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Friday, October 17, 2014

Panarchy Redux

A reader offers an interesting and challenging question


Recently, a reader from Istanbul, Halit Yerlikhan, having read my article “The Real Social Contract,” asked the following:

Could you please explain to me the difference between the panarchy you propose and market anarchy?

This is an excellent question. For those who've never heard of panarchy, it's the idea that people can join political associations and live by their rules, as opposed to joining a party and agitating for that party to dominate all others. It's essentially legal pluralism, or a way of setting up polycentric law.

Later I would like to elaborate a little on the answer I gave the reader. But first, my answer:

Truly, there isn't much difference; something like panarchy is likely to emerge in market anarchy. And something like panarchy could be a steppingstone to anarchy.

There are a couple of reasons to talk about panarchy in isolation, because it breaks people from psychologies that suggest (a) different ideologies can't coexist, and (b) one ideology must dominate all others.

Most people think of market anarchy as some chaotic situation in which ruthless capitalists run everything through market power. Few see it as a situation in which people can and will experiment with different sets of rules in different groups. Fewer still see it as a means of divorcing rules from territory.

So, panarchy — as a theory — forces people to confront such ideas because it puts them at the center. And in this way they can be struck by the question: “Why can't we each live by the rules we choose as groups, rather than a polity?”

But honestly, there is very little difference between the two. And, indeed, I see panarchy as a potential intermediate step between territorial nation-states and market anarchy. As with all such isms, I'm more concerned with getting people to see what's possible, rather than being an ideologue.

First it should be noted the reader asked an interesting but concise question. There was no lengthy diatribe with a question mark at the end of it. Just a good question.

Now, to elaborate on my answer a little, I'd like to wrestle with the chicken-or-egg question. That is, could panarchy be an intermediate step that would get us to market anarchy, properly understood? Or would market anarchy, if implemented, give rise to emergent suborders rooted in different value clusters by people with different ideological leanings?

On the one hand, I think the answer is either or both. After all, if people were ready to embrace a sort of administrative state pluralism as envisioned by de Puydt, whereby people choose their political associations as opposed to choosing their political parties, they could eventually discover that, with time, the administrative apparatus was no longer necessary at all. (Given the nature of administrative apparatuses, I have my doubts that this would happen quickly or easily. But never mind.) And given the nature of people, I have little doubt that people would self-organize into groups with different rules and mechanisms for solving collective-action problems, allocating resources, and so on — based on their moral-political predilections.

And yet I don't think either panarchy or market anarchy per se is likely to arrive any time soon as a de facto organizing principle of human beings. As I wrote in my series “The End of Politics,” the process of decentralization will proceed in a mixed, warty, and irregular fashion. But it will proceed.

As I suggest in my answer to the reader, I like to talk about panarchy primarily to get people to see outside of a partisan, electoral frame. It helps people grok the possibility that we could be a nation of joiners again. It helps them shake themselves out of the old habits created by a set of institutions that we have taken to calling “DOS,” or “democratic operating systems.” My hope is that people will think maybe it's time for an upgrade. And panarchy looks a lot more like a tablet with lots of apps, rather than an old PC with just two — say, one red and one blue.

Read more about panarchy here.


  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.