Arnold Kling  

A Non-State Within a State?

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Adam Knott writes,

Panarchist society could emerge and proliferate at the same time current society is in place. The community I referred to above would not directly change the coerced wage and trade agreement that we might be subjected to when we walk out the door and go to work.

Thus, there would and could emerge a truly pluralistic situation where people might be members of coercive society at the same time they were members of voluntary society. While voluntary society expanded, statist society could remain in place, evolving and accommodating to the newly emerging political realities.

But none of this requires that libertarians ask statists for permission to have liberty. And none of this requires that libertarians ask statists to change their ideology or political forms.

Read the whole thing (it's a comment on a blog post). I'll toss in random comments below.

So, the suggestion is to start a non-state within a state. Have the non-state grow until, as Marx would put it, the state withers away.

But we have non-states now, and that does not seem to do the trick. Religious organizations are non-states. Corporations are non-states. ATM networks are non-states.

Elsewhere in the post, Knott indicates that having a marketable non-currency is important for a non-state. If frequent flyer miles were perfectly tradable, would we have a non-state then?

There are laws on the books which, if enforced, would make a non-state a non-starter. For example, one of the attractions of a non-currency in a non-state is that one could evade taxes. But technically, all transactions, including barter, are subject to the tax laws.

Actually, my sense that there are enough laws on the books for prosecutors to send anybody to prison. It's pretty much a matter of convention what gets enforced and what doesn't. Whether a non-state could make progress would depend on how convention evolves as the non-state starts to become a threat to political leaders.

A major point of Knott's post is that he thinks it's pathetic that libertarians should have to ask permission to obtain a right of exit from the state. I think that it's inevitable at some point that you will have to ask for permission. If the non-state is a non-threat, it probably is a non-event. By the time it becomes a threat, things will get, er, interesting.

But that does not mean it is not a good idea for Knott to try to create a working model of what he would like to escape to. With entrepreneurs, I'd much rather see a working prototype than a business plan.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Grant writes:

Good to see Adam Knott mentioned here.

The Internet is a non-state and is an example of market anarchy. It has many other non-state organizations within it, many of which trade things with real value. The structure of the Internet makes it nearly impossible to regulate, and its growing importance makes it impossible for any politician to shut down.

People on the Internet can converse, do business, and create entire virtual worlds without any government involvement. Yes in real life they are still coerced by the state, but they may rightly decide the option of investing more of their lives into an unregulated environment is far cheaper and preferable to rebellion.

Of course Internet societies have things far easier than real societies. The physical externalities are limited to what, just viruses (which are dealt with without any state involvement).

Jeff writes:

How is this not simple delusion? States NEVER 'wither away'. A very long leash is still a leash.

Lo Statuz writes:
Dwight Johnson writes:

I understand the point Adam is trying to make that we should not be "asking permission", as it were, of statists. But Arnold is correct that we are already awash with non-state organizations, yet monopoly governments stand unaffected.

I have long insisted that the right to choose a non-territorial government (and concomitantly the right to create one) is a basic human right, spelled out so beautifully in the Declaration of Independence. It is not a matter of "asking permission" to create a non-territorial government alongside the territorial that now exist everywhere, but rather the insistence that our right (and theirs) to choose be recognized by statists. Panarchy is a human rights struggle.

sconzey writes:
Adam Knott writes:

Hi Arnold

Thank you for the acknowledgment.

And thank you Grant and Dwight.

Arnold, I read through your enlightening comments.

My suggestion as you conceive it is to start a non-state within a state. And I assume this distinction is based on whether membership is obligatory and backed by force, or totally voluntary. Thus, you are saying I suggested we start a voluntary non-state, within the mandatory state-state.

One point I would like to make about this view of things. My example assumes some single or limited issue as the beginning point for the non-state you speak of. I used the example of attaching an invoice to our e-mails and billing each other for a penny an hour, thus establishing a community with its own wage/trade agreement coexisting with the state-state wage/trade laws.

Let's assume for the sake of discussion some number of libertarians do what I suggest. Then, the "state-state" becomes a "non-state" with regard to this single issue or law. Because, if the voluntary community was established as described, any individual with access to the Internet could now choose to bill other people or be billed by them at the rate of a penny an hour by e-mail, or choose not to. They could choose to "join" the community of e-mail invoicers (and thus be part of that community)or not join, and stay with the rules of the state-state.

Because people would immediately have this choice once the new community was erected, then with respect to this single issue, the state would, by your definition, and for practical purposes, become what you are calling a non-state.

My argument, re-stated in terms of your comments, is that the state cannot become a non-state unless there is a choice. And once there is a choice, the state, as you are defining it, becomes a non-state (with regard to whatever issue or law we are talking about).

Thus, in light of your comments, I would say my suggestion is that libertarians consider starting a non-state with regard to some single issue, thus rendering the state a non-state with regard to that single issue. And that single issue should be chosen such that it is non-violent, non-threatening to our fellow citizens, non-threatening to existing institutions and property, difficult (or impossible) for the state-state to prevent (Grant sees this), and of course, totally voluntary to join.

The other important issues I'm trying to bring attention to (not that they are new):

1. I don't believe that arguing with statists is going to bring about this kind of choice. There is a fundamental asymmetry that exists, and I believe that libertarians have to establish some kind of community. When that community is established, even in nascent form, I believe discussions with other communities, including the state-state, will be meaningful. As things are now, we may as well be talking to a wall. Asking permission is simply not going to get the job done.

2. Due to the current state of technology, there is no need to engage in hostile activity to form the beginnings of a non-state. Going back to my original example (and again, this is just one example out of many that could possibly be thought of), if a group of libertarians were to begin billing one another online for "intellectual services" at the rate of a penny an hour, hopefully we can agree that this is about as peaceful an activity as there is. True, it might be an outlaw activity, but then so can conversations and meetings be outlawed, in principle. What's important is that for all reasonable participants and onlookers, the activity is completely peaceful and voluntary. Practically, it harms no one.

And thus, in principle, it is possible to begin a libertarian or panarchist society by a series of nonviolent, nonthreatening, peaceful activities. If this is possible, then this is what I advocate.


The idea here is not necessarily to construct a new currency, or to construct any particular institution or system. The idea is to find a way to act---not merely speak and write---that is consistent with the libertarian ideals of peaceful, noncoercive social interaction and exchange. The idea is that it is possible to form the beginning of a new society while adhering to such a libertarian ethic, and not falling victim to the statist mindset which demands, with hostile intent, that others behave according to our own moral and ethical standards and ideals.

Someone or some group has to break the vicious cycle whereby we demand change by demanding that other people (not us) change their behavior, and we demand that other people (not us) change their convictions of conscience.

The suggestion I made was designed to accomplish these ideals.


A few closing comments.

The goal as I see it, is not to destroy the state. I think this is an irresponsible attitude. The goal as I see it is to construct something where nothing currently exists. It is to bring a choice into existence that is currently not available. It is to create. In so doing, I believe we demonstrate libertarian ideals to the world. We add value, not destroy it. We exemplify libertarian moral conduct, not contradict it.

The analogy with religions is a good one, and this analogy forms a huge part of panarchist philosophy. You write that religious organizations are non-states. But this wasn't always the case, and we can see that it still isn't the case in some parts of the world. When religions were territorial in nature, people faced the same situation with respect to their religious convictions that we now face with respect to our political convictions. Religions were imposed by force over territories. That's what we have now in politics, and that is precisely the problem.

The solution must be the same as that which evolved with respect to religions: political affiliation and membership must eventually be divorced from territory. We need to follow the nonterritorial religious model, and for the same reasons.

More and more libertarian scholars are reaching this conclusion. Max Borders wrote a wonderful (and short) two part essay posted over at 1000 Nations late last year. He arrived at panarchist conclusions independently by following the logic inherent in the idea of voluntary association.

In the Internet age, we have a huge opportunity to embark on the beginnings of libertarian society along nonterritorial lines, and by taking only peaceful actions. My post was one suggestion along these lines. But the principles are more important than the particular suggestion.

I hope people can see the possibilities that lie before us, and pursue them in a way, and with an intelligence, that is worthy of the libertarian cause.

Anonymous writes:

Mr. Knott has a non-plan and a non-solution, all he does is try to force his non-morality on others. Anyway here's the glaring flaw in Knott's 'theories'.

"The idea is to find a way to act---not merely speak and write---that is consistent with the libertarian ideals of peaceful, noncoercive social interaction and exchange."

Well, what any libertarian worth his salt would do is stop paying taxes which is a completely peaceful and non-coercive action. Of course the state will use violence, but libertarians and people in general have a right to defend themselves and defense is not coercion.

And if enough libertarians decided to stop paying taxes the state would probably not bother with using violence.

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