Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Why Aren't You an Anarchist?

by Fred E. Foldvary

Say “anarchy” and many people think of chaos, violence, and everybody running amuck. The word “amuck,” also spelled “amok,” comes from the Malay language, meaning guys who suddenly become aggressive and homicidal due to some perceived insult.

But anarchism also has a totally different meaning, that of the belief in social harmony without an imposed government. It is a peaceful anarchy with a spontaneous and contractual order.

Most people are not in favor of peaceful anarchism because they think it cannot work. Many philosophers have been telling us that people form or support a government in order to establish security and order, otherwise society will fall apart and run amuck.

Peaceful anarchists beg to differ from the view that social order requires an imposed government. But anarchism comes in several different varieties.

There is socialist or communist anarchism, in which property is communal or distributed in an egalitarian way or according to “need.” Socialist anarchists don’t like the concept of hiring labor, which alienates the worker from his tools and from his product. Instead, they wish for workers to own the land and capital goods, so that all means of production are united in ownership. They envision worker’s cooperatives and collective decision making. These communes and cooperatives would form networks for mutual aid.

In contrast, there is individualist or atomistic anarchism. Its adherents like to confuse people by also calling it anarcho-capitalism. Atomistic anarchism envisions the autonomous individual person as the foundation of economic activity. Each person enters into contracts with firms to provide security and other services.

Another variant is geoanarchism, in which people would live in contractual communities whose public goods are financed from land rent. These would include land trusts, condominiums, residential associations, proprietary communities (such as shopping centers and hotels), and apartment buildings. Membership in a community would be voluntary. These communities would associate together in networks and leagues. The members would share the belief that the land rent should be collected and distributed to all members equally or else used for public goods.

Under “geo-archy,” communities would create higher-level associations to provide public goods with a wide scope such as defense. Most communities would be members of the greater association, which would provide for a uniform rule of law at the highest level of association. Individuals and communities who are members would receive a package of goods, including security and access to public works, which makes membership advantageous. Members could secede, but would lose the package, so secession would be limited. Folks would therefore have the advantages of a state, but without the tyranny.

The greater association could include “anarcho-capitalist” communities that do not use land rent for their public finance. Economic theory indicates that the geoanarchist communities would have greater prosperity, since communities that do not use land rent for public goods would find that their public works get capitalized into higher rents, making the residents pay double for public goods, once as fees and then again as higher rent. Most folks would rather pay once than twice, so they would move out of anarcho-capitalism into geoanarchism.

Small-group democracy would prevent the tyranny of a minority, while secession would limit the tyranny of a majority. Geoanarchy would be compatible with communist anarchism, as communities could be workers’ cooperatives or communes, if these communities would tolerate others which are not communal or worker-owned.

Geoanarchism also solves the problem of the provision of public goods, which is problematic for atomistic anarchism. For example, with atomistic anarchism, each household would contract with a street provider, but the street company could charge a very high renewal fee to access the street, since the house owner has no alternative.

Atomistic anarchism also envisions multiple defense agencies, which are constantly negotiating conflicts among members, while geoanarchism envisions all communities in harmony under one federation and rule of law. With one federated system, geoanarchism would be under a libertarian constitution, whereas atomistic anarchism has no constitution and could have communities with tyrannies of the majority, forcing dissidents to move out or comply. Nevertheless, individualist anarchism would be mostly libertarian, and could solve the defense and street problem by moving towards a more communitarian version.

So, given the option of geoanarchism which provides a uniform rule of law, and therefore harmony without tyranny, why aren’t you an anarchist?

This article first appeared in the Progress Report, www.progress.org. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Fred Foldvary teaches economics at Santa Clara University and is the author of several books: The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and the Dictionary of Free-Market Economics.