Sunday, November 29, 2009


Free Talk Live’s (FTL) principle hosts, Ian Freeman and Mark Edge, both reject the label “anarchist.” I think they are wrong to do so. Now, other listeners will probably agree with me that perhaps Ian could be called an anarchist, but would be surprised that I would call Mark one. However, recent events would lead me to suspect the label is appropriate.

Ian Freeman is plainly an anarchist. Here is an account as to why I think he is wrong to reject the term:

Definitions of Anarchism

Here is a definition of anarchism from one of its more famous originators:

This brings us to Anarchism, which may be described as the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished.

Benjamin Tucker

This seem to match exactly what Ian believes, so he is an anarchist according to this definition.


noun belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a cooperative basis.

— DERIVATIVES anarchist noun & adjective anarchistic adjective.

Oxford English dictionary.

Again, this seems to be what Ian believes.

From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry:an•ar•chist
Pronunciation:\ˈa-nər-kist, -ˌnär-\
1: a person who rebels against any authority, established order, or ruling power
2: a person who believes in, advocates, or promotes anarchism or anarchy ; especially : one who uses violent means to overthrow the established order
— anarchist or an•ar•chis•tic \ˌa-nər-ˈkis-tik, -(ˌ)när-\ adjective

Ian meets definition 1, since rebelling doesn't necessarily entail using force. On definition 2, it might be argued that he doesn’t meet the definition of anarchist, since he doesn't advocate the use of violence to overthrow a regime. However, the definition says "especially," meaning that it does not exclude those who do not advocate force to overthrow a regime: Even those who do not use force to overthrow a regime can meet the definition of “anarchist” that Merriam-Webster provides.

Merriam-Webster’s definition turns, not on whether or a person is using violence to overthrow a regime, but whether such a person is someone who believes in, advocates, or promotes anarchism. Anarchism, Merriam-Webster defines as:

Main Entry:an•ar•chism
Pronunciation:\ˈa-nər-ˌki-zəm, -ˌnär-\
1 : a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups
2 : the advocacy or practice of anarchistic principles

Again, Ian meets this definition.

Anarchism and Negative Connotations

Ian also rejects the title "anarchist" because it has negative connotations. But that's no reason not to think of oneself as an anarchist, it is just a good reason not to tell certain people that you are. There are plenty of other words out there, like “radical libertarian,” or words that Ian uses, like “Voluntaryist.” Usage of these words rather than “anarchist” need not mean that one is denying that one is an anarchist. It only means that one is not claiming to be to certain people.

Ian says that "anarchist" means "terrorist" to most people. That may be correct. However, someone who is not and anarchist, David Miller, wrote,

The association of anarchism with heinous acts of violence has, as I have already observed, become well established in the popular mind. From a historian's point of view this may appear quite unwarranted. Only a small proportion of anarchists have advocated terrorist methods - and only an even smaller proportion have tried to practise them - and moreover anarchist terrorism has been largely confined to two decades, the 1890s and the 1970s. Looking at the picture in another way, acts of terror have been performed by republicans, by nationalists, by revolutionary socialists, and by fascists, and if one tried to quantify the anarchist contribution to this catalogue of horror, it would turn out to be relatively small.

People have even used terrorism under dictatorships or monarchy's in order to try and bring about democracy. So some terrorists have been terrorists. When one thinks of the worst acts of terrorism, actions by the IRA, for instance, or Al Qaeda, these have been actions of rebublican democrats, or theocratic republicans, not advocates of anarchism. Historically, most terrorist acts have been performed by people not advocating anarchism, and so not by anarchists, than they have been by anarchists.

Further, it makes as much sense to say that because some terrorists have been anarchists, anarchists are terrorists, as to say that because some republicans have been terrorists, republicans are terrorists. Or, because some cats have been black and white, all cats are black and white. It is, frankly, illogical. Of course, Ian may agree with this, because he is not saying that the general public are correct to think of anarchists as terrorists, only that because they do, he won't call himself one. But he could just point out what I have said above, and try to persuade them that they are wrong on that. He is, after all, out there trying to persuade people to drop their erroneous beliefs that statism is good, and get them to embrace the ideas of peace and freedom instead, so he must think that in some cases it is better not to run away from people with erroneous views, but to try to persuade them to reject those views.

On anarchism and violent overthrow of regimes, it is plain that not everybody advocating the violent overthrow of one regime is an anarchist. Right now the US government likes to go round the world violently overthrowing particular regimes, but Bush was not an anarchist! No, it is not sufficient to be an anarchist that you advocate the violent overthrow of a regime - you need also to advocate some form of anarchism, as opposed to a new statist regime.

But is it even necessary to be an advocate of violent overthrow of regimes in order to be an anarchist? Can't one be an anarchist without advocating violence to overthrow a regime? Violent upheveal is a means, anarchism in an end. Is violent upheaval even the only means? Perhaps. Perhaps not? All I am saying is that Ian is confusing advocates of the end with advocates of a particular means to that end. One can still advocate anarchism whilst saying that the state should be abolished by people withdrawing their consent from it, refusing to co-operate with it, and by building their own voluntary alternatives (the agorist method), for instance. You would not be advocating violent overthrow of a regime then, but you would still be an anarchist.

In the end, on violent overthrow, though, Ian has provided no pricipled argument against it. He thinks it would not work, and quite accurately points out that people such as Carl Drega have not drawn many people into the liberty movement through their actions. But this is just an argument as to why violence is prudentially wrong, not why it is wrong in principle. States are little more than big gangs of robbers, and it is certainly not wrong, in principle, to violently resist bands of robbers. It just might be pointless or even harmful to do so sometimes.

Anarchism and Rules

One of the Grounds on which Ian claims that he is not an anarchist is because he believes that, by definition, anarchists oppose the existence of rules, and that since he favours voluntary rules, and owners laws on their own property, he therefore cannot be anarchist.

However, here Ian is making a grammatical error. The word “Anarchy” might be translated in an etymological manner, quite accurately, as “absence of rule.” However, it is also translatable as “absence of ruler.” The “archy” part comes from the Greek “archon” which means “ruler” or “system of rule,” just like in “oligarchy” (rule by a group) and “monarchy” (rule by one). When the suffix “an-“ means “absence of” or “negation of,” so “anarchon” means “absence of ruler.”

Ian’s grammatical error hereby becomes evident: When he says he is happy to have rules, he is using the word “rule” as a noun. When anarchists say they want no rule, they are using the word “rule” as a verb. A ruler is somebody who undertakes the activity of ruling, somebody who rules. Viewed like this, “rule” as a noun is not even the same word as “rule” as a verb, any more than the word “right” when used to mean “the opposite of left” is not even the same word as “right” when the person using it wants to say “correct.” “The opposite of left” is not a synonym of “correct.”

So, an anarchist could want there to be no rule (verb) whilst being perfectly happy with there being a rule (noun), and so still essentially hold exactly the same position as Ian holds. In that case, again, Ian would be an anarchist.

After all, anarchists like Benjamin Tucker even talked about “law” under anarchism, whilst Kropotkin has talked about the virtues of evolved customary law as opposed to centrally imposed state law. The first person to coin the phrase “anarchist,” in a positive sense, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, said he wanted to put “In place of laws, we will put contracts,” and contracts a bodies of voluntarily accepted rules.

Panarchy: Why Mark Is Also an Anarchist

Mark is often portrayed as the “voice of reason” on FTL, the sensible, moderate to Ian’s radical extremist. He is the token “minarchist,” - advocate of a constitutionally limited minimal state. When asked what he wants the government, or state, to do he says that he generally mentions “police, courts and roads,” though not because he thinks that the state would be any better at providing these things than anybody else, but because the lay person Mark is trying to persuade to adopt a more liberty oriented position may struggle to think of how these things could be provided without a state, but if Mark can persuade people that all the state should do is provide police, courts and roads, well that would be a vast improvement on how extensive and pervasive it has become now.

This position should be contrasted to that of Mark’s cohost, Ian Freeman, who has said that he wants no government or state at all: When asked how society would work in this manner, Ian has often recommended Linda and Morris Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty and has even produced an audio book version of this book. In this vision, instead of government provision of police services, people (who would have a right to bear arms and defend themselves anyway) would take advantage of a division of labour by subscribing to protection agencies, or joining protective associations, etc, so that private companies supply police protection on a competitive market economy.

Likewise, courts would also be provided on the free market, as individuals, or voluntary groupings, voluntarily chose to subscribe to, and take their disputes to, arbitration associations, or private courts, and would abide by the verdicts in order to avoid, amongst other things, the cost of any loss in reputation. So, in response to the concern that war between private protection agencies would be inevitable when police from one agency come to arrest a subscriber of a different agency, instead the different agencies, or their customers, would turn to private arbitration, supplied by private courts, and voluntary contractual rules to resolve disputes and ensure rulings are observed.

However, recent events (for instance, November the 24th, 2009) may have changed this distinction between Mark and Ian: Mark has started advocating what is called “panarchy,” or “choice in government.” I would speculate that he came across the term from Michael Rozeff at, though I could be wrong. In a debate with a listener Mark claimed that he wanted panarchy, so that people could choose the form of government they lived under: The tie between government and the land a government holds jurisdiction over would be broken, so that who your government was depended on would no longer depend on which patch of the Earth you happened to live on, or have been born on. You could be a citizen of government A and the guy in the house next to you, or even the room of your house that you let could be a citizen of another.

On practical issues, Mark has said that it would be an example of this idea if he were able, if pulled over driving down a Massachusetts highway without a seatbelt on, to say to the highway patrolman, “I am not a citizen of your government, but of the State of New Hampshire, and so your government’s laws are not my government’s laws, and so not the laws I must obey.”

Under panarchy, people would voluntarily become the citizens of whatever government they preferred, rather than whatever one happened to be operating in their geographic area. And if they no longer liked their government, they could leave and become a citizen of, or start, another. Here, then, is the ultimate expression of the secessionist idea: Not only should states be allowed to leave the Union, but counties should be able to secede from the state, towns or cities from the county, streets from cities, and individuals from streets; but if everybody in your state wants to leave the Union whilst you want to stay a member, well then that would be allowed, too, since they are free to reject any government they don’t like (in preference for an alternative), whilst you are free to become a citizen of any government you prefer, and you like the union.

In this sense, Mark can claim to still be an advocate of government, unlike Ian who doesn’t want any government, but Mark just wants choice and competition in governments: Panarchy. So, if Mark wants choice in government, how can I still claim he is an anarchist?

Well, I can do this by asking you, the reader, what actual difference there is between the Panarchy Mark advocates and what Ian advocates. Under Panarchy governments might provide police protection and courts to resolve disputes, and people voluntarily become citizens of the government, and therefore police and court service provider they prefer. Under Ian’s “voluntaryism,” on the other hand, people voluntaryily subscribe to organization that supplies courts and police protection that they prefer. It would appear to me that the only difference between what Mark advocates and what Ian advocates is that Mark calls the organizations that provide protection and court services “governments.” Plainly, since we do not, of course, call security firms that operate right now “governments,” and nor do we call arbitration firms or suppliers that operate right now “governments,” it certainly doesn’t seem correct to call something a government just because it is providing police protection and dispute resolution services.

Moreover, consider this: People often challenge market anarchists by saying “well, what if a subscriber of protection agency A thought that he had been a victim of a crime committed by subscriber of protection agency B, but the guy subscribing to B doesn’t recognize A, or thinks he is innocent of any crime, and wants his agency to provide him with protection against arrest. Won’t this result in war between the two agencies?” Market anarchists, of course, answer this question by saying, “no, the incentives in this situation are likely to be greater for agencies to agree on an arbiter rather than to fight it out.” But now, of course, we can ask Mark the similar questions: What if a citizen of government A gets in a dispute with the guy letting a room in his house, but this tenant is not a citizen of government A, but is a citizen of government B. Suppose, for instance, that the citizen of A feels that he has been assaulted, but government B doesn’t treat what the citizen of B did as assault, or even a crime? Would Government A be unable to enforce its laws against the citizen of Government B? Would Government B protect its citizen against this? Wouldn’t that lead to war between the governments?

Of course, the same answer that anarchists give would be available to Mark: Governments that went to war wit each other would have to fund these wars by raising taxes. When citizens of a government can cease to be citizens, and so taxpayers, at will, without having to move house, raising taxes becomes hard unless all the citizens agree with what the taxes are being spent on. This would mean that governments would be unable to fund unpopular wars. This would mean that governments would be have more incentive to find alternatives to war when they are cheaper than war: Arbitration between governments is a possible alternative. So, just as Ian’s protection agencies would go to an independent third party provider of dispute resolution services in this case, so too would Mark’s “government.” Mark’s whole “Panarchy” alternative seems to function in an identical way to Ian’s “voluntaryist system,” a system which I have already identified as anarchist. And this entails that Mark’s Panarchy is the Voluntaryism that Ian advocates, and, in advocating his voluntaryism, Ian advocates anarchism, so Mark’s Panarchy is an anarchism. The fact that he calls the voluntary groupings that occur in it “governments” does not make them so, and therefore does not alter the fact that he is essentially advocating what Ian advocates, and what Ian advocates is anarchy.


Ian Freeman? Mark Edge? Welcome to the fold! You are a couple of crazy anarchists just like the rest of us consistent liberty-loving-types out here!


Blogger Tristan said...

I'm pretty sure Ian used to call himself an anarchist - I'm not sure what prompted the change, but you are correct, he is an anarchist (although I suspect many anarchists would claim he's not thanks to their narrow definition of anarchy)

6:02 PM  
Blogger Dwight said...

Richard, an interesting article. I came across it because I have a Google alert for 'panarchy'. I run two panarchist sites:, and Another very useful site is Your understanding of panarchy is very good. However, a couple thoughts about this article.

Your example of panarchy involving being pulled over on the highway in Massachusetts involves a confusion of roles. Owners have rights over their property, and the owner of the highway, in this case the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has the right to enforce its rules of the road no matter to which government the traveler belongs. Your house; your rules. True for roads as for any other property that is owned. However, the relationship of a person and a government need not rest solely on geography, and that is what panarchy proposes. Government cannot own anyone; that is slavery or serfdom.

As for the question of anarchy, the problem of definition seems to arise because our only experience of government is as a territorial monopoly of coercion. Once you remove the quality of "monopoly" from that reality, the definition of terms like anarchy become troublesome, as you have seen.

Can government be a voluntary association? Panarchists say "yes". With one swipe we get rid of the notion of the illegitimacy of government, and the need to define ourselves using a term (anarchy) with such enormous negative baggage. Panarchy redefines government as potentially being a voluntary association of persons. If I am an anarchist, it is in relation to government that is not voluntary (all extant forms of government). But if government can be redefined as a voluntary association of persons, the term anarchy must be redefined also as relating to monopoly government.

I refer to myself and other panarchists as panarchists, and not as anarchists, though, relative to monopoly government, we would be anarchists. If I refer to myself as an anarchist, you know only that I am against monopoly government; if I refer to myself as a panarchist, you know a great deal in addition about *how* I oppose monopoly government. If I refer to myself as a naked ape, I would be technically correct. But if I refer to myself as a human being, I am giving you a much better understanding of who I am.

Dwight Johnson
Cherry Hill, NJ

7:34 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hi Dwight,

Thanks for the comment. The road example was not actually mine, but was used by Mark Edge on one of his shows. I agree with your response.

On panarchy vs. anarchy, and your claim that government can be voluntary, well I would first wonder what you meant by "government." After all, we already have voluntary organisations that provide law enforcement. We call them security companies, not governments. We already have voluntary organisations to provide dispute resolution. We call them arbitration associations, not governments. So it would seem to me that if you have voluntary organisations that create rules for their members, provide law enforcement and adjudication, this is insufficient to claim that they are governments. So what further characteristic would your organisations have that these don't that would make them governments?

8:23 PM  
Blogger Dwight said...

Defining terms is important, I agree. But if you insist that no one use the term "sunrise" because we know the sun is not rising but only appears to be rising, well, you're getting a bit too picky about terminology.

My Panarchy South Jersey site poses the possibility of two governments in my town of Cherry Hill: Government A (the current monopoly government), and Government B (the new panarchist government, panarchist because there is a choice for every resident in Cherry Hill between these two governments). Once you allow a second government to exist within a territory, even the original government is no longer a monopoly. In this example, both governments "tax" their members, though here again we have a word whose meaning changes because the government is now voluntary. In my example, the two governments both contribute to the funding of most town departments except for the schools.

So, to answer your question, perhaps in a territory where panarchy is accepted, government is that which provides civic services to citizens of a territory, even if it does not do so necessarily for all citizens of the territory. Yes, they are voluntary organizations, but the citizens recognize them as government, because they have all the characteristics they have come to associate with government except the monopoly status of all governments today.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Ofer Nave said...

Richard - This is exactly what I've thought in the past, though you've done a far better job of articulating it than I could have or was willing to. :) Thanks for getting the job done.

3:50 AM  

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