Panarchy, Subsidiarity and Me


Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR 

When I first started writing on this subject (see here, here, and here), I was mostly shooting in the dark. Subsequent reading has yet again proven the old saying, from Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun; that what I wrote has been thought of before. This article will attempt to collect and connect these themes.
The first thing I found was that I was really talking about an old concept called subsidiarity, the idea that political matters ought to be handled at the lowest possible level. Hey, it’s even right there in the 10th Amendment!
Then I found a very close analog, in the idea of Panarchism. This form completely rejects politics based on territories. Instead, people of different political persuasions live among each other, much as people of different religions do, and are individually governed according to their different political tendencies (or not at all, if anarchists). While I had taken the political differentiation down to the community level, the panarchists take it right down to the individual level. I still have some doubts about this, because politics seems inherently connected to territory. What I suspect would happen in a completely free world though, would be a mix: some people like uniformity of thought (living among their own kind), and those naturally tend to congregate in smaller towns, while others in the cosmopolitan big cities would be more used to seeing people of different persuasions and would be more comfortable with that. In other words, it would look much like it already does in today’s society, but without the coercion.
Finally, I was watching a discussion among friends on Facebook, having to do with not caring what other people think--a complaint against conformity or “horizontal enforcement.” One noted that he felt better after he gave up caring. His comment made me wonder to what extent we should care.
In the old days, when people’s horizons were very close (village life) and communication almost nonexistent, the pressure to conform must have been extremely high. It struck me, a while back, reading John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, how he railed against social pressure to conform even in the 19th Century. Mill’s view is striking not in how much we have of it, but in how much it has dissipated since the time he wrote. Nowadays you can proclaim you don’t give a damn what others think and not be burned at the stake, or stoned by a crowd. Mostly you will be ignored.
But now with the Internet, that trend progresses even further. Not only does the crowd not harm you for not conforming, but you can find a community of people who actually agrees with what you think (and where it again begins to make sense worrying about what these folks think). No longer are non-conformists atomistic. They can find their own community, their own tribe. First it is a virtual community on the Internet; but what is to stop people from moving physically to be with others like them? And isn’t that quite a gift? As Gatto wrote, "People are less than whole unless they gather themselves voluntarily into groups of souls in harmony. Gathering themselves to pursue individual, family, and community dreams consistent with their private humanity is what makes them whole; only slaves are gathered by others."
Nowadays it is not so much social pressure that bedevils us (since we can easily escape it or reduce it), but the centralizing, homogenizing, repressive tendencies of the mega-state. Just look at the churn that comes from political campaigns, particularly presidential ones. Talk about bringing out the worst in us!
I believe we should gather with each other, like among like. Later when the culture has advanced, it will be possible to go more non-territorial as the panarchists envision, but in the beginning we need mutual support of others in our communities to strike out on a path different from what the mega-state has planned for us. Everyone needs this, not just anarchists. 
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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


KenK's picture

Good article Paul. Internet based communities are a good first step but in the end you have to have real-time, meat space communities in the traditional sense of the term. "Boots on the ground" as the military sorts call it. It is better perhaps essential that you have a thousand persons in one place rather than have ten thousand scattered all over the rest of the country. Even radical individualist Stirnerites can't stand alone.

Suverans2's picture

Very good, Paul. The only thing I might give constructive criticism on is this, "(or not at all, if anarchists)". I may be picking nits ;) but most so-called "anarchists", I have 'met', are lip-service anarchists, and are, in fact, full-fledged members of the STATE.

It would be more concise to say, in my opinion, "(or not at all, if one is self-governing)", i.e. in harmony with the "Natural Law of the human world".

painkilleraz's picture

As you are fully aware Paul, I could care less whether we had a community of like minds or not. Understanding as I do the necessity of social interaction and some form of society I often wonder if my current philosophical approach is a correct one. And than I remember that not only is anarchy possible but it has existed for all intents and purposes throughout history as well as being something that works right now. Anarchy quite simply being the absence of state intervention. We individuals who retain liberty of the mind are in many cases (not all arguably) able to function almost completely without the guidance and "protection" of the state. Yes, internet communities are a perfect example, and yes we must convert this to actual real flesh and blood approaches. However, it does not need to have rules, or even "community" involvement. It is far simpler than that, it is a shift in perception on an individual basis, accepting that we and only we are responsible for ourselves and our decisions alone.

Liberty is but a thought away, grab it and once you find it dont let go.