Anarchy, de Facto and de Jure


This Text Can Be Found in the Book,
The Evolution of Consent: Collected Essays (Vol. I)

Those animals which are incapable of making binding agreements with one another not to inflict nor suffer harm are without either justice or injustice; and likewise for those peoples who either could not or would not form binding agreements not to inflict nor suffer harm.
– Epicurus, Principle Doctrine XXXII



Anarchy starts in the primitive context. What keeps anarchy anarchy is that there is a lack of a unilateral monopoly on force. That means no one individual believes they can impose costs on others without having costs imposed back. That is, no individual can be the sole aggressor.

In primitive anarchy– let’s call the most extreme form the anarchy of tacit consent, or tort (where there are no contracts)– it is not anarchy simply because there is no violence, but because no one can hold a monopoly on it. When anthropologists have looked at the lifestyles of primitive, stateless, hunter-gatherers, they have found that violence is minimized in such societies because of the distribution of power. Slaves didn’t occur until horticulture could be practiced. Technological advantages– taken from geographical and ecological advantages that allowed innovation– allowed people the means to enslave one another.

If a band had time to make quality spears and shields because they grew their food by the river and had settlements, they could go to the plains and pick on the nomadic people who had to move around to the next food spot, take the things they did have, take their young women and children back as slaves, and kill the rest. Their society grew exponentially in power this way. Anarchy– the balance of liberties– was thwarted at this point and we went into statism— a monopoly on power—, first demonstrated in human societies as enslavement. Enslavement generally did not start within one’s own group (race, nationality, etc.), but was applied externally to other groups. Humans, being social animals within their own units, do not generally have instincts to kill or fight. Hunter-gatherers demonstrate this quite well.

Sometimes when societies clash– and especially when they see competition for resources– there will be wars between them. However, conflicts, if they don’t result in the destruction of one or another group, and find themselves balanced, will oftentimes lead to agreements, and even unions. These could be as simple as the peace agreement, “We will not kill one another and will respect each other’s boundaries,” or as complex as forming national federations of communities, such as the Iroquois Confederacy, having to agree to a much larger degree on such things as a social contract and ways to make decisions together.

Consent, From Tacit to Expressed

Expressed consent (contract) emerges from pressures of tacit consent (association). Rights evolve to take the place of liberties.

Horticultural societies practiced the first systems of contract law, created in assemblies of the people, usually associated to and constituted of different families or tribes. The creation of contracts between family units allowed them to a) share resources more closely and cooperatively and b) extend political and economic cooperation by creating social norms past mere tribal customs and into larger social solidarity.

Many of these communities are largely called city-states by anthropologists, but it’s important to note that they were not truly states until they exercised a monopoly on force. Unless, and/or until, the society had slaves, these were largely self-governed societies that practiced free association and agreed to live by various systems of law created by democratic decision-making and common consent. However, many of these societies used their internal success to dominate societies that had not yet realized the potential of the Fertile Crescent, and similar high-rent hot-spots. This established the area as a sort of regional oligopoly, and the communities became states, not so much because of internal conflict as because of the conflict that was enabled between societies living on different grades of land. Those communities which could collect the most slaves to work on their plantations became wealthier, and established armies.

We have come from a point of anarchic nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers working in the realm of tacit consent, where social governance was upheld by custom and culture— out of regard for one’s own social costs (because conflict has led to failure)—, rather than contract. That is the original anarchy, where individuals balance each other’s power. This was distorted and lost by statism, where individuals became dominated by groups. Tacit, primitive, anarchy is the balance of individuals. This was lost at the formation of the state, but this is due rather to geography than human behavior. Expressed anarchy– that is, civilized anarchy–, then, must be created from contract. Expressed anarchy, or panarchy, aims for the balance of societies.

Conflicts of Neighbors

The question of how conflict in anarchy is dealt with is a matter of how civilized the anarchy is. Is this an anarchy governed by tacit balance of power, whereby simple tit-for-tat keeps things even, or is there a deeper understanding that searches for public approval in the outcome of disputes? Anarchy could be a social state where fighting maintains a balance or where contracts do. It really depends on the situation.

In taking any action, an individual must be aware of their costs, lest they perish to them. The outcome between any two individuals will eventually create an equilibrium state.

You can continue to live in a state of primitive anarchy if you want, imposing costs on eachother as individuals, or you can come to an agreement about the way that best resolves the needs between both parties. The contract can be highly propertarian and decentralized, or highly social and centralized, as the individuals decide together. Once moved to a civilized state of anarchy, one may be part of a higher, but voluntary, contract, that has procedures regarding the resolution of disputes such as these, and may even state an impartial third-party to act as mediator.

Unfortunately, there is no one objective answer for answering to conflict in an anarchist society, or in any society, for that matter. Conflict must be seen as a necessary part of learning and decision-making. Where contemporary societies enforce laws from the top down, having its victor pre-decided, anarchist societies would allow necessary conflict to exist as long as it takes to be resolved mutually.[1] This would strengthen societies as their members create contracts to avoid such conflicts in the future. In anarchist societies, individuals would develop and experience a higher sense of self-responsibility, as they would be choosing among numerous options constantly, and feeling the costs directly, since they would all be internalized by market forces. Such a society would develop a culture where people are informed of the necessity of contract and third-party dispute resolution for the sake of reducing conflict.


As one moved into a new neighborhood, unprotected by the state, they would likely look into some other form of security for their property. Upon contacting such an agency (likely cooperative and democratic), they would learn about those in the neighborhood who are part of the agency, as well as other agencies in the area who are providing different services of law. For instance, one agency in a neighborhood may protect hard, absolute, property rights, protecting the individual’s right to do anything they please on their property. Another agency may support only the possession of consumption or private use-based goods, seeing all other property as communal property of the agency, to be allocated by an agreed-upon standard of need. The libertarian-minded would be inclined to be part of the first society, while the communistic may opt for the second. Panarchy is the fact they can do this, and mix-match, mutually, without restriction, according to the balance of each individuals’ moral compass.

It may be possible that some will be members of the communistic society, and will share with other members of such society, as well as being members of the propertarian society, restricting their transactions to sales between members of that society. In this manner there would still be transactions across economic systems, as a dual-member could purchase from a propertarian society and share such goods with the communistic one, or could ask their communistic society to allow an exchange with the propertarians, bringing communist goods into the market. This, of course, first relies on respect for one-another’s systems of property. Otherwise, we’re back to conflict, and hopefully we’ve learned enough from that lesson.

If we look at individuals, few, if any, are consistent in their approach to sharing. Hardly anyone shares all the time, and just as few never share. It’s more about the relationships people have with each other. So, sure, some may only take part in market transactions, and some may only want to exchange gifts, but most people take part in varying amounts of both. The same is true of societies. Anyone who takes a hard-property stance, and believes sharing is to be abhorred, will be restricted to transactions with those who feel similarly. The same is true of those who abhor money, and want only to give gifts. Most people will want to give gifts within relationships that are enriching, while using payments for less ongoing or close relations, such as between strangers. It will likely turn out that those industries that work efficiently on a larger scale will be voluntarily socialized by people freely associating to more communistic industries (perhaps medical). Since the costs of socialization are lower in such industries, socialistic models (large networks of common ownership) will likely dominate. However, those industries that are still best performed on a small scale will most likely be left to strong market competition, keeping prices in balance. It’s all a matter of what people want.

So, basically, when moving into a neighborhood, one needs to ask… “Are my neighbors’ values compatible?” If not, contract may be difficult, and tort conflict may ensue. If so, one may have found a good spot, where healthy exchanges can occur. Either way, the most important thing to learn from conflict is that communication and contract is a way to sort it out before it happens. Government preemption is no solution.

In an anarchist society, the incentive to know what one is getting into will be much higher, because costs are internalized, and people will take into mind an area’s culture or prior standards before tacitly consenting to them (moving in) because this will limit the expressed consent (contracts) that can be developed in such a setting. This will definitely lead to communities of similarlity, but I think they will stop short of city-states because polycentric law (overlapping jurisdictions) can still apply, meaning that within a single municipality there may be several providers of law and enforcement, with some subscribers possibly belonging to multiple.[2] A confederation of such communities, however, could very well constitute a panarchy, or anarchy de jure, with a simple, but explicit agreement to a social contract of non-aggression on person and, agreed upon, property.


[1] Take, for example, the anarchist- mutualist, communalist, and syndicalist hesitation to abolish the state before something better is put into its place.

[2] Think of a building with two providers of security. Each has its own policies, but the customer subscribes to both.

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