Anarchy, Miniarchy, Panarchy, Society, and the Individual

On a day that I was far too busy to join in very much, several Twitter friends were discussing the differences between anarchy and miniarchy. One comment led me to cite a Mike Rozeff essay on Panarchy. That led to even more discussion. I noticed along the way that the definition of a few terms kept getting in the way. There were those who felt their definition of a given term was set in stone and handed down to Moses on the mountain top. When discussing things it is always good when people have the same definition of various terms, but you can not depend on that happening so we all need to make sure we define our terms so that others can tell what we really mean by our statements.


We all know that “anarchy” simply means the absence of a “State” and not the “chaos” that the statists like to conflate with the term. We anarchists, especially market anarchists, believe that a well ordered society will arise by itself without any ruling body using force, intimidation, or coercion. Hence, we reject the “State”. But what is this “State” that we reject?

Murray Rothbard once defined the State as:

… Let me say from the beginning that I define the state as that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area. An institution not possessing either of these properties is not and cannot be, in accordance with my definition, a state.

He then went on to explain why, under that working definition of “The State”, he had to reject the State no matter if it were large or small:

On the other hand, I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of an individual. Anarchists oppose the state because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights.

These ideas as outlined by Rothbard are exactly why I reject the very idea of “The State“. Our miniarchy friends think that there are reasons to trade “some” liberty to a “small” State in order to receive “law and order” or to be protected from invasion by outsiders. This is a bargain with the devil that has always, in all places, yielded a strong, domineering State. The individual is always swallowed up in the collective any time we institute the State.

However, there is the idea out there that “The State” is not the same concept as “a government” even though the two terms have been conflated for centuries by statists to mean exactly the same thing. I can certainly understand how a state worshiper would want to tell us that without the State there is no way to govern society and hence chaos would ensue. But what is “to govern” really? One definition of “to govern” means “to exercise a directing or restraining influence over” as in “the motives governing a decision.” It was in using the term “government” as opposed to “The State” that led to much back and forth in the Twitter discussion. I often use ‘government’ as a synonym of ‘The State’ but in reality one can have a volunteer government in a social club or so forth without coming close to Rothbard’s definition of the State. So we must be careful and not reject people’s ideas if they use “government” or even “socialism” in ways that differ from our own conceptions. I’ll try to do that in this post.

How are the rights of the individual to be protected in society? I have read some people who claim that the individual has no inherent rights at all and that only the collective can confer any ‘rights’. One “progressive” insisted that only the majority could offer “rights” to individuals! That is granting privileges and not rights. If you don’t think there are any human rights to protect then I would advice you stop reading here as we can not communicate. But if you do see that man has ‘rights’ then the question is: “how do we protect these rights?” How can men and women order a society in which the individual is protected?

One idea to protect the rights of all is to do away with the state and let individual people form voluntary associations with each other to interact in voluntary ways. We often just say that this is the laissez-faire free-market in action. People will institute rules, traditions, precedents, taboos, and other ways of ordering society if they but have a chance to do so. In an ironic way this was the idea behind “Democracy”, except that Democracy always ends up being the tyranny of the majority and leads to what you see in the USA as I write this. Real democracy is when the individual “votes” with her purchases in the free market.

The philosophy of voluntarism has been covered many times and in many places, so I’ll skip talking about how different groups of people would specifically order their affairs given the freedom to do so, except to say that we don’t really know how they would do it. In the absence of the Modern Nation-State we would see many different experiments in social ordering. And that, my friends, brings me to the idea of Panarchy.

Panarchy has been defined as:

“PANARCHY: The realization of as many different and autonomous communities as are wanted by volunteers for themselves, all non-territorially coexisting, side by side and intermingled, as their members are, in the same territory or even world-wide and yet separated from each other by personal laws, administrations and jurisdiction, as different churches are or ought to be.”

Under this definition of Panarchy we see that choosing a “governing body” would be just like choosing friends on Twitter or in real life. In the same way we choose to join, or not join, a club or church we could chose to join a given “government”. Because of my habit of using “government” to mean “the State” I would like to come up with a different word other than “government” but the best I could come up with on short notice was “regimen” and that strikes my ears oddly. Perhaps a Túath would be better suited for our purposes since that is what the anarchist Irish called their voluntary governing associations for centuries.

So, if there were many “governments” (Túaths) all of which were voluntary associations that had no right or power to force people to be their members I could pick and choose at my will. This would lead to a free market situation where these associations might survive or might not. Let us be clear here, the idea of Panarchy depends on the understanding that members may be from anyplace and they join just like I pick a cell-phone company. They may also leave the association at any time subject to the contract that one makes with the group. (early exit surcharges?)

If you can see that one ought to be able to join any governing association that one wants to, or not join, then you can see that all of today’s States and Governments are not legitimate. There is no way for me to reject the US Government and choose some Rothbardian association to be my “government” and my “nation” — or to join no group at all. Hence the USA stole my right to do so at my very birth. In this matter we see yet again that the State as defined by Rothbard is illegitimate.

In certain ways we can see that the governments of today are the operation arms of the various States. These governments take on differing forms but all deny the people the right to join any other governing body that they freely choose to unless the person flees the territory of the first state and moves to another. Some have said this is like waking up one morning to find that you have been made a member of the “Church of the USA” against your will and you can not leave the Church unless you leave the country.

In a Panarchy one could choose to join with any group of people and their governing association or to choose not to join any of them. Since the exact location where you live is immaterial to this choice there would be many, many “governments” to choose from and competitive market forces would arise to control them. Because people could exit or enter any governing association freely there would be a strong system of checks and balances provided by the market itself as people made free-will, voluntary decisions about which outfit to be a member of.

So far, I tend to view “Panarchy” pretty much as I do my concept of market anarchy itself. It is very Rothbardian to agree that all people have the right to form whatever voluntary associations that they choose to. Many have written that there would arise private business concerns that would offer legal and protection services to people in any modern  anarchy. In many respects, the “governing associations” of Panarchy and the protection services businesses of market anarchy are not so very different other than in name.

Panarchy does have the semantic advantage of offering people “many governments and not just one!” I have talked with people who know that the US Empire is evil and taking away all their rights but they believe there must be government. So, I can tell them that if government is so great, there should be lots of them competing for the allegiance of the people. That seems to me to be a nice introduction to anarchy in certain cases.

Panarchy is an interesting idea.


5 thoughts on “Anarchy, Miniarchy, Panarchy, Society, and the Individual

  1. Interesting debate, however I find the notion of panarchy alarming.

    “A recent variant of anarchistic theory, which is befuddling some of the younger advocates of freedom, is a weird absurdity called “competing governments.” Accepting the basic premise of the modern statists—who see no difference between the functions of government and the functions of industry, between force and production, and who advocate government ownership of business—the proponents of “competing governments” take the other side of the same coin and declare that since competition is so beneficial to business, it should also be applied to government. Instead of a single, monopolistic government, they declare, there should be a number of different governments in the same geographical area, competing for the allegiance of individual citizens, with every citizen free to “shop” and to patronize whatever government he chooses.

    Remember that forcible restraint of men is the only service a government has to offer. Ask yourself what a competition in forcible restraint would have to mean.

    One cannot call this theory a contradiction in terms, since it is obviously devoid of any understanding of the terms “competition” and “government.” Nor can one call it a floating abstraction, since it is devoid of any contact with or reference to reality and cannot be concretized at all, not even roughly or approximately. One illustration will be sufficient: suppose Mr. Smith, a customer of Government A, suspects that his next-door neighbor, Mr. Jones, a customer of Government B, has robbed him; a squad of Police A proceeds to Mr. Jones’ house and is met at the door by a squad of Police B, who declare that they do not accept the validity of Mr. Smith’s complaint and do not recognize the authority of Government A. What happens then? You take it from there.”
    –Ayn Rand.

    • Apparently Ayn Rand did not know any history of Ireland or Iceland where just such a system worked for longer than the USA has been in existence even if they did not use the term I did. I tend to favor real world examples over the imaginings of dead novelists.

      But to answer that question. Competing legal services companies (protection firms) would work together as inter-company war is very bad for the bottom line in any industry. Also, swarms of cops raiding a house is seen where you have monopoly governments and not in libertarian societies.

      • Hey there,

        Thanks for the links – I did not know about Iceland. It’s always interesting to learn about examples of greater liberty out there.

        My (wholly uneducated) impression of Ireland, though, is that its tribes were typically at war with one another and that slavery was an accepted institution, which doesn’t reflect a great cultural respect for individual rights. Please feel free to correct me if my understanding is inaccurate.

        I still hold by the idea that individual rights are too precious to be left for various interpretations by different groups. I believe that a voluntary association of unpaid volunteers committed to services like a fair and speedy trial is a great idea which would provide actual protection for harms done and which would deter people from exploiting one another.

        Unfortunately for panarchists and minarchists alike, we are so deep into fascism that the discussion is purely intellectual at this point.

        Please keep up the thoughtful posts!

  2. I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  3. Market anarchists state diverse views concerning the path to elimination of the state. Rothbard endorses the use of any tactic to bring about market anarchy so long as it does not contradict his libertarian moral principles.

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