Gian Piero de Bellis

On Panarchy
(A brief review and a personal view)





A Brief Review

The origin
The development
The other voices
The current scene

A Personal View

What Panarchy is
What Panarchy is not
What might make panarchies sprout
What might panarchies be

Summing up



Presentation (^)


In the coming months and years it is very likely that the practical scientific proposition called Panarchy will attract the interest of many individuals in various regions of the world because of its appealing simplicity, universal applicability, fascinating beauty.

For this reason it might be opportune and useful to illustrate the sources and development of this proposition and to clarify its basic principles and aspects. This might be also necessary because the usual destiny of every idea is to be misinterpreted and distorted the more it becomes popular.

What is here offered is a brief review of Panarchy and a personal view of what Panarchy is and is not.


A Brief Review (^)


The origin (^)

The term Panarchy (latin: Panarchia) seems to have been used for the first time by a cosmopolitan philosopher Frane Petric (Franciscus Patricius) who was born in 1529 in the island of Cherso, or Cres, off the coast of Dalmatia, and died in Rome in 1597. In his treatise "Nova de universis philosophia" ("New Philosophy concerning the Universes ") that appeared in 1591 (with a second modified edition in 1593), he presented in four parts ("Panaugia", "Panarchia", "Pampsychia", "Pancosmia") his worldview in which the universe, nature and knowledge, were seen as an integrated whole. This approach explains the insistence in the use of the prefix Pan meaning Whole in Greek.

However, it was only almost three centuries later that a scientist (botanist) and litterateur named Paul Emile de Puydt, would employ the term Panarchy with the meaning that will be here examined.

In 1860 he published in the Revue Trimestrielle, Bruxelles, a seminal article titled Panarchie (Panarchy) where he applied to social and political relationships the idea of economic competition (laissez-faire, laissez-passer) taken from economic life and theory.

According to de Puydt, many governments freely chosen by the individuals can co-exist side by side in the same territory and supply more efficiently and cheaply all those services that are now provided (very often ineffectively and costly) by a monopolistic territorial state. In this conception of Panarchy, the termination of every political monopoly and the personal freedom to choose between competing governments would then constitute decisive, if not indispensable, factors for obtaining better and more cost-effective social services.
Paul Emile de Puydt, Panarchy (Panarchie)


If de Puydt is the originator, in modern times, of the term Panarchy, the first to put forward in writings the proposal of competing governments was Gustave de Molinari, an economist of the classical liberal tradition, and editor of the Journal des Économistes from 1881 until 1909.

In an essay that appeared in October 1849 he expressed his conviction that security is a service that, like all the others, can be provided by agencies freely chosen by individuals, competing amongst each other and attracting customers on the basis of the quality of their performances (commitment and results).

Gustave de Molinari, On the Production of Security

In a book with the title Les soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare, 1849 (The Evenings of the Rue Saint-Lazare), consisting of a series of conversations between three individuals having different worldviews (a conservative, a socialist and an economist), Gustave de Molinari, who plays the role of the economist, had already openly proclaimed his demands for the introduction of “free governments” and by that he means “governments whose services I can accept or refuse according to my free will.” (Eleventh Evening)

And the rationale behind it is that, with the end of state monopoly and the development of competition, the price of services (first of all security) “would always be reduced to the level of the costs of production” because “each person would contract with the company which inspired in him the greatest confidence and whose conditions appeared the most favourable.”

Gustave de Molinari, The Evenings of the rue Saint-Lazare (eleventh evening)


Unfortunately the life of a very sensible and down to earth idea like this was not at all successful (to say the least), set against powerful material interests, represented by the parasitic strata (the growing bureaucratic swarm of the nation state servants) and the ingrained thought processes resulting from centuries of a feudal past based on territorialism (one territory, one master).

Thus, nothing came of this idea: no theoretical debate, no practical experiment. In fact state-socialists and state-conservatives dictated the agenda and for over a century this conception laid fully dormant with only one relevant exception.

In 1909 Max Nettlau, the historian of Anarchy, wrote an article published by “Der Sozialist” edited by Gustav Landauer in Berlin. The title of the article is: Panarchie. Eine verschollene Idee von 1860 (Panarchy. A forgotten idea of 1860). Right from the first sentence Nettlau manifests his enthusiasm for the idea of coexisting competing governments: “For a long time I have been fascinated by the thought how wonderful it would be if at last, in public opinion on the succession of political and social institutions, the fateful term 'one after another' would be replaced through the very simple and self-evident ‘simultaneously’."

In the rest of the article Nettlau communicates to the reader his discovery of the de Puydt text and confesses to “have fallen in love with this idea” of “MUTUAL TOLERANCE in political and social affairs” represented by the existence of non-territorial governments, which individuals may adhere to and support in a voluntary way.

Max Nettlau, Panarchy. A forgotten idea of 1860

Nettlau’s article was later reprinted in "Der individualistische Anarchist" (The Individualist Anarchist), published by Benedikt Lachman, in Berlin, in1920. However, apart from that, it seems that the text didn’t find any other circulation or attention, not even in anarchist circles.


The development (^)

The beautiful proposal of Auguste de Molinari and Paul Emile de Puydt, enthusiastically endorsed by Max Nettlau, might have perhaps remained a forgotten gem if it were not for the work of Kurt Zube and especially of his son John Zube.

In 1977 Kurt Zube, under the pseudonym of K. H. Z. Solneman, published "The Manifesto of Peace and Freedom" where the idea of Panarchy is presented and commented upon in very positive terms (see especially Chapter V).

K. H. Z. Solneman, The Manifesto of Peace and Freedom

However, it is John Zube who has been the best and most persistent advocate of Panarchy in a series of essays and books that he has written mainly from 1964 onwards and published in his “PEACE PLANS” series.

Amongst the short writings a particular mention could be given to a series of notes On Tolerance (1982)

John Zube, On Tolerance

In those notes the basic idea of Panarchy, namely “tolerance for all our tolerant experiments” is spelled out in the most convincing and rational way. Personal and social life is seen as a continuous experience in living where everyone learns from his own or other people’s actions and efforts and in doing so each person advances and develops. Without the freedom to experiment we lack the basic pre-condition for a rich and meaningful human life.

In other words, Panarchy advocates full tolerance and freedom of experimenting in one’s life everywhere and for everyone.

In another short writing, The Gospel of Panarchy (1986)

John Zube, The Gospel of Panarchy

John Zube defines Panarchy as

“The realization of as many different and autonomous communities as are wanted by volunteers for themselves, all non-territorially coexisting, side by side and intermingled, as their members are, in the same territory or even world-wide and yet separated from each other by personal laws, administrations and jurisdiction, as different churches are or ought to be.”

Under the direct or indirect impulse/inspiration of John Zube, other writers have started producing articles dealing with Panarchy.

In 2005 a Swedish economist, Richard CB Johnsson, wrote two essays on the concept of non-territorial governance that is the core aim of Panarchy (i.e. the end of territorialism or state territorial monopoly and the emergence of competing governments or forms of governance within the same territory).

The first essay Non-Territorial Governance - Mankind’s Forgotten Legacy is an historical survey of the concept mainly based on a dissertation written by Shih Shun Liu, Extraterritoriality: Its Rise and Its Decline (1925).

Richard CB Johnsson, Non-Territorial Governance - Mankind’s Forgotten Legacy

The second, To the Monopolist of All Parties, is essentially a condensed version of the aforementioned essay and it appeared in February 2005 on the Lew Rockwell web site

Richard CB Johnsson, To the Monopolist of All Parties

In more recent time, Michael Rozeff, who was Professor of Finance at Buffalo University, New York, has become a very strong and consistent advocate of Panarchy with a series of brilliant essays that first appeared on the Lew Rockwell site and which have since been re-published on other web sites.

They are:

Michael Rozeff, A foundation for Panarchy (July 2008)

Michael Rozeff, Why Government Should Be Voluntarily Chosen (January 2009)

Michael Rozeff, Why I Am a Panarchist (January 2009)

Michael Rozeff, Liberty in the Choice of Governance (February 2009)

In addition to the writings of John Zube and in direct connection with the essays of Gustave de Molinari and Paul Emile de Puydt, the articles of Michael Rozeff represent a very good presentation of and elaboration on the idea and practice of Panarchy.

The other voices (^)

While the authors so far mentioned, with the exception of Gustave de Molinari, employed the term Panarchy, there are others who didn’t, but show, in their writings, some points of connection with the overall view of Panarchy characterized by aterritorialism (non territorial governments) and multigovernments (governments in competition).

In an essay on Liberty and Taxation

Benjamin Tucker, Liberty and Taxation

published in the magazine Liberty 1881-1908, Benjamin Tucker comes to the defence of the idea of “voluntary taxation” and writes:

“It is perfectly true that voluntary taxation would not necessarily "prevent the existence of five or six 'States' in England," and that "members of all these 'States' might be living in the same house." … “What of it? There are many more than five or six Churches in England, and it frequently happens that members of several of them live in the same house. There are many more than five or six insurance companies in England, and it is by no means uncommon for members of the same family to insure their lives and goods against accident or fire in different companies. Does any harm come of it?”

Here Tucker succeeds in overcoming the differences between anarchy and panarchy by showing their common traits in terms of freedom of choice, voluntarism, tolerance.


The same can be said for Voltairine de Cleyre. In her essay Anarchism

Voltairine de Cleyre, Anarchism

first published in Free Society (1901) she rejects any narrow position represented by different schools of thought even within the Anarchist movement and proclaims her acceptance of each and every type of anarchist conception and practices (Anarchist Individualism, Anarchist Mutualism, Anarchist Communism and Anarchist Socialism) provided that it was, in every case, the freely selected option of their advocates. In this respect there are strong points of contacts between Voltairine de Cleyre’s anarchy and Paul Emile de Puydt’s panarchy. Both favour the joint presence of different views and different ways of organizing society on condition that each of them is voluntarily chosen and implemented by its supporters and not imposed on any and everyone (in many cases with the absurd pretext that this is done for people's own good).

As formulated in the final sentence of the article by Voltarine de Cleyre, “Each choose that method which expresses your selfhood best, and condemn no other man because he expresses his Self otherwise.”

Unfortunately, later Anarchists (with the remarkable solitary exception of Max Nettlau, previously mentioned) did not show much of an interest in pursuing and developing this approach.

It was a group of thinkers called Austro-Marxists (see: Tom Bottomore and Patrick Goode, eds. Austro-Marxism, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978) who put forward an original position that has some affinities with Panarchy and might have represented the beginning of a panarchic way of social organization. In between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Karl Renner and Otto Bauer, both living within the crucible of nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, developed the idea of non-territorial federalism. This proposal dissociates from the territory a series of personal and social needs/functions (culture, education, justice) and assigns their administration directly to members of different national groups, irrespective of their territorial location. Moreover, it is stressed that being part of a national group is a personal choice, pertinent only to each single individual and nobody else.

What is lacking in the approach of non-territorial federalism are certain aspects, present in Panarchy, where the state government loses every monopolistic power, even in the economic (including monetary) and political sphere and is assessed and chosen for what is worth, that is for its capability to deliver services and to satisfy customers.

Nevertheless, it would have helped enormously the development of Panarchy if what could be defined like the Austrian school of non-territorial federalism had achieved some relevant inroads and some popular success instead of being obliterated by the explosion of nationalism leading to World Wars and to the disappearance of the multi-cultural Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Some Jews of Central Europe and Russia had also developed a cosmopolitan approach to social organization wherein the Jews (and all other stateless minorities) were free to organize themselves within the framework of the territorial state in which they were living.

The national socialist genocide and the communist Stalinist persecutions and exterminations destroyed not only the people upholding those ideas but erased also the awareness that those ideas ever existed.

People, blinded by the conviction of the necessity of the monopolistic territorial states participated either actively, as the rulers, or more or less passively, as the ruled, in this attempt to get rid of “undesirable” elements and “inconvenient” ideas, that were not part or an expression of the dominant or majoritarian group.

For decades the existence of the national central territorial state was assumed as a perennial datum, the final stage of human history.


However, history does not remain frozen in time. New ideas and new aspirations are always propping up somewhere, and often they are the re-discovery of old ones.

In January 1962 an article appeared in "The Register", Santa Ana, California, USA where the author advocates the overcoming of majoritarian democracy (in which “majorities make decisions which are binding upon all people”) and the introduction of Democracy with a small “d” where each one succeeds in getting the government he has voted for.

Anonymous, Democracy with a small “d”

As in the case of de Puydt who took his idea of competing governments from the free market of competing enterprises, the author of this article compares his proposal to the choice of different brands of products. The idea of being obliged to consume the brand chosen by the majority would seem a totally unpalatable proposition, but this is what happens in social matters under majoritarian democracy.

As poignantly formulated by the author: “The concept of representation is essentially a concept of agency. Someone is to act for you. But how can someone act for you if that someone is completely committed to actions contrary to your own best interests? To suppose that he represents you because others have chosen him is to suppose a lie.”


This anonymous author was not the only one to express similar ideas around that time in the USA. Between 1969 and 1977 a person by the name Le Grand E. Day, based in California, developed the idea of Multigovernments in a series of writings set somewhere between social science and science fiction. The proposal of Le Grand E. Day is to replace the so-called “social contract” that is supposed to be the foundation of territorial democratic states with “individual contracts” by which “each individual has a right to choose his own government no matter where he lives, just as he has a right to choose his own lifestyle, religion, insurance company, make of car, etc., etc.” (The Northridge Incident)

Le Grand E. Day, The Northridge Incident

However, in his vision the territorial state is not wholly abolished but will remain only for those functions that, according to him, require a geographical (i.e. territorial) function, like protection and security. So, with respect to those functions, there will be “only one government for each land area” (e.g. local territorial units spaced all over the earth); in other words “we can separate those functions (usually of a protective nature) that are tied to land mass, from those functions (usually human wants) that have nothing to do with land mass. This separation can give the individual the right to choose the human functions he wants, which is, in effect, choosing his own government.” (The Northridge Incident)


In the past, Gustave de Molinari, On the Production of Security (1849)

Gustave de Molinari, On the Production of Security

and, in recent times, Hans Hermann Hoppe, The Private Production of Defense (1998)

Hans Hermann Hoppe, The Private Production of Defense

amongst others, have disposed also of this myth of the territorial monopolistic nature supposedly inherent in the provision of security.


However, apart from that, the formulations of Le Grand E. Day contained in two other writings

Le Grand E. Day, The Theory of Multigovernment (1969-1977)

Le Grand E. Day, A Letter from the Future (1975)

represent a good stimulating approach towards Panarchy.


The current scene (^)

For a long period in more recent times, the only writings on Panarchy were those of John Zube. And then, towards the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries a series of essays started appearing that, while not using specifically the term Panarchy, are nevertheless in tune with a vision of non-territorial governance.

In 1993 Roderick T. Long starts delineating a social organization based on Virtual Cantons

Roderick T. Long, Virtual Cantons

In the essay in which he presents the idea, he advocates total dispersion of power (“decentralize, decentralize, decentralize!”) and the beginning of aterritorialism (“decouple political jurisdiction from geographical location”) so that “people could switch political jurisdictions without switching location.”

If politics were not a morass of dogmatic and opportunistic statements, the experience of Virtual Cantons would have been tried long ago, especially considering that the technology of instant communication and long-distance social relations has already generated an incredible number of small and large virtual communities, albeit devoid of substantial powers.


In 1999, a scholar that was at that time a researcher in the Czech Academy of Science in Prague, Dr. Aviezer Tucker, produced an article in the journal Utopian Studies, at the University of Alaska Anchorage (Winter 1999). It is an extremely stimulating essay focused on what he calls “the territorial fallacy” which makes the exclusive sovereignty of a certain territory the indispensable pre-requisite for the existence of a state (on the basis of the postulate: no territory without state and no state without territory).

Aviezer Tucker, The Best States: Beyond the Territorial Fallacy, Utopian Studies, Winter 1999

Dr Tucker dismantles this fallacy by pointing out that, in common sense discourse, “States serve their citizens rather than rule a territory.” In other words “States are [then] based on social contracts instead of sovereignty, service to citizens instead of monopoly over the use of violence in a territory.”

From this very down to earth view it is just a simple step, a logical consequence, to arrive at the proposal of non-territorial governments in competition for the provision of services to users/customers free to choose. And, like any contract agreed with a firm, the social contract signed with a selected government “is neither mythical nor hypothetical, but explicit and actual, voluntary and reversible.”

Here we have one of the best formulations of what Panarchy is about, even if the author of that paper never uses the term and was perhaps completely unaware of the existence of Paul Emile de Puydt and of his seminal article.


In 2001 Bruno Frey, professor at the Institute for Empirical Economic Research, University of Zurich, condenses in the essay A Utopia? Government without Territorial Monopoly

Bruno Frey, A Utopia? Government without Territorial Monopoly

his vision of Functional, Overlapping, Competing Jurisdictions (FOCJ) already expounded in previous papers (1995; 1996).

The idea makes reference to historical (e.g. the non geographically contiguous merchant organization known as The Hansa) and current experiences (e.g. the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - ICANN) that give support to the viability of non-territorial organizations and governance.

As stated by the author in his conclusions: “Functional, overlapping, and competing jurisdictions break with the ingrained notion that a government must have a well-defined territorial monopoly, but the constitutional proposal advanced here is not utopian. It has significant support from related developments stretching back for centuries, and it is also in accordance with the emergence of virtual governments in the recent past.”


Similar views were presented by Gene Callahan in a talk delivered at the Austrian Scholars Conference 9, March 13, 2003.

Gene Callahan, The Right to Walk Away or

What Callahan envisages and supports is the fact that “people should be able to leave a civil association without leaving a geographical location.”

The position of Callahan, based on freedom and voluntarism of individual’s choices, is fully in sympathy with Panarchy and, in a page of his blog Crash Landing, the author expressly declares (2007) Panarchy to be his philosophy

Gene Callahan, Crash Landing


Considering that Panarchy is interested in overcoming any form of territorialism (monopolistic territorial sovereignty) it is worth noticing, in this context, a recent revival of the idea of non-territorial federalism put forward by the Austrian school previously mentioned. Among those who are currently advocating and promoting this revival we have a French law professor and Chairman of the Minority Rights Group based in Paris

Yves Plasseraud, Choose Your Own nationality (2000)

and a German operating in Sri Lanka as Resident Representative of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Foundation)

Dietmar Kneitschel, Federalism and Non-Territorial Minorities (2004)

Their efforts are relevant to the development of the conception of Panarchy because in their essays they refer to historical cases (the multi-national Austro-Hungarian empire, the cosmopolitan Jews) and to contemporary realities (Bosnia, Sri Lanka). In fact, the application of the idea of non-territorial governance to concrete current cases might contribute to make the proposal of abandoning territorialism appear less extravagant and impracticable than felt at a first approach.


That the idea is gaining some inroads is attested to also by the fact that it has started arousing some debate in various places on the Internet (e.g. the Mises Community, Forum, Ron Paul Forum, etc.). It is worth noticing that the idea is encapsulated also, in a large measure, in other conceptions and terms that do not always use the word panarchy but other more or less related terms, as for instance, polyarchy, personarchy, kritarchy, choiceocracy, coexistentialism, etc.


This brief survey cannot end without mentioning the fact that the idea of Panarchy has made inroads also in Systems Thinking as a way to solve intractable problems of concentration of political power. In 1975 John Gall, a Professor at the University of Michigan, wrote a delightful booklet Systemantics. How systems works and especially how they fail, in which he advocates the introduction of two new freedoms

- The Free Choice of Territory (Distributional Freedom)

- The Free Choice of Government (Principle of Hegemonic Indeterminacy)

“Under Free Choice of Territory, a citizen of any country is free to live in any part of the world he chooses. He remains a citizen of the government he prefers, to which he pays taxes and for whose officers he votes. However, as the term Free Choice of Government implies, he may at any time change his citizenship and his allegiance from his present government to another government that offers more attractive tax rates, better pensions, more interesting public officials, or simply an invigorating change of pace (Common courtesy would seem to require two weeks’ advance notice; the standard notice any employer would give an employee.)”

John Gall, Systemantics. How systems works and especially how they fail

The author was not aware that the same proposal had been put forward more than a century earlier so he does not mention the word Panarchy; however, the spirit and the content of his idea are practically the same.


On the other hand, the term Panarchy is now commonly employed in environmental systems thinking and systems ecology, especially following the publication of

Lance H. Gunderson and C. S. Holling, eds. Panarchy. Understanding transformations in human and natural systems (2001)

This approach is also presented and developed in the

Resilience Alliance website

and by the

Organic Design website


Panarchy also fits beautifully with the rules of logic (truth as consistency amongst statements), cybernetics (the law of requisite variety), ethics and rights ("live honestly, to nobody do harm, to each one give what is due" - honeste vivere, neminem laedere, suum cuique tribuere, Ulpianus).

The fact that the same term and the same conception are used and can be applied in different contexts as a scientific way of tackling different realities is perfectly in tune with the original idea of de Puydt that, considering science as a unity of true knowledge valid everywhere (“There are no truths which are true on the one side and cease to be true under another aspect”) transposed laissez-faire from economics to politics and came out with the proposal of competing government in the same territory that he called Panarchy. So this multifarious applicability is a sign not only of the fertility of the idea but also of his truthfulness.


In the following section (A Personal View) the focus will be on the term Panarchy with reference to personal choices and social organizations and especially to what are the distinguishing principles and aspects that make it such a rich and versatile tool for theoretical and practical purposes.



A Personal View (^)


What Panarchy is (^)

The felt need to clarify what Panarchy is, derives from the fact that, as more people become acquainted with the notion, it would be fine if we could avoid two opposing pitfalls that seem to affect every conception once it reaches a wider audience.

The likely pitfalls are:

The Dogma. The conception is frozen and nothing goes unless it is put forward and approved by some high priests who have succeeded in appropriating the conception and propagating it to a growing number of followers.

The Magma. The conception is flimsy and anything goes, any time, and by anybody, and that includes also contradictory ideas, irrational formulations and even the surreptitious negation of the original basic principles.

This has happened in the past with reference to capitalism (transformed into corporatism), socialism (suffocated into statism), liberalism (turned upside down into dirigism); and all this could happen because the spin-doctors of dogma & magma succeeded in appropriating the terms and manipulating the conceptions to their own ends.

That is why the scientific definition and appropriate utilization of a term/concept represent a never-ending task, consisting in preserving the original formulation (the genial spark) and applying it consistently to present reality (the genuine effort). If the application is not viable or is made in a way that negates the original formulation, that formulation and the related term that defines it must be abandoned; otherwise we would end up in a situation similar to that where corporatism, statism and dirigism are still called and believed to be capitalism, socialism, liberalism.

As for Panarchy, a general consensus amongst its advocates and practitioners might coalesce around the following principles/aspects, namely that Panarchy is:

Personalistic. The concept of the individual (the “persona”) plays a fundamental role in Panarchy. As a matter of fact Panarchy aims at replacing the “age of the masses,” characterized by politics and by the clashes between opposing ideologies and antagonistic factions (states, parties, classes) in which the single human being is often a simple pawn, with the “age of the individual” and his/her specific choices. Even when those choices are not shared or approved by somebody, they should always be respected by everybody as autonomous decisions concerning and affecting only the person who has made them.

Voluntaristic. The stress on the individual does not mean that groups and communities are not relevant as far as Panarchy is concerned but only that they come into being as the result of personal choices of membership and contribution. With the exception of the family to which a person is related for natural causes, Panarchy does not contemplate groups or collective bodies to whom the individual is automatically ascribed, against his will. Voluntarism decries the end of any monopolistic pretence and the paramount respect for the will of the individual to be member or non-member of any community of his/her choice, always and in every case.

Universalistic. Panarchy is a conception possessing a very high level of general applicability and strong consistency and for this reason it can really be seen as a universal practical framework, acceptable and valid for everybody, everywhere, in whatever situation he/she lives and operates.

Failure to take into account any one of these three principles/aspects should be a sufficient reason to warn that somebody is misusing the term Panarchy.

Usually the misuse arises from the fact that to Panarchy are attributed wrong features and are given improper functions by those who have not fully grasped the meaning and the implications of the conception.

That is why, in order to better understand what Panarchy is, it is also useful to stress what Panarchy is not.


What Panarchy is not (^)

The first thing to be stressed over and over again is the fact that Panarchy is not at all a new political philosophy. In fact, as previously said, Panarchy is the overcoming of the “age of politics” characterized by the manipulation of the masses, and the inception of the “age of persons” characterized by the choices of each individual.

The etymology of the word “politics” assists us in this respect. The root of “politics” is “polis” the Greek city-state, and the term was originally used with reference to the administration of a specific territory, namely the “polis”. The main characteristics of politics are then a specific territory coupled with the exclusive dominion (sovereignty) that a certain apparatus (the city magistrates, the feudal masters, the state machine) has held and still holds for that specific territory.

That is why Panarchy is totally at odd with politics. It goes beyond territorialism (in fact it supersedes it) and advocates ways of personal and social organization that are not based on territory. The direct inspiration for Panarchy is not a previous political theory but the economic ideas and practices known as “laisssez-faire, laissez-passer.” Even when the originator of the conception uses the expression “political economy” he means just economics based on the theory of laissez-faire.

This point concerning the wrong attribution of political connotations and functions to Panarchy is reminiscent, in a certain way, of the controversy between Marx on one side, in the role of the advocate of political struggle and of the conquest of political power, and the Anarchist on the other side (especially the exponents of the Jura Federation) who rightly forecasted the authoritarianism intrinsic in that strategy and favoured a process of self-emancipation of the workers through direct personal reflection/action in the various spheres of life (see: La circulaire de Sonvilier at

Those who see Panarchy as a new political tool are also keen on using the term Panarchism, perhaps taking it as a new ideology that will supersede all other ideologies.

Here again it is necessary to be very frank and explicit. Panarchy is not at all a ideology (like, for instance Socialism or Communism) for the simple reason that it accepts all ideologies as long as they are freely/voluntarily implemented by those who advocate them. For this reason we should be very cautious about the use of the term Panarchism that might be taken only to refer to 

“The body of knowledge and thought regarding the theories and practices of such voluntaristic non-territorial and autonomous communities (panarchies), considered as the rightful, peace-, freedom-, property- and reform-promoting alternatives to any attempt to set up or continue coercive, exclusive, uniform, territorial, more or less centralized and supposedly ideal or best possible communities for all, whether their subjects agree or disagree.” (John Zube, The Gospel of Panarchy, 1986)

Granting that Panarchy is not at all a political ideology (old or new), the qualification of Panarchy as a “civil rights movement” made by one of its advocates (Dwight Johnson, personal communication, 2009) sounds quite fitting. In fact, this formulation denotes and stresses very appropriately the basic aim of Panarchy, that is enjoying/having the civil right of freely and voluntarily choosing the government or self-government of one’s liking.

After avoiding the careless misinterpretations or artful distortions just pointed out (Panarchy as politics and Panarchism as ideology) a person could be ready to overcome also minor faults like the narrowing of the conception on specific aspects to the exclusion or compression of others.

In this sense it might be necessary to stress that Panarchy is not just:

The proposal for multi-governments. The existence of many parallel non-territorial governments and the voluntary choice for one of them does not exclude at all the option of non-government and/or self-government. With Panarchy, people are not obliged to choose a government for fear otherwise of being ostracised or marked as eccentric oddballs. In this respect, the situation is similar to that faced by religious tolerance that did not press people into making a religious choice but covered also individuals with no religious faith.

The proposal for personal law. The advocacy on the same territory of many coexisting juridical systems amongst whom one gives his/her personal adhesion should not detract from the fact that Panarchy relies strongly on universal principles developed and refined in the course of centuries and that are now part of The Human Civilization. Without Universal Principles, implicitly accepted by everybody, the coexistence of different panarchies would not be possible.

The proposal for extraterritoriality. Extraterritoriality, as practiced by the territorial states (for instance, towards foreign diplomats), means that some people/some groups get a specific treatment according to their personal status. Panarchy, on the other hand, sees extraterritoriality only as a first step towards full-blown aterritorialism, i.e. the end of any monopolistic territorial power and pretence, for everybody, everywhere.

Having expressed what, in my personal view, Panarchy is, is not or is not just, it could be interesting to perform a mental simulation and see first what might make panarchies sprout and then what panarchies might be/become.


What might make panarchies sprout (^)

No one knows what will happen in the future and how new developments will come about, but the knowledge of the past can give us some hints and some hold upon which to envisage and build our personal tomorrow.

The originator of Panarchy, Paul Emile de Puydt, explicitly refers to the advent of religious tolerance as a precedent from which to get inspiration for the introduction of political tolerance (i.e. tolerance towards any political ideology voluntarily practiced amongst its followers). This will result in various governments on the same territory vying for supporters like various churches vying for believers. And as religious tolerance put an end to religious wars and religious persecutions, so political tolerance is likely to do the same for wars and persecutions originated by political convictions that somebody wants to impose on everybody. Similarly, as the conception of religious tolerance (propounded by Erasmus, Locke, Voltaire et alii) was not meant to be a new religion, so the conception of political tolerance (Panarchy) is not meant to be a new political ideology, as already stressed before.

The craft of highlighting convincingly the striking parallel between religious tolerance (now accepted in many regions of the world as a foregone conclusion) and political tolerance (now still ignored or even considered a strange and impractical proposal) might be the way for introducing doubts and perplexities (the first cracks) as to the eternity and indispensability of the current system of monopolistic territorial power.

Moreover, digging into history might lead us to discover, within the religious faiths and the cultural traditions, some ideas and principles, obliterated or played down by state intellectuals, showing points of contacts with Panarchy. Bringing all this into the open could make it possible to set up a vast network of sympathetic people who can find in their own beliefs the roots of Panarchy (tolerance, freedom, openness to variety).

In fact, with reference to the religions professed by Muslims, Catholics and Jews, we have three strong principles-pillars on which it is possible to build bridges across faiths and towards Panarchy. These principles-pillars are:

Extraterritoriality (Muslims). In the Islamic world during the Middle Ages and even later extraterritorial rights were recognized to non-Muslim (for instance, foreign merchants). This meant the existence of parallel systems of jurisdiction on the same territory as advocated by Panarchy.

Subsidiarity (Catholics). It is one of the social precepts of the Catholic Church (reaffirmed by Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Rerum Novarum, 1891) that, in order to favour the development of the human person, the functions of power should always be performed by the lowest level competent to carry them out. This disposes of the notion of monopolistic territorial states where all or most of the power is concentrated at the top.

Personal autonomy (Jews). The cosmopolitan Jews, disseminated in various regions of the world, have repeatedly pleaded for personal autonomy, that is the freedom to organize their lives and their communities following their own traditions and rules. This request, rejected by the monopolistic territorial state, and erased even by way of physical extermination of entire communities, is something to be revived and acknowledged as a very natural and totally just aspiration.

If we add the principle of Solidarity that animates all religions and spiritual faiths we have the theoretical foundations for a post-statism - post-territorialism reality which many religious believers might easily adhere to and recognize themselves.

Another body of ideas and practices on which to rely is that of world liberalism as developed by Bastiat, Lord Acton, von Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and others.

What is lacking in those ideas is the full expression of the principle of aterritorialism. However, the constant reaffirmation of laissez-faire that has contributed, in a certain measure, to the overcoming of state-monopolies in the utilities sector (electricity, gas, telephone) could be seen as one of the components of a strategy towards aterritorialism. The task now is to bring those ideas and practices (laissez-faire, laissez-passer) to wider fruition, beyond national or federal (Europe, USA) turfs. Liberating entrepreneurs and exchangers from territorial strictures is a fascinating venture that will absorb the minds and efforts of many creative individuals, especially in the monetary sphere, and that is fully part of the development of Liberalism and of Panarchy.

Another avenue towards Panarchy is the global scene of information and knowledge. In this case the future looks very promising with territorial means of communication (for instance, the national newspapers) in full crisis, and the non-territorial tools of instant communication like Internet or other personal gadgets (the personal phone, the personal electronic reader) in the ascent. Here the individual can already put an end to territorialism by becoming a cosmopolitan producer and user of info-knowledge, restricted only by the wealth of languages and forms of expression (music, video, cartoons, drawings, literary skills) he/she masters.

What is meant here is that a vast network of individuals, some of them even unaware or not fully aware of the existence of the concept called Panarchy, will germinate the beginning of panarchies through various projects and experiments having a foundation on religious, economic, cultural or other aspirations and tendencies.

Michael Rozeff’s cry: “let me out of the barrel” (Why I Am a Panarchist, January 2009) is already answered, still tentatively, every day, by many people who want to express themselves without impositions. Once the ideas become more focused, the energies stronger and the links between sympathetic individuals firmer, the barrel (the material or mental barriers that still imprison us) will disappear.

On the 2nd of May 1989, the barbed wire and electric fencing along Hungary's border with neighbouring Austria was dismantled following the orders of individuals in power who had grown increasingly disillusioned with state communism. Within a few months the Berlin Wall would fall (9 November 1989) and by the end of the year the people of Eastern Europe (East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Rumania) after so many years of political and moral suffocation, were finally “out of the barrel.”

The swift pace of events of that momentous 1989 could be replicated in a not so distant future if only we think and act as if useless and unnecessary limitations are not there.

In problem solving, as pointed out by the cognitive sciences, sometimes the solution comes as a sudden illumination after the breaking of a mental block, the jump beyond a restriction introduced by the individual without rational justifications, only because of emotional prejudices and conventional biases.

That may well be the moment when we will stop talking about political tolerance (as we don’t usually talk about religious tolerance) and we start practicing it without even knowing it.


What might panarchies be (^)

Emotional prejudices and conventional biases are probably in operation when somebody, first exposed to the idea of Panarchy, rejects it as having one or the other of these two opposing failings:

a) Uniformity: in order to implement Panarchy everybody must become a Panarchist.

b) Fragmentation: Panarchy will produce different ghettos inhabited by identical people.

To deal with this criticism it might be convenient not only to reply specifically to those objections but also to give a tentative depiction of what panarchies might be/become if the ingenuity/initiative of the individual is allowed to run free. By offering a glimpse of possible panarchies we should dispose completely of those two objections that derive from a way of thinking dominated, without the critics being aware of it, by the uniformity and fragmentation that are attributed to Panarchy.

a) Uniformity: Everybody must become a panarchist.

A panarchist, if we really want to use this term, is just a human being keen on making his own personal choices concerning his life (whatever that might be or lead to) and letting others do the same. In other words a panarchist (or kritarchist, polyarchist, voluntarist, etc.) is neither a coercive master nor an unwilling servant but simply a sensible/decent person who wants to be left undisturbed/unmolested and who leaves others undisturbed/unmolested. If this is considered an out of this world proposition then that means that we are just a short step away from advocating a change in the classic idea of what it means to be human (a free responsible being) and want to put in its place the reality of a nosy nasty bully. The fact is that no one wants to be known for or associated with a nosy nasty bully, unless he/she has deep pathological problems. From that it follows that we all implicitly assume that, if somebody wants to play the human game, he/she must become a human being, whatever term is historically used in a certain period to qualify for that status (e. g. stoic, humanist, enlightened, etc.). So reproaching advocates of Panarchy that they want everybody to become a panarchist, is like reproaching a tolerant and decent human being the fact that he expects from the others a similar tolerance and decency and the abstention from imposing themselves on unwilling human beings.

b) Fragmentation: panarchies will generate ghettos.

The present situation is marked by the existence of national or federal cages more or less impermeable to access from the outside. The Western world, so critical of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, has produced cement walls and electric barriers on its own from Europe - transformed in a fortress in order to keep out people from other continents - to the USA - patrolling its south border with a fence over 500 miles long (August 2008) and to be further extended - and to the Israeli state - building a wall to disrupt and destroy Palestinian communities. So, when people say that a proposal to abolish territorialism and introduce multi-governments and political tolerance will generate ghettoes, it is legitimate to ask if they really know what they are talking about; unless they are referring to the current reality made of territorial nation states and their territorial enclosing cages. With Panarchy the exact opposite will happen because, with the abolition of the constricting NETs (National Enclosures Territories) of the monopolistic states, people will be able, as in a forgotten past, to move, link and intermix freely on the basis of their desires and personal affinities. The likely result would be the end of the very notions of apartheid and ghettoes that are still there because of the existence of the monopolistic territorial state.

As a matter of fact, Panarchy will see the extraordinary development of three aspects that run exactly counter to the failings supposedly attributed to it:

Variety : no physical barrier to movement and intermingling, allowing for cosmopolitanism and for localism, for dispersion and for concentration, for homogeneity and for heterogeneity according to personal wishes.

Originality : no political barrier to social experimentation leading to a rich reality made up of self-promoted projects going on all the time in all spheres of life.

Harmony : no personal barrier forcing the individual to endure under an external and extortionist power and so no reasons for rage (what for?) or for rebellion (against whom?).

On the basis of what has been said so far it is now possible to envisage, at least tentatively, what some panarchies might be/become.

It is very likely that most of them will not be governments like the ones we have now, with a president, ministers and plenty of bureaucracy, even if that eventuality is not to be excluded, the cost being supported by those who want it. Most panarchies might be integrated flexible complexes of:

- services providers

- supports agencies

In this respect the history of mutual societies or friendly societies in Europe before the First World War could give us a hint of what might happen in the future. Other clues are offered by writers who see the passage to a “support economy” based on chosen collaborative relationships between individuals and groups performing different roles (see: Shoshana Zuboff and James Maxmin, The Support Economy, 2002)

It might be that a person is a member of a single panarchy receiving/giving services and supports, or of many panarchies, like the membership in different clubs. Again, referring to actual reality, to join a Church does not exclude nor restrict the possibility of being part of many other organizations.

At this point it is appropriate to quash a totally unfounded expectation that might germinate in somebody’s mind. And that is that, while the general conception of Panarchy is a beautiful and resourceful one, it is more than likely that some panarchies will be quite unsavoury organizations, at least in the opinion of those who have a different worldview. In fact, it is highly possible that Panarchy will be taken on board also by individuals who look for some commanding position, that kind of people who want to be leaders of a new sect. With the multiplication of voluntary communities, as advocated by Panarchy, they will quite certainly find followers willing to submit to their strong personalities.

When this happens, somebody would say that Panarchy is not any better than other constricting and tyrannical forms of social organization. However, in doing so they forget that one of the main tenets of Panarchy is voluntarism and so, those who freely enter a panarchy and voluntarily submit to a leader are also free to exit that panarchy (if it is really a panarchy, i.e. a non-territorial non-monopolistic organization) and associate with a completely different type of panarchy or even to become their own rulers (self-administration).

In this respect, to those who parade the flag of freedom as a holy object to the point that they want to push it down the throat of everybody, it is necessary to stress that, whatever it might seem by the use of words, imposing freedom is a tyrannical action as opposed to let somebody free to choose to be a servant.

In the first case the person will never practice freedom other than as a mockery of it and the result is that person will be always afraid of being left without guidance. In the second case, the voluntary choice of servitude leaves the person really free and servitude could stop any time if only the person so wished.

The level of freedom of each panarchy will be in relation to what is demanded by its members and this is not only the beauty of this conception but also the necessary call to reality. Panarchy does not invent a mythical world based on the fairy tale-scary tale of selfless representatives elected by a selfish populace.

Panarchy is based on genuine reality and on natural human traits, allowing everybody free to live his life and achieve his goals.

We might say that Panarchy is the full realization of the aspiration to universal tolerance present in the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment and condensed in Voltaire’s statement:

“What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature.” (The Philosophic Dictionary, Tolerance, 1765)



Summing Up (^)


Panarchy is

- A method of problem dealing (permanent harmonious conflict-solving)

- A standard of personal life (direct autonomous decision-taking)

- A praxis of social intercourse (voluntary multifarious social-choosing)

When this method, standard and praxis become common heritage of humanity, through a process of awareness concerning what it means to be human, then the word Panarchy will probably disappear. At that moment most human beings will take as a foregone conclusion that they are rightfully responsible for their own lives (and only for their own lives) instead of being, pretending or accepting that everybody has to be, even against their will, the servants of a monopolist sovereign, the territorial state.

As previously remarked, in dealing with a problem the solution might derive not only from the acquisition of new knowledge and new skills but also from the ability of the problem solver to go beyond unnecessary assumptions that restrict, without valid reasons, the area of solution. Once those restrictions are lifted, the mental and material blocks hindering the discovery of a solution disappear. Similarly Panarchy can become reality when a cognitive revolution disposes of the unreasonable and unnecessary restrictions represented by territorialism and monopolism in social and political organization.

For this reason we need to disseminate information concerning the existence of Panarchy or of similar conceptions based on freedom, voluntarism, aterritorialism. This growing information will be then slowly organized into structured knowledge (hypotheses, propositions) that will produce practical proposals and experimental projects. If they succeed, new attitudes favouring variety, originality, harmony will emerge and they will be part of the wisdom of the time, a world-wide-wisdom.

All this is nothing extraordinary; it is, on the contrary, quite ordinarily humane.

And to be/become humane is precisely the task and goal of each human being.


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