The Case for the City-State System

By Keith Preston

I recently suggested that the next necessary step in the cultivation of the pan-anarchist movement will be the coalescence of the many scattered factions and tendencies within anarchism and overlapping philosophies into a new “Gray” anarchist macro-tribe that maintains its own political and cultural identity in a way that is distinctively independent of the Left and Right or, perhaps more important for domestic U.S. politics, independent of the Red tribe and Blue tribe. At present, far too many anarchists, libertarians, and anti-state radicals retain too great a loyalty to either the Red or Blue, or the Left and Right. While we will continue to draw from both sides of the conventional political and cultural spectrum as our movement continues to grow, the eventually establishment of our own independent identity is a long-term necessity.

I also suggested that we need to identify “wedge” issues that are both compatible with our general aims and outlook but which set us apart from both the Left and Right, the Red and Blue, in a distinctive way, and that opposition to consensual crime laws and the related police/prison state that is built up around these is an obvious choice. The Left will have abortion rights and gay rights, the Right will have gun rights and the pro-life cause, and we will have the libertarian project of abolishing consensual crimes.

I have also discussed the various strategic aspects of pan-anarchism in various detail elsewhere: pan-secessionism, core demographic theory, fourth generation warfare, anarcho-populism, inside/outside strategy, the left-right-center tripartite strategy, a pan-anarchist federation, an third-party alliance, alternative infrastructure, the 25 point platform, building coalitions of anti-state interest groups, a peoples’ economic front, legal defense organizations, civilian defense organizations, identitarian organizations, regionalist movements, and a free nations coalition.

I have previously suggested that we pan-anarchists also need to cultivate relationships and strategic alliances with opponents of the system from all over the political, cultural, and ideological spectrum. There are many ways in which anarchism, or at least particular strands within anarchism, overlap with socialism, liberalism, mainstream libertarianism, populism, progressivism, nationalism, traditionalism, and a variety of other philosophies. There are also anarchistic stands within various religious traditions and within the traditional customs of various ethnic communities. Our purpose should be to build an ever-expanding and interlocking network of individuals,organizations, movements, and tendencies that reflect libertarian, decentralist, or anti-authoritarian values.

However, in the process of advocating for pan-secessionism as a meta-strategic concept, it will be easy enough four our positions to be confused with those who hold to a less radical position, such as constitutionalists, states’ rights conservatives, and Tenth Amendment advocates. To some degree, this is a good thing. These less radical positions might well be a gateway to positions more like our own for many people. Not everyone is born to be a revolutionary. Some have to be cultivated. Further, we should certainly be capable of engaging in respectful dialogue with those from these less radical tendencies that have not yet reached the same conclusions as ourselves, and we should support their efforts where appropriate.

Yet there is a certain danger in being associated with more conventional forms of decentralism. The principal danger is that it dilutes the radical nature of our message. We are revolutionary anarchists, and not merely reactionary anti-liberals. The second danger is that it risks having pan-anarchism become overly identified with the rightward end of the political spectrum given that states’ rights, constitutionalists, and Tenth Amendment advocates are drawn from the Right most of the time. This does not mean that we should seek to create a leftist identity for pan-anarchism. Far from it. As I said above, we need to establish an independent identity of our own. Besides, there are certainly secessionist, regionalist, or decentralist tendencies that trend leftward rather than rightward like Cascadia or the Second Vermont Republic.

The relationship that pan-anarchists should cultivate with the conventional Left, Right, and Center is certainly a unique one. As anarchists and radical libertarians, we are historically on the far left end of the political spectrum. However, our advocacy of secession, decentralization, anti-statism, and anti-totalitarian humanism tactically serves to place us on the right end of the spectrum within the context of domestic U.S. politics. Yet, our advocacy of a left-right progressive-conservative libertarian-populism ends up placing us in the radical center.

While all of these are important considerations when it comes to questions involving both strategy and creating an independent identity for ourselves, there is still the question of formulating effective means of communicating our message to dissidents everywhere and to the wider public. If we do not wish to be identified with the overly conservative positions associated with states’ rights, constitutionalism, or the Ten Amendment, it is also practically disadvantageous to attempt to identify ourselves merely with the “anarchist” label, and even more disadvantageous to identify ourselves with some hyphenated or sectarian anarchism term such as anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian municipalism, anarcho-capitalism, and the like. For most people the term “anarchist” is not a political term but a term connoting chaos, and the many hyphenated labels represent arcane or esoteric theoretical concepts that would be incomprehensible or even unpronounceable to most people.

Therefore, we need a simple term with which to signify our ideas that connotes our wider decentralist and libertarian values, but is comprehensible on a lay level and linguistically comfortable.

The most obvious means of achieving this goal would be to publicly promote ourselves as advocates of the city-state system. This is an easily understandable idea that also separates us from conventional political rhetoric while simultaneously allowing us to maintain a fully revolutionary, oppositional stance. Advocacy of dissolving centralizing nation-state systems into decentralized city-state systems is certainly a radical position and has revolutionary implications. Yet it avoids the baggage associated with ideological labels.

Just as importantly, advocacy of the city-state system allows for the creation of a practical framework whereby all of the many quite real ideological, cultural, and political divisions among different sects of anarchists, libertarians, decentralists, anti-statists, and anti-authoritarians can be accommodated. For, example both anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin and anarcho-capitalist Hans Hermann Hoppe have been advocates of the city-state system even though their thought represents widely divergent theoretical and philosophical frameworks.

Equally important, advocacy of the city-state system allows for us to do outreach to many different movements, organizations, and tendencies that are not our allies at present, and might otherwise stand in opposition to many of our views. For example, advocacy of the city-state system allows for us to reach out to the wide spectrum of the dissident or radical right, i.e. people who reject the liberal dominance of the existing state systems and mainstream culture, but who have no hope of reclaiming the state or the wider culture for themselves.

Likewise, advocacy of the city-state system allows for us to do outreach to the radical left, i.e. those on the left who reject not merely the right-wing of the system (such as the Republican Party) but who reject “the American way” in its entirety. While some on the radical left have expressed hostility to our position due to our willingness to formulate alliances with the radical right, this does not need to always be the case. Instead, we need to educate the radical left about the value of the “good riddance” principle and how our objectives allow for the radical left to achieve its goals of both overthrowing the empire and politically separating itself from the Right.

The city-state system allows us to reach out to many countercultures, subcultures, ethnic cultures, religious communities and others who are persistently or periodically under attack by the state, ranging from rural white Christian gun owners to black nationalists to Third World immigrants to gang members, drug users, and prostitutes to Mormon polygamists, fundamentalist home schoolers, and Christian pacifists who refuse to register for the draft.

Lastly, advocacy of the city-state system allows us to reach out to the masses of politically unaffiliated but dissatisfied people with a new set of ideas that are radical but comprehensible, and to connect with people in other nations and other parts of the world who share concerns similar to ours. The way this might play out in the eyes of the general public might be like this:

“The Right: those folks who want to keep attacking more countries, turn total control of the economy over to big business, and impose their conservative/traditional/reactionary social, cultural, moral, and religious views on everyone else.”

“The Left: those folks who want big government sticking its nose into everything thing, raise taxes through the roof, confiscate the guns of honest people, and persecute people who hold to traditional values.”

“The Pan-Anarchists: those weird but interesting folks who want to dissolve the government into independent cities and let individuals and contending groups do what they want.”

Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of gradually convincing a plurality or a majority of the value of our positions (the way advocates of gay marriage and marijuana legalization did it before us), and while simultaneously organizing for the purpose of resisting repression when the state starts to become effectively challenged.

4 replies »

  1. This is exactly my idea as well. The city state system is a way to bring localists across the spectrum with radically different ideas together in alliance. I am not a Black Muslim and I would fight such a group if they were trying to impose their ideology on me. But I could support their right to control their own local community as long as they leave my community alone. Imagine for a minute a new type of Federal Government whose key purpose was to protect the sovereignty of each local community. Each community could be as diverse or as homogenous as they chose. Most would have their own cultural slant on reality. This sort of society would be based on the post modern idea that there are many realities out there and it is a form of tyranny to impose ones view of reality on everyone else. Let a thousand communities bloom and in this experimentation and true diversity, we might actually find a few absolute answers.


  2. As an anarchist, I think this idea is the key to not only advancing the anarchist perspective, but bridge gaps between contending anarchist faction, cultivate a vast array of allies across the political and cultural spectrum, and most importantly, help reduce the amount of inter-cultural strife, hostility, and violence plague so many countries, including the US.

    The big question is how do we build support for this idea, and turn it into a mass movement for pan-decentralization?

  3. We have to reach out to localists and tribalists of all stripes and all all flavors and somehow convince them that we have a common interest. We are more than fellow travelers that use each other and then discard our alliance. We envision a world where we could indeed live side by side in peace, with economic and cultural exchange and yet hold on to our very different views in all their purity. But we are only a force to be reckoned with if our weak individual parts bond together in a very unusual alliance.


  4. Look at the Muslim Caliphates, they were minority rule that allowed considerable tolerance of minorities (except pagans), and autonomy within religious/ethnic sub-communities (millets).

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