Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is panarchy compatible with anarchy?

Dear Reader,

One of my favorite libertarian intellectuals is the retired professor of finance Michael Rozeff, who is a fellow devotee of Austrian economics and a prolific writer featured many times on the Lew Rockwell website and blog. Recently he published a couple of articles on the concept of panarchy, which I would briefly describe as a political philosophy that advocates complete freedom to choose one's form of government. As I understand it, this is not meant to be antagonistic to anarchy, or any form of government, but I have doubts. I invite you to read his thought-provoking article and then my response, below.

Prof. Rozeff,

As an anarchist (aka voluntarist, aka anarcho-capitalist, aka free market anarchist) I'm having some trouble understanding how panarchism could be compatible with my choice of self-governance.

I submit that we already live in an essentially panarchist world, with real choices (in the past or present but nonetheless in the realm of reality) to live in states that are or were minarchist, monarchist, republican, democratic, socialist, fascist, communist, and all shades in between. Although it's not always possible for people to freely choose which type of government they prefer and then actually move to a locale where such a government rules, it could and did happen even in such times as the Cold War.

The one option that has always been unavailable to every citizen, at least since the rise of the modern state, is any form of anarchism in any living situation not involving a cave. The reason is obvious to me: all forms of statism are based on a lesser or greater degree of coercion, which is not only antithetical to anarchism but incapable of competing with it in a free market of political ideas. Anarchism and statism are diametrically opposed; they simply can't coexist.

Therefore, when an anarchist advocates the end of the state, he/she is merely doing so in the interest of survival. It doesn't mean that the anarchist will try to forcibly overthrow the state; if he/she is a libertarian, that option is absolutely proscribed by the libertarian credo. But the state will always deny and destroy any organized attempt to form an anarchic society - I know of no exceptions to this rule.

The future may yet present us with the possibility of building a stateless society out of reach of the vast statist majority, of course, but until then, please tell me how you think anarchism can coexist with statism in our world.

Thank you for your time and courtesy,
Glen Litsinger


  1. I am a member of a group of panarchists along with Professor Rozeff, and we are currently discussing how to implement a panarchy. Let me share with you what I recently wrote to that group.

    First of all, let me make it clear from the start that I think this will work best at the local level, at the lowest level of government that exists in an area, usually the municipality, which in my case is Cherry Hill, NJ, population about 90,000.

    The work will not be political. It will not be about getting people elected. It will be moral, about human rights, specifically the human right to choose one's government as one chooses one's religion. The program will be to create an alternative government, and then to get the current government to accede to the new government's right to control the taxes of its members.

    Arguing the morality of the situation will be the easier part. Arguing the political part of giving up control of tax revenues, even to a very small alternative government, will be infinitely more difficult. Therefore, the plan would be to form the new Goverment B (to contrast it to the original government, Government A), and to spend a year determining what changes to make in funding government departments. Government B would hire a local accounting firm to do the numbers, determining, based on the number of members of governments A and B, the proportion each would spend on each department of government.

    Presently, we have a public school system, funded substantially by property taxes. My aim would be to let each family determine for each child to which school the money would go. This would include any school, public or private. The very contentiousness of this issue would ensure that lots of people would hear about Government B and its aims, which would be a good thing. The compromise position would be that, if Government B was recognized by Government A as an extraterritorial government within this town, all tax revenues would continue to go to the public school system from those families who have children in those schools. Those who do not have children, or who have children going to private schools, could choose which public schools their funds would be directed to. This arrangement would continue for three years, at which point Government B would be free to make further changes. I am guessing that in those three years, Government B would have considerably more members.

    The important thing is, as the traveling salesmen used to say, getting your foot in the door. The vital thing is to get the right to choose governments by every citizen recognized as a right. The rest will take care of itself.

    I think our rallying cry should be "Let Us Go!". Nothing says it better or more succinctly. I envision the panarchists protesting with some sort of shackles. It will be important to make the connection to "slavery-by-government". I think Gene Callahan's [] suggestion that we should connect panarchy with the abolition movement is absolutely correct.

    Glen, by the way, a wonderful explanation of Panarchy can be found here: Yes, this gentlemen wrote the article in 1860!

  2. kritarchist,

    Thanks for the interesting comments and the links. I went to your site and read a bit more, and will check out the other stuff in due time.

    Frankly, I don't think there's any way of gradually achieving your vision or mine of a just society within the established system, which brooks no challengers to its power. Our best chance will come when the system breaks down, which I'm hoping will come as soon as possible. At that time I think it will be possible for libertarians of all stripes (I would include your stripe, given your description of kritarchism) to band together and form alternative societies - secession from a dead nation will be a fairly easy task. In any case, a total break, preferably via secession, is the only way I can see it happening. I'm not averse to alternate strategies, of course.

    If you read any of my earlier posts you have an idea of the type of society I envision, and it has no formal government or taxation at all.

    I recommend to you work that you may already be familiar with: all of Rothbard, Spooner, Hoppe, Higgs, Hulsman, Block, etc. I'm currently rereading a book called "The Myth of National Defense" which lays out the anarchist case that governments fail utterly at providing defense services, instead invariably using the taxes the collect for aggressive war. This collection of essays addresses perhaps the most difficult question most people face when confronted with anarchist ideas, i.e. how would we defend ourselves from statist aggressors (within our own or foreign states). Since I believe that some sort of physical clash is probably unavoidable, the book serves as a sort of strategic blueprint for the time when secession is ripe.

    All the best, and thanks again.

  3. This is absolutely fascinating!
    "Panarchy" is a new term to me and I really appreciate your presenting it to me, via your blog.
    I offer thanks to you, Glen, and to all the others participating in this discussion, and to other advocates of liberty, everywhere.
    We need all the conversations and blogs and essays we can get.

  4. Michael, please accept a belated thank you for your kind words. I have been remiss in keeping up with my blogging responsibilities lately, my excuse being that I've been preoccupied by the world financial crisis. My efforts have been devoted, recently, to defending free market principles on the financial/economics website called Seeking Alpha. Anyone who is interested can check out my comments at, where I'm posting as "Glen L".