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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, November 28, 2005

Making Ourselves Ungovernable, Part II: Governing Ourselves

Not long ago, I posted a link to a great article on decentralized network activism, along with a link to a Rand document indicating how panicked "our" leaders are by the governance problems presented by networked resistance.

But decentralized networks of affinity groups are not only good for bringing down existing centralized hierarchies; they're also good for replacing them as tools for self-governance. Over thirty years ago, Ivan Illich wrote about the potential of decentralized learning networks for replacing the state's top-down schooling machinery. And he envisioned these networks at a time when the only technologies he had to work with were community-owned computer mainframes, telephone trees, and tape-recorded lectures. Karl Hess, in roughly the same period, coauthored the outstanding Neighborhood Power with David Morris. So imagine how the cyber-revolution of the subsequent three decades boosts the potential for such self-managed networks.

Via Dave Pollard, an excellent article by Beth Simone Noveck of the Democracy Design Workshop: "A Democracy of Groups"

With networks and new computer–based tools now ordinary people can become a group even without the benefit of a corporation or organization. They can make decisions, own and sell assets, accomplish tasks by exploiting the technology available. They no longer need to rely on a politician to make decisions. They can exercise meaningful power themselves about national, state and local — indeed global — issues...

This technology is enabling people to engage in complex, socially contextualized activities in ways not possible before. While it used to be that geography determined the boundaries of a group and the possibilities for collective action — I had to be near you to join you — now technology is revolutionizing our capacity for purposive collective action with geographically remote actors.

In light of this, Noveck wants to

structure the law to defer political and legal decision–making downward to decentralized group–based decision–making.

Now, as an individualist anarchist, I view the ultimate goal of this process as decentralizing decision-making power downward to the smallest possible unit: the individual.

Unlike many free market anarchists, I don't consider "democracy" a dirty word. Majority rule is only an accidental feature of democracy. If you look at the thought of Jefferson and other anglo-republicans (or oppositionists, or "eighteenth century commonwealthmen," or whatever) of his day, the central principle of democracy was consent. Government by majority rule was a second-best, a way of approximating as closely as possible to the universal, several consent of individuals when the latter was impossible. And representative democracy was a far-distant third, making meaningful self-government almost impossible (something that for the Hamiltonians was a feature, not a bug). But the principle the radical democrats pursued, as closely as they thought practicable, was always government by the consent of the governed. And there have always been, as Voltairine De Cleyre called them, "unterrified Jeffersonians," willing to push the principle of consent to its logical conclusion. Even in the time of Jefferson and Paine, William Godwin denied the need for any agency with a presumed right to initiate force on behalf of the "general welfare."

All decision-making groups, ultimately, should be voluntary associations govered on the principle of unanimous consent.

The last step, of course, will be to fund all public services on the cost principle, with fees from voluntary associates. When membership and payment become voluntary, the last step will be taken toward what Proudhon called the dissolution of the state in the social body. This last will probably be impossible until we've removed the state-backed monopoly privileges of landlords and usurers, and all the sundry subsidies and protections enjoyed by our present feudal lords the corporations, and allowed the free market some time to iron out the present maldistribution of wealth. Only when the state's barriers to occupancy of vacant land, and the state's barriers to worker self-organization of credit through mutual banks, have been removed, and labor receives its full product, will the producing classes finally have the resources to pay for all the services they consume at cost and contribute to mutual aid associations for the benefit of those unable to work.

In the meantime, the smaller the group, the closer we approach to this ideal. And direct democracy, with neighborhoods, schools, utilities, etc., run by boards of selectmen directly responsible to their clientele, is a huge step toward the ideal of democracy as unanimous consent.

Addendum. Via Ecodema. An excellent article on the devolution of government policy-making to local and neighborhood assemblies in Venezuela.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


you are essentially describing the Second Vermont Republic's mission in creating a cooperative comonwealth by ending state privilege and returning power via direct face to face democracy at the local town level and then confederate up to a Shire republic and then up to the state.

in the catholic distributist world...


November 30, 2005 11:31 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I don't see any fundamental disagreement between what you're saying here and what I said. If mutual association is rendering the state superfluous and privilege unenforceable, that's an effective removal of privilege.


The only difference I see is that the distributist idea of subsidiarity involves a central authority apportioning local authority according to its own judgment of a proper division of labor.

November 30, 2005 6:09 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Sorry, I thought I'd responded to all your posts to date.

I don't disagree with your distinction between burning a candle at both ends and using it to make more wax; I just don't see how an energy backing of currency is essential for that. The productivity is in the terms of the exchange itself--the goods actually exchanged--not in the commodity used to calibrate the medium of exchange.

December 02, 2005 11:03 AM  

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