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[Politics] Agorism – an Introduction

Posted by BHudson on January 24, 2009

Foreword – This is an introduction to the political theory of agorism, which Lex has kindly allowed me to talk about here. I hope you find it thought-provoking and interesting. Sorry it’s so long (but I think it’s worth it).

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A (Fairly Brief) Introduction to Agorism

‘Just once, wouldn’t you like to read a manifesto that’s been practiced before it’s preached? I wanted to. And I did it.’ – Samuel Edward Konkin III, Preface to the First Edition of the New Libertarian Manifesto.

Statism: Our Condition

Imagine a gang that controls every aspect of life. This gang of gangs uses its power to ensure total submission, and in time its central role in life leads to more than just submission – by precedent and habit, the gang becomes the Gang, legitimate in the eyes of the people. Dormant and blind to the assaults of the Gang, they are robbed regularly without complaint. The Gang kidnaps and even murders members of the public for failing to agree with its will. Mass murder is committed abroad to inflict the Gang’s way of life on others. Immorality become centralised and institutionalised. By carefully designed propaganda and ‘education’, the masses are kept ill-informed. The greatest lie of all created by the Gang is that it is essential for society.

More than an allegory, this is our current situation. The State – government of any form – is no more than a gang. Logic dictates that we must judge the world by universalities. Theft is wrong, yet taxes are tolerated. Kidnapping is wrong, yet prison sentences are seen as fair. Murder is seen as wrong, yet executions continue to be part of the ‘justice’ system in many parts of the world, and wars have murdered more people in a hundred years than in all of history. Through ‘education’ and the media, the illusion is created that the State is necessary to protect the people from themselves, through legislation, policing and punishment. With this one great lie follows several fallacies to justify the crimes of violence, or threat of violence; that taxes are the only way of allocating public and social services, that the punishments decided by the state are somehow necessary for purposes of retribution or crime prevention and so on ad nauseam. Clearly, the State is morally reprehensible: Our Enemy – The State. What, then, is the alternative?

Agorism: Our Goal

‘Agora’ – the Ancient Greek word for a marketplace. Agorism is based upon the belief that all problems of resource allocation, social services, law and order – in short, all the aspects of society we need – can be solved by the free voluntary exchange of goods (or a universal medium of exchange, ie. gold) on the open market.

Violence or coercion is forbidden. Everything else is not.

For most products, this requires no change from current society. But what are we to do about demerit goods – those that are over-supplied by the market reflex – hard drugs, for example. Indeed, it would seem at first thought that legalising such things would cause great problems of dependency. However, we must move away from the statist lie that claims the people need protecting from themselves. The current system presents many things that are more dangerous than any illegal drug, and yet common sense prevails in the most cases. The illegality of drugs has one effect – demonising and criminalising the victims of addiction. With the stigma of hard drugs reduced, the floodgates are open for greater investivation, research and treatment. If the drugs are harmful, their effects will reduce demand over time – humanity is not stupid. If they are harmless, where’s the problem?

A radical change is only needed for those services supplied purely by the government, most notably law and order. Even this is simply provided by the market mechanisms. The theory is based on Konkin’s example given in the NLM, itself based upon the work of Rothbard, Linda and Morris Tannehill, and others. A free market for protection leads to the creation of more insurance firms and private contractors, enlisted to investigate crimes and retrieve property. Each person, if they so wish, insures their property and their life to a value dictated by the market or themselves respectively. In the case of a theft, the insurers have an incentive to track down the thief to restore the victim’s property – if they fail to find it, they must pay out of their own pockets. If they cannot incite the thief to return it willingly, or use legitimate means to retrieve it otherwise, they will lose customers to their competitors. This leads to more efficient law and order systems.

This is, of course, a vast simplification to meet the scope of this introduction.

Counter-Economics: Our Means

Even with a clear target, it is a vast step from a statist society to a totally agorist one. However, agorism differs from anarchocapitalism and other forms of market anarchism in that it has a workable, individual theory of counter-economic revolution. The strength of the State comes from its total control of every aspect of life. Without the ability to effectively enforce the more ridiculous edicts, counter-economics is second nature to most, if not all people. Millions deal in illegal, yet harmless drugs, or evade taxes. Even by off-the-books payments or large gifts to others, one can evade the controls placed on life by the state. No harm is done to any people, society, or any moral standards. As the distinction between legal and moral becomes irrelevant (as indeed it is – what moral code would ban cannabis, but support the sale of tobacco, a far more dangerous drug?), society becomes happier, healthier and more peaceful. And the State, robbed of its supply of money and support, drops off like a dead bough. The pursuit of happiness through spontaneous means can only lead to agorism. The rule of the state is illogical and counterproductive in every way.

The world’s markets can be divided into four sorts – white, grey, black and red. Note that the ‘markets’ include not just the exchange of goods, but also all aspects of life:

White markets are those sanctioned and hence controlled by the State.

Grey markets are those trading in legal goods and services, but out of the eyes and control of the state – barter economies, so called ‘white-collar crime’, and so on.

Black markets are those outlawed by the State – drugs, the use of illegal immigrant labour, proscribed sexual acts – anything both moral and prohibited, but carried on regardless.

Red markets could be described as non-State violence and coercion – murder, extortion and so on. The only difference between red and white is the support of the State – the key hypocrisy that undermines all governments, be they democratic or not.

Clearly, the key to revolution is a public movement to not rely on the white markets, but on the grey and the black, with the exclusion of the red. For almost all products, this is easy and natural. Removing the inefficiency and complications of the State can only lead to higher profits on both sides of the checkout.

Revolution: Our Strategy

Agorism is extremely contagious! Though apparently alien to those used to a statist existence, it is self-explanatory and simple once explained. Equally, we all have a duty to lead by example. Firstly, to show that morality is more important than mere legality. Secondly, to show by our actions and attitudes the truth that the State is an artificial construct designed to limit and control the expansion of Mankind. Thirdly, to be conspiciously happy and free in our enlightenment to lead others into the movement by example.

The strategy of the revolution can be made into several steps, as follows.

Phase 0 – No active agorism (counter-economic practice) occurs. The role of all enlightened libertarians is to publicise the movement and act as examples to society.

Phase 1 – Organisations of practising agorists grow. Centrist libertarians become more counter-economic in everyday practice.

Phase 2 – Agorism is percieved as a threat by the State. The entire society is to some degree aware of agorism. The first anarchovillages of agorism start to evolve, protected by peaceful practice and the sympathy of society. Alliances of agorists accelerate the transition of common practice to agorism rather than statism.

Phase 3 – The growth of the counter-economy is damaging the state by sapping its resources. As the resources reach equality between Economy and Counter-economy, the State turns to violence to repress the agorist movement. Resistance is needed, and is provided by a fledgling alliance of protection companies. Note that the instigation of violence is wrong, without exception. Defence is the only acceptable use of violence.

Phase 4 – Society has become mostly agorist, with statist impurities. The insurance and protection companies described earlier are fully created, and act in good-willed competion. Perfect information through the internet prevents malpractice and retrostatism. Statism crumbles, robbed of its resources and support. Society becomes free for the first time since statism first blighted the earth.

Conclusion

This is but the briefest introduction to a concept that is simple in its basic premises, but deeply complicated in many of its details. No doubt some large gaps are left in your understanding. Central to my understanding is the New Libertarian Manifesto by SEK3 (as Konkin is still known), and Agorist Class Theory by Wally Conger, based on Konkin’s work. It must be noted that the ‘Libertarian’ Party of America is a poor imitation of real libertarianism. For all their best attempts, they are simply continuing statist principles. Equally unfortunately, the Movement of the Libertarian Left has fallen under improper control and no longer represents the agorist theory. Superb references can, however, be found from the Alliance of the Libertarian Left (an alliance of all left-libertarian practices, not just agorism) and agorism.info. I would be glad to attempt to answer any questions or doubts about the viability of the strategy, though I am by no means an expert. In future posts, I would like to expand on various points, including a more detailed description of the private legal process, an overview of agorist class theory, and the differences between agorism and anarchocapitalism.

Key to agorism is individual action. One can become a fully-functioning agorist with little effort – oppose the State, work outside its bounds, act as a beacon to the world, and the job is done. For a full revolution, cooperation is needed. At the moment, most of the First World is between Phases 0 and 1. Within 2 years of the original manifesto, Konkin himself witnessed certain communities in Long Beach reaching Phase 2. To the best of my knowledge, these have largely disappeared. In my mind, this is due to the lack of publication. More than any other time previously, the world is ripe for revolution. The internet presents an unprecedented forum for the masses. Even more important, it allows (in theory) perfect information. No longer can the crimes of statism be ignored or silenced. If Konkin was able to so blatantly defy the State in the 80s, it can be done today.

In the NLM, Konkin suggested an ‘oath’ of sorts for agorists. Though over 25 years old, it rings as true today as it ever did.

“We witness to the efficacy of freedom and exult in the intricate beauty of complex voluntary exchange. We demand the right of every ego to maximise its value without limit save that of another ego. We proclaim the age of the Market unbound, the natural and proper condition for humanity, wealth in abundance, goals without end or limit, and self-determined meaning for all: Agora.

“We challenge all who would bind us to show us cause; failing proof of our aggression we shatter our fetters. We bring to justice all who have aggressed against any, ever. We restore all who have suffered oppression to their rightful condition. And we destroy forever the Monster of the Ages, the pseudo-legitimized monopoly of coercion, from out minds and from our society, the protector of aggressors and thwarter of justice. That is, we smash the State: Anarchy.

“We exert our wills to our personal limits restrained only by consistent morality. We struggle against anti-principles which would sap our wills and combat all who physically challenge us. We rest not nor waste resource until the State is smashed and humanity has reached its agorist home. Burning with unflagging desire for Justice now, and Liberty forever, we win: Action!

“Agora, Anarchy, Action!”

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4 Responses to “[Politics] Agorism – an Introduction”

  1. Cecilieaux said

    My basic problem with the libertarian tenedency in its many forms is the assumption that all people are inherently equally capable actors on a level playing field. There never seems to be any thought concerning the fact that all do not enter the marketplace with the same information and personal resources.

    Insofar as your particulars, I question your description of U.S. libertarians, either the party or groups like the Cato Institute as “statist.”

  2. Cecilieaux said

    PS: the contrast in the left column seems much better.

  3. BHudson said

    @Cecilieaux

    That is indeed a recurring concern, and indeed pretty much exactly the same (to the word) as what someone else very recently said to me. The largest problem, in my eyes, would occur during the first few months of a virtually agorist existence, when society is just beginning to normalise. Thanks to the total reliance on the market for self-regulation, there is a risk that large (especially monopolistic) corporations may become pseudo-statist in themselves. It may well be that privately funded charities will be established (as, to some degree, they already have) to help out those who are unable help themselves.My hope would be that after the initial period, the lower economic classes would be able to take advantage of the more efficient economy.
    Unfortunately, it seems that there will always be inequalities, though I hope that they will decrease as social conciousness increases (and, it must be said, they should be more due to personal effort rather than institutionalised class boundaries as they currently are). But you are indeed right on that, and it’s something which I’ve yet to get my head totally around.
    As regarding the Libertarian Party, they’re not statist in themselves – indeed on many levels they are laudable. However, by their participation in the statist system they are just helping to legitimise and condone its existence. Regardless of ambitions, they could repeal twenty laws a day (making the huge assumption that they could ever take power) and make no real progress in a term. They are what Konkin (I believe he coined the term) called partyarchists – trying to establish anarchy through normal political means.
    Regarding the Cato Institute, it’s not an organisation I know very well. However, aside from the role of Koch and the subsequent ignorance of Rothbard, I honestly can’t see a great deal wrong with them. Though on some points they are found wanting, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them statist.
    BH

  4. Cecilieaux said

    I’ve given some thoughts to your response. See mine on my blog in the post titled Efficiency vs. Well-being.

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