The following essay is a chapter from the recently released “Manifesto of the Free Humans”. Download or purchase your copy here. The full title of the chapter is “Panarchist Experiments: Can Propertarians and Non-Propertarians Co-Exist?”.
Centuries ago most people would have thought it was impossible for two people who belong to two different religions to be neighbors, yet it happens every day in modern society. In this same way, it is possible to envision a future world where neighbors have different concepts of economics, culture, and politics, and are still able to live in peace. If we aim to create a stateless society, we must understand the potential hurdles and pitfalls that we may experience along the way. As we have studied revolutionary movements of the past, several areas of concern have consistently appeared in our research. We hope to remedy these complex situations by providing a balanced perspective into how people of varying beliefs can co-exist.
As we have made clear in the previous chapters, we believe society is capable of spontaneously organizing without the need for central authority or government. However, one of the biggest roadblocks to achieving this goal comes from within the “radical” movements themselves. Namely, the conflict between those who believe private ownership of property is itself an act of violence or theft, and those who believe private property norms are the key to a free society. These different camps have vastly different ideas about economics and culture, which puts them at odds and make it very difficult to form alliances, despite a common enemy in the state. However, these differences are not irreconcilable, and it could be possible for these groups to live side by side if they both adopted an attitude of mutual respect.
Regarding the title of this chapter, Can Propertarians and NonPropertarians Co-Exist?, we do not intend to argue in favor of complete private ownership or total communal ownership of resources. Our goal is to illustrate that co-existence based on mutual respect and a recognition of individual sovereignty is possible. Many anarchists of the past have sought to determine who is right or wrong in property claims, and who has the moral high ground. These contributions are valuable, but they have already been discussed at great length in various social circles and publications. Our goal here is not to determine blame or moral high ground, but to predict how free humans would handle disputes in the most civil way possible, since peaceful resolution is in everyone’s best interest. This is not to say that morality is relative or a matter of opinion, morality is a very real and objective thing that centers around the use of force. However, we recognize that not everyone is going to share the same views on topics like this, so it is important to determine how this disagreement could be rectified peacefully.
We believe in panarchism, a true marketplace of ideas where all forms of governance and anarcho-hyphens can compete and cooperate to their liking. During the transitionary period between the state’s total collapse and the establishment of new free communities and collectives, there is great potential for a power vacuum as opposing groups attempt to gain a foothold in the post-state world. However, we predict that this potentially violent period will be short as people realize that peace and cohabitation is in their own self-interest.
If the battle with the state was particularly grave it is highly unlikely that the people will want to continue to wage bloody conflicts among themselves. This is not to say that conflicts will be non-existent, but we believe mutual respect will make for more manageable conflict resolution. The anarchists involved in the Spanish revolution of 1936 were ultimately crushed by competing factions of communists and statists. This lesson should not be forgotten. Still, we should strive for common ground because the other option is endless conflict. The world is a beautifully diverse place and will always be so. If we cannot compassionately debate differences of opinion we are doomed to repeat our violent past. As noted in the last chapter, authoritarians of all stripes buy into the illusion that they can force the world to conform to their particular worldview and values, but this is an impossible task, even if one end in the conflict does have the moral high ground.
So then, how do we go about achieving this state of mutual respect and healthy conflict resolution? We believe the answer lies in the work of Josiah Warren, America’s first individualist anarchist, abolitionist, and founder of anarchist intentional communities. Under his leadership, the community of Modern Times, New York lasted several years with thousands of residents without maintaining a police force or court system. Modern Times was also unique in that it did not end in failure as many homesteads did, but instead was swallowed up by the growing United States. Warren espoused a philosophy based on what he called The Sovereignty of the Individual, a principle which recognized the value in individualism and stressed the need for mutual respect of other free individuals’ right to be free from coercion. He stressed that individuals living in a complex society have interlocking interests and as such, there will be conflicts and there will have to be compromises. Warren was adamant that free people should not impose their will on others and instead allow diversity to reign.
According to Warren, “Liberty, then, is the sovereignty of the individual, and never shall man know liberty until each and every individual is acknowledged to be the only legitimate sovereign of his or her person, time, and property, each living and acting at his own cost; and not until we live in a society where each can exercise his right of sovereignty at all times without clashing with or violating that of others.”
With this principle in mind, let us examine a few scenarios involving conflicting views of property and see if there is a possibility for coexistence. These scenarios represent some of the common objections and most difficult questions to answer.
First, imagine the state has dissolved and people are free to organize and homestead without intervention. In the absence of the state, competing insurance companies would insure people’s property against theft or harm. Now, Imagine we have two adjacent plots of land, plot A and plot B. Plot A is occupied by a farmer, his house, and his crops, all of which he acquired through his own labor. The farmer on plot A supports private ownership of property. Plot B is unoccupied. However, prior to the state’s collapse the land had been sold to someone who owned the title but never actually homesteaded or made changes to the land.
One day, a group of anarcho-communists discover the two plots of land and decide to homestead plot B. The AnComs begin planting crops, building shelters, and altering the lay of the land. The farmer from plot A is friends with the man who holds the title to plot B so he decides to question the AnComs about their new settlement. The AnComs insist that it’s obvious no one has lived on or made use of the land and declare themselves the rightful stewards. The farmer says the title holder to plot B will not be making use of the land. Is it legitimate for the AnComs to occupy and homestead plot B?
If the previous owner has no plans to return to dispute and it is clear that no one’s sovereignty will be violated in the process, we believe plot B could be homesteaded without the need for conflict. Also, if the title holder to plot B came into possession of the land with the assistance of any state privilege then it was not justly acquired and therefore not a legitimate claim. To satisfy this argument one would need to make reasonable effort to determine whether the property in question was in use. This leads us to a major issue with deciding land claims of this nature: the arguments tend to venture into arbitrary territory which makes it difficult to establish norms. For example, how long must one wait before homesteading someone else’s unused property? And what qualifies as unused? Also, who decides how much land is “too much” for one person? How do we answer these questions while respecting the sovereignty of each individual?
We think this is an important time to reiterate the need for spontaneous order and discretion based on mutual respect. What we mean is that in a truly free society without imposed central authority there is no way to force or coerce every single person to live according to the property norms of your choosing. The vast human experience guarantees that we are not always going to agree on complex moral issues, and with that being the case, it is best to find a way to handle these issues without hurting people or throwing them in cages. Of course, there will be rare occasions where violent and unreasonable people will need to be subdued or isolated, but that would be the exception to the rule in a world where people are attempting to avoid the use of oppressive tactics seen throughout history.
We imagine a world where some communities implement private property norms and others have property arrangements that resemble unowned or community ownership. How will each and every conflict play out with such a patchwork of norms? Only the individuals involved in each particular situation can decide. Unless AnComs and AnCaps are prepared to yield the force of the state to ensure their specific property views are the new monopoly, we better get used to mutual respect and compromise. A one size fits all solution is already a part of the problem we face today.
Let’s look at one more example to see how these conflicts might be resolved. What happens if the title holder to plot B returns to find the AnComs living on his land? The title holder tells the AnComs he has been waiting for the right time before he chose to build on the land. The AnComs say that they found the land unused and believe they now have a stronger claim due to homesteading. Who has the stronger claim? How do we resolve this conflict without resorting to violence? Many anarchist thinkers have suggested competing arbitration agencies which would be responsible for sorting out conflicts. If the original title holder calls his insurance agency (IA1) to defend his claim to the land, the AnComs would likely hire insurance agency 2 (IA2) to defend their claim. The two agencies would consider the claims and attempt to resolve the conflict as impartial third parties. In the event that the two agencies cannot resolve the conflict to the satisfaction of their customers, the title holder and AnComs would hire an arbitration agency to settle the dispute for good. If after consulting with the insurance agency, and the arbitration agency, one of the parties are still not satisfied, a private protection agency could be hired to enforce the ruling. Obviously, this increases the possibility of conflict, but in the end we believe the lack of incentives for war will deter individuals from pursuing this path. Especially, as humanity grows to accept the sovereignty of each individual. Insurance agencies will be influenced by market demand to resolve these situations as peacefully as possible because their business will be negatively impacted by stories of violence, especially in the age of livestream and YouTube.
Again, we stress that the above situations are entirely theoretical. We have no way of knowing how free people will choose to self-organize and handle dispute resolution. There will always be conflicts and differences of opinion. It is up to each of us to hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive to always respect the sovereignty of other individuals and use our best discretion in each case of conflict. Even if the whole of society is forced to accept one specific dogma there will always be dissenters and the only way to stop the dissent is to enact totalitarian control. We can either have freedom to disagree and peacefully resolve conflicts, or we can continue the cycle of violence and coercion. It has been said that ideas which are worthy do not require force or violence to implement. If one stands by their beliefs wholeheartedly they should be able to respectfully debate the merits and potential failures without resorting to violence.