Paul Bonneau

Panarchy, Subsidiarity and Me





Panarchy as subsidiarity to the level of the individual.



When I first started writing on this subject (see here), I was mostly shooting in the dark. Subsequent reading has yet again proven the old saying, from Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun; that what I wrote has been thought of before. This article will attempt to collect and connect these themes.

The first thing I found was that I was really talking about an old concept called subsidiarity, the idea that political matters ought to be handled at the lowest possible level. Hey, it’s even right there in the 10th Amendment!

Then I found a very close analog, in the idea of Panarchy. This form completely rejects politics based on territories. Instead, people of different political persuasions live among each other, much as people of different religions do, and are individually governed according to their different political tendencies (or not at all, if anarchists). While I had taken the political differentiation down to the community level, the panarchists take it right down to the individual level. I still have some doubts about this, because politics seems inherently connected to territory. What I suspect would happen in a completely free world though, would be a mix: some people like uniformity of thought (living among their own kind), and those naturally tend to congregate in smaller towns, while others in the cosmopolitan big cities would be more used to seeing people of different persuasions and would be more comfortable with that. In other words, it would look much like it already does in today’s society, but without the coercion.

Finally, I was watching a discussion among friends on Facebook, having to do with not caring what other people think--a complaint against conformity or “horizontal enforcement.” One noted that he felt better after he gave up caring. His comment made me wonder to what extent we should care. 

In the old days, when people’s horizons were very close (village life) and communication almost nonexistent, the pressure to conform must have been extremely high. It struck me, a while back, reading John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, how he railed against social pressure to conform even in the 19th Century. Mill’s view is striking not in how much we have of it, but in how much it has dissipated since the time he wrote. Nowadays you can proclaim you don’t give a damn what others think and not be burned at the stake, or stoned by a crowd. Mostly you will be ignored.

But now with the Internet, that trend progresses even further. Not only does the crowd not harm you for not conforming, but you can find a community of people who actually agrees with what you think (and where it again begins to make sense worrying about what these folks think). No longer are non-conformists atomistic. They can find their own community, their own tribe. First it is a virtual community on the Internet; but what is to stop people from moving physically to be with others like them? And isn’t that quite a gift? As Gatto wrote, "People are less than whole unless they gather themselves voluntarily into groups of souls in harmony. Gathering themselves to pursue individual, family, and community dreams consistent with their private humanity is what makes them whole; only slaves are gathered by others."

Nowadays it is not so much social pressure that bedevils us (since we can easily escape it or reduce it), but the centralizing, homogenizing, repressive tendencies of the mega-state. Just look at the churn that comes from political campaigns, particularly presidential ones. Talk about bringing out the worst in us!

I believe we should gather with each other, like among like. Later when the culture has advanced, it will be possible to go more non-territorial as the panarchists envision, but in the beginning we need mutual support of others in our communities to strike out on a path different from what the mega-state has planned for us. Everyone needs this, not just anarchists.


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