Essentials of Panarchism
by Michael S. Rozeff
by Michael S. Rozeff
Panarchism is a new political philosophy that builds upon and extends
the core concept of consent of the governed, which goes back primarily
to John Locke. Consent of the governed is a concept that permeated
revolutionary America. It appears in Article 6 of the Virginia Bill
<http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/virginia.asp> of Rights. It
appears in the Essex Result
itle=2066&chapter=188681&layout=html&Itemid=27> . Benjamin Franklin
wrote "In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people
their superiors and sovereigns." The Declaration of Independence asserts
that "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers
from the consent of the governed."
Panarchism proposes a comprehensive extension of liberty to the
consensual choice of government itself, in form and content. It proposes
government by consent for any persons who arrange such government for
themselves. Conversely, it proposes that a government has no authority
over any persons who do not consent to it.
Panarchy is a condition of human relations in which each person is at
liberty to choose his own social and political governance without being
coerced. Panarchy means that persons may enter into and exit from social
and political relations freely. It means that government exists only
with the consent and by the consent of the governed.
Panarchism has new conceptions of what a people who are governed, a
government, and consent mean. These give rise to a new conception of the
nonterritorial State and revised ideas about sovereignty and authority.
By viewing government as nonterritorial, panarchism reorients the
movement for liberty away from destroying the governments that others
may prefer and toward obtaining the governments that each of us may
Free persons in a free society already practice a degree of panarchy. By
individual consent, they associate with those whom they wish to
associate with (and who wish to associate with them), and they do not
associate with others. By choice, they vary their associations by time,
place, duration, and other dimensions. They choose companions, places to
live, workplaces, clubs, and churches on the basis of individual consent
rendered in a noncoercive social context. Free persons form consensual
organizations, associations, and groups. They form themselves into
sub-societies and "peoples," which are groups of persons that, via
individual consent, willingly aggregate on various grounds and
interests. In doing so, they create multiple coexisting forms of
governance whose basis is not territorial (although it may optionally be
so) but relational.
Panarchism proposes that panarchy be extended to government (or
functions of government) in the same way that it is already present in
society. Let persons be free to form peoples and to choose their own
forms of government.
Why? Because consent today is too limited to allow a meaningful
sovereignty of people. Because the rulers have become the sovereign and
the people their servants. Because complex systems of voting and parties
have diluted consent to the vanishing point. Because would-be peoples
are thwarted from forming. Liberty does not mean a vote for one of two
parties that runs a single monopoly government. It means active consent
over the very form, as well as the content, of one's governing
Why panarchism? Because in today's governing relations, we find
ourselves living under distant States and governments whose form is not
of our choosing. Because the planet is blanketed with States and
governments that too often deliver injustice, insecurity, disorder,
waste, misery, death, and destruction, as States and governments
historically have done. Because States and governments focus and amplify
power, using it for purposes that many of us do not believe in. And
because governments today legitimate and encourage contentious struggles
for domination where one group's gains is another group's loss, and
where the struggles absorb more and more resources and divert energy
from productive to unproductive uses.
The liberty that is basic to panarchy promises a better way of life, by
extending to each of us the capacity to engage in the social and
political relations of our own choosing in accord with our own beliefs.
Since persons will not freely consent to governments whose decisions in
the main leave them, by their own estimation, worse off, the free choice
of government will provide the kind of check-and-balance on government
failures and misdeeds that is a critical missing element of today's
Panarchy envisages many possible societies and sub-societies across a
land, region, or province. There need not be a single sovereign
authority that imposes law on all, unless it happens to be by consent.
In panarchy, multiple and diverse sources of self-chosen sovereignty
coexist side-by-side, each finding its source of legitimacy from the
consent of those who are willing to place themselves within a particular
set of governing relations. People freely place themselves within
multiple non-territorial governing associations, as contrasted with
finding themselves assigned by authorities on a geographical basis.
The American revolutionaries blazed a trail toward nonterritorial
government when they called for consent of the governed, but they
simultaneously veered away from that trail. Just as they skirted the
slavery question, they skirted the issues of what constituted a people,
a legitimate government, consent, and secession. Article 14 of the
Virginia Declaration of Rights sought
tten+founder&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=uBoc> "to maintain
Virginia's sovereignty over its restless, far-flung western counties."
It proclaimed <http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/virginia.asp>
"That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore,
that no government separate from, or independent of the government of
Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof."
This particular territorial idea of government was justified by a false
appeal to a mythical right to uniform government, in order to prevent
the formation of West Virginia. Some 85 years later, West Virginia,
which for decades had many sound reasons not to be governed by Richmond,
finally seceded from Virginia.
Little has changed. Despite hundreds of breakaway and secession
movements worldwide, the territorial notion of government has not
changed. Indeed, many such movements themselves view government as
territorial. American federalism has become nationalism. Governments of
today are making societies over, based upon claims of legitimate
authority that are less rooted in consent than in territorial claims of
The idea of government needs to be severed from the idea of the
territorial State and from the notion that the government of such a
State is all that government is or can be. Since the State is single,
territorial, and coercive, such an idea views government as single,
territorial, and coercive. The territorial idea supports States in
place. It empties consent of all real meaning and replaces it by the
machinations of meaningless votes, party politics, lobbying,
redistricting, power, and campaign money flows. The territorial idea of
government without consent dooms mankind to living without one of the
most basic liberties, which is the liberty to choose one's government.
It is a mistake to identify government as the executive and
administrative means of the monopoly State. When those who are pro-State
do this, it leaves little or no room for those who do not consent and
wish to live by their own forms of government. When those who are
anti-State do this, they become anti-government, a position that does
not allow those who want various forms of their own government to
exercise their choices.
Government is the social coordination of human personal interactions. To
the extent that human beings interact with one another, government is
thus inescapable. Advocates of no government, unless they eschew all
social interaction, can no more live without government than can
statists. But the necessity of government does not imply that government
must be nonconsensual and territorial. We have an alternative to living
under a single territorial State that makes and enforces all sorts of
rules, for all of us, all the time. Panarchy is that alternative.
We ourselves govern a vast range of human activities by consent,
nonterritorially, and without the State. This was historically and is
currently the case. Persons within human societies create governance
from varied and multiple sources that include moral and ethical codes,
custom, bodies of judge-discovered law, rules, principles, manners,
religion, pacts, agreements, understandings, and contracts, as well as
through a variety of instruments, institutions, and organizations that
include family, associations, churches, schools, corporations, and
business firms. Society, in this sense, which is really many
interpenetrating and diverse societies, already reflects a high degree
of panarchy. Societies everywhere already employ panarchy as a
beneficial principle of social organization and order.
Panarchism proposes extending panarchy further. It stands for a world in
which people live by the governing relations of their choice while
abiding by the decisions of their neighbors to live by theirs. A society
with such liberty will hold together in the same ways that societies
have always held together: through a complex network of shared values,
beliefs, ways, language, and other commonalities that are put to work
through self-interest that is expressed in individual, associational,
and cooperative endeavors. It will hold together better than today's
societies because the nonconsensual government that fertilizes today's
constant political and economic battles, rebellions, and civil wars will
have been reduced.
Different people understand freedom and liberty in different ways, and
even when they agree, they place different values on liberty. One woman
may choose to labor for another for a wage, while another may regard
wage-labor as slavery. One man may allow himself to be inducted into an
army, while another may look upon the draft as slavery. These different
ideas of good and bad government can coexist in panarchy. Liberty and
government are not at mutually exclusive poles. Abolishing government
per se does not bring liberty for all. Abolishing government and
replacing it with one's own personal vision of liberty does not bring
liberty for all. Liberty for all entails the capacity for all to choose
their own governments. In panarchy, men and women are free to be unfree
(in the eyes of others) to any desired degree. They may enter into many
different kinds of governing relations. This sets panarchy apart from
political conceptions that deny them the choice of State and government.
Panarchists do not attempt to smash the governments others want. They
deny no one the freedom to be unfree. However, they deny others (and
their States and governments) the freedom to make them unfree.
Once we open up our thinking on the question of what government is, we
can get away from the idea of "a government" and "the government."
Government is a set of functions that can be identified. Change is not a
question of today's government or none. There are all sorts of
National governments have absorbed major functions such as old age
security, aid to the indigent, and health care from civil society and
local government. They have done so via complex majority rules and
voting procedures that circumvented consent of the governed. Governments
across the world often suppress minorities of many kinds. The imposition
of nation-wide rules discriminates against and suppresses all those who
do not consent and who do not want their government to handle certain
critical issues. Medicare, for example, involves a taking and a wealth
transfer. This kind of program could become nonterritorial and
consensual. Mr. K can subscribe to a plan and belong to a government
that deducts from his wages, while Mr. J need not. They can be neighbors
and do this.
Many of today's government functions can remain in place for those who
want them while making them voluntary for those who do not. The idea in
these cases is not to end government but make it consensual. Vast
amounts of regulation of labor relations, energy, education, health, and
welfare are such that one neighbor can live without certain rules even
if his neighbor wants them. Instead of attempting to take Medicare away
or attempting to persuade voters to vote it down, which plays the game
of accepting monopoly and territorial government, panarchism goes at the
problem of lack of consent and unjust powers of government in a
different way. Let those who want Medicare have it; let those who don't
withdraw. Panarchism seizes the moral high ground. Why should those who
don't want Medicare be impressed into it by those who do? Isn't this
like making everyone belong to the same church? How can there be consent
of the governed when we are herded, whether we like it or not, into
programs that affect our lives in major ways?
Coordination problems involving human interaction are not going to
disappear. The reform of government even where coordination issues are
not at issue may well be difficult. Panarchism does not deny these
difficulties. It sets out a just and peaceful destination that can be
achieved peaceably, which is a future of reform in which the State
abandons its territorial claims. This may happen little by little. It
may happen by degrees. It may happen partially and gradually, or it may
happen by leaps. Consensual and nonconsensual government are likely to
continue to exist alongside one another for some time. Reforms, small
and large, are unpredictable. They are for people themselves to advance
and accomplish. Every step that people take, peaceful and nonaggressive,
toward devising and living by their own government is a step toward more
complete panarchy and greater liberty.
The helpful comments of Adam Knott and John Zube are gratefully
acknowledged, but all errors herein are solely mine.
June 1, 2009
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail
<http://www.lewrockwell.com/rozeff/mailto:msroz@…> ] is a
retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.
Copyright (c) 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or
in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.