Anarchy and panarchy

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

When section F.7 on the history of "anarcho"-capitalism and its (non-)relation with anarchism was being written, there was a mention of "Panarchy" which simply did not fit easily into the sections. One was correcting the distortions about Godwin while another two was explaining why Molinari and Herbert were not anarchists, which is blindingly obvious in the case of the Herbert. This was it:

In 1860, P. E. De Puydt wrote about "Panarchy," a system of "governmental competition" in which "as many regularly competing governments as have ever been conceived and will ever be invented" would exist. People could change governments at will, without leaving their home and so could move from "republic to monarchy, from representative government to autocracy, from oligarchy to democracy, or even to Mr. Proudhon's anarchy." [quoted by Hart, "Gustave de Molinari and the Anti-statist Liberal Tradition: Part III", pp. 83-104, Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. VI, no. 1, p. 86 and p. 87] Clearly, such a regime is not anarchist. Rather it is, as De Puydt notes, a system of competing hierarchies or governments. Anarchy was considered a separate system. Hart notes the "similarity" of these ideas to Molinari's. [Op. Cit., p. 87] He fails to mention that De Puydt also, like Molinari, contrasts his vision to Proudhon's anarchism.

As noted it did not really fit, so it was dropped (and AFAQ is long enough as it is!). What is interesting about "panarchy" is how appropriate it is to describe "anarcho"-capitalism than anarchy is. After all, the "anarcho"-capitalist has no problem with any form of archy as long as it is voluntary (needless to say, "voluntary" includes decisions made due to economic necessity). Thus wage labour is acceptable, in fact, according to Rothbard both "hierarchy" and "wage-work" were part of "a whole slew of institutions necessary to the triumph of liberty" and he strenuously objected to those "indicting" such institutions "as non-libertarian" (he did not mention that this would include Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Berkman, Rocker, Bookchin, Ward and Chomsky, not to mention the millions of other less famous anarchists for well over a century!). As long as it is "voluntary", so the argument goes, then it is "anarchist."

Given this, perhaps panarchism may be a better term than "anarcho"-capitalism, as "pan" (from the Greek for "all" or "of everything") as a prefix to archy would mean "all forms of archy" or "all archies", which is the position of "anarcho"-capitalism (although, in practice, most of them seem to assume that capitalist hierarchies would be the ones which predominate due to their assumed higher efficiencies). This can be seen from De Puydt:

"The truth is that there is not enough of the right kind of freedom, the fundamental freedom to choose to be free or not to be free, according to one's preference . . . Thus I demand, for each and every member of human society, freedom of association according to inclination and of activity according to aptitude. In other words, the absolute right to choose the political surroundings in which to live, and to ask for nothing else."

Which fits in with "anarcho"-capitalism, but not anarchism. Why? Anarchy means "no archy" and so, logically, having a situation of multiple archies is not it. As discussed in section A.2.8, it does not make much sense to be an anarchist and not oppose all hierarchies ("To demonise state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst." ["The Libertarian as Conservative", The Abolition of Work and other essays, p. 142]). As discussed in section F.1, this leads the "anarcho"-capitalist into sadly too obvious (at least for genuine anarchists!) self-contradiction.

This does not mean that anarchists seek to impose anarchy on people -- freedom cannot be imposed! It simple means, as discussed in section A.2.14, that voluntary association is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for an association to qualify as an anarchy. As seems obvious -- someone who joins a religious cult and blindly follows the orders of the cult leader is not free, even if they freely joined the cult in the first place. Anarchists would, in such circumstances, be agitating for those subject to archy to free themselves. In other words, just as we anarchists do now under the current system of "voluntary" states (we can move to a new country) and "voluntary" bosses.

Max Nettlau, the noted anarchist historian, argued along these lines in his 1909 article on panarchy:

"The frequently discussed question: 'What ought to be done with the reactionaries, who cannot adapt to liberty?', would thereby be very simply solved: They may retain their State, as long as they want it. But for us it would become unimportant. Over us it would have no more power than the eccentric ideas of a sect which are of interest to no one else. Thus it will happen, sooner or later. Freedom will break a path for itself, everywhere." [Panarchy: A Forgotten Idea of 1860]

Ultimately, this issue boils down to whether you have a libertarian (socialist) or liberal perspective on freedom. For liberals, freedom is a product of isolation and so any association (no matter what) is as oppressive to individual liberty as any other and as long as "consent" was given then freedom reigns (for a wonderful satire on where this perspective leads, see David Ellerman's The Libertarian Case for Slavery", a conclusion it should be stressed that some right-"libertarians, following Locke, have seriously reached). For libertarians, freedom is a product of social relationships and so how we associate is what determines the degree of freedom we have (somewhat ironically, Engels in his infamous diatribe against anarchism "On Authority" based it on the liberal definition -- see section H.4).

As Bakunin stressed, "man in isolation can have no awareness of his liberty. Being free for man means being acknowledged, considered and treated as such by another man. Liberty is therefore a feature not of isolation but of interaction, not of exclusion but rather of connection." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 147] In other words, freedom is how we interaction within associations and so an anarchist association is one based on self-management, not hierarchy.

It is significant that "anarcho"-capitalists (even when rebranding their ideology as "market anarchism") trace their ideas back to Molinari who never called himself an anarchist nor associated himself in any way with the anarchist movement. Molinari never came up with a snappy label for his ideology (competing governments? private states?). Perhaps "panarchism" could fill that void?

Ultimately, the most annoying thing about all this is that if Murray Rothbard had not decided to call himself an "anarchist" in the 1950s "anarcho"-capitalism would not even be an issue. If he had picked "panarchist" then there would be question of academics falling for the fallacy that just because someone calls themselves an anarchist that that makes it so. Nor would academics have fallen into the old "dictionary definition" fallacy, namely that because dictionaries (often) define anarchism as "against government" then that is what anarchism is. As if a rich socio-economic political theory and movement could be summarised so! Interestingly, "anarcho"-capitalists never use the dictionary definition of anarchy as "disorder" or "chaos", which shows the limitations of using dictionaries to define a specific socio-economic theory (most obviously, many dictionary definitions of "socialism" would probably exclude anarchists from the movement, given that it is often defined in terms of state ownership).

To quote one academic who saw the blindingly obvious, it is "hard not to conclude that these ideas ["anarcho"-capitalism] -- with roots deep in classical liberalism -- are described as anarchist only on the basis of a misunderstanding of what anarchism is." [Jeremy Jennings, "Anarchism", Contemporary Political Ideologies, Roger Eatwell and Anthony Wright (eds.), p. 142]

One last point. There is the question of why "anarcho"-capitalists seek to be parasitical on a well-established socio-economic theory and movement like anarchism. After all, it is doubtful that they would even be mentioned in introductions to political ideas if it were not for their use of the term "anarchism" to describe their hierarchical ideas. At best they may be mentioned in passing or in a footnote in accounts of classical liberalism (i.e., as a sub-sect of propertarianism). Are they so ideologically insecure that they think no one will take their ideas seriously unless they call their ideology the same name as a theory with a genuine history, one which inspired millions of people to fight for their freedom against the tyrannies of state and private property?

Comments

Post new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

AddThis

  


Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles


 

Posting comments

 Like most sites we have a major problem with bots trying to post spam into the comments section.  While looking for a better solution we are reduced to only on turning on the ability to anonymously comment for brief periods around the posting of new articles.  But if you are a regular visitor you can comment at any time by creating an account on the site and logging in before posting. But the Spammers also set up accounts so to reduce the workload of deleting those we only turn on the ability to create accounts for brief periods which we announce on our Twitter & Facebook accounts so follow those to hear when we have that turned on.  We do want you to be able to engage with us via the comments and we are very sorry for the fact that we can't find a better way of dealing with spam.