Dicovering de Puydt
This short text was supposed to be the introduction to a printed edition
of de Puydt's Panarchy. The publication has been delayed by my involvement
in the setting up of a Research & Documentation Centre on Panarchy and related
It is then offered here for the first time in occasion of the tenth anniversary of the web site panarchy.org and as an encouragement to discover the beauty of Panarchy as presented by de Puydt more than 150 years ago.
In that message, after expressing a certain interest for a piece of writing I had put on the Web a few months earlier (Polyarchy: a manifesto), a text that he critically examined point by point, he asked if the term panarchy that I had used at the end of my essay was employed with the same meaning that Paul Emile de Puydt had given to it in his article of 1860.
At that time I was totally unaware of the fact that somebody else, well before me, had used the term panarchy, which I considered a product of my imagination and of my inclination for inventing new words. For a moment I really thought that he was taking the mickey out of me. However, after an instant of doubt and bafflement, I started searching for information about this de Puydt and his writings.
At that time (I refer to the beginning of 2001) there was no trace of this author, not even on Belgian web sites, which seemed to me quite strange, considering that he was born in Flanders. As for the original essay, again no trace whatsoever other than in an English translation made, some years earlier, by the same John Zube.
In another message from him I learned that the photocopy of the French original that had been in his possession got lost when he left Europe for Australia at the end of the fifties.
Anyway, once reassured that the article was real, I wanted to read it in its original version, so I started my search. I thought that the Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique was the surest place to find some information, so I sent an e-mail to the person in charge of assisting the public in their searches. Some days went by without reply.
Then I wrote to the Belgium Libis-Net, which is the consortium of Belgian libraries which manages the unified catalogue of all available documents. Even then, days passed with no news.
Rather discouraged by my unsuccessful search, finding myself at that time in Oxford, I enlisted the help of a friend who is a librarian at the Bodleian Library. A query conducted through the WorlCat database located the text on microfilm at the Library of Congress in Washington.
I was going to write to them when, early in April 2001, a message reached me from Brussels sent by the librarian of the Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique asking for my postal address because they had located the text and could send me a photocopy.
In the meantime I had been so taken by a first reading of the text as translated by John Zube that I decided to open a web site (www.panarchy.org) aiming specifically at presenting such a valuable document in many languages.
To some who rush through it, the text could appear queer, especially if they are used to thinking in terms of territorialism and state territorial sovereignty.
I imagine that, the first writings on religious tolerance produced the same effect upon those used to religious wars and to the exclusivity of religious faith within a specific territory. What now appears quite natural and unquestionable in religious practices (i.e. many religions within the same territory) was totally inconceivable just a few centuries ago.
In a similar way, it is quite likely that political tolerance, which means the acceptance of many governments functioning and competing side by side on the same territory, will become a taken-for-granted reality, sometime in the future, whereas now it is considered a preposterous and impractical proposition.
As already remarked by Arthur Schopenhauer, truth, before emerging, generally goes through three phases: first it is ridiculed, then it is violently attacked, and finally it is accepted as a foregone conclusion. In the age of the Internet, virtual communities and the global village, the concept and the practice of Panarchy are really a wonderful way of solving social complications and unnecessary complexities.
The proposal put forward by de Puydt will apply especially, as a potentially prodigious remedy, in the numerous cases where different cultural or ethnic groups live on the same territory – e.g. Palestine and Iraq, just to mention the most acute current instances. Each community could succeed in being administered by the government of its own choice, without territorial partitions, separating walls or violent political feuds.
We already have examples of this from the past: in the Middle East, merchants from different regions used to keep the laws of their land of origin, without experiencing or presenting insoluble problems or obstacles.
So, if we do not renew, in a radical way, our conceptions of how to organize our social relations, we will find ourselves facing gigantic problems, as technological development encourages a growing number of human beings to aspire to liberty and autonomy. And all this while having at our disposal political and social tools more appropriate to primitive feudalism than to the new millennium.
Trapped in such a situation, we are likely to undergo continuous personal and social decay, idiotic prisoners of old myths and ancient superstitions. By contrast, replacing territorialism with panarchy will open up to us new views, wide horizons and a deep understanding of how social relations are meant to work.
The choice is for each one of us to make!