This article was published in the Winter 1999-2000 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Introduction to
Panarchy by P.E. de Puyt

by Philip Jacobson

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Some will say that the essay "Panarchy" is nothing but an obscure, European, anarchist tract. It is not. It is a constitution for managing the political affairs of a nation big enough to be seen on a schoolchild's globe—a nation with discrete borders—originally, the nation of Belgium.

Put simply, de Puydt proposes a market for political enterprises, analogous to that for economic or religious enterprises. This is accomplished by allowing each individual to change government affiliation at any time, as one might re-establish residency from one state in the USA to another, but in de Puydt's system not requiring a physical change of residence. This is certainly not anarchy, nor even the "Virtual Government" I personally favor—not quite. De Puydt sees the relations between the separate political entities as a federal one. "Each government … would stand politically related to the whole nation … as … the States of the American Union."

You may have heard the term "panarchy" before, or have read Roderick Long's comments on virtual cantons, or read mine on virtual government. But de Puydt's comments are the original ones—the mother of all panarchic systems. And his perspective, writing just before the American Civil War, is refreshing. He is living in the full bloom of the classical liberal era. He sees his ideas as nothing more than a logical extension of that thought, "laissez faire, laissez passer"—which they are.

Do not be confused by the references to long-dead Belgian politicians, or by the author's need to deal with the serious (in his day) controversy between the Monarchists and the "Republicans". Nor should the reader focus too much on de Puydt's statement that "It is not a matter of emigration … I have no intention of resettling the population according to its convictions." His words are relevant both to those who would reform their homeland as well as to those who would leave to start a new nation. The idea of Panarchy transcends the political issues of different times and places. It is a formulation, a discussion of a specific constitutional structure, well within even a very conservative interpretation of FNF's goals and methods.

While not as fully fleshed out, de Puydt's ideas are quite comparable to Roderick Long's ideas about a "Virtual Canton" system, as published in Formulations. If you have not read Dr. Long's description of his system (Vol., I No. 1) or his proposed constitution (Vol. I, No. 4), I suggest that you do so after reading de Puydt. You'll find that "Panarchy" is a close cousin to Long's "Virtual Canton" system (perhaps even a "grandfather"). While I do not think Roderick Long was directly influenced by de Puydt, an indirect influence seems quite possible—though great minds often think alike. D

Thanks to Australian John Zube for preserving, promoting, and translating (with the help of Adrian Falk) this libertarian classic. John Zube has written extensively on Panarchy and other libertarian topics. Mr. Zube's collection of his own and other authors' libertarian writing is available via highly affordable microfiche. (John Zube, POB 52 Berrima, NSW, Australia, Tel (02) 48771 436. Or <>)

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