country later flirted with failure itself. So, no elected Government, no problem?

Simple Is Best

The Nambikuara are among the closest human societies get to not having leaders. In their wanderings through the savannas of Eastern Brazil, temporary leaders of small hunter-gatherer groups come and go most years, and are likely to be "ignored or desterted". Some lead while others follow. Some lead and no-one follows.

A life of hunting, gathering and answering to nobody may seem idyllic, but this is only a realistic option for what Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called "one of the simplest forms of human society to be conceived". Not really on the menu, then, for those of us in urban metropolises.


Many confuse the objectives of anarchy with Alfred the Butler's line, "some men just want to watch the world burn". However, most anarchists believe in a stable and peaceful society that emphasizes individual liberty and a lack of hierarchy, while opposing any form of government. The Greek origin of the word, anarchia, simply means contrary to authority. Some see anarchy as a necessary stepping-stone to other final goals such as Communism, like leading communist philosopher Peter Kropotkin. For others, their ideals led them to fight against dictatorships in 20th Century Spain or Romania.


Both libertarianism and anarchy uphold the principle of individual liberty but, unlike its close cousin, this ideology doesn't necessarily oppose government in all its forms, rather it seeks to minimize it to the greatest possible degree. All-round good guy, abolitionist and third President of the USA, Thomas Jefferson is often hailed as a prominent libertarian because he held that a limited government is necessary to avoid the abuse of power, and that it must act within the "chains" of the Constitution.

What About Animals?

The idea that at least some form of informal leadership is innate in our species is backed up by studies of higher primates. Baboon, macaque and chimpanzee societies show that certain individuals are more likely to take the initiative, especially when things go wrong. These differentiations are not linked to traditional alpha personality types, but involve crafty social climbing through individual skills suited to given tasks. Even meerkats, it seems, have matriarchs.

So do our non-human counterpars suggest that some form of leadership is inevitable?


Viewers of the Vikings series on Netflix may have noticed how fluidly leaders come to power and are overthrown. It's a hard life for Ragnar. Godars - religious or political leaders - had no formal authority and were followed voluntarily. Such was their disregard for rulers, that when King Harold Fairhair tried to centralize power in 9th Century Norway, the vikings founded a kind of libertarian State in Iceland. This decentralized model upheld traditional Norwegian values of "an emphasis on community, a respect for competition and a commitment to individual responsibility". So these bearded legends put the libertarian dream to reality, at least for the three centuries that the vikings survived.

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