Will Schnack Interviewed by Wayne Sturgeon

1) Please could you introduce yourself and how you came to be a leading advocate of Panarchism?

My name is William Schnack. I am a lay philosopher and the author of a book, “The Evolution of Consent: Collected Essays,” as well as essays that I put on my blog of the same title (evolutionofconsent.com). I am also a community organizer, having co-founded a local branch of the IWW at one point, and having since moved on to found a collective, Black Cat Collective. Black Cat has various subprojects, such as a community library, a DIY school, and a community-based literary journal.

I became a strong advocate of panarchism after a long history of reading, introspection, community organizing, and writing.  I wouldn’t say that any of those have been more important than the others in my development. Reading at a young age inspired me to think differently, and to be okay with my individuality; introspection made my approach homegrown and unique; community organizing has made me work out kinks in my philosophy and think critically about practical application; and writing has given me the ability to express what I have learned. Without these, and the people who have supported me, I would not have been able to do it.


2) Please could you define by what you mean by the term Panarchy or Panarchism?


Absolutely. Panarchy, which essentially means “everyone is the ruler,” was a vision by Paul Émile de Puydt, a Belgian botanist and economist, in 1860. The idea is that a person should be able to choose their own government, without having to move. You can see the dynamic and ecological-botanical thinking throughout de Puydt’s work in political economy. As the forest shifts, and as its many layers live, die, and morph, so too does the political climate of de Puydt’s vision. As any sapling in the forest which can claim itself enough light becomes a tree, so too does de Puydt envision that any person or group that can grow a following, and can manage that following successfully, and protect it, should be recognized as a full and mature government, or like sovereign (de Puydt includes “the anarchy of Mr. Proudhon” in his equation). All that is to be done once such a following is built, de Puydt suggests, is to register oneself with an office, so that one’s sovereignty may be recognized.


3) Could you explain what a “Functional Overlapping Competitive Juridical Administration” is in the context of a Polyarchical or Polycentric Law System that possibly would operate in a Panarchistic society?


In a panarchist society— since people are actively selecting their governments, without necessarily having to move from their physical location— jurisdictions overlap quite a bit. What does this mean, exactly? It means that neighbors often have differing governments. The borders of governments (or anarchies) in a panarchy shift as members are gained and lost; if a member joins, their property-line is added to the jurisdiction, and if they quit, the property is removed from that jurisdiction. This being so, there will likely exist many “pockets” or “satellites,” where one’s property is in a jurisdiction that is completely surrounded by others; but there will also be cultural groupings.


The various voluntary governments (it’s hard to even call them “government”!) will compete, in that they will have to provide valuable services at low prices in order to retain customers, but they will also have to cooperate on some level, in order to reduce conflict and settle disputes. After all, conflict is quite costly, especially when resources are distributed fairly, and surpluses can’t be wielded against one another. Governments that engage in senseless conflicts must pass those costs on to their consumers, thereby risking their business. Such behavior is greatly disincentivized in a panarchy.


Polycentric law is the practice of having multiple jurisdictions, as they are in a panarchy. This is in contrast to monocentric law, where regional governments make laws over a given area without needing permission from their customer base. Getting back to de Puydt’s botany, those familiar with permaculture will notice the similarity of goals between panarchy’s polycentric law and permaculture’s polycultural growing methods. In both of their cases, the idea is that living organisms relate to their communities in organic, dynamic, and fluctuating ways; in panarchy, through the political economy, and in permaculture through the ecology.


This said, I don’t propose a system of complete polycentric law in my work. I tend to believe that the provision of law is a natural monopoly, simply due to the nature of conflict, which can tend to escalate. The system I propose has elements of both monocentric and polycentric law. Taking after the theological moniker, “henotheism”— which describes a system in which one deity is recognized as superior within a pantheon of others—, I propose a system of “henocentric” law; that is, polycentric law which operates under the supervision of the whole. In particularly pantheist renditions of henotheism, the supreme deity is understood to be the whole, or The All; likewise, I imagine any central body in a system of henocentric law would operate on consensus, with all members having a say in decisions to the degree they are affected. Many panarchists, de Puydt included, may not emphasize the need for such association; my background with left-wing anarchism, however— especially syndicalism and platformism—, informs me of the necessity of proper confederation. If the parts cannot relate in a healthy way to the whole, they become resentful. This takes the forms of both state capitalism and state socialism, the extremes of which are fascism and communism.


“Functional Overlapping Competitive Juridical Administration” is a particular formulation of panarchy in the Swiss cantons, by Bruno Frey and Reiner Eichenberger. I’m not an expert on their model.


4) You have attempted to merge Panarchism with other radical economic political paradigms such as Mutualism and Geoism-please could you explain how you see how these compliment each other?


Great question. I have found it necessary to merge panarchism with Georgism and mutualism for a couple of reasons, all of them surrounding the fact that, again, I think the escalation of disputes creates a natural monopoly out of the provision of law. That is, some fights start to involve everyone, and become a social cost. At this level, association must take place if we are to curb the violence. Most large disputes relate to matters of land and freedom; matters smaller than this are generally easier to resolve. Georgism and mutualism are both philosophies that are deeply concerned with matters of land and freedom.


If some groups are allowed better land than others, without compensating those others, there will be nothing holding the stronger groups from overpowering the smaller ones and establishing dominance with their surplus. The Georgist model of land-value taxation (which Proudhon refers to as “indemnity” and not taxes) assures that surpluses will not be built, and that governments will have land on which to practice their sovereignty, thereby allowing for a fuller expression of the human political and economic experience.


Money is necessary to gain access to land and capital. Interest-free money, backed by collateral or positive credit history, is the solution mutualists have long proposed, and I think it will do just fine! Money is also necessary to pay debts. Libertarians generally advocate the settling of disputes according to some form of customary, common, or civil law. They are generally okay with suits for offenses, but they have never been large fans of arbitrary and restrictive codes or regulations (especially when ignoring them produces no victim or damaged property). Rather than punishment for crimes, libertarians advocate compensation for damages done. This being the case, there is need for a central body to provide courts and the legal tender necessary to pay compensation to victims. The natural monopoly status of law makes this so.


So, how would such a system work, and how would it still constitute a panarchy with all of these complications with land and money? A potential member would join the panarchy individually or through a group. The groups could include Heathian anarcho-capitalist fiefdoms or even soviet-style council communists. The interested party signs up with a civil registry, thereby declaring themselves a unit and becoming recognized; they sign up for an interest-free loan from the mutual bank, equal to their credit or collateral worthiness; and then they sign up for a leasehold from the community land trust in their area (this land can be clumped or loose, monocentric or polycentric), within the vicinity of which they are allowed to practice and enforce any arbitrary or non-arbitrary system they see fit. Each community has to relate to one another in a healthy and fair way, by keeping up with their rent and debts, living at their own cost, and resolving disputes without violence. Past this point, they can live however they wish.


The mutual banking system, taking after mutualism, and the community land program, taking after George, provide the means for communities relating in a panarchy to acquire land and capital and to settle their disputes in a socially-mandated fashion. This keeps the panarchy in equilibrium, and prevents any one unit from establishing dominance, and eliminating the essential aspects of the panarchy.


5) Given that the whole alternative paradigm of Panarchism appears to have emerged from within libertarianism, has there been any overlap with any writers of speculative Science Fiction?  


I would be quite amazed if this were not the case. Unfortunately, I’m not the fellow to comment on the subject, because I am quite ignorant when it comes to fictional works.


6) You have attempted to provide Panarchist thinking with a theological basis, ie “Dualist Pantheism” Please could you elaborate?


I’d love to. Dualist pantheism sets the foundation for my panarchist beliefs. Marxists have their dialectical materialism, libertarians have the invisible hand of Adam Smith, an extension of enlightenment deism; I felt it necessary to provide a metaphysical foundation for geo-mutualist panarchism that reconciles the materialism of the left and the idealism of the right (if we go as right as fascism, we start to run into quite a bit of mysticism and hyper-idealism).


Pantheism is the belief that God and the Universe are one and the same. This being so, pantheists often refer to God or the Universe as the more neutral “The All.” In some ways, this is a middle ground between theism and atheism. Dualism is the belief that existence is composed primarily of twos, such as black and white, good and bad, fat and thin, left and right, etc. Dualism and pantheism are usually considered to be at odds, but this is only so if we are speaking of substance dualism. Dualist pantheism is a form of substance monism and attribute dualism. This means that the duality is the expression of an underlying unity. Dualist pantheism shares many relations to emanationism and some varieties of panentheism.


Dualist pantheism is somewhat complicated, but it is really quite intuitive once one understands the component parts. The dualism in dualist pantheism is especially in reference to materialism and idealism, but, because pantheism is necessarily a monist belief system, this duality is not hard-cut as it is in Cartesian substance dualism; instead, it reconciles idealism and materialism into a spectrum, a position of neutral monism. In other words, dualist pantheism reconciles the atheist-materialism of the left, with the theological-idealism of the right. This is necessary for a panarchy, because a panarchy must balance competing interests in such a way that neither can overpower the other, but remain in a state of equilibrium.


7) Given your association with the “Anarcho Syndicalist” Current of the I.W.W do you see any fruitful possibilities of a convergence in the near future of Panarchism with the more traditionalist or leftist anarchist movement?


Indeed, I used to be a Wobbly, and those politics— especially worker self-management— still stick to my ribs in many ways. Panarchy, though, may include both syndcialists and voluntarists, which often see themselves to be at odds with one another. I think elements of syndicalism can be useful in creating social change, but ultimately I’d like to see the end of both labor unions and bosses. I feel the geo-mutualist basis of the panarchy I propose would eliminate such exploitive relationships as the employer-employee one by offering workers the means for independent or cooperative self-employment. That is, if workers have access to interest-free credit and land and dividends, they will no longer find themselves dependent on capitalists for work, and will no longer find need for labor unions.


8) How would a Panarchist approach the Israel/Palestine question?


I’m not an expert on the conflict myself, but the end goal would be the elimination of artificial borders and territorial governments, and the free flow of labor.



9) Where does Panarchism differ in emphasis when compared with other libertarian currents such as “Anarcho Capitalism” etc?


Panarchism “transcends and includes” them, in terms of Ken Wilber, the integral philosopher. That is, panarchism includes anarcho-capitalism within its paradigm, but is not restricted to it, and in fact exists beyond it.


10) How would a Panarchist world view embrace “nationalistic” or “Pan-Indigenous” First Peoples where a territorial conception of space, racial identity, spirituality and locality would be intrinsic?


In a panarchist society, one does not necessarily have to move in order to join another government or like association, but this does not always mean that moving is not materially conducive to meeting one’s desires. Having the right to do something does not always mean one takes, or should take, the option. One may have the right to eat only junk food, but this does not make it a good or desirable choice for everyone. Just the same, many cultural groups may find that, though they have the right to abstain from the governments of their neighbors, finding neighbors who want to live under the same government, and grouping properties with them, may be more fulfilling than living away from one another. If this is the case, such a group may wish to consider their collective stake in neighboring properties, and may even want to socialize the costs of member-tenants in order that members find it easier to participate.


11) How would Panarchism deal with hegemonic forms of religious fundamentalism particularly also in a world dominated to a large extent by a military industrial complex that is prepared to arm various ideological factions?  


It would offer such a group a space in which to express their subjectivity without imposing on others, and in which to learn the benefits of socially responsible behavior and maintaining positive lines of credit with others. Upon infringement of others, restitution would be enforced in full.


It is my deep and sincere belief that people act in a manner that they feel best approximates a means to positive ends, considering their situation. I also believe, like Maslow, that there is a hierarchy of human needs, and that individuals are compromised in their values when they are facing dire conditions, like those imposed by structural adjustment policies and similar intrusions in the Middle East.  These are people who have been taken advantage of in many ways, and their anger is a natural human instinct that any one of us could hold and maintain if put under the proper conditions. Are we really to believe these people, who have given us astronomy and algebra, are little more than vicious beasts? I refuse to believe this of any human being, regardless of how different they are from me. I’m interested in the space between.



12) Where can one find out more about your work and the modern Panarchist movement and what are you current projects? 


There are some interesting folks in the panarchist milieu. Probably the most important panarchist around today is John Zube, who runs panarchy.org. John is a fountain of knowledge, and has does an immense amount of work. More recently, and although I disagree strongly with his tendency toward reform (I do not believe the system can be reformed, or that any reforms can help lead to revolution), Joe Kopsick also has a lot of interesting points to make. He runs a blog called Aquarian Agrarian.


I have a few projects, some personal and some in concert with others. My personal projects include distributing my book, keeping up with my blog, and public speaking engagements. Group projects I work on include Black Cat Collective, our mutual aid society, which runs a DIY school (The People’s Arcane School), a radical community library, and puts out a locally-focused literary arts journal (The Bombay Notebook). I am the General Secretary-Treasurer and the originator.


My work can be found on my website, evolutionofconsent.com. You can also learn about updates from my Facebook author page, which uses my full name, William Schnack.


Thanks for the interview, Wayne!