Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Agorism, Panarchism, and Libertarianism

(Note: I did not originate this image)

Libertarian and Agorist philosopher
Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947-2004),
author of the New Libertarian Manifesto (1980)

 Counter-Economicist Agorist author and filmmaker
J. (Joseph) Neil Schulman (b. 1953)

Agorism is a politicoeconomic philosophy proposed by libertarian author Samuel E. Konkin III. It is loosely related to anarcho-capitalism – which advocates for the elimination of the State in favor of individual sovereignty in a free market – and market anarchism and free-market anarchism, which advocate for the replacement of the State with a competitive market of private security-, justice- and defense-provision organizations. 

The goal of agorism is to bring about a society in which all interaction – especially economic exchange – is free, voluntary, and either unregulated or self-regulating. The word “agorism” is derived from the Greek “agora”, meaning an open place; in the socioeconomic context, an open place for social assembly and trade.
Agorism and the various stateless forms of capitalism have a primary objective in common. They desire that all social and economic interaction be self-regulating, that all interaction be unregulated by irrelevant external actors, and that all choices be made freely and voluntarily by individual actors. According to Ayn Rand’s definition of laissez-faire capitalism, all property would be owned by private actors in a capitalistic social system.

In both statist and stateless forms of capitalism, private actors have the right and responsibility to regulate their own interaction, often – though not always – through the agreement to the terms of a mutually-binding contract, usually enforced by a mutually agreed-upon party. In statist capitalism, that party could be either the State, or various State-approved organizations such as courts of private law or private insurance companies. In the various stateless capitalisms, that party could be any person, business, or agency, such as a private defense company or a dispute-resolution organization – or D.R.O. – which is like a private-sector version of a judge or a court of law.

While agorism does not abhor the conditions of the various stateless capitalisms, agorism does not specifically mandate that all property be owned by private actors. The crucial difference between agorism and statist or state-neutral capitalism is revealed most clearly and explicitly in the writing of J. Neil Schulman, who integrated the idea of “counter-economics” into Konkin’s original conception of agorism.

In counter-economicist agorism, the very definition of the free market is expanded upon to include those economic activities, exchanges, and interactions which are not just unregulated, but also those interactions which are explicitly prohibited by law – in other words, regulated out of legality.

In this paradigm, illegal – or black-market – activity, as well as hidden, underground, or under-the-table – or grey-market – activity, become integrated into the greater realm of free-market activity. A further extrapolation of this concept of counter-economicist agorism gives rise and credibility to the notion that entities within the black and grey markets can and should be trusted, contributed to, invested in, and grown, until their ability to wield power and authority increases to such a degree that they become strong and viable enough to challenge, defeat, and replace the current overarching monopolistic governmental authority.

In a counter-economicist agorist society, only those interactions by the black and grey markets which remain peaceful and voluntary are considered part of the free market, and any black or grey market interaction which become violent and coercive are no longer considered justified. Due to this fact, precisely how black- and grey-market entities with the intent to refrain from engaging in coercion in order to affect their ends may come to defeat and replace a violent, coercive government is unclear. Granted that this defeat must be nonviolent, perhaps it is to be assumed that the defeat may be compared to the outcome of an electoral victory, in which votes are measured by monetary contribution, investment, and fidelity to markets. However, agorism does advocate the use of violent, forceful action against the State if and when necessary, but mostly for the purposes of self-defense, and in dire circumstances in which the self-preservation of the movement is threatened.

19th-century French economist C. Frederic Bastiat and his ideological heir Gustave de Molinari formulated visions of laissez-faire capitalism which, in later iterations of the ideas outlined by other philosophers, such as Stephen Pearl Andrews and Paul Emile de Puydt, came to be described as “panarchism” or "pantarchism". Those words mean “the system of the rule of all”; implying an equal authoritative legitimacy of all sovereign actors, or sovereigns. In proposing a system in which individuals are free to choose who governs, represents, protects, and defends them, the goal of Molinari was to create a "free market in governance". This would prohibit any single provider of security, justice, and / or defense from wielding legitimate authority to coerce any individual to submit to it.

Examples of sovereigns which may have equal authority in a panarchistic society include – but are not limited to – agents of governments, professional mercenaries, volunteer soldiers, police officers, private defense agencies, private security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, violent drug lords and pimps, and any individual persons asserting their own will and ability to defend themselves and their own possessions.

Uniting the concepts of the free market proposed by the panarchists, Konkin, and Schulman results in a hybrid philosophy which may be termed “panarchistic counter-economicist agorism.” Under such a system, any combination of sovereigns – be they agents of governments, professional mercenaries, volunteer soldiers, police officers, private defense agencies, private security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, violent drug lords, violent pimps, or individual persons defending themselves – may freely choose to either unite in the name of liberty and deregulation in order to overthrow the State, or to compete against one another as well as against the State in providing defense, justice, and / or security to individuals.

Admittedly, panarchistic counter-economicist agorism is a distortion of original agorism, which, by its own principles, is ideally nonviolent and non-coercive, but many of the aforementioned actors whom oppose the State but adopt its violent and coercive methods may lend at least sympathy to the agorist movement. To lend material support would mean to continue their free-market action while renouncing violent and intimidating tactics (with the exception of self-defense, and possibly in the event of a crucial moment in which the movement has the opportunity either to seize power from the State or to ensure free competition with it).

The above paragraphs outline several combinations of how an attempted agorist revolution may be interpreted and carried out. While each combination pursues the goal of attempting to undermine the State's ability to coerce, some may merely undermine the State's monopoly on legitimate initiative coercion. This means that an agorist revolution which decides that it should revise its tactics to include violence in order to overthrow the State would undermine its own goals in doing so, and that it would itself become another agent of coercive repression, similar to the State that it attempts to undermine. However, to admit this would amount to conceding that the State does not act coercively, which goes against the agorist criticism of the State as inherently violent.

Critics of agorism often cite as a major complaint and worry that attempted agorist revolution would merely lead to a more dangerous, polarized society, and would cause an already radicalized criminal class to become more willing to exercise violence and coercion, when eliminating all coercion was the original goal of the free market. Furthermore, critics argue that such action by uniting sovereigns would only challenge and incite the State to crack down harder on the free market with harsher violence and more stringent regulation.

If, under current societal conditions, we were to convert to pure agorism – especially a panarchistic formulation thereof – instantaneously, we would likely see total disaster. The military apparati would be funded, run, and staffed, as they – for the most part – are now; by corporations and by private interests. Mercenary militarism would run rampant. Law-enforcement agencies would be run by private companies as well. Government agents, warriors, security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, police officers, violent drug lords, violent pimps, and private citizens with lethal weapons would challenge one another’s authority by conquests of brute strength and might.

This would likely cause different camps to emerge, as each individual who doubted his own ability and / or willingness to defend himself would feel compelled, in such a dangerous climate, to choose which of the aforementioned sovereigns could be trusted best to protect and defend him and to afford him justice. There would be chaos; a private tyranny regulated only by the savage natural forces of competition.

Technically, this outcome would accomplish the goals of a panarchistic formulation of agorism, if only for those who would remain successful in protecting their own lives and property. But preparation for the prospect of violent revolution is not the only way that nearly perfect panarchistic agorist goals may be achieved.

I believe that nearly perfect panarchistic counter-economicist agorism may be achieved through gradualistic libertarian reform, rather than through relying on private military, defense, security, and justice-provision, and law-enforcement agencies as well as on career criminals to protect and defend us against the State and against other sovereigns whom would seek to do us harm.

Under the idealized libertarian society envisioned by such figures as Ron Paul (Republican Congressman from Texas’s 14th district), federal laws against drugs and prostitution would be repealed. Although state laws prohibiting them would initially remain, more and more states would eventually move to legalize and / or decriminalize prostitution – whether regulated or unregulated – as well as the possession, sale, distribution, and safe use of marijuana, and possibly other previously illicit drugs.

The decriminalization and / or legalization of prostitution and of the least harmful drugs would do a number of beneficial things. First, it would cut down on the number of people serving sentences in prisons across the country, relieving the burden on the prison system and on the citizens whose taxes fund that system. Second, it would drastically reduce the percentage of non-violent inmates, potentially leading in a renewal of public faith and trust in the justice system as preventing violent coercion, rather than the mere commission of infractions of malum prohibitum petty vice. Third, the violence inherent in the black-market drug and sex trades would likely, for the most part – save for the trade of the most violence-inducing drugs in the most prohibitive states and locales – disappear within a short period of time following the legalization and / or decriminalization of such trades. That takes care of most of the risk factors involved in the wielding of power by violent drug lords and pimps following the onset of an attempted violent panarchistic counter-economicist agorist revolution.

Also, in an ideal libertarian society, the world-wide interventionist military-industrial complex with which the United States is currently plagued would be scaled down to a reasonable and manageable size and scope. Additionally, the power of the executive branch and the secretive agencies upon which it relies – such as the Federal Bureau of Investigators, the Central Intelligence Agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and black ops – would be curtailed, and their funding would be reduced. Furthermore, a smaller military would de-necessitate significant corporate contribution to the finance of military projects, in addition to the finance that could normally be handled by taxation of citizens by the public sphere. Possibly, voluntary individual donations to military would even increase due to reduced tax burdens on the citizenry. An overall optimistic combination of such prospects would result in a military in which ordinary citizens would be proud to volunteer for service, and perhaps soldiers would even be willing to serve longer and / or accept lower pay and / or accept fewer benefits. That takes care of most of the risk factors involved in the wielding of power by government, its agents, private military industry, private defense agencies, and professional mercenaries.

Now that gradualistic libertarian reform will have brought about the relaxation of drug and prostitution laws; a smaller, more manageable military; and a more principled, responsible justice system – thus eliminating the majority of public and State fear of the wielding of power by violent drug lords, pimps, military, and the executive branch –which sovereigns are there left for us to decide whether to fear or to rely on for protection?

Police officers, security guards, and private individuals. Police officers who don’t intimidate, harass, ticket, or imprison citizens for indulging in petty vices that don’t coerce or harm their fellow human beings. Security guards, bouncers, and bodyguards who could be legally hired by individuals seeking to protect themselves – individuals whom would be free to make their own rules regarding whom they would like to allow onto their own property, whether residential or for the purposes of business – their clientele, and their property. Private individual citizens whom would retain their second amendment rights to bear arms and to defend themselves and their families against violent coercion. This, too, could technically accomplish all the goals of panarchistic counter-economicist agorism.

I believe that in the preceding six paragraphs, I have articulated a statist, gradual, reformistic, non-revolutionary approach to panarchistic counter-economicist agorism that would accomplish the goals of agorism without risking any of the violence implicit in the alternative combinations of the possible formulations of the idea, especially in the approach as outlined by a synthesis of the ideas of Konkin, Schulman, and the panarchists. I would further claim that the gradual, reformistic libertarian approach would dissuade violence by negating the validity of the complaints which could be made by those agorists with revolutionary tendencies whom would argue that their own goals cannot be accomplished without violent defeat of all agents of the current government, as well as of any potentially challenging agent or agency wishing to exercise violent coercive authority.

This begs the question: is the approach which I have articulated merely an idealized libertarian republicanism, or is it a perfected, quasi-statist, panarchistic counter-economicist agorism which embraces polyarchism (that is, the legitimacy of many but not all sovereign actors)? Perhaps it is both at once.

But one thing is certain; at a time in history when the risk of worldwide economic stagnation and collapse is very real, political polarization and income inequality are high and rising, and a grassroots populist tax- and regulation-protest movement is on the upswing, the importance of articulating and considering the adoption of such a gradual, reformistic approach, and of judging how to best walk the line between conceding just enough to the movement’s demands so as to dispel justification for violent upheaval, versus conceding too much, thus upsetting the balance of the political, defense, and justice systems, cannot be overstated.

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