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Would it be possible for a stable society to be built around the concept of theft as a positive action, and thievery as a virtue, while still having theft be technically illegal, but having the possession of stolen property be perfectly legal?

Say we have a society in which theft is widely accepted as a "good thing". Displaying items one has stolen is a sign of prestige, being good at stealing things, whether by confidence tricks, pick-pocketing, or burglary, is a positive trait on a level or above being physically attractive or athletic/good at sports in our modern society.

However, in a seeming contradiction, this society has laws against theft, even very strict laws by modern standards, with months or years of jail time for even small thefts. Again, possession of stolen property is perfectly legal, and thus if one is able to make a clean escape and the police are unable to prove that one has committed the theft using information other than the possession of the item or items in question, one is able to retain the property and there are no legal penalties.

Is such a society functional and stable, or will it fall apart due to internal pressures and strife?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Oct 3 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like "The Black Sheep," an Italo Calvino short story $\endgroup$ – Brent Zundel Oct 4 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ reminds me of the discworld where theft is legal as long as you leave a receipt and stay below your quota. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 6 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ See novel “Ten Points For Style” by Walter Jon Williams for this exact concept beautifully written. $\endgroup$ – SRM Oct 7 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ Checks tax bill: 46% marginal tax rate. Hmm.... I think I already live in a society based on theft. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Nov 7 at 17:54

14 Answers 14

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A similar system was used in the spartan agoge

Boys were intentionally underfed to encourage them to steal food for themselves; however, they were severely punished if caught.

This was part of the highly regarded educational system in Sparta

Education in the agoge served as a great equalizer in Sparta. Any male who did not successfully pass through the agoge was denied Spartan citizenship.

As you see, the spartan society was built around agoge, which had, among its foundation, also theft, though it was punished, thus illegal, according to its own laws.

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    $\begingroup$ The way I understood it, stealing wasn't illegal, getting caught stealing was. The difference may be subtle from the viewpoint of our current materialistic world, but it is different. I don't have a source for that, though, so I might just be wrong. (And even if I'm not, it might still be usable for the asker's situation.) $\endgroup$ – Jasper Oct 2 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Jasper "stealing wasn't illegal, getting caught stealing was" - That's exactly what the asker wants though. $\endgroup$ – Echox Oct 2 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ The reasoning behind the concept in this answer was thus: in the event of war, a soldier may have to steal food to survive. Which is why punishment only occurred if they were caught (since being caught in non-friendly territory could result in death.) They even had a game for it. I can't remember the name, but it essentially involved them stealing from servants. $\endgroup$ – b1nary.atr0phy Oct 2 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ You have to remember that the citizen class in Sparta only accounted for less than an eighth of the population, with helots and perioeci, making up much of the rest. This doesn't quite pass the test of a whole society that views stealing as laudible. $\endgroup$ – BobTheAverage Oct 3 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Jasper There is a specific term for things that are only illegal if you are caught in the act - unfortunately, I do not recall what it is. As another historical example, it used to be that Smuggling fell into that category: possession of smuggled good was not illegal, and you couldn't be arrested for admitting to having smuggled, only if you were caught while smuggling. Of course, if you walked into the bar every Tuesday boasting about how much smuggling you did the day before, you'd probably be tailed the next Monday and caught in the act... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Oct 3 at 11:59
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In some North American Indian cultures, there was a concept known as Counting Coup which honored the bravery of warriors as demonstrated by certain acts:

  • Touching an enemy and getting away unscathed
  • Touching an enemy's weapon
  • Touching an enemy during a battle and that enemy dying
  • Stealing something of value from an enemy, especially a weapon

This last part of the culture fits in perfectly with your model insofar as in the Indian culture, the act of Counting Coup was as much a part of a culture of war; one didn't steal from one's own tribe for instance but this was not considered to be theft if it was done from an enemy, especially during a battle.

Ultimately, even in our society today, there are actions that come across as more daring than others, even if they are both covered under the same criminal definition. Someone who steals the lolly out of the mouth of a toddler for instance is subjected to a higher degree of disdain and ridicule as someone who steals a car that has a sophisticated alarm system. Technically both are stealing, but one requires skill and daring; the other doesn't.

Your culture would also have to be able to make that differentiation. Remember that theft is in the criminal code in the first place for a reason; you don't want your untrained and undisciplined members going vigilante to protect their property; you want an impartial and disciplined force of keepers of the peace doing it so the populace is out there contributing to the economy rather than bunkered down with a siege mentality.

That aside though, if you limited the acceptance of this to actions perpetrated against opposing and competitive cabals and limited the disruption to set items of value and/or times, then it is certainly workable.

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Theft Isn't Illegal, But...

So I am going to offer a slight counter to the question, and pose that theft itself is not illegal in this society, However, they do have very stringent laws on things that happen during a theft. In other words, getting caught stealing carries a penalty because of actions taken during the stealing, but not the theft itself.

Trespassing

A man's house is his castle. To enter into it uninvited is an affront to his pride and hard work and cannot be tolerated. This is even more egregious if the destruction of that property was involved as well. Climbing through an open window in the middle of the night is bad enough, but breaking that window first is even worse. There is no good reason to do either and anyone caught doing so should be punished to the full extent of the law.

Assault

To use violence against your fellow citizens is to go against everything that society stands for. Even just the threat of violence is itself a type of violence. Therefore there is no such thing as "robbery" since all acts are inherently violent and should then be considered assault. The fact that the victim's property was lost during the assault should also be weighed when judging the crime, but is a secondary concern to the violence of the act.

Libel

Of all of the valuables a man may possess, his reputation may be one of the most important. This is why mere possession of an item is not itself enough to accuse a man of thievery. An object may pass through many hands over time, and most if not all of them could have come by it through fair and legal means. A man may buy a vase from merchant in a fair and legal transaction. That merchant may have bought the vase in a similar manner, and that seller acquire it by legal means from another as well. Even if the vase were to have been stolen at some point in it's history does not mean that these future transactions were wrong. Without direct evidence of the original theft, accusing another of it merely based on their current ownership of the item involved is merely an assault on their honor and public image.

Everybody Loves A Party

In your society, cunning would be the most valuable trait someone could have. Being able to trick someone would be seen as a positive trait and a failure on the part of whoever you tricked. This would probably lead to a society where everyone was slightly paranoid and generally distrustful, but I doubt that alone would cause it to collapse.

As for glorifying theft, the above legal points mean that breaking into someone's home or forcibly taking something from them is a no go. However, once you have been invited into someone's home there is nothing stopping you from swiping their goods, as long as you aren't caught doing so. In that case, throwing a party would be a way of both showing off your skills in protecting stuff, and your confidence in being able to do so.

The really gaudy examples of this would be with your rich/noble citizens. Those types would make it a point to display their most valuable possessions, as a way of showing off not only how wealthy they are but also how able they are to keep that wealth. Remember, not being stolen from also requires cunning. At that point every time an aristocrat throws a party it is actually a giant game of "who can steal the most valuable object". Things like silverware and small decorations would be traded around so much and so often that you could tell which parties someone attended based on who had those items last. At the same time, being able to steal a truly valuable item at a party would raise your standing in your fellow nobles' eyes. Stealing from a rival and then just leaving that item around without proper protections would be a grave insult, implying that you think so lowly of their prized possessions.

In all honesty, I don't think your society would immediately collapse just because stealing isn't frowned upon. Just make sure that there is a bit of gamesmanship attached to it. Stealing a knickknack from a friend at a party is just good fun. Robbing a poor merchant on the road is still unethical and bad and anyone who does so should be punished.

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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me somewhat of the German laws saying, roughly speaking, that attempting escape from prison is not a crime (because it's natural to want to be free, and inhumane for deny that), but that you will be penalised for any crimes you commit in the attempt. $\endgroup$ – Pilchard123 Oct 2 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ Having an aristocracy that operates with different rules than the masses allows for some level of theft without it being a world-wide issue. The masses all operate on "no theft - ever" type rules, where the aristocracy, as you describe, do so most of the time, but not all the time. $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton Oct 3 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphBolton I don't think you need to restrict the theft to the upper class. Just make sure that everyone understands what "acceptable targets" are for theft. It has to be something that the other person can afford to lose. The idea is that stealing is all a game, and everyone understands the unspoken rules to it. Swiping coins from a beggar is poor form because they can't afford to lose that money. The richer you are the more/better stuff you can afford to lose. $\endgroup$ – D.Spetz Oct 3 at 18:34
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A society built around theft would necessarily be one that does not respect any concept of private property rights. This would probably rule out any kind of sedentary existence for ordinary members, as settling down in one place is an open invitation to have your things stolen. People would not own much, to reduce the impact of theft, and would likely restrict themselves to what they can carry. So a nomadic society looks like your only logical option.

Farming would be impossible, so food supplies would be restricted to hunting-gathering. For obvious reasons, there would be no such things as markets or stores. Trade itself would be very limited, essentially only to people you trust. Foreign peoples (assuming they were more normal) would not be willing to have any kind of trade with this culture. It's just not profitable enough to be worth it. Furthermore, any members of this society wandering in a foreign land would probably be very unwelcome.

There could not be any kind of functional government, as al governments rely upon tax collection. But who ensures that the tax collectors won't simply pocket the cash? Within government, corruption would be, by design, a way of life. Every person in a position of power could easily steal from public funds and there would be no one with the power to oversee or catch them. There would be almost no possibility of having public works of any sort, as this would invite public cannibalization. Even roads can have their material stolen and resold. The very concept of having someone charged with stewardship of common resources would be alien.

Moreover, the worship of theft and taking advantage of others by deceit would foster a hypercompetitive and distrustful culture, where everyone would probably go about armed and ready to bring down any stranger who looked suspicious. The most important life skills would be ones where you take things from people; these are not skills that foster economic growth in any way. Earning trust with new people you meet would take a long, long time.

In short, what I'm describing is not a society. It's a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Mad Max is a good example of what it would look like.

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  • $\begingroup$ Mad Max is a nice example - small enclaves of people who band together against all others outside their walls. However, each of those groups forms a society based on rules which are different from the rules outside. As noted, economic growth requires trade, and you need economic growth to make things worth stealing. $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton Oct 3 at 10:03
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You're describing most of the Third World, theft is encouraged as it's a means of survival for some and the only way to advance for others. And happens from top to bottom so the example is set by leaders and elders. While at the same time laws drafted by consultants to satisfy donor countries requirements for funding condemn theft and outline severe penalties.

There is little accountability and after being robbed your neighbours will quite openly walk around in your clothing. Calling the police without a video of the crime taking place will result in the cops eating the whole contents of your fridge and asking you for a smoke.

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It is not only possible, but some of us also used to live in one.

Welcome to the late Soviet Union and its satellites.

As the State has a monopoly over any economic activity and the ideology equalizes the reward for good and bad performers, the only possible way of achieving considerable wealth is theft in some form.

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I would concentrate on making thievery a form of meritocracy or an institutionalised ritual.

e.g. Make it the Second Amendment in their constitution for historical reasons and nobody will be able to restrict it, for fear of being dubbed unpatriotic. /s

Is such a society functional and stable, or will it fall apart due to internal pressures and strife?

The main issue here is that the background/context needs to justify the social values or status quo in order to make it a stable system. Humans will accept a lot of seemingly nonsensical customs if it has enough social inertia, contextual practicality or both.

I particularly like Terry Pratchett's Diskworld for it's portrayal of the Thieves' and Assassins' guilds as legalised institutions. Especially where the guilds have extensive by-laws and extensively self-regulate. e.g. The Thieves' Guild sells loss prevention insurance, sets limits on the amount of theft permissible and actively polices unauthorised/non-member theft.

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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention the various guilds associated with traditionally "unsavory" behavior - the thieves, assassins, and seamstresses - pass on half the guild earnings (so 25% of "street cost") to the city instead of the city harassing all residents for taxes... $\endgroup$ – ivanivan Oct 2 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ The Second Amendment is a poor example; it does not remain in existence because it is difficult to get rid of, but because the right to arms (not just firearms) it protects is very closely related to the right of self defense, which is understood to be morally justified everywhere on earth. $\endgroup$ – Joe Oct 2 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe fine, edit: it shall not be infringed. That being said it's more an example of how different cultures enshrine rights/social norms. Whilst the right to self-defense is generally recognised universally, the right to arms is most definitely not. $\endgroup$ – vinchenso Oct 3 at 6:08
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It would fall apart if applied to every aspect of society, but it would be entirely possible to setup a so-called exclusive club where this type of behavior is encouraged and promoted (Like the thieves world sort of shown in the Ocean movies, where you can issue theft challenges or the target is to steal a certain item).

This doesn't apply to all society as it will create turmoil due to several issues


Highly Valuable Items, Unique Items

If I had a highly valuable, Unique, One-of-a-kind item, you could steal it but never prove ownership of such an item as its unique. For example, Stealing the crown of the Monarch or the Mona Lisa. Due to the uniqueness of such an item, a thief would never be able to prove ownership unless there was a huge oversight in the investigation. The only way this would be solved, is if the owner was willing to let the item be stolen, but if its something highly important (Like a Royal Seal) it might have much larger implications than a fun game.

You can also twist this aspect. Can I steal the crown prince when they are a baby? Is that fair game? There are bound to be some items and rules around this, so all theft cannot be encouraged.

Injuries, Compensation

The second part is injuries and compensation. If I killed your 5 guards to steal your treasure, do I need to compensate you for it? What if I seriously maimed you in the process. Theft isn't always clean and its entirely possible for someone to be injured or killed during the act of stealing. You don't want your baron losing a leg, because a guard decided to cut it off for him. Likewise, you don't want the King to steal something from you by murdering everyone in the household.

There needs to be an established set of rules to ensure that victims are compensated for their loses and any damages received during the robbery attempt. Mr. King is going to be angry when his fine silk cloak is slashed to bits because a poor farmer decided to steal his coin purse with a badly targeted slash of the blade. Likewise, Mr. Farmer is going to be devastated if someone steals their goods and accidentally kills their entire family to ensure a clean getaway.

Foul Play

The playing board isn't equal in terms of theft, because the rich and wealthy can afford to lose things. Mr King doesn't mind if he loses a valuable painting for a few gold coins. But Mr Farmer who is going to barely survive winter is going to be devastated when all his grains are stolen, and then he needs to legally battle a much wealthier opponent to prove the items were stolen, all while starving to death.

Result

The end result is that you will have a wealthy society capable of playing this theft game. They will likely challenge rivals to steal their valuable possessions, setting up rules and restrictions to ensure no one is injured but there is still a challenge in breaking through the security systems.

The Poor and/or middle class are excluded from this because they can't afford the risk and do not have the means to provoke and defend against the wealthy. If they become targeted, they will likely leave for another place, which will slowly create a void of low skilled jobs that need to be filled.

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It is totally possible because legalized theft exists in nearly every society

For nearly everything that is typically considered a crime, there is some legalized version of it that society engages in for the purpose of keeping society stable and functioning, or for some other benefit. "Murder" is the illegal version of killing people; legal versions of killing people are called "self-defense", "war", and "capital punishment." They have different moral overtones than murder, but they are all still killing people.

Theft is the illegal version of taking other people's property. There are multiple versions of legalized theft that have been in widespread practice and are still in many societies today.

Taxation

If a private citizen approached you and asked you to give up a percentage of your income, or part of the value of your land, with the alternative being spending time in a dungeon, this would be called theft, and we would lament the threat of kidnapping. When the government does it, it's called taxation, and few people complain about jailing someone who skips out on paying their taxes (assuming you have a tax system which is progressive and people agree on the moral necessity of doing so.)

Eminent Domain

If I take your land away to do whatever I want with it and pay you whatever I think it's worth, but don't give you the option to say no, that would be called theft. When the government does it to build a highway or a military base, it's called eminent domain.

Wealth Redistribution

When Robin Hood steals from the rich to give to the poor, he is a thief but is considered a noble one, especially because the rich people he stole from were jerks, and the poor people were really poor and could use help.

Sometimes governments decide to play the role of Robin Hood, by seizing property or money specifically to give it to other people. The relatively benign versions of this would be welfare programs common in First World countries. The less benign versions of this existed during the establishment of communist countries, in which private property (except necessities) were taken from everyone and given to other people because private property was considered immoral.

The secret ingredient is a compelling moral justification

I don't mean for this to read like an anti-government rant. Government comes up in all of my examples about taking property because it's the one institution that is typically allowed to do things that private persons are not allowed to do because it can morally justify those actions in the name of creating order and preventing anarchy. Private people or groups can use their own moral justifications (and they do with things like killing in self-defense), but it's harder to do that with theft, especially in advanced countries that value property rights. But, that's where your own society can have different values, or different priorities on those values.

The trick I see that you could use is that your imaginary society could have rules against the actual act of stealing, but find it morally virtuous to give those stolen things to someone else. That way, if you recieved stolen property (or "recieved it") there could be a moral argument that you should be allowed to keep the stolen thing because you deserve it more than the person it was stolen from.

You can have "stability" with all of this justified theft, but at the expense of being poorer than you otherwise would be

I think it's pretty clear you can have stability and permit people to keep ill-gotten gains... but that's going to reduce the incentives for people to have things worth stealing lying around. They may invest in things to prevent thefts, or go to effort to steal their things back (what would be wrong with that in your scenario?). But, that takes time, effort, and resources, things which most people throughout history have had very little of.

So, if you're not a rich person, the rational thing to do is avoid all of that trouble by not having anything to steal in first place. This is a large part of why there's poverty in the parts of the world where property rights aren't respected; it's a lot less effort to stay poor than to be rich or even moderately well off. You should keep that In mind when designing your master thievery society; it's probably not going to have anything resembling a middle class, because common people need to be able to keep their valuable things in order to have a middle class.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are examples of the government itself taking from the individual, not individuals taking from each other. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Oct 2 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRichardson So? Those are the examples which are morally permissible in non-fictional societies that we can easily relate to. The author will have to do the work to conjure an individual moral justification. EDIT: I cited Robin Hood and he didn't work for the government. $\endgroup$ – Joe Oct 2 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Examples like taxation are only similar to theft when you reach an abstraction level where a book is like an apple, because there's a word for both and they exist physically. $\endgroup$ – potestasity Oct 3 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ @potestasity You think that only because you probably pay your taxes. If you refuse to pay your taxes sufficiently enough, the experience is functionally identical to being robbed $\endgroup$ – Joe Oct 3 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe If you use that broad a definition of robbery, it starts to lose all meaning. Can you rob someone of something that did not belong to them in the first place? $\endgroup$ – John Oct 6 at 4:16
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Bit of a frame challenge. If taking something is legal and socially-approved, in what sense is it “theft?” It sounds more like applying our mores to a form of collective ownership that doesn’t recognize private property.

Like everyone’s said, you have to limit it. The Bible, for example, orders property-owners to leave the corners of the field and grains that fall to the ground, and let the poor people walk onto their land and glean it. The limit might be that people are only allowed to take what they absolutely need. The limit might be that someone perceived as a parasite or free-loader is ostracized—as in, cast out—but if you took a lot of seeds, planted them, and grew a bumper crop that you then shared, that would be admirable. It might be that only some things are considered inherently portable, or actually the property of a god that it would be sacrilege for any human to claim as their own, or immoral to deny to others. It might be that you can claim what you yourself made with your own hands, but not the bounty of Nature. The rule might be that you can take whatever you’re strong enough to get away with, and people look up to you for it, if you can survive the retaliation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Taking something is not legal. It is illegal. Having the thing afterward is legal, if they can't prove you stole it by other means than you having it, as they can't prove you didn't just buy it from whoever stole it. But actually stealing things is illegal. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon - Reinstate Monica Oct 2 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Gryphon Okay, thanks. So sort of like the examples today where people practice civil disobedience of the law. Maybe they regard the property of the rich as ill-gotten and stolen from them first. $\endgroup$ – Davislor Oct 2 at 19:50
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Self-Defense?

You didn't say whether citizens are allowed to use extensive forms of protection for their property. If your society has stand-your-ground type laws, then it would make sense for rich people to simply staff up on mercenaries and shoot anyone who glances sideways at your shinies. If citizens are not allowed to use extreme violence, then it makes theft seem almost easy, at which point where does the prestige come from?

Sustainability

As others have mentioned, if all items are subject to theft and render prestige in proportion to their market value, then people would be willing to steal trifling goods like toasters and TVs. If everyone is busy stealing from each other, then it's hard to see how anyone could afford to build products of value, knowing that competitors would rather steal your designs, your test, and the very products off your production lines than do that work themselves.

However, if your society limits the "stealing is good" virtue to luxury items, then you end up with an Ocean's 11 situation where someone is mad about the theft, but not most people, and, in fact, the thieves themselves can easily be heroes. This is sustainable, because luxury items, by definition, do not support existence or commerce (except for the luxury sales sector, of course). If thieves limited themselves to stealing Bugattis, Bvlgari watches, and big yachts, then the rest of society may very well naturally praise and congratulate the thieves with no remorse or pity for the victims.

Even in rich societies, people will commit crimes of poverty, because they feel they have to, or because they don't have anything to lose. Nobody thinks this is "noble" or "impressive", even if they might be understanding of the motivation. So making the thievery open-ended is likely too problematic. Limiting it to tokens of intrinsic prestige value, but limited practical value will likely produce the desired effects naturally, and is obviously a kind of sport for rich people, which is nonetheless accessible for those of modest means but very sticky fingers.

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At first, this doesn't sound very feasible. After all, that would mean a society focused not on producing/adding value to itself but on redistributing existing goods. Without production, said society wouldn't really prosper after all.

Then, I thought about the distinction between stealing and getting caught stealing, as well as the fact murder would still be viewed in a negative light. I'm assuming murder during theft is highly looked down on and receives especially harsh sentences regardless of whether the theft was successful or not.

That would mean a thief in such a setting would go out of their way to avoid causing permanent harm, or risk being unable to expose or even sell their loot. Sure, you stole the unique Necklace of the Rainbow Diamond without getting caught, but the count and his family, the original owners, were found dead so you're arrested for murder instead of theft! Not feeling so happy with yourself now, are you?

The harsh penalties and focus on skill means lower profile theft wouldn't be as rampant as I first envisioned. Why risk a heavy sentence for a basic chair? Some lower level industries would be quite safe overall. It would mean food stalls and markets would still exist, though they would be more secure against wandering fingers...

That means there are and will be people who will work and actually produce the food and commodities required for a society to exist, even if to a lesser extent than a normal society.

Security would be very high though. If displaying stolen goods brings prestige, it would be the same for non-stolen ones. After all, you're publicly showing something really valuable which no thief has been able to steal from you (yet). It could be the sign of banks or other security companies: they would display rare and valuable items to prove they are very secure.

In the end though, there would still be lots of people working more or less honestly, simply because they're not good enough to be thieves (by the standards of that society) and you gotta make a living somehow. You could imagine them dreaming of becoming a famous thief then discovering as they grow up they just don't have what it takes.

In the end, said society could work, though it would be poorer than a normal one.

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  • $\begingroup$ Plus, stealing something on public display with no guard could be seen as rather pathetic of you: "Oh, he's no real thief. He can only take things that are almost handed to him on a platter." $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Oct 2 at 16:16
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Here in Austria speeding with a car is illegal but you still hear people boasting about it. Sometimes they even boast about getting a fine or having their driver’s license confiscated.

So I think the society you describe would be totally feasible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Australia was a penal colony, have to excuse that crowd. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Oct 2 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ He said Austria not Australia mate, the only thing we have in common is the F88 Steyr. Now, excuse me while I drink a VB and get picked up by the RBT for drink driving. $\endgroup$ – vinchenso Oct 3 at 7:09
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I'm not sure it answers your question exactly but it seems to solve the problem while avoiding most drawback :

Your society, for historical and/or religious reasons, praise the ability to take what you need for yourself above all else. They used to live in small tribes that stole from each other but now that they are a great and unified nation, they couldn't really continue on this path.

So they decided to give a unique token to each citizen (and each newborn after that). This token is what you have the right to steal (if you don't get caught) and nothing else from another citizen. Having a lot of them is really prestigious (and opens a lot of doors), having none makes you a scrub. This way the society can work like any other, while still praising stealing.

Of course, if the other person is not even a citizen, you can steal whatever you want from him, it's allowed. You could even decide that anyone stealing a token instantly becomes a citizen.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're not going to become a great and unified nation with all of this stealing, because you need wealth to become a great and unified nation, and widespread theft discourages wealth generation, e.g. you can have "stability", but not "greatness." $\endgroup$ – Joe Oct 2 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ I feel like you missed the point where there is no stealing anymore in the great unified nation, except of a very specific token that has no impact on the rest of your wealth. $\endgroup$ – Echox Oct 2 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ But you wrote the causation the other way around in the answer; that they became great and then put a stop to it, not that they put a stop to it and then became great. $\endgroup$ – Joe Oct 2 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ First paragraph is a very vague introduction to the setting OP asked for and not really the core of the answer. They could have made the change just after a big unification war, or maybe they became "great" afterwards... or maybe we don't know and don't care where it comes from and the story happens hundreds of years later the start of this tradition ? Whatever floats your (or OP's) boat. $\endgroup$ – Echox Oct 2 at 21:02

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