Intentional Communities as Anarchism in Practice

Free-market anarchism is a disbursed ideology. We have no geographical communities of our own, only individuals living in state-oriented communities. I do not recommend all anarchists withdraw from the state and start Amish-like societies. Instead, I recommend a mixed solution. Some free-market anarchist intentional communities should be created, and anarchists inside of them should seek support from those outside, and vice versa.

This is not new. Josiah Warren is called the father of individualist anarchism and started such communities at the same time as writing and expositing theory. More recently, there has been an entire movement using the explicit title, Intentional Communities. The hippie communes of the 1960s come to mind, as well as Jewish Kibbutzim, and Amish communities. There are actually many intentional communities in existence with many different uniting principles. Surprisingly, some anti-government 'think global, act local' elements of the environmental movement have been the most active in recent history.

Because the anarchism we seek is freedom to individuals while maintaining society, in practice, anarchism almost completely encompasses the intentional community movement, because initial membership is voluntary. (An example of a difference would be the participation of intentional communities in the state, such as the Kibbutzim in Israel . In such cases, intentional communities can be internally anarchistic, but externally archistic. This makes them not anarchistic in the general meaning of anarchism, and why we need explicitly anarchist intentional communities.)

Man is a social being. A person could live in the woods in the anarchy and freedom of the hermit and avoid the state, but a sustainable community cannot. It is too big to escape attention. Our human nature and reason leads us to want both community and freedom from the state. The time preferences for a lone hermit are no longer than his lifespan, but a community large enough to avoid inbreeding can continue indefinitely. Only in a community of this minimum size (or interacting multiple communities) is anarchism a meaningful ideal. Those who demand living in 'pure freedom now' can only live the life of the hermit. They are not willing to fight within the oppressed state for freedom of society, so their influence will be self-extinguishing, like the historic Shakers who made all converts abstain from even procreative sex.

I seek the sustainable anarchism of individualism within communities founded on universal consent. Only in communities can individuals have a chance to stop the oppressions of states in the case of a collapsing state. (And only in such communities do we learn the efficacy universal consent to particular ideas lead.) Otherwise, new states will continue to replace the old states. Society as a whole will not be converted before the collapse, and after the collapse the masses will demand an immediate replacement state.

What would intentional communities of free market anarchists offer to free market anarchism? They will offer the chance to apply theories and test them in practice. Obviously, it will not be like the lone hermit. States will continue to tax and enforce laws upon these communities, so they will not be totally free. Nevertheless, if they function ideally, then they will in no manner be dependant on the state and corporations aligned with the state. The state could cease to exist around them and the communities should be prepared for the transition to assume independence with no difficulty.

This would not be so with urban anarchists in the collapse of a state. Urban society is completely dependant on food and other goods being continuously shipped in from rural society through exchange based on government fiat currency. In any scenario where people realize that fiat money is worthless, the urban anarchist is in the same problem as all urbanites. How does he obtain essentials when his source of exchange value is destroyed?

The state is reliant on complex division of labor for its parasitism, but at the same time it is burning that foundation. If and when the state collapses like the world's largest Enron, then our button pushing, college degreed, professional, and urban jobs might not much aid in transition to ordered anarchy. Some might be useless without the value infused in them by a coercive state.

Therefore, I see a back-to-the-land agricultural anarchism as a necessary part, or at least a necessary subset of this movement of ours to have any chance of gaining independence during the future collapses of states. This idea is not new. Karl Hess took this step when looking for a left-right alliance against the state. He was even interviewed by Mother Earth News in 1976 on his transition from Barry Goldwater's speechwriter to a back-to-the-land free market anarchist. I strongly recommend this magazine, website, and others like it as a source of independent living knowledge that we may need.

We may approve of free trade and business, but many 'non-government' corporations are so linked to the state, that if reasonable, we should also try to be free of these. If the government decided that certain goods need rationing in a real or fake crisis, 'unpatriotic' people like us are likely to be shorted goods such as electricity, oil, and food. Corporations would restrict our access to market goods a thousand times before they would disobey the state.

So we need an element of our movement that is willing to form rural agricultural communities. (Not in opposition to advanced trade and industrial production, but independence from the state requires agricultural production first.) They need to be able to create a minimum sustainable level of food production such as through biointensive mixed farming with plants and livestock animals, their own power such as solar, wind, biodiesel, etc., home schooling, even rainwater harvesting and shelters such as through straw bale building and other do-it-yourself building methods. Some anarchists who remain in cities can support this effort without direct participation or giving up their jobs or urban life.

While donations to such an effort may be useful, there is an important contract that could be made. Rural agriculturists can maintain enough space that they can sell options to permanently emigrate to the community in case of urban collapse, retirement, or as temporary retreat for the likeminded, etc. (Whether the space for option sale or lease was fractionally reserved or not would need to be stated on the contract.) The back-to-the land anarchists who oppose government subsidies and intervention will be relatively poorer than the average anarchists in Western professional occupations. This exchange could help equalize the wealth through a free market exchange. Additionally, farmers cooperatives already exist and can be created by these communities and supported by urban city dwellers. Even as an urbanite, I already obtain much pastured meat, raw dairy and organic produce direct from farmers through this method. This is not a charity. The quality to price ratio is much improved, as opposed to supermarket-bought food where a greater percentage of profit enters the hands of the political elite, who attempt to make more direct to consumer food sales illegal.

It may be noticed that this idea has similarities to the Free State Project, and it does have some. However, that project seeks to replace a mid-level government, with a much greater barrier to success than this idea. The FSP has a goal of 20,000 participants. My plan could be started anywhere you could buy acreage beyond city limits and beyond likely city annexation. Intentional communities could be successful with as few as a dozen people, or possibly as many as a hundred times that. The FSP seeks to minimize the state's power to oppress us. Intentional communities will have little power to stop current oppression, but instead hope to survive with the spirit of freedom and outlast the oppressor till the day the oppressor loses its power, and then remain free. Perhaps the greatest difference is that the intentional community seems least susceptible to corruption. It requires no ethical compromise or recruitment of people who may later sell out the principles in order to meet the threshold barrier to success.

So am I off to start one myself? I'd love to. Unfortunately, I've been a lifetime urbanite with none of the back-to-the-land knowledge, or the compensating alternative: money. In the meantime I've been trying to learn what I can to make such a lifestyle change a future possibility. Perhaps others think similarly. Ideally, within in a decade I can obtain the knowledge to start such in Northeast Texas . I hope I can inspire some people to join me, start their own, or support such free-market anarchist intentional communities (FMAICs) that may exist.

Once some are created, a web network for FMAICs should be created, or to link people who want to join or support or buy products from them. Don't let anarchist communities die with Josiah Warren. If some intentional communities can exist peacefully and survive profitably for generations even with ideas as inefficient as the Kibbutzim's opposition to any private property, or the Amish opposition to technological progress, why would FMAICs need be any less successful? Further, it is the place to show the world anarchism in practice. In practice, anarchism will be neighborhood government, where we first agree on who will be our neighbors. (Thus any transition to anarchy would not start in cities.) No higher government can be imposed from above and convince the FMAICs that it is anything but a usurper.

What if FMAICs and anarchist theory were developed before the fall of the Roman Empire ? Even assuming they would not have been strong enough to defend themselves from Rome during the height of its strength, they might have had strength enough to resist a collapsing Rome and invading barbarians. The eventual fall of the American Empire may repeat the opportunity. I hope we are ready. For the long term success of anarchism in practice, I think political participation by the Libertarian Party has no chance, the Free State Project has little chance, and education organizations, movements and websites have some chance only in combination with actual intentional communities.

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Lysanders Ghost's picture
Columns on STR: 10

Lysander's Ghost has degrees in math and economics, a wife, and five kids.  Besides agorist free-market anarchism, he promotes a Weston Price Foundation approach to nutrition and health, plays guitar, and loves progressive rock/metal.  A long term goal is to finish a SF book in the style of Heinlein.  You can visit his blog here.