By Harley Austin | United States
To many anarchists, agorism is probably a familiar term, but not commonly understood. Many tend to associate the ideology with anarcho-capitalism because of their similarities. However, there is a major distinction between the two. Mainly, agorism is a method of achieving anarchy, not a system of it.
There are three main methods of achieving right-market anarchism, notably anarcho-capitalism. The first is insurrection, a method of violent opposition against the government. This is the easiest but least successful, considering violence implies a lack of anarchism.
The second is localization, the method of shrinking government until it is eventually abolished. This is a peaceful method, of course, but it is not realistic. The government will not simply vote itself away, even if the people want it to.
Finally, there is agorism, the use of counter-economics to circumvent government tyranny. This successfully starves the state of income it steals from the people.
What is Agorism?
The term agorism comes from the Greek word “agora”, meaning open marketplace. Markets, especially the gray and black markets, are the foundation of agorism. Agorism is officially “a libertarian social philosophy that advocates creating a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges by means of counter-economics,” which is very similar to the voluntarist aspect of anarcho-capitalism. This is because agorism is also centered around voluntarism, hence the desire to abolish the state. However, agorism is a more of a pluralistic ideology, since it tolerates any form of voluntary anarchism.
Ultimately, a practice of counter-economics sets agorism apart from other methods. Counter-economics is any peaceful economic activity that the state forbids (black and gray markets). This kind of activity can range from underground markets to not registering taxable income. There are many complex applications of the system.
Agorism was created by the political writer Samuel Edward Konkin III, notably in his book An Agorist Primer. In the book, he focused heavily on the application of his ideas, not just theory. Since the book’s official publishing in 2008, agorism has become highly popular amongst anarchists. The ideology has a gray and black flag and the a^3 symbol: standing for anarchy, agora, action.
But in order to truly understand what agorism really is, we must look into agorist theory itself.
The Axioms of Agorism
The goal of agorism is creating a free society, and the method is counter-economics. In An Agorist Primer, Konkin III gives a small list of axioms that are the foundations of agorism.
1. The closest approach to a free society is an uncorrupted agora
This one is simple: A free market and voluntary exchange are how to achieve a voluntary state.
2. There are no contradictions in reality and theory must be consistent with reality
This one is a bit more philosophical, and should be very familiar to anyone who knows rationalism or objectivism. The entire purpose of agorist theory is to be non-contradictory, consistent, and to conform to reality.
3. The agora self-corrects for small perturbations of corruption
An Agorist Primer best explains this. On the subject, Konkin III states:
It means simply that free-market entities will defend the free market. People have to choose to do it, of course, but the incentive (offering of subjective-value satisfaction) will be present to motivate them to do so and will be sufficient to motivate enough people to do so. Occasional criminals will be discovered, sought, found, apprehended, tried, sentenced, compelled to deliver restitution, and (if possible) deterred from further actions.” -Samuel Edward Konkin III, An Agorist Primer
This means that, through private and personal security, voluntary means will handle criminals and wrongdoers.
4. The moral system of any agora is compatible with pure libertarianism
In this context, pure libertarianism means absolute voluntarism, in which the only acceptable use of force is self defense. This means that society tolerates all differences between individuals and activities they partake in. The only rule: do not harm, except in self-defense.
5. Agora in part is agora in whole; to a workable approximation, the corruption of an agora raises protection costs and risks.
This means that, through subjective valuing and supply & demand, crime and corruption will be heavily discouraged because of how damaging it would be for profits. This mostly applies to private police, who would suffer massive losses should they become corrupt or overbearing. This natural form of power restraint is described by Konkin III like this:
Similarly, should one protection company “go bad,” a few of the hundreds of others would be enough to apprehend its agents and shut it down. But, in fact, market forces would sap such a company’s destructive power long before it came to that. People raised in an agorist society would stop paying its insurance premiums and shift to its competitors. Detective and investigation agencies would terminate their contracts with it. Arbitrators would consistently rule against its aggressive moves. Agents working for the company would quit and go elsewhere. Secretaries and office help would walk out rather than have their reputations sullied by associating with such un-agorist types. Even restaurants and grocery stores would refuse to sell to the renegades or would hike their prices to show their additional loss of subjective value in dealing with such coercive filth.”
6. Agorism qua theory is an open system
This one is incredibly simple: agorism is a living theory. As long as new ideas do not contradict the central principle, we can add them to agorism if they arise. This is important because of agorism’s focus on pluralism instead of strict yes/no dichotomies.
The Free Society
Just what would such a free society look like? Konkin III describes this world as such:
The society of the open marketplace as near to untainted by theft, assault, and fraud as can be humanly attained is as close to a free society as can be achieved. And a free society is the only one in which each and every one of us can satisfy his or her subjective values without crushing others’ values by violence and coercion.”
“A free society is one in which Man is constrained only by unthinking Nature. His fellow men leave him alone. One can personally live up to this and one can admit only those who uphold it, expelling all those who don’t. But one cannot prevent anyone from instituting aggression, one can only deal with it after the fact.”
But that description is a bit vague and general. To be specific, Konkin III gives these descriptions:
States will be gone. Roads will be run by competing market companies and kept in repair (for a change) to attract more customers. Then, again, cars may levitate over the roads for all we know or fly or take tunnels to preserve scenery. If you can think of one good reason to do something some way, in a free market it will be tried and many ways will work at the same time for different reasons. The post office will be gone and mail — if not replaced by e-mail entirely — will be efficiently and cheaply delivered ever-faster. War will be gone. “Defence budgets” will be gone. Taxes will be gone. You will pay for what you get only when you want it — unless what you want is a gift. I repeat, and cannot emphasize enough or wax floridly enough: the opportunities in freedom explode into the unimaginable. The sheer complexity of all possible choice moves to the infinite as restrictions approach zero.”
This is very similar to the society of anarcho-capitalist theory. However, while the goal is highly important, its the method and reasoning that defines agorism. To understand agorism, we must understand the theory of counter-economics.
Basic economic principles guide the free market of agorism, especially the subjective theory of value. Because of this, a key component of agorism is a belief in free markets (the term “free markets” is used instead of capitalism because Konkin thought the word had mercantilist roots). Like most other libertarian ideologies, it rejects the use of force, hence the desire for anarchy.
In addition to economics, there is also counter-economics. As mentioned earlier, this is a peaceful economic activity that defies the state, either through black markets: the selling of goods banned by the state, or gray markets: the selling of goods allowed by the state without paying its unjust fees and taxes.
However, in agorist theory, there is much more than simple underground dealings. Because of prohibition, there exists an entire Counter-Economy dedicated to providing goods better and cheaper than the regulated white-markets (legal and moral markets). Konkin III describes the Counter-Economy like this:
All (non-coercive) human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy. (For ease of later analysis, we exclude murder and theft, which are done with the disapproval of the State. Since taxation and war encompass nearly all cases of theft and murder, the few independent acts really should be classified as other forms of statism.) Since anything the State does not license or approve of is forbidden or prohibited, there are no third possibilities.
A Counter-Economist is (1) anyone practicing a counter-economic act; (2) one who studies such acts. Counter-Economics is the (1) practice (2) study of counter-economic acts.”
Black Markets in Dictatorships
An increase in regulations, taxes, and prohibition results in an increase in the size of the Counter-Economy. The more the government restricts access to a good, the more they will work around the state. Even in America, which has slightly fewer regulations than many regimes, the Counter-Economy and the influence of black markets is huge. In highly regulated states, the Counter-Economy becomes the main source for the most basic goods. Konkin III claims that this was one of the reasons communism has failed, stating:
Communism collapsed in no small part due to the Counter-Economy. Nearly everything was available in the Counter-Economy with only shoddy goods and shortages in the official socialist economy. The Soviets called Counter-Economic goods “left-hand” or nalevo and entire manufacturing assembly lines co-existed nalevo with the desultory State industry ones, on the same factory floor. Counter- Economic “capitalists” sold shares in their companies and vacationed in Black Sea resorts. Managers of collective farms who needed a tractor replaced in a hurry look to the Counter- Economy rather than see their kolkhoz collapse awaiting a State tractor delivery. Currently, the Russian government seeks to reestablish State control of the economy by granting monopolies to cronies and imprisoning recalcitrant corporate executives. As with Communism, this flirtation with Fascism is just as doomed to failure.”
The Counter-Economy consists of a vast network of underground markets working to provide goods consumers want. This includes smuggling goods, not filing taxable income, alternate currencies, illegal immigration (as a means of selling labor), experimental medicines, and even smuggling holy texts into atheist states. The Counter-Economy is much larger and more far-reaching than one might guess.
Victory Against the State
But how could something like this defeat the state? That answer is rather simple: more people using underground markets means the state has less revenue. Konkin III lays out most of the process like this:
The path from here to agora now becomes blind- ingly obvious. As more people reject the State’s mystifications — nationalism, pseudo-Economics, false threats, and betrayed political promises — the Counter- Economy grows both vertically and horizontally. Horizontally, it involves more and more people who turn more and more of their activities toward the counter-economic; vertically, it means new structures (businesses and services) grow specifically to serve the Counter- Economy (safe communication links, arbitrators, insurance for specifically “illegal” activities, early forms of protection technology, and even guards and protectors). Eventually, the “underground” breaks into the overground where most people are agorists, few are statists, and the nearest State enforcement cannot effectively crush them.
These agorist condensations are highly vulnerable when first exposed but will probably evaporate back into the anonymous masses when seriously threatened. Finally, one grows large enough to defend itself against the nearest State. Others rally to it and those agorists staying “home” under States’ rule become ever-richer trading ports with the first agora condensations.
The rapid collapse of State taxation ability at this point will push the State to rely even more on inflation to support itself. The Counter- Economists abandon fiat money ever-faster and use gold and trusted agorist gold warehouse receipts (“hard- money cheques”). The runaway inflation approaches what Ludwig Von Mises termed “the Crack-Up Boom,” paper money is completely abandoned, like 1923 German reichsmarks and 1781 U.S. Continentals and 1787 French assignats.
At the critical point when the protection companies can protect anyone who asks for a policy and is willing to pay for it, the State loses its monopoly of legitimized coercion. Once the power elite realizes that “it has come to this,” they will throw all the force they have left at the agora. The protection companies will defend the agorists, the taxpayers will flee the State to the free market, the military will desert as the State runs out of (acceptable) pay and supplies for them, and the State will collapse. (The last sentence describes the Agorist Revolution, accept no substitute behavior involving agorist “attacks” on the State. We are strictly defensive. Some people with grudges against the State, incited because of State-murdered loved ones, may undertake some spectacular commando raids and such, but that would not be the norm.)”
The Inconsistency of a Libertarian Party
Another major aspect of agorism is an opposition to both voting and a Libertarian Party. To start, Konkin III claims that the only consistent form of libertarianism is anarchism. This is due to his belief that all government is involuntary and a threat to a peaceful society. He also claims that minarchists are inconsistent for allowing the monopolized and coercive evil of government. Konkin III himself specifically says:
Consistent libertarians see no place for criminals, even to fight other criminals. They believe free-market (all-voluntary) methods will take care of the few criminals; finding them (investigation), arresting them (delegated protection), trying them (arbitration), and restoring lost value to the victim from the aggressors (restitution). The means of accomplishing this vary from communal power to highly technological, competitive business agencies and others in between, such as neighborhood block associations. Such “no-government libertarians” are called anarchists.”
However, it is the Libertarian Party itself that Konkin III is most critical of because of its many perceived inconsistencies. The first of which is the concept of electing rulers to abolish rulers, which is considered inconsistent with the libertarian principle of self-ownership. The creation of a party also means the creation of a single party platform, which contradicts the formerly pluralist part of libertarianism.
Finally, the creation of a party brings moderates, compromisers, and those focused on winning elections instead of spreading libertarian principles. As with any ideology or movement, the more it strays from the principles that created it, the more perverted it becomes and the less successful it will be.
With libertarianism, the difficult, slow, and constant uphill battle of using the system to destroy the system is contradictory. If it fails, no change occurs. If it succeeds, then it corrupts the movement. Unfortunately, with the party’s moderate state, the latter has become true.
Agorism in the Information Age
While that covers the theory behind agorism, there’s still a massive amount of new applications and examples of agorism thanks to new technology, especially the internet. With the internet, a new form of underground communication and trade has emerged. From black market websites like the Pirate Bay to more overt groups like Defense Distributed, the use of technology to expand the Counter-Economy and subvert the state will only grow exponentially as time goes on. As technology flourishes, so too does trade and quality of life.
In our new information age, the applications of agorism are endless. The only thing preventing the inevitable collapse of statism is our own willingness to take the risk and truly become ungovernable. As a final quote from Konkin III:
Remember, an agorist is one who lives counter-economically without guilt for his or her heroic, day-to-day actions, with the old libertarian morality of never violating another’s person or property. There is no “membership card” to fool you; an agorist is one who lives agorism. Accept no counterfeits.
There are no agorists “trying to live up to it.” There are, of course, liars who will claim to be anything. As Yoda said so succinctly, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
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