Thrown into the brutish natural world, naked and hungry, the human has two ways in which he can gain resources and better himself. He can either work to provide value for others in reciprocal, voluntary arrangements, or he can go the way of the aggressor, which means stealing from others. The first method is the voluntary means, and the second the political means, as commentators such as Franz Oppenheimer and Albert Jay Nock recognised.

There is another law about human nature. The law states that a man seeks to get the most possible gain from the least possible effort. It’s an important instinct – without it, humans would feel no compelling reason to economise, and the species would struggle to survive, let alone progress. However, this law means that there will be every incentive for a man to steal the product of another man’s labour if he perceives it will be less work than producing it himself.

It seems that no matter what we do there will be some people who find it more viable to use aggression and coercion to get what they want than work and trade. Provided the majority of people choose to produce, there will always be incentive for parasitism.

These people, the aggressors, come in two forms: organised and unorganised. Back in the days of hunting and gathering, the aggressors could only be unorganised, simply because society was unorganised. The aggressors survived by petty banditry, stealing food from ill-protected travellers.

When these societies began to settle down and develop agriculture, it created surpluses of food, increasing the population and creating bigger, and more permanent communities. This is the village. Unfortunately, permanence also permitted these groups of bandits to organise and grow.

It allowed them to set up shop in these villages and communities, creating a permanent expropriating force. This phenomenon is sometimes called the ‘domestication of predation’. Just as animal husbandry is ‘domesticated’, in that communities are stationary and can produce surplus, predation is transformed from opportunistic, ad-hoc theft to systematic expropriation from particular farms. It’s institutionalised – the political means.

The bandits never expropriate so much that the village would die out, as this would amount to killing the goose that laid the golden egg. They steal enough to sustain themselves, and use the power to win friends and influence people, but never completely impoverish the villagers. They may even skirt from village to village, depending on the season, confiscating a portion of wealth from each.

The domestication of predation has been depicted on film in many forms, but the most interesting texts are Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, its western adaptation The Magnificent Seven, and the computer animation from Pixar, A Bug’s Life. It’s a theme that has been developed over the years, but has not yet reached its zenith.

Seven Samurai is an epic work, spanning nearly 4 hours. It’s set in ancient Japan amidst a political struggle and near-famine. The Japanese farmers are living barely above subsistence level, and subject to roaming gangs of bandits that every season take a multitude of rice with threat of force. The film opens with the villagers literally weeping in the street, lamenting their impossible situation. Enough is enough, and they volunteer three peasants to go find Samurai to help them in exchange for food. It is the set up for a classic.

The Magnificent Seven is a straight remake set in the old west, with a ridiculously good cast. Same story again, this time the village is a border town exploited by a clan of Mexican bandits, the lead played by Eli ‘The Ugly’ Wallach, and the saviours coming in the form of bounty hunters.

They both follow the same structure: the peasants go out to find one protector, and through a series of violent and sometimes humorous vignettes, six more are added to the fold. They come back to the village, make a plan, and then battle with the bandits, usually leaving but a few warriors remaining. The village survives another day.

What’s cool about these movies, from an anarcho-capitalist perspective, is that the villagers don’t even think about getting their government to help them. They know they have no interest, selfishly or altruistically. Instead, they hire groups of people not too dissimilar to private defence agencies proposed by an-cap theorists. We anarchists can totally get on board with the Samurai and the old west bounty hunters, where we might be a bit uncomfortable about identifying with any military guy, even if he is superficially protecting people. And they seem to do a better job than any state army would.

Surprisingly however, the most satisfying adaptation of this story is A Bug’s Life. It may not be as much of a cult classic as the other films, but has a much more positive message for the 21st Century.

The ‘village’ takes the form of an ant colony complete with royal family, terrorised by a rogue group of grasshoppers led by Hopper, voiced by Kevin Spacey. Every season, the ants harvest nearby grain and make a sizeable offering to the grasshoppers so that they leave them alone. But things get a lot worse when one of the worker ants, Flik, accidentally pushes the pile of grain into the river when one of his inventions malfunctions. To make up for it, he sets off into the wilderness to find bigger bugs to protect the colony.

Through a misunderstanding he hires a band of recently laid-off circus bugs, including a gender-insecure ladybug and a would-be thespian stick insect demeaned into being the prop in sight gags. Happy for the work, they journey with Flik back to the colony, only realising later that they were supposed to be warriors. Flik is banished by the Queen for keeping this from her, but he returns with the circus bugs, and the colony rise up against the grasshoppers to drive them out.

The uniquely brilliant thing about A Bug’s Life is that the expropriators are not warded off, as before, with brute force, but by ingenuity and creativity. The protagonist is not a gun-wielder but a plucky entrepreneur. The saviours are not warriors but entertainers. They defeat their enemies, not by superior strength on the battlefield, but by wit and invention.

The peace-lovers are not just left as they were, as in previous adaptations of this story. Although the community is initially skeptical of Flik’s inventions, in the end they embrace his labour-saving devices, presumably ushering in an industrial revolution that allows the colony to grow and prosper. Peace is not just for the sake of peace, but for flourishing too.

I also recommend Antz, which, oddly enough, is also about ants, came out in the same year and also a libertarian classic. It’s one ant versus the warfare state. It’s great for kids, and great for adults because Woody Allen voices the protagonist. I find that concept hilarious on its face.

These films are entertaining, and have their uses as explicators of the theory of the domestication of predation, they don’t go far enough.

Here’s the problem. In all of these movies, the bandits lose in a battle of some form. The expropriated realise that the situation cannot go much longer and, with the help of mercenaries, rise up against the expropriators, freeing themselves from tyranny. But the expropriators aren’t being smart enough. They needn’t attempt to use superior militaristic force against the farmers. All they need to do is declare themselves a government.

Étienne de La Boétie, in The Politics of Obedience, recognised something crucial about the state. Regimes only survive so long as the people consent. It may only be tacit consent, but enough people need to believe that the current state is necessary, otherwise it is untenable. As soon as the ants withdrew their consent from the tyrannous grasshoppers, it was all over.

But the grasshoppers could have done one better. They could have persuaded the ants that not only were they going to rule, but their rule was necessary, nay, a positive good to their society. They could have provided rudimentary protection from other grasshopper clans, providing superficial justification for their expropriation of resources. The ‘offering’ of food could simply be called a ‘tax’. They could have permitted elections in which the ants could choose which grasshopper they’d like to have rule over them. They could have offered the royal family special privilege within the clan in exchange for propaganda efforts on their behalf. In a word, they could become a state.

The next step for the farm vs. bandit genre is to apply what we know about the state. A movie needs to be made in which warriors hired to protect the farm arrive to find that the farmers actually enjoy and desire their enslavement, believing that they are not actually being expropriated but benefitting by the bandits’ occupation.

This would give the warriors a dramatic challenge that we haven’t seen on screen before. They would have to tackle the minds of the populace before the arms of the democratically elected bandits. They couldn’t just attack them, as their loyal serfs would leap to their defence. They would have to apply wit and persuasion, and be even more wiley than the circus bugs. Done right, it could be the best film ever made.

I’m not being flippant. The set up for these stories is the classic good vs. evil dichotomy, but the challenge is not only defeating evil, but recognising evil in the first place. A story that took us on that journey would be as epic as had ever been told. The Magnificent Seven is getting a remake. We can only hope the new generation of film-makers have fully understood the implications of the genre and continue in its stead, and not make a same-old shooter that we’ll forget about after six months.

Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven are available on Netflix. No, I don’t work for them, I just think it’s awesome.