Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
Do you yearn for some thing? I certainly do. Why can’t we go ahead and get the things we yearn for? What’s wrong with that? At some point every person needs to learn to take “yes” for an answer. That’s what Panarchy  is, taking “yes” for an answer.
I’m going to talk about “liberals” and “conservatives” here since those are the largest groupings or “polities,” and because this article is intended for a more general audience. Of course the principles here apply to more than just these two groups. But why shouldn’t liberals get what they want? Why shouldn’t conservatives get what they want?
My wife and I had a party a while back, and an old liberal friend of ours (who we hadn’t seen much of lately) was there. I was trying to explain to him what Panarchy was, and after he got what I was talking about, he responded, “That can’t work.”
Some Unwarranted Assumptions
I dropped the discussion at that point because I knew exactly what he meant, and to be honest, I couldn’t disagree--then. Of course what he meant, stripped of all euphemism, was that if people could so split into polities, all the poor people would join the liberal polity and all the rich people, who should be looted to support the poor people, would join the conservative polity--and then the looting would have to stop. From his point of view, the poor would starve. “That can’t work.”
He didn’t actually come out and say it, though; probably because it’s a bit embarrassing to say something like, “We need someone to plunder!”
But, now that I think about this some more, didn’t we both make the same unwarranted assumptions about that?
Aren’t there a lot of rich liberals? In fact, aren’t there probably more of them than rich conservatives? Assuming George Soros is a liberal rather than a communist, would he stop being one if people could split into polities? Would Bill Gates? So, income due to looting, within the liberal polity, clearly would not evaporate. Would the somewhat-less-rich people (the middle class liberals, of whom there are vast numbers) join the conservative polity? I doubt it. My liberal friend would not become a conservative.
And aren’t there in fact, plenty of conservative poor people? Would they stop being conservative just to get the loot? Or wouldn’t they rather be supported the way conservatives (supposedly) think the poor should be supported, via charity? There would clearly be charity within the conservative polity.
Assuming for the moment that conservatives like war and standing armies and cops more than liberals do, those in the liberal polity would no longer have to support such things, at least to the extent that conservatives think they should. This frees up more funds to be used for the welfare programs that liberals like. Those in the liberal polity, no longer supporting a War on Some Drugs, also do not have to support the prison-industrial complex for caging drug users; yet more funds are freed up for welfare. In fact, there is an old liberal chestnut, “We should spend money on schools so we don’t have to spend it on prisons.” Liberals could actually make that so within their polity. Of course, that assumes they want to see their political theories actually tested!
Keep in mind that, at the time churches went religiously tolerant, they were the primary if not only support for poor people. The fact the different churches looked differently at the care of the poor did not deter them from adopting tolerance. They apparently did not worry that all the poor would become Catholics, and all the rich Episcopalians, if they became tolerant. They did it because it was right.
Likewise, it turns out that liberals do have some use for war and prisons after all, so that conservative need not concern themselves about having to bear the entire burden for such “enterprises.” Just as liberals need not worry about their preferred programs being unworkable under Panarchy, conservatives also need not worry. They all get what they want--if they really want it.
Bastiat once described government in this manner: “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” Isn’t the whole point of his statement that, “That can’t work”? Panarchy actually can work, better than the constant plunder raids between the polities that we have under centralized government. It’s a lot more pleasant, too. Panarchy is often compared with religious tolerance. Very few religious persons would want to return to the kinds of strife that existed in Europe prior to the widespread acceptance of religious tolerance. Once we tolerate other polities and have them interact as in Panarchy, few will want to go back to what we are saddled with currently.
Of course, there is the joy of sticking it to someone else, which is a big part of politics. Let’s face it, the sorts of things that motivate people in the political “silly season” do not always have the purest and highest origins! But I’ll bet most people will accept that trade, because it seems in politics that one is the “stickee” more often than the one is doing the sticking. But to be honest, that practice will clearly not disappear with Panarchy, as within a given polity there will still be political contests. The joy of battle will still exist.
Let Liberals Be Liberals, Not Conservatives
Another factor we see today with massively centralized government is the homogenization of political tendencies. You’d have to be pretty obtuse to miss the fact that conservatives and liberals are looking pretty much alike these days, differing only in minor details. “Two wings of the same bird of prey,” as someone put it.
There is a reason for this. In the great competition to get on top of the single massive political heap, there is a strong tendency toward the middle. Candidates must appeal to some mushy mean in order to cobble together enough support to win an election.
Now think how it would look under Panarchy. Liberal candidates would have to appeal only to liberals, and conservatives only to conservatives. The homogenization of politics would cease. There would be no more “RINOs,” and no more “LINOs” either.
Isn’t that a good thing? Don’t conservatives prefer to have real conservatives in their government? Don’t liberals prefer to have real liberals in theirs?
I suspect that the big liberal and conservative blobs would split into smaller varieties of the same as the homogenization pressures diminished (e.g., neocons and paleocons). This means you would find an even better match for your preferences.
Liberals and Conservatives Can Be Friends
With no inter-polity strife such as Panarchy offers, your circle of friends is broadened. Why not be friends with someone completely different from you? You are no longer participating in inter-polity raids and plunder, which tends to reduce the possibility of friendship. You are no longer a threat to each other. Isn’t it better to have more friends, and more interesting diversity in one’s friendships? Hell, we might even get to the point of intermarriage between the polities!
Liberals claim to like diversity and tolerance. Well isn’t panarchy a lot more diverse than the one-size-fits-all political mess we are stuck with today? Doesn’t it broaden tolerance, too? Conservatives often say, “America, love it or leave it.” Wouldn’t America be even more lovable if everyone got what they wanted? Wouldn’t they be able to say instead, “Conservative polity, love it or leave it,” and have that be an actually viable suggestion? (I realize it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.)
The one drawback I can see with Panarchy is that it would almost completely eliminate the pressure for secession. Why secede when you are already getting what you want? Some might not consider that a disadvantage.
It’s true that there are a lot of details to be worked out with Panarchy, but people are inventive.
Americans should learn to take yes for an answer.