The network agorist

About the critical rationalist approach to anarchy

In a video named Damned to Repeat It, Pt. 2 – Anarchism Paul McKeever argues against anarchism from the point of view of Ayn Rands objectivism. Now, I’m not interested very much in discussing the flaws of Rand’s objectivism – I’m a critical rationalist, and I don’t believe in such mythical entities as “objective law”.
The remarkable point here is that I have to agree with some of the arguments presented there – they are, indeed, quite decisive arguments against a quite common libertarian position, namely the very idea that the non-aggression principle taken alone allows to solve something, or allows to define some sort of objective law.

There is also another point, where I have to agree with the argumentation: The worst form of a dictatorship is not one with strong, rigid laws, but one where the law is uncertain, where you cannot be sure what happens.

But then anarchy is, simply, considered to be equivalent to such a dictatorship with such uncertain law, simply because there is no universal law for everybody, no “objective law”.

But this is wrong. In my personal approach to anarchy there is a certain law for everybody – the set of rules which he has accepted himself.

And, once we can expect that security firms will specialize on the defense, they will offer their clients protection – as part of a clear and certain contract. I would not name this contract an “objective law”, because it contains a lot of subjective elements – it depends on the personal interests of the client as well as on those of the agency. But, once the contract is signed, the client has a certain contract which is otherwise equivalent to the law of a Randian minimal state.

Or not? What about other people, who have not signed the same contract? This is of no worry to you – there is no difference between these other people then and now. I have not singned any contract with the state today too. Your defense agency will defend you against them as well as the police will defend you today.

What about other defense agencies? They are similar to other states today. If they are in war with each other – which remains a possibility – the situation may be quite bad for you – as today. If not, everything is as fine – as in peace today.

What is, then, the difference? You will be defended by your agency if you follow your own law, as described in your personal contract with the agency. Differences of the laws of different agencies are nothing you have to care more than today, when you travel through the world.

In fact, you will be even more safe: Before entering a domain where your standard behaviour will be interpreted as an aggression, you will be informed about this. Then, it is your choice – to enter, and to behave in a more restricted way, or not to enter.

Or, reformulating the point: The argument, if valid, would be an argument in favour of a world state, and claiming that the actual, real situation is horrible in comparison with this. Hm, would you really like to argue in favour of a world government? The only “advantage” would be that there is no longer a possibility to emigrate. A horrible idea.

Last but not least, the video poses the problem of evolution to an anarchistic society. The question itself is a reasonable one: What do you think happens if tomorrow all the police, all the judges, the whole legal system simply disappears? Do you think police forces will organize themself by natural evolution? Aren’t, instead, the states the result of this natural evolution?

A reasonable question, and I propose an evolutionary answer: Yes, the states are the result of natural evolution – in a world without an internet, in a world, where reputation works only in small societies.

But today we have the internet, and we have encryption. So, today we live in an essentially different world. In this new world, a global reputational system can enforce, in a sufficiently strong way, private contracts.

And we do not have to care about what happens if the state disappears. The reputational system, as well as a civilized society based on reputational enforcement of contracts, can evolve already today, inside the existing world controlled by states. It will be created outside the control of the states, but it doesn’t need much – a working internet, with strong encryption of your personal data as well as your communications. It will evolve in free competition with the jurisdiction of the states, and I’m sure it will win this competition.

What will be the world after this? The states yet exists, nobody has made a violent revolution. But private contracts will be enforced by reputation, nobody will even think of using the state court to solve a private conflict over a contract. Then, the states have no control over private contracts of the citizens – so they cannot tax them. There will be hidden internet banking with complete privacy. Whenever necessary, there will be fake contracts to hide the real contracts and to minimize taxation: This will be safe, because based on honor, on global reputation, where a contract violator ends in an open global black list. So the tax income decreases.

Printing money will no longer help the state. The states paper money will hardly be used in the hidden banking system. So they will not be used, nor for exchange, nor for savings. All the state can do with them is to pay his own workers. All the state can do by redistribution is to manage that everybody receives the same amount of paper money. But what if paper money become useless, except for paying taxes?

The central new element, which makes all this possible, is trust based on global reputation. If this works, what remains from the state will become quite powerless.

About network agorism

What is agorism?

Agorism is the political philosophy that advocates the goal of the bringing about of a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges by means of counter-economics. It was founded by libertarian theorist Samuel Edward Konkin III in 1975.

I prefer “agorism” in comparison with “anarcho-capitalism”, not only because capitalism is a bad word – I’m not afraid of using words with bad reputation. The point is that capitalism – different from a free market society – is heavily misused to describe the actual economic system, which is much more close to corporatism (the economic system typical for fascist states) than to a free market. But the actual economic system deserves its bad reputation. So, let’s leave “capitalism” as a description of the actual economic system (which, in fact, favours big capitals) and choose another word – agora – to describe a really free market.

The other point which made me prefer “agorism” is its focus on the particular way to reach this society: It is not a violent revolution, not an attempt to destroy the state by force, or to take it over. It is focussed on counter-economics – economics outside the state. This is non-violent: Nobody is forced to participate in it. It is also non-destructive: Whatever works in the actual society is not destroyed by counter-economics.

Moreover, it focusses on what can and should be done now. The agorist does not have to care about minarchism vs. anarchism: He simply tries to do as much as possible outside the state, independent of the state. If he is successful, he creates a complete society outside the state. Then, this complete working society proves that the state is not necessary. If he is less successful, if there remain some problems which cannot be adequately solved without territorial monopolies – so be it.

The other method: secessions

The other thing which can be done now are secessions: Fighting against large states, by splitting them into parts, is an important way to minimize the harm created by the state. It increases competition between them, it makes it easier to switch between states, and it also decreases the inherent problems of democracies as described by public choice theory. We know that it is workable: It has worked nicely in the past, in Italy and Germany. And we know that the main economic problem of small states – tariffs and too many borders – can be solved in the same way they are solved today in Europe.

There is no contradiction between these two methods to diminish the harm created by states. But, clearly, secessions alone do not solve the problem: Even small states can be as repressive as large states, as restrictive, as harmful. Instead, if the agora succeeds, even if only for some part of human behaviour, this will be an increase in general human freedom. Thus, while I support every secessionist, separatist movement, my focus is on the agora.

The network

There is one problem with the agora: Its failure in the past. There has been a lot of economic activity outside the state, and there is, even today, a lot of it – in particular, the drug market. Nonetheless, states have been stronger in the past. And, at a first look, there seems no reason to expect a change: Modern large scale economics seems even more vulnerable to external control than the small scale economics of the past. The classical domains of economics which continue to remain outside state control do not use large factories: households, prostitution, gambling, smuggling, drugs, black job markets, private arbitration – all this is small scale. So what can be done here? What is the hope?

The hope is the revolution in information technology. It can change the situation in a very radical way. The point is that there is a technical problem with large scale agorism – the problem of trust and reputation in large societies. Maybe there are also other problems with large scale agorism – future will show. But this problem alone restricts classical agorism to small groups, where everybody knows everybody else, so that trust and reputation is sufficient to enforce contracts.

But this is a technical problem, which can be solved today: All one really needs is a global black list of contract breakers, so that you can break a contract only once in your life.

Based on a global reputational network, the agora becomes much more powerful: Violating a private, agorist contract will be penalized globally and forever – even emigration does not help. This reverts the old situation: In the past, for violators of agorist contracts it was sufficient to move into another part of the same state, but for violators of a law of the state only emigration was a solution. Now violating a state law becomes less dangerous – emigration helps, but there is no emigration from a global black list.

Based on this new power relation, morals will change correspondingly: People will care about their reputation for holding contracts, and this reputation will become more important than the reputation of following the law.