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Agorism and ancap panarchy – a response to an Obama voter

16 October 2008 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in philosophy, politics | 12 Comments »

A dear friend I have not seen in ages writes:

Hey there,

You know, it’s funny, after reading your recent interview, I feel as though essentially you and I believe in the same (or a very similar) ideal world. I never realized that might even remotely be the case. I guess that could be because we rarely if ever engaged in political debate with one another, assuming the other felt very differently.

One day not too long ago, I was describing my ideal ‘political’ system and basically it hearkens back to my teenage fascination with communes and dropping out of society at large in order to live with like minded people who create their own guidelines to live by – growing their own food, caring for one another’s children – communally. Ideally, small groups/communities would ‘govern’ themselves: everyone could sit in a room together and have a vote and the group would be small enough that each voice would be heard. I think that’s what government was meant to be (or at least should have been), but it got all fucked up when it grew – it wasn’t scalable.

Although, you’d likely leave out all the warm fuzzy hippy-sounding bits of what I’ve said, I think we seem to essentially have very compatible ideal visions of the future.

And I respond:

Okay, I’m stunned by the synchronicity here, because literally at the same time you were likely writing this I was playing a video game and thinking to myself that it’s a pity that we find ourselves so divided on political questions, and that if you understood more of the background – or if I were better at explaining it to you – that we would find we have much more common ground than we thought.

Agorism is a revolutionary strategy for achieving a voluntary society. Intellectually, it grew out of the anarcho-capitalism of Murray Rothbard. The principles of that philosophy are not entirely compatible with more “socialist” forms of anarchism, in that anarcho-capitalism rejects almost everything which flows from economics based on the Labor Theory of Value in favor of Austrian subjective value theory (marginal utility), rejects the notion that hard titles to land are immoral or indefensible, and rejects the propositions found in many schools of thought which say that profit, rent and interest are either immoral or would disappear in a stateless society.

What is interesting is that the ancap model, I believe, is capable of subsuming all of the other models within itself, and serving as an overall framework under which any given philosophy of property and economics could be freely tried out within areas inhabited by people who wanted to adopt their own, so long as agencies for resolutions of disputes between communities with different philosophies could be agreed upon.

Within the anarcho-capitalist panarchy communities could choose to organize themselves along whatever lines they wanted to. Communes? Fine, have at it. Rugged individualists? Great, just don’t come stuffing it at the rest of us. Worker self-management and a society of independent contractors? That’s permissible. Syndicalist communes where the workers control the means of production? Fine, so long as they acquire their property legitimately. Corporations? Absolutely, but good luck maintaining anything even remotely like the predatory corporate forms of today or the past without State-backed limited liability, corporate personhood and the massive subsidies and externalizations of costs granted to big businesses by States today. Any or all of these could exist side by side – and of course, there’s a lot more to it than just a general permissiveness.

Overall, and perhaps of great interest for you, who I believe approaches questions of what ought to be in society more from a “harmonious human systems” approach than from an egoist individual rights approach, is that a society of this nature would naturally entail the disappearance of the corrupt, predatory, coercive and downright evil practices used by today’s ruling classes and wealthy elites via today’s States against poor and repressed people all over the world and throughout the horrible history of humanity. Revolutionaries everywhere want to overthrow their ruling class, but usually seek to replace it with their own familiar personal despotism, and let there be blood. The Agorist seeks to subject the bloated, loathsome carcasses of State and ruling class to the merciless creative destruction of the marketplace.

Agorism implies a great many things which challenge the ruling classes and what is called today by many “the Capitalist system” (though it ought better be called something like “the neo-Mercantilist system”) at fundamental levels. People who make money smuggling human beings from one country to another ought to be celebrated as heroes provided they are not selling people into slavery and they take necessary safety precautions. The real crime is that since the activity of smuggling people across artificial State borders is illegal, there’s no effective way to drive evil or careless operators out of the business. If the evil ones could be identified and excluded, the remainder are the Agorist’s allies if they are susceptible to an Agorist ideological conversion.

Likewise the drug dealers of today. Not the top layers of the extremely violent organized crime rings and their State accomplices, but the far more numerous minor dealers who form perhaps the one or two levels of connection to the ultimate drug user and who are rarely involved in violence or fraud. The same with the pimps and the whores and the bookies and the loan sharks and all the tradesmen willing to do a household repair job “under the table” and all those unlicensed day care centers operating in suburban homes and all other people engaged in nonviolent activities which are prohibited by States or done in ways States do not permit. All of these people are allies against the State if they accept the basic contract: Don’t tread on me, honor your agreements, and, if we fall into dispute, pledge to find a non-State solution. The Agorist is anyone who, at least part of the time, trades in markets the State prohibits, or does so in manners which aren’t permitted by States – such as without complying with ridiculous regulations that serve to create barriers to market entry for the benefit of existing participants and/or wealthier entrants, or without reporting the activity for taxation.

I’m attaching two fairly brief and highly influential works [ed: attached were Konkin’s New Libertarian Manifesto and Agorist Class Theory]. Keep in mind that Agorism is a theory of revolution. Though it grew out of anarcho-capitalism and is grounded in that theory, it is quite distinct. You will not find a description of Utopia here (though I can tell you where to find plenty). In my mind, the Agorist praxis can be employed by a social revolution toward pretty much any Utopian vision, so long as the State and all of the privilege connected to it is eliminated along the way.

Enjoy :)

  1. 12 Responses to “Agorism and ancap panarchy – a response to an Obama voter”

  2. By Darian W on 17 October 2008

    Awesome post. I especially like “The Agorist seeks to subject the bloated, loathsome carcasses of State and ruling class to the merciless creative destruction of the marketplace.”

    I do have a couple of quibbles though.

    You write that there is no way to effectively drive bad human smugglers out of business while the state holds power. I think that revolutionary agorist organizations ought to act as arbitrators and/or enforcers in the counter economy (there is no reason why one organization would have to do both or have a regional monopoly). One of the things about agorism seems to be the desire to build revolutionary organizations and arrangements as parts of the revolution, not after it occurs. So, as the agorist revolution advances, counter-economic workers will have places to arbitrate disputes and punish offenders.

    Also, though I recognize anarcho-capitalism’s heavy influence on agorism and my thought, I do not consider myself an anarcho-capitalist, and I think that market anarchism is a better term. Capitalism historically has meant coercion on behalf of capital. The market, as I see it, includes all voluntary exchange, whether it be wage labor (which I would like to see discontinued), individualist contractors, co-ops, or other arrangements. So even with the historical context of what is called capitalism removed, I’m still not a supporter of capitalist arrangements. If I’m not mistaken, Konkin had similar views. If so that would make 2 agorists who probably shouldn’t be called anarcho-capitalists :) Also, more lefty anarchist arrangements like urban homesteading and underground collectives are generally counter-economic in nature, but don’t really fall under the capitalist label.

    Keep em coming.

  3. By Mike Gogulski on 17 October 2008

    Darian,

    To your first quibble, I agree. When I say “the real crime is”, I mean that under the present rule of states there is a shortage of dispute resolution services, especially in black markets, that don’t lead to or immediately depend upon violence. I would expect agorist dispute-resolution services to arise late in the process, as they would need to be strong enough to challenge states practically from their inception. Maybe I’m wrong, though, as I do recall an example a few years ago of one of the net-currency providers submitting itself to an independent audit with publicized results.

    You are right about your last point, of course, and this is something I tried to point out to my friend, that you don’t have to buy into anarcho-capitalist utopia in order to subscribe to agorism as a revolutionary strategy. Mutualism-based agorist revolution could certainly proceed along the same general lines.

    What puts me, personally, on the ancap side of things rather than the mutualist side is that I believe that anarcho-capitalism’s normative prescriptions for justice in property acquisition and holding together with its rejection of the disapproval of profit, rent and interest are in closer harmony with the behavior of human beings as they are today. Profit and interest particularly, I think, contra mutualism, are not only not immoral but necessary and desirable. I also believe that if we imagine agorist ancap and mutualist revolutions occurring simultaneously, that as states fade from the scene the people and property subscribed to ancap dispute resolution organizations would tend to out-compete the mutualists in terms of both profitability (efficiency, predictability, stability) as well as the balance of defections from one camp to the other — that is, over time, I believe that large numbers of people will perceive greater benefit to themselves in subscribing to ancap DROs versus mutualist DROs.

    What I do not support, however, is the idea that all existing property holdings should be consecrated as valid during the course of conversion to any form of anarchic society. In fact, what I would like to see is mutualist property rules applied exactly once. As individuals move from being tax slaves to DRO clients, DROs ought to refuse to recognize entrants’ initial claims of just property which do not adhere to the “occupancy and use” principles mutualists advocate. After that process, which would no doubt result in many large holdings of today becoming unowned and therefore homesteadable, is completed, however, I personally would subscribe to a DRO that protected my land claims whether or not they fit the mutualist prescriptions for justice in holdings and that saw no causes of action in property accumulation resulting from voluntary transactions.

  4. By Aaron Kinney on 17 October 2008

    Great letter to your friend! You’ve got a way with words, Mike. Perhaps that’s why I’ve become a regular reader of your blog :-)

  5. By Mike Gogulski on 17 October 2008

    Thanks, Aaron! Given that I put in nearly all of my working time these days as a translator and editor, it kinda goes with the territory. Some folks have suggested I might make a career out of writing itself, though I see this as problematic since my experience shows me that if I don’t care passionately about the topic at hand right now as I’m writing, I’ll produce nothing.

  6. By Ethan Lee Vita on 18 October 2008

    To respond to what was written last, first:

    I have a bit of the same problem. It is one of the reasons I’ve stopped writing full articles, but merely thoughts.

    I found your article most excellent. And oddly enough, during my recent internet loss, I found time to read numerous mutualist pdf files, including the two you mentioned, instead of RSS feeds, which I’m quite behind in now.

  7. By Mike Gogulski on 18 October 2008

    Ethan, just to clarify, the two PDFs I linked to are agorist literature, not mutualist.

  8. By Ethan Lee Vita on 19 October 2008

    You are correct. I just tend to put agorism in between mutualism and market anarchism mentally. Both mutualists and market anarchists use agorist tactics. And I had been reading a fair bit of mutualist pdfs.

  9. By christhamrin on 29 October 2008

    im not sure how useful this would be to an obama voter as it uses so much jargon. i find this is a problem w/a lot of left-libertarian/market anarchist material.

  10. By Mike Gogulski on 29 October 2008

    *Shrug*… One man’s jargon is another’s vocabulary. In any case, I trust my friend’s intelligence.

  11. By Royce Christian on 1 November 2008

    Darian,
    “If I’m not mistaken, Konkin had similar views. If so that would make 2 agorists who probably shouldn’t be called anarcho-capitalists :)”

    Make that 3. I have a severe personal dislike of being referred to as an Anarcho-Capitalist, any more. Not only do I think that term is an oxymoron, I’ve also come to consider market Anarchists and Agorists in general as profoundly, “socialist.” As you noted yourself, we are hardly the defenders of coercion on the part of capital and counter economics goes by many other names. We are essentially proposing to collaborate in order to improve our community while simultaneously striving for that individual freedom we so often argue for.

    Mike,

    “I also believe that if we imagine agorist ancap and mutualist revolutions occurring simultaneously, that as states fade from the scene the people and property subscribed to ancap dispute resolution organizations would tend to out-compete the mutualists in terms of both profitability (efficiency, predictability, stability) as well as the balance of defections from one camp to the other…”

    I’m not so sure. I have always been of the opinion that different systems will the float the boat of different communities in different areas living under different conditions. For example, communist forms of organisation may flourish in some areas, particularly where government has collaborated with business owners to force workers and their families into more suitable conditions for their own personal gain, but not others whose community might be more comfortable with the framework of Anarcho-Capitalism. Others may find the Mutualist position far more attractive. Hell you might even see some that contain multiple systems operating simultaneously in the same city. If these are ever put into practice, I’ll carefully make my decision on which communities to enter based on what’s best for my circumstances, and these may not necessarily be because of services provided in AnCap areas.

    “After that process, which would no doubt result in many large holdings of today becoming unowned and therefore homesteadable, is completed…”

    In my mind, this is what justifies much of the basis for the syndicalist appropriation of property by the workers. Government and corporate property fit right into this category and the workers would be totally justified in taking command of their factories and businesses.

  12. By Mike Gogulski on 2 November 2008

    Royce, thanks a lot for stopping by with your comments.

    I call myself an anarcho-capitalist because that’s the theoretical background (Rothbard, D. Friedman) I come from. I view anarcho-capitalism largely as a theory of Utopia, how things ought to work. Getting from here to there is a revolutionary project, be it agorist or otherwise. What I call “capitalism” here is essentially voluntaryism – free trade, sans states. There are some defenders of anarcho-capitalism as a theory who simultaneously defend present accumulations of wealth, ignoring the historic injustices which have eventuated in them. Though I have not written much on the topic, I am certainly not one of them, and in that sense I am also an anti-capitalist.

    (Apologies if I repeat myself gratuitously here)

    We have no way to be sure about what might happen if the kind of world I sketch out came to be. I would very much like to see a world in which the economic/property models provided by communism, syndicalism, mutualism, geoism, capitalism and others could play themselves out in competition. If all recognize a fundamental right to secede from any DRO (or similar organization, or state) along with one’s property, panarchy is the result.

    My suggestion is twofold. First, I believe the ancap prescription for sticky, effectively unlimited property titles (barring real abandonment) is necessary as an overarching system to resolve conflicts within the panarchy among the different property philosophies’ respective spheres. Second, I believe that over the course of long periods of time, the benefits of the ancap system would be seen by many who would then defect from other philosophies’ DROs.

    I guess I should really do another post about this.

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