I have a confession to make: I have a more totalistic and non-inclusive/non-tolerant concept of freedom than many of my peers in the libertarian anarchist movement. Actually, this really isn’t a confession so much as something that should be obvious based on many of my criticisms of certain ideas within libertarianism over the past few years. What it boils down to is this: I don’t think that relativism/hyper-pluralism, panarchism, or reductionistic voluntaryism (these concepts tend to run together in my mind) have anything to do with a sensible notion of human freedom.
It seems to me that there is a questionable tendency to concieve of anarchism as if it was panarchism. The notion that “everyone has a right to choose what form of government, and what particular government, to live under” is ambiguous. At face value, this may seem like a certain phrasing of the principle of consent. But when one takes into account the nature of how governments actually work, which essentially precludes the possibility of everyone living under it to explicitly consent to it, and when one considers the implications of absorbing all forms of government into libertarianism, panarchy ends up looking like a confused concept. It’s as if the panarchist wants the spirit of anarchism while simultaneously wanting to preserve the state in any of its forms.
The idea, for example, of a purely “voluntary monarchy”, just seems conceptually incoherent. Perhaps it is concievable that a particular individual gladly wants to be subject to it, but as a system that inherently is territorial in nature it would seem to inevitably effect people who just happen to live or be born in the area and don’t explicitly consent to it. Once one takes into account how the social dynamics of political systems actually work, geographic scarcity, as well as the problems of intergenerationality and the disagreements that exist within any society, the whole thing seems like a mish-mash that amounts to little more than relativistic tolerance towards the existence of multiple states or forms of states.
The practical reality that this picture paints to me seems to be along the lines of an even greater multitude of states over smaller geographical regions, accompanied by an even greater diversity in the form that states take. But is that freedom, or just a localized re-structuring of non-freedom? This idea seems to cut the normative ground out from under freedom, and replaces it with a rather indiscriminate and self-contradicting sense of tolerance. The legal systems that it is tolerant towards are internally intolerant, in that they preclude the possibility of the mutual consent of all of those that live within their domains. So it seems like what one ends up with is tolerance between states which are themselves internally monopolistic.
Panarchism is an incoherant position if it reduces to an attempt to absorb things that are inherently incompatiblewith anarchism (such as monarchies and representative democracies) into anarchism. The very nature of these political systems are internally non-anarchistic, and panarchism seems to simply insist on having anarchism between states – and yet that’s exactly what we already have in terms of the relations between nation-states in the absence of a global state. At best, panarchism minaturizes/localizes and diversifies this.
This is not what I think of when I invoke pluralism in a positive way. For one thing, I concieve of pluralism being a value that is in some sense contextual to and grounded by other values – it is not indiscriminate relativism. But the issue extends beyond this. The concept of pluralism that I have is one of mutual co-existence between different types of people within the same area. In other words, it’s cosmopolitan pluralism. Yet the pluralism of panarchism and the libertarians I disagree with seems to be just the opposite of this: it’s the rigid separatism of different types of people into their own little geographic areas and entrenched systems. Internal to each geographic area is systematic exclusion and oppression. This is just micro-authoritarianism advanced in the name of tolerance!
The direct consequence of this is that various authoritarian ideologies have been given a rationalization from libertarian circles that they can use to their advantage. It’s as simple as using the concept of freedom of association to justify systems that are internally or locally unfree. On the other hand, libertarians themselves begin to be apologists for this or even explicitly propose such models under the ambiguous banner of legal pluralism. At that point, non-libertarians are entirely justified in attacking libertarians as being shallow (although this would be unfair to libertarianism as a whole). I can’t say I can necessarily blame them to the extent that libertarians haverefuted themselves in this way.