The right to choose your government.

Dwight Johnson gives speech at Libertopia

Dwight at Libertopia 2010
[Dwight Johnson gave a speech at the recent Libertopia conference (, held October 15-17, in Hollywood, California. The text of his speech follows.]

Panarchy And Government By Contract

In July of 1860, a Belgian botanist by the name of Paul Emile de Puydt wrote an article in the Revue Trimestrielle, published in Brussels, and entitled “Panarchy”. In it he demonstrated the possibility of non-territorial governments existing side by side within the same territory, allowing each person to enjoy government in harmony with their own values. As such, it shares many characteristics with voluntaryism and personal secession.

Panarchy comes from the Greek words pan and arche, pan meaning “all”, arche meaning “rule”. In essence, the word means that all forms of government are acceptable, as long as they are freely chosen. Freedom of choice, and concomitantly, toleration for the choices others make, are the essential elements of panarchy. Entirely missing is the idea that there is one ideal form of government for all people. If there is such a thing as a perfect or ideal form of government, it could only be discovered over time in the free give and take that panarchy exemplifies.

One advantage of panarchy is that it does not directly challenge those who are attached to their current form of government. It only asks that they tolerate others who choose to dwell in their midst with a different form of government. I’ll go into this idea in more detail shortly.

The essence of panarchy is found in the esteemed Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident
, that all men are created equal
, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights
, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights
, governments are instituted among men
, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends
, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it
, and to institute new government
, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form
, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Let me step for a moment into the dark world of government as we know it.

Government as we know it is defined as a territorial monopoly of coercion. It is understood as putting into the hands of a select few, within an organization of human society, monopoly rights to create and enforce laws. Hence, all governments as they exist in the modern world are oligarchies, the rule of the “few”. These few, at least those in democratic governments, are elected by “the people” to act on their behalf for the betterment of civil society. They are supposed to be virtuous, to act only in the best interests of the many. Human nature being what it is, that is seldom the case. Governments tend, instead, to be feeding grounds for the elite, causing mayhem and disaster everywhere. So why don’t the people rise up and correct this situation?

Another way to put this question is: how is it possible for the few to control the many? It turns out to be rather easy. Government is about power. Power comes from money. Money comes from two sources: 1) taxes and other revenue, and 2) campaign contributions. The oligarchs make good use of both sources of money to make friends for themselves, friends who not only speak approvingly of government as a result, but will bring to grief anyone who dares to speak ill of government. Who does the oligarch have in his pocket? Government employees and their families; unions, especially those whose members are government employees; direct recipients of largess from government; the members of the media who love to snuggle up to power; the largest businesses, especially multi-nationals, who are able to influence the oligarchs to draft legislation favorable to them (think banking, big oil, big pharma, agribiz, and on, and on).

There are two classes of people with regard to government today. The first is made up of the oligarchs, the elite who run government and the large businesses and organizations that benefit so handsomely from their manipulation of government. I like to refer to the elite as the Lords of the Manor, LOM for short. And the rest of us? The rest of us are serfs. The LOM shout “terrorists!”, and we the serfs shake with fear, fists full of dollars thrust out to the LOMs to make the bad people go away. The elite make excellent use of every bogeyman to shake us down, telling us always that it is their job to protect us from the bad people. What they fail to remind us is that they usually created the bogeyman in the first place, using the funds we thought we had provided to protect us.

What is a serf? A serf is a kind of slave, someone who works for another involuntarily because of where they live. I am a serf. When I moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a few years ago, I was expected (forced, actually) to pay taxes to the township, the public school system, and the fire district. I wasn’t invited to, or asked to. As a resident of the township, I was expected to, no questions asked, or else. In return, I was provided services of various types from the town and the fire district, and I got to pay for the education of other people’s children. I also got to vote for members of the town council, and to vote on tax increases for the schools and fire district. Not once did anyone I voted for make it to town council. Not once did the vote for school and fire budgets go the way I desired. But, because we live there, we must work to pay the taxes. That is modern serfdom. Serfdom, as with every form of slavery, is an affront to human dignity; it cannot be allowed to stand.

Government wants you to think you are a free person so you will continue to pay taxes without too much fuss. They want you to think, too, that you really don’t have any choice in the matter. Public schools are said to have failed, but they are wonderfully successful at what they are really intended for, which is to create obedient, patient, and not very well informed serfs. They work very hard to create young children who will grow up to be obedient lovers of government, good citizens who think that government is there to protect them, to do all manner of good things for them, and finally to pay them handsomely in their golden years (especially if they happen to work directly for government), making everything right. Government schools are the elite’s secret weapon. I’ll have more to say on this shortly.

Even government schools couldn’t hide everything from us. They had to let us read, for instance, the Declaration of Independence, which has this truly disturbing phrase: “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Of course, they never allow us to think too much about what “consent of the governed” actually means. If it comes up, it is put aside with the assurance that we give our consent by having the splendid right of electing our dear leaders. Even in college courses there might be a more historical view of the matter of consent, with discussion of the “social contract” and the various ways that consent can be implied in a democracy. What is never admitted in any government school, including colleges which get most of their money directly or indirectly from government, is that there is even the remotest possibility of giving explicit consent to government.

Explicit consent, however, is exactly what is called for to fix all that is wrong with government as we know it.

Tied to the issue of consent is the issue of individualism versus collectivism. Because a government operates without explicit consent, it is therefore a collectivist organization, a collectivization of serfs by an elite. Collectivists like to consider themselves morally superior to individualists because they are concerned with “others”. The problem with collectivism is that, in its very operation, by its very form, it must diminish the humanity of all people by failing to regard them as individuals with the right to choose. Individualists, on the contrary, because they regard all people as having the same unalienable rights, are able to do good for real people and not abstractions.

To exercise that explicit consent that honors every individual and destroys collectivism, I am proposing an implementation of panarchy that I call Government By Contract (GBC).

We are familiar with political parties. GBC parties are similar, but different. They are similar in that each party represents a certain set of values held (for the most part) by its members. With the current two party system, membership in a party can be full of compromise, as you believe in this value but not that party value. With GBC parties, if you cannot find a party that you can agree with at least 90%, go out and create a new one that reflects 99% of your values. Clearly this will result in a great many more that two parties.

Membership in the party is by contract. The contract refers to the party’s values as they exist at a certain time (probably referencing a separate document). The contract specifies that your membership will be for a stated period of time (one or two years perhaps) and that the party has certain responsibilities to you, the member, and vice versa.

Let’s speak specifically of a GBC party for a municipal government. The government will continue as it is now, but the party will be, because of your contract, your agent in all matters regarding your relationship to that government. No matter what the values of a particular GBC party, they all have three very important purposes.

The first purpose of the party with regard to the municipal government is to escrow your municipal taxes (usually property taxes). According to Tom Wood’s book “Nullification”, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Washington State have all proposed that they escrow federal withholding taxes. This same kind of mechanism should occur at every level of government, beginning with the municipal. This then should be the first purpose of every GBC party. You must get control of your taxes.

The second purpose of the party is to stop funding the government school system. As mentioned earlier, the main purpose of government schools is to indoctrinate your children to be meek, obedient serfs, and they are damned good at it. The party should, instead, either create its own school system, or return that part of the escrowed funds to the party members so they can afford to educate their children at home or in private schools.

The third purpose of the party should be an on-going attempt to right-size government. With party members again having control of how their taxes are spent, they will demand that government departments function with efficiency, providing real value for the money they spend. More importantly, the party will be able to determine which government departments are really worth funding at all. Over time it will become clear exactly how much government is really needed. Whether you and your party believe in big or small government, Government By Contract will make it possible to finally right-size government.

To review, the purposes of GBC Parties are:

Purpose # 1 Escrow taxes
Purpose # 2 De-fund government schools
Purpose # 3 Right-size government

How do the parties and the government interact?

Let me take you to Switzerland for a moment. Switzerland is highly regarded around the world as a free nation, with perhaps one of the most free “free market” economies in the world (and hence they are very prosperous).

[aside: one of the panarchists in our group, the one who maintains the website, lives in Saint Imier, Switzerland, where the current unemployment rate is under 3 percent.]

Switzerland functions as a federation of cantons, which are smaller semi-independent territories. In general, a federation can be described as a government composed of subsidiary territorial units. Just as an example of how this works: Switzerland has national health care, but what that means there is that each canton is responsible for providing it for their own people, however they choose to do so.

The model for Government By Contract is similar in that the government would be a federation of subsidiary units, except that the subsidiary units that make up the government of a territory are non-territorial parties rather than territorial units. And money to pay for government services comes from the parties. The parties work in cooperation with one another to determine what services get provided, whether the services are provided by the government, by the parties, or by third parties, and who pays for what. It benefits a party to provide maximum benefit for minimum cost.

By contrast, in a democratic republic, elected officials benefit themselves by voting for expenditures for programs that will benefit (in the short term anyway) more and more of his constituents. As a result, government expenditures rise and never fall.

Most people have a general idea how much they pay a year in taxes. Almost no one can tell you what percentage of those taxes goes toward things they would actually want to pay for, and what percentage goes toward things they definitely do NOT want to pay for.

Having our taxes go to government thru the parties fixes that problem. When a person chooses a party, he is basically answering the question, “what services now provided by this government do I really want to pay for out of my hard-earned cash?”. Because that is what the party does. It pays for those parts of the government that its members feel strongly enough about to take money out of their pocket for.

When you start telling people that taxes are immoral, that it is just the government stealing from you, they usually look at you with an expression of utter shock and say something like, “but how would we be able to survive as a peaceful civilization without [blank]”, and fill in the blank with “police”, “roads”, or some other service they consider to be essential. And they are right to the extent that people would surely want to have some sort of police protection, and someone maintaining the streets. But it never occurs to them (so well did the government propagandize them), that such services could be provided by anything other than a government strong-arming its citizens.

But with a mandate from their members, a party can sit down with other parties and decide what services they will pay for, how they will be provided, and who will pay what. They can provide those services in a cost-effective way, providing real value. They can also get rid of those “services” that no one wants to pay for. And if some party has a service it considers absolutely necessary, but no other party is interested, its members will fund it and benefit from it, and everyone is happy.


Serfdom is slavery, and an affront to human dignity. If government’s just powers truly come from the consent of the governed, it is our right and our duty to assure that the means of providing explicit consent, and the withdrawing of consent, exists for every level of government, for every person.

You, wherever you live, if you believe in liberty, must do what you can to bring about government that is just because it functions only with your consent, and not without it.

Let us, therefore, create a new form of government, Government By Contract, that respects every person’s choice, and allows them to choose government that truly matches their own values in all things, without compromise.

Let’s work together to see it to completion, so that we are the last generation of human beings who know what it means to live as a serf.


2010/11/14 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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