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There is no Left. There is no Right. Millennia ago Julius Caesar knew that Divide and Conquer was an effective strategy for conquest and control. If the people can be divided so they spend all their energy fighting each other rather than the real enemies — those who use manipulation and muscle to rule them — then we can finally free ourselves from the exploitation by the money-controlling political class.
Agorism is a stateless approach to freeing everyone from those who wish to own us all and make us their chattels. Our approach rejects the Leninist revolutionary model of violence and counterviolence, and replaces it with the jiu jitsu approach of letting their force miss us and allowing their mis-moves to let them fall by their own misuse of force.
–J. Neil Schulman, January 31, 2013
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
–The Declaration of Independence
The Revolutionary Agorist Cadre
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Mere Anarchy: Can A Society Without Government Be Better Run than What We Have Now?
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– from The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
The title of this essay has two meanings.
The first is the reference to the Yeats poem quoted above, The Second Coming.
The second is a reference to C.S. Lewis’s immensely popular book of Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity, a phrase C.S. Lewis picked up from a Christian apologist writing three centuries earlier, Rev. Richard Baxter.
What Yeats meant was the end result of entropy; what Lewis and Baxter meant was core sustainable beliefs. Clearly I’m choosing to deal here with antithetical thoughts.
In common usage the word “anarchy” is a synonym for chaos and anomie, just as in common usage “anarchist” is a synonym for terrorist or nihilist.
It places an immediate communications burden on anyone who believes, as I do, that a stateless society can be not only as well-ordered and agreeable as any society which attempts by a constitution to limit the powers of government for the purpose of ensuring common individual rights, but in theory could do a better job of preventing a reemergence of tyranny.
I’m not alone in this skepticism regarding the American experiment with Constitutional government. This caution comes from one of its original authors.
Upon leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787 Benjamin Franklin answered a lady’s question whether the convention produced a republic or a constitutional monarchy with the bitter and prescient warning, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
If we’ve kept the Constitution at all after:
- A Civil War
- A century of central banking and income tax
- A three-decade drug war
- An undefined War on Terror
- A Supreme Court that considers legislative intent more than original intent
- An elected Congress whose rate of change is about that of Britain’s House of Lords
- Orwell’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace
- State, County, and Local Government officials eunuched whenever a federal agent shows up
- Demand for government secrecy paired with demand for citizen transparency
- Eminent Domain Laws that steal property from one private citizen as a political payoff to another
- A Bill of Loopholes where a Bill of Rights is supposed to be; and
- An Imperial Presidency …
… it’s only by the skin of its teeth. In 223 years of mastication, many of the Constitution’s teeth have fallen out, some are impacted, many have cavities requiring root canal, and even the remaining relatively healthy teeth are dulled, loose, and painfully difficult to chew with.
In my lifetime the Constitution is more Poligrip than Politics.
So why — when the Constitution of the United States is clearly in crisis as to whether it can sustain its original intent to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” — are alternatives offered to try and do the job better looked upon with such fear and loathing?
Well, for one thing, the proposed alternatives have never worked on a large scale before.
Various forms of anarchism have been tried out in microcosmic experiments. The Old Testament tells us of a time before Kings when the Israelites had only Judges.
In the ancient Irish túatha — while you had a king — at least you were free to choose which one you wanted.
There were anarchist-based communes both in Europe and in America. None of them expanded into the general population and few survived into a second generation.
And — well — historically too darned many high-profile anarchists have in fact been nihilists, trouble-makers, and terrorists.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. There is a rich and peaceful tradition of individual anarchism, which includes Henry David Thoreau who wrote in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience:
I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe – “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.
Maxham daguerreotype of Henry David Thoreau
made in 1856
No less than Mohandas K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have each attributed their successful uses of non-violent resistance to the anarchist Thoreau.
Other historical anarchists — William Godwin, Lysander Spooner, Voltairine de Cleyre, Benjamin Tucker, Emma Goldman, and Thomas Hodgskin — as well as anarchists I’ve known personally in my lifetime — Murray Rothbard, Robert LeFevre, L. Neil Smith, David Friedman, Victor Koman, and Samuel Edward Konkin III — have all advocated anarchistic visions of society that are neither chaotic nor nihilistic — and one can convincingly argue that, despite their protests, both Ayn Rand and Robert A. Heinlein made far better cases in their fiction for anarchistic societies than they made for government in their nonfiction.
Plus I must note here that Franz Oppenheimer and Albert Jay Nock found it necessary to make a clear distinction between government and the State.
But cutting to the chase, are any of these visions of a stateless society both doable and sustainable?
I believe they are, if certain conditions are met.
- It must be a society that recognizes the concept of Sovereign Rights. The concept of a Sovereign Right means that each one of us has the individual sovereign power to do whatever each of us wants without prior consent of anyone else, providing that by our doing so it does not invade the equal sovereign right of anyone else to be left unmolested. In the case of any being or even any thing which is regarded as having such sovereign rights, the test is whether such an entity can be held accountable for the consequences of its actions. If the answer is “no” then some other individual with Sovereign rights whom Nature has appointed or who has otherwise agreed to be held answerable for that irresponsible entity — whether fetus, child, mental incompetent, animal, tree, or Frankenstein’s Monster — is the guardian, overseer, in loco parentis, and steward of that entity until such a time as the entity can answer for the consequences of its own acts.
- The organizing principle must be that arbitration can only be initiated where one or more Sovereign Individuals file a complaint. So, for example, possession of a substance with the intent to use it could not be a crime because possession of a thing, nor an intent to do something with it, is not Action; and unless you Act against Someone Else no Sovereign Rights Violation has yet occurred. Making a threat against someone is an action; and could be adjudicated. Possessing something which by its nature is a danger to others would have to prove that the danger is real and present, not theoretical, statistical, or only under unlikely conditions.
- Private property rights must be recognized as the natural boundaries between competing claimants for needed places and things, and peaceful non-neighbor-impacting individual use of them must not not be overly burdened by entailments, covenants, contracts, and restrictions.
- A social ethic of laissez faire — live and let live, what people do on their own property within their own circles is none of my business so long as they don’t throw their garbage on my lawn and interrupt my sleep with blaring music — must dominate social interaction.
- TANSTAAFL — There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. You want it, you pay for it. You want me to support it in mutual aid, charity, or common cause, you ask me instead of telling me. The most you can do to punish me for refusing to sign on to your holy crusade is to have nothing further to do with me.
- Law is necessary for a peaceful and stable society, and may be either a commercial product or a product of non-profit organizations just like any other useful thing. Judges can offer their own law books in private arbitrations, and even cut the court costs by offering their trials as public entertainment — such as all the TV Judge Shows, which are already private arbitrations held in public. A General Submission to Arbitration is the necessity and hallmark of a responsible neighbor and a free society. The absence of a General Prior-to-Conflict Submission to Arbitration is the primary reason that no anarchist society has worked in an Industrial or Post-Industrial Mega-Population Society. If this is a new drug to fix the ills of society, I say let’s start the Clinical Trials now.
- The right of self-defense includes the right to kill in self-defense … and to be held accountable for it by a standard of reasonable men in a court with a judge to which the accused has consented, with a presumption of innocence, all the accused’s procedural rights protected, and with no civil or criminal penalties imposed without a conviction by a jury of the accused’s peers. The Bill of Rights got almost all of this correct.
- Finally and most important, the right to self defense is always present, and the weapons and techniques enabling effective and efficient self-defense are always legal in a free society. I won’t argue that there is no place for professionals in the fields of defense, security, and protection — and I won’t even argue about the necessity for standing military or posse comitatus to be prepared for threats — but no society can remain free or stable in the long run if the individual is not the first and last line in defense of his own rights and the rights of his loved ones, family, friends, neighbors, and nation.
Assuming for a moment that such a society is practical, is there a way to get there?
I believe that answer is also yes.
Even a society under the thumb of a totalitarian government– some would say especially societies under the thumb of totalitarian governments — have black markets.
Historically black markets are populated by criminals with few ethics and less self-control. Without any “honor among thieves” crime and violence are endemic.
But what if black-markets were operated by people more lawful, rational, and ethical than in the legal-edict society rather than less lawful, rational, and ethical?
What if the black markets had less crime than the above-ground markets because property-rights were better recognized and enforced by private arbitrations?
What if the bare minimum of business structure was cheaper to operate in — and fostered more productivity — than trying to start a business under layers of burdensome bureaucratic regulations, taxes and payoffs to politicians and their appointees?
What if — even with the extra costs of maintaining secret communication, transportation, and protection operations — it was still far cheaper to operate your business in these underground networks than in a debt-ridden, inflation destabilized, highly taxed and regulated, and hostile business environment as we now see in our current Constitution-impaired society?
Would not capital naturally flow into such better-operated markets and act to enrich them, empowering better use of technology and more efficient allocation of scarce resources for the purposes of expansion and growth?
What if the next tax haven wasn’t offshore but a well-concealed and protected network of markets right under the government’s stuffed nose?
That was the strategy of countereconomics — the philosophy of Agorism — proposed by myself and Samuel Edward Konkin III, presented first by Sam at the two CounterCon conferences I organized in 1974 and 1975, presented first in fiction (as Ayn Rand did with her philosophy in Atlas Shrugged) in my 1979 novel Alongside Night, and first presented in a work of nonfiction a year later in Samuel Edward Konkin III’s New Libertarian Manifesto.
Samuel Edward Konkin III, author of The New Libertarian Manifesto
Now, some may say what I’ve proposed above is not anarchy at all, but limited Constitutional Government.
I won’t argue the semantic point.
Call it what pleases you. Sam Konkin and I called it Agorism. This is the Thoreau-inspired vision of a free society I’ve been working towards in the past four decades of my life.
J. Neil Schulman
Alongside Night Movie Posters
The Agorist Revolutionary Alternative
Been watching the news? Greece? Spain? Ireland? Egypt? Iran? Mexico?
Revolution is in the air all over the place.
Agorism Poster by thorsmitersaw
Back in the early 1970′s Samuel Edward Konkin III, a libertarian activist, editor, and writer — began looking for alternatives to traditional political activism, both electoral and revolutionary — to bring about a free society. Sam’s premise was that electoral participation was a game that paid off not in liberty but in power; and that because the state’s tentacles held society hostage traditional revolutionary tactics resulted in unacceptable collateral damage to innocent bystanders.
Konkin, being a scientist, approached the question logically. To his way of thinking the means and ends had to be one and the same. If the end was a society whose institutions were noncoercive and respecting of voluntary contracts and trade then the means of achieving such a society, likewise, also needed to be noncoercive and respecting of voluntary contracts and trade.
These were the seeds which led Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3, for short) to begin exploring the strategy of countereconomics, and the philosophy of Agorism, as the libertarian means to achieve libertarian ends.
Samuel Edward Konkin III
Konkin first presented his ideas on countereconomics at two “CounterCon” conferences I organized in fall 1974 and spring 1975, during the off-season at Camp Mohawk in the Berkshires, a summer children’s camp owned and operated by my father’s brother and sister-in-law.
The next expression of countereconomic ideas and Agorism were in my novel, Alongside Night, which I began writing in 1974 and which was first published in October 1979 by a major New York book publisher.
One year later Sam self-published The New Libertarian Manifesto, the first formal expression of countereconomic and Agorist ideas. The first edition sold out quickly, and reprint editions have been proliferating in both printed and digital editions ever since. Additional publications further elucidating countereconomics and Agorism followed, and SEK3 worked to refine his work on countereconomics and Agorism until his death in February 2004.
Sam saw Agorism as a revolutionary alternative to Marxism and, like Marx, the impact and popularity of his ideas have only spread and gained new converts after his death.
Me, I’m sort of like Paul McCartney after the death of John Lennon. I was there at the beginning and I’m still here.
Agorism is the idea that if you want a future society based on free trade there is no substitute for trading freely now as a means of getting there. Phrased as a boundary problem it’s obvious that a single individual escaping from the State is not a strategy; but obviously 100% of individuals escaping from the State into free trade would be. Like a revolutionary version of the Laffer Curve, there must be some tipping point where individuals removing their lives and property from State control is sufficient to starve a State thereby collapsing it. Seeking that tipping point in a Starvation Curve is the revolutionary strategy of Agorism in a nutshell.
Agorism looks to what traditionally has been called the black market, or underground economy, as the playing field for revolution.
The problem with this is that the people who trade on the black market are after tangible and immediate rewards – not anything as abstract as freedom — and more often than not they’re not all that scrupulous about how they get it. Lacking anything other than threats of violent retaliation from ripping off someone more powerful, the underground entrepreneur finds no particular market advantage to abiding by rules of honesty and fair play as opposed to getting away with anything one can get away with.
Furthermore, an oppressive — even a totalitarian — state can tolerate a thriving black market. In fact there’s an argument to be made that since command economies violate fundamental economic laws and create massive misallocations of resources, and consequent underproduction of anything people want and need, that a thriving black market is actually an enabler of above-ground economic oppression. The way Mafioso and drug lords buy off law-enforcement officers and judges regularly is a testament to the symbiosis between an oppressive state and a criminally-run black market.
The only thing that can take counter-economics out of this paradigm as a strategy for freedom, and Agorism out of this paradigm as a social movement, is that bringing morally self-conscious actors into the black market brings arbitral dispute settlement, and stable predictability, into the equation. This has the potential of enabling the expansion of markets by drawing new capital into the underground economy that would normally avoid such high-risk investments.
Bringing law and order to the black market is what makes countereconomics distingishable from the normal criminal-run “black market” — or, to use Samuel Edward Konkin III’s distinction, the “red” market.
The market is only truly “black” — run under the Anarchist’s Black Flag rather than the Pirate’s Jolly Roger — when underground markets are more lawful than the capricious and tyrannical rules of the aboveground economy.
Yes, that’s right. The revolution only succeeds when the Anarchist is more for law-and-order than the Statist.
Agorism only works as an alternative to other political philosophies — countereconomics only works as an investment alternative to a statist-controlled above-ground economy — if promises and contracts from traders in the underground markets are more honest and trustworthy than in the above-ground economy.
The Prisoners Dilemma can’t win freedom. Only Trust can do that.
Some may argue that the above argument is utopian or perfectionist — that the success of Agorism requires men to become better than they are. The fact is, it only requires underground traders to adopt business standards common in above-ground markets: consumer responsiveness, honest accounting, and above all peaceful dispute settlement.
If the leftist critique is correct and there is no actual distinction to be made between a businessman and a criminal then any sort of market approach to social organization is doomed.
Agorist traders don’t need to be angels for Agorism to replace Marxism as the Revolutionary Alternative.
Just middlin’ decent.
Author’s Note April 26, 2012: Recently I’ve been using a “Devil’s Dictionary” style definition of Agorism: Estate planning for the death of the statist-controlled economy.
Yankruptcy: What is the tipping point when government overspending collapses the buying power of the dollar?
Business as usual.
That’s the assumption underlying everything you see on the news: coverage of the 2012 election, the Dow Jones Industrials, the price of gasoline, and the rate of workers filing for unemployment insurance. The acceptable limits to major media coverage of economic indicators only ask whether the United States is still in an economic downturn or whether the economy is slowly heading toward a recovery.
All of these discussions assume only mild risk to the economy from paying interest on a national debt above sixteen trillion, more than the gross domestic product, plus current government spending in the trillions, more than can be collected in taxes from the American people. Adding new taxes or increasing tax rates does not increase tax revenue, for two reasons: investors seek lower tax rates and move businesses overseas; and domestic bottom lines shrink because business spending on new production or hiring is instead taken by the government first.
Given that old government debts and new government spending can’t be paid for by taxes, payments can only be made by the Federal Reserve making up the difference by increasing the supply of dollar-accounted money and credit.
It’s called Quantitative Easing. It devalues the dollar, making everything paid for in dollars more expensive.
History shows us that there’s a tipping point beyond which a shrinking economy and an expanding money supply causes a currency to collapse in a catastrophic hyperinflation: what the theories of Austrian economics calls a “crack-up boom.”
It happened during the French Revolution in 1793 and in Weimer Germany in 1923.
It’s sometimes called “wheelbarrow” inflation because the amount of cash needed to buy groceries can only be lugged around in a wheelbarrow.
That tipping point — what for a private business would be called “bankruptcy” — needs a different term when we’re talking about the lawful currency of the United States: Federal Reserve Notes issued with the signatures of the Treasurer of the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury.
I’m labeling that tipping point — government spending more than what can be paid for by the American people as a whole — “Yankruptcy.”
We’ve already passed that tipping point.
We’re already “yankrupt.”
The only question is how long the rest of the world is able or willing to continue tying their own currency to the dollar in international trading — and willing to accept dollars in exchange for things they sell to America.
If the media pundits are right and the choice this November will be between President Barack Obama and his replacement by Governor Mitt Romney, then the problem of American Yankruptcy will not be addressed.
Nothing drastic — such as eliminating cabinet departments, firing hundreds of thousands of federal regulators and administrators, or eliminating foreign military deployments — will be done.
The spending will increase and the economy will collapse under the burden.
The dollar will go wheelbarrow.
I was aware of this pending problem decades ago when I wrote a novel about it.
Look for the movie later this year.
Alongside Night Movie Poster
It won’t be a documentary because it’s an action story taking place in the future.
But Addison Wiggin who heads up Agora Financial has already called it “The Hunger Games for adults.”
This article is Copyright © 2011, 2012 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!