Max Nettlau


A Forgotten Idea of 1860




This article, dated 22.1.1909, signed with the initials M.N. appeared on 15.3.1909 in Gustav Landauer's newspaper Der Sozialist. It was reprinted in the journal Der individualistiche Anarchist (The Individualist Anarchist) edited by Benedikt Lachmann, Berlin 1920, pages 410-417, thanks to the initiative of Leo Kasarnowski (later editor of John Henry Mackay) who identified in the letters M.N. the anarchist historian Max Nettlau.

Source: Max Nettlau, Panarchie. Eine verschollene Idee von 1860, 1909



For a long time I have been fascinated by the thought how wonderful it would be if at last, in the general view on the succession of political and social institutions, the fateful term "one after the other" would be finally replaced by the very simple and self-evident "side by side."

"Down with the state!" and "Only upon the ruins of the state. . ." express emotions and wishes of many but it seems that only the cool "Opt out of the state" (No. 2 of Der Sozialist) can help them to be realized.

When a new scientific insight appears, then those convinced of it do simply proceed on the new path, without trying to persuade the old professors who do not want to or cannot follow it, or to force them to accept the new method or to slay them. Quite on their own, they will fall behind, diminish in reputation and dry up - if only the new method has the right energy in it. However, in many cases ill will and stupidity can put many obstacles in the way of the new idea. That is why hard struggles must be fought for unconditional mutual tolerance until it is finally achieved. Only then does everything proceed by itself, science flourishes and prospers, because the necessary foundation for every progress, namely experimental freedom and free research, has been achieved.

One should by no means attempt to "bring everything under one hat." Even the State did not succeed in doing that : the socialists and the anarchists slipped away from its power. And we would not be any more successful with such an attempt, because people favourable to the state do still exist. Besides, it should rather please us not to have to drag along a die-hard cripple of the state into our free society. The frequently discussed question: "What ought to be done with the reactionaries, who cannot adapt to liberty?", would thereby be very simply solved: They may retain their state, as long as they want it. But for us it would become unimportant. Over us it would have no more power than the cranky ideas of a sect about which nobody cares. Sooner or later, freedom will break a path for itself, everywhere.

Once, while we were on a steamer on Lake Como, a teacher from Milan boarded the ship with a large class. She wanted all the kids to sit down and rushed from one group to the other, ordering them to sit. However, barely had she turned her back upon any of the groups when most of them stood up again and whenever she attempted to survey all of them, believing at last to have finished with her labour, she found them standing up and around, in the same mess as before. Instead of now becoming more severe with them, the young woman laughed herself about it and left the children in peace. Most of them soon sat down anyhow, on their own initiative.

This is just a harmless example to demonstrate that everything, which is left to itself, resolves itself best. Consequently, before the idea of mutual tolerance in political and social matters will break its path, we could do nothing better than to prepare ourselves for it, by realizing it in our own daily living and thinking. How often do we still act contrary to it?

These words are intended to demonstrate how dear this idea has become to me much and to make others understand my pleasure to have found a forgotten essay of a pioneer of this idea, of which there is otherwise not much talk in our literature. Also because the anarchist movement found itself embroiled in struggles against its will.

I am referring to the article Panarchie by P. E. de Puydt in the Revue Trimestrielle (Brussels), July 1860, pages 222 to 245. The author, who was so far unknown to me and about whom I have not yet bothered to inquire in order not to disturb my impression of his ideas, is probably far removed from social movements. But he has a clear vision of the extent to which the present political system, according to which ALL must submit to one government, constituted upon a majority decision or otherwise, flies right into the face of the simplest requirements for liberty.

Without identifying myself in any way with his immediate proposal, or attempting to achieve completeness, I want to summarize his views and quote some passages.

One will feel closer to his idea if one replaces in one's mind the word "government", which he always uses, with "social organization," especially since he himself proclaims the coexistence of all forms of government up to and including "even the AN-ARCHY of Mr. Proudhon", side by side, each form for those who are really interested in it.

The author declares himself in favour of the teachings of the political economy of laissez-faire, laissez-passer (the Manchester School of free competition without state interference). There are no half-truths. From this he concludes that the law of free competition, laissez-faire, laissez-passer, does not only apply to the industrial and commercial relationships but should also be equally adopted in the political sphere.

Some say that there is too much freedom, others that there is not yet enough freedom. In reality, the basic freedom that is needed right now is missing: the freedom to be free or not free, according to one's own choice. Everyone decides this question for himself and since there are as many opinions, as there are human beings, the result is the confusion that is called politics. The freedom of some is the negation of the freedom of others. The best government never functions according to the will of all. There are victors and vanquished, oppressors in the name of the current law and insurgents in the name of freedom.

Do I want to propose my own system? Not at all! I am an advocate of all systems, that is of all forms of government that find adherents.

Every system is like a building in which the owners and the main tenants have the best flats and are comfortable. The others, for whom there is not sufficient space in it, are unhappy. I hate the destroyers as much as the tyrants. Let the discontented go their way, but without destroying the building. What they do not like may please their neighbours.

But should they emigrate, seek for themselves another government, somewhere in the world? Not at all. Nor should people be deported, here and there, in accordance with their opinions. "I wish people to continue to live together, where they are, or elsewhere if they wish, but without quarrelling, fraternally, each expressing his opinion freely and submitting only to the powers he has personally chosen or accepted.”

Let us come to the subject. "Nothing develops and lasts that is not based upon liberty. Nothing that exists sustains itself and functions successfully except through the free play of all its active components. Otherwise, there will be loss of energy through friction, rapid wear of the cogwheels, too many breakages and accidents. Therefore, I demand for each and every element of human society (individual) the liberty to associate with others, according to his choice and affinity and to function only in accordance with his capabilities. In other words, the absolute right to select the political society in which they wish to live and to depend only upon it."

Nowadays, the republican attempts to overthrow the existing form of the state in order to establish his ideal of the state. He is opposed as an enemy by all monarchists and others not interested in his ideal. Instead, according to the idea of the author, one could proceed in a way which corresponds to legal separation or divorce in family relationships. He proposes a similar divorce option for politics, one which would harm no one.

One wants to be politically separated? Nothing easier than to go one's own way, but without infringing the rights and opinions of others, who, on their side, would just have to make some room and would have to leave the others free to realize their own system.

In practice, the machinery of the civil registry office would suffice. In each municipality a new office would be opened for the Political Governmental Affiliation of individuals. The adults would register, according to their choice, in the lists of the monarchy, of the republic, etc.

From then on, they remain untouched by the governmental systems of others. Each system organizes itself, has its own representatives, laws, judges, taxes, regardless of whether there are two or ten such organizations side by side.

For the differences that might arise between these organisms, arbitration courts will suffice, as between befriended peoples.

There will, probably, be many matters common to all organisms, which can be settled by mutual agreements, as was, for instance, the relationship between the Swiss cantons and of the American States with their federations.

There may be people who do not want to fit into any of these organisms. These may propagate their ideas and attempt to increase the numbers of their followers until they have achieved budgetary independence, i.e. can pay themselves what they want in their own way. Up to then, they would have to belong to one of the existing organisms. That would be merely a financial question.

Freedom must go so far as to include the right not to be free. Consequently, clericalism and absolutism for those who do not want it any other way.

There will be free competition between systems of government. The governments will have to improve themselves to secure followers and customers.

Everyone will stay at home without having to give up anything they hold dear.

What is involved is merely a simple declaration at the local Office for Political Membership and without taking off one's dressing gown and slippers, one may pass from the republic to the monarchy, from parliamentarianism to autocracy, from oligarchy to democracy or even to the anarchy of Mr. Proudhon, as one pleases.

"You are dissatisfied with your government? Take another one for yourself" - without an insurrection or revolution and without any unrest – by simply going to the Office for Political Membership. The old governments may continue to exist until the freedom to experiment, here proposed, will lead to their decline and fall.

Only one thing is demanded: free choice. Free choice, competition - these will, one day, be the mottos of the political world.

Wouldn't that lead to an unbearable chaos? One should merely remember the times when people throttled each other in religious wars. What became of these deadly hatreds? The progress of the human spirit has swept it away like the wind does with the last leaves of autumn. The religions, in whose names the stakes and torture were operating, do nowadays live peacefully, side by side. Especially where several of them coexist, each one is more than usual concerned about its dignity and purity. Should what was possible in this sphere, despite all hindrances, not be likewise possible in the sphere of politics?

Nowadays, when governments exist only to the exclusion of any other power, when parties dominate after having defeated their opponents, where the majority oppresses the minority, it is inevitable that the minorities, the oppressed, will in turn grumble and intrigue and wait for the moment of revenge, for the power finally achieved. But when all coercion is eliminated, when every adult has, at all times, a completely free choice for himself, then every fruitless struggle will become impossible.

When governments are subjected to the principle of free experimentation, of free competition, they will in their turn improve and perfect themselves. No more aloofness, up in the clouds, which only hides their emptiness. Success for them will entirely depend only in doing things better and cheaper than the others.

The energies, presently lost in fruitless efforts, frictions and resistance, will unite to give an unforeseen, wonderful impulse to the progress and happiness of humanity.

Upon the objection that after all these experiments with governments of all kinds, one would, finally, return to a single one, the most perfect one, the author remarks that even if that were the case, this general agreement would have been achieved through the free play of all forces. But this could happen only in the distant future, "when the function of government, with general consent, will have been reduced to its simplest expression." In the meantime, people are of such different minds, and have so varied customs, that only this multiplicity of governments is possible.

One seeks excitement and struggles, another tranquillity; this one needs encouragement and assistance, that one, the genius, cannot stand any guidance. One wants the republic, submission and renunciation - another the absolute monarchy with its pomp and splendour. The orator wants a parliament; the silent one condemns the chatterers. There are strong spirits and weak minds, ambitious ones and simple, contented people. There are as many characters as persons, there are as many needs as different natures. How could they all be satisfied by a single form of government? The contended ones will be in a minority; even the most accomplished government would find opposition.

In the proposed system, on the other hand, all disagreements would be merely domestic squabbles, with divorce as the ultimate remedy.

Governments would compete with each other and those who associated themselves to their government, would be especially loyal to it because it would correspond to their own ideas.

How would one sort all these different people out? - I believe in "the sovereign power of liberty to establish peace among mankind." I cannot foresee the day and the hour of this concord. My idea is like a seed scattered in the wind. Who thought of freedom of conscience in former times and who would question it today?

For its practical realization one might, for instance, set the minimum period for membership, in one form of government, at one year.

Each group would find its adherents whenever it needs them together, like a church does for its members and a joint-stock company its shareholders.

Would this coexistence of many governmental organisms lead to a flood of public servants and a corresponding waste of energies? This objection is important; however, once this is felt, it will be remedied. Only the truly viable organisms will continue to exist, the others will perish from enfeeblement.

Will the presently ruling dynasties and parties ever agree to such a proposal? It would be in their interest to do so. They would be better off with fewer members, but all of them submitting voluntarily and completely. No coercion would be necessary, no soldiers, no gendarmes, no policemen. There would be neither conspiracies nor usurpations. Each and no one would be legitimate.

A government might today go into liquidation and, later on, when it can find more supporters, it can re-establish itself, by a simple constitutional act, like a joint-stock company.

The small fees to be paid for the registration would finance the offices for political membership. It would be a simple mechanism, one that could be run by a child and that, nevertheless, would meet all needs.

All this is so simple and right that I am convinced that no one will want to know about it.

Man, being man . . .


The style and the way of thinking of the author, de Puydt, remind me somewhat of Anselme Bellegarrigue [1], as one can get to know him in his numerous articles in Civilisation, a daily paper of Toulouse in 1849,. Similar ideas, especially regarding taxes, were later and for many years expressed by Auberon Herbert [2] (voluntary taxation).

The fact that these ideas sound much more plausible to us today than they may have appeared to his readers of 1860, shows that at least some progress has been made.

To give these ideas an expression corresponding to our present-day feelings and needs and to move towards their realisation - that is what matters today.

The idea of one's own initiative, which was still missing in the cool reasoning of the isolated author of 1860 - should it not be the thing that makes a discussion of these questions more promising and hopeful today?


22 February 1909




[1] Anselme Bellegarrigue (19th century) was an anarchist writer and activist. He was the editor of Anarchie, Journal de l'Ordre and Au fait ! Au fait ! Interprétation de l'idée démocratique.

[2] Auberon Herbert (1838-1906), English writer and philosopher. He was the originator of a current of ideas called voluntaryism, advocating, among other things, voluntarily funded governments.



Note by John Zube

This article was signed M.N. and dated 22.2.1909.

It was first published in GUSTAV LANDAUER'S "DER SOZIALIST", 15.3.1909.

Upon a suggestion by Leo Kasarnowski, the later publisher of John Henry Mackay, who identified M.N. as MAX NETTLAU, it was reprinted in "Der individualistische Anarchist" (The Individualist Anarchist), published by Benedikt Lachman, in Berlin, 1920, pages 410-417.

It is here translated by John Zube from the German reproduction in "Zur Sache", No.9 (On the Topic, No.9), produced 1985 by the Mackay Gesellschaft, Germany, editor: Kurt Zube, 1905 -1991.

The existence of this article by Max Nettlau was quite new to me and pleased me very much. I had long sought for anarchist responses to de Puydt's essay, but in vain, except within my own close circle. Alas, Kurt Zube had failed to point it out to me earlier.

De Puydt's proposal, as a core requirement for a consistent anarchism, supplemented by essential conditions, forms the foundation of the autonomous protective and social communities described in Solneman's 1977 "The Manifesto of Peace and Freedom." Its English edition appeared in 1983. But already in 1930, in Kurt Zube's "RADIKALER GEIST", Berlin, on pages 450/51 (5th issue), appeared the related programme of Werner Ackermann' s THE COSMOPOLITAN UNION.

In "Zur Sache" the program of "The Cosmopolitan Union" is appended but I have left it out here since it has already appeared, repeatedly, in my Peace Plans series, in English, German and even in French. It is the central idea in my own two peace books, in Peace Plans 16-18 & 61-63 (German in Peace Plans 399-401), written between 1962 and 1975.

Herbert Spencer discussed similar ideas in his chapter The Right to Ignore the State, in "Social Statics," original edition in 1850, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte discussed individual secessionism in his 1793 book on the French Revolution. Voluntary taxation schemes are one of the preconditions or consequences for panarchies. Historical precedents for panarchism abound and go back much further (but they are NOT discussed in MOST history books), in the form of personal law associations, capitulations, the millet system or djemma, special courts for foreigners and consular jurisdiction).

Remnants of this tradition persisted into the 20th century, e.g. in Morocco to 1955 and to our times, e.g. as personal law in civil jurisdiction, in the Middle East and Malaysia.

Curiously enough, most minority groups have shown little to no interest in this form of potentially full exterritorial autonomy for all minorities that want to form their own volunteer communities. They remain addicted to territorialism - and the atrocities that follow from it.

PANARCHISM provides the only framework that could, at the same time and in the same country, satisfy the RIGHTFUL aspirations of all kinds of statists as well as of all kinds of freedom lovers. Since the radical freedom lovers are almost everywhere a small minority and have little chance, in the short run, to convert all the statists to their point of view, they should be the first ones to adopt this program. However, they find it very difficult to do, since they are, like most statists, stuck on the territorial model, which excludes tolerance for exterritorially autonomous volunteer communities.

It is also the cornerstone for any rightful and efficient peace, defence, revolution and liberation effort, since it could turn most of the resources of any dictatorial or totalitarian regime against it and could do so without driving the regime into a corner, ready to undertake mass murderous steps. Even the worst regime has some voluntary followers and under panarchism it could retain these, as long as it satisfied them. I know of no better program to defuse and finally abolish the threat posed by ABC mass murder devices combined with popular notions on collective responsibility and enemies, all tied to the territorial model.

One of the remaining panarchistic traits, in all too distorted form, is the practice of and international law on diplomatic immunity. However, this is a bad example because its current version permits diplomats to get away with serious crimes against foreigners. That was NOT the traditional practice in law systems. But then the rulers and their followers or representatives have degrees of secrecy and immunity for their crimes.

A preliminary literature on panarchism, 11 pages, appeared in Peace Plans 66/69.

A 2 pages list of 1989 can be found in Peace Plans 920.

An extended bibliography on panarchism, on 56 pages, can be found in PEACE PLANS No.1540.


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