Review of Polystate: a Thought Experiment in Distributed Government


Polystate: a Thought Experiment in Distributed Government

Zach Weinersmith identifies a serious problem in modern society, which he calls the geostate. A geostate is a bounded area of land dominated by a government. The problem with this, as Weinersmith sees it, is that people effectively have no choice in what kind of government they live under. He proposes a new kind of system in which people do not have to be involved with a geostate just because they live in a certain place, but rather may choose from a variety of anthrostates.

These anthrostates are similar to geostates in that they tax their subjects and provide some services. However, subjects may switch anthrostates every year. So two neighbors might belong to different anthrostates. If one anthrostate becomes undesirable for any reason, a person may simply switch to one that is more to their liking. He then defends this polystate system based on the numerous advantages it has over the geostate model.

The most important difference between a polystate and a geostate is not that the latter is location based and the former is not. The most important difference is that association with any particular anthrostate is voluntary, while association with a geostate is involuntary. This gives enormous benefits to the hypothetical polystate society, which Weinersmith details throughout the book. Competition between anthrostates leads to better conditions for those who would otherwise be dominated by a single monopoly geostate.

The polystate is the similar to panarchy as described by Michael S. Rozeff in his article “Essentials of Panarchism“:

Panarchism proposes a comprehensive extension of liberty to the consensual choice of government itself, in form and content. It proposes government by consent for any persons who arrange such government for themselves. Conversely, it proposes that a government has no authority over any persons who do not consent to it.

Panarchy is a condition of human relations in which each person is at liberty to choose his own social and political governance without being coerced. Panarchy means that persons may enter into and exit from social and political relations freely. It means that government exists only with the consent and by the consent of the governed.

Panarchism has new conceptions of what a people who are governed, a government, and consent mean. These give rise to a new conception of the nonterritorial State and revised ideas about sovereignty and authority. By viewing government as nonterritorial, panarchism reorients the movement for liberty away from destroying the governments that others may prefer and toward obtaining the governments that each of us may prefer.

Rozeff details these ideas further in his articles, “Why I am a Panarchist” and “Liberty in the Choice of Governance

As one becomes familiar with the idea of the polystate, it may become clear that this is how a large part of society already operates. People enjoy switching phone companies whenever something better comes along. People associate with restaurants so long as they provide good food a reasonable prices. People switch their corporate allegiance whenever they wish, prompting corporations to work hard to satisfy consumer demands. The free market is a beautiful thing, and Weinermsmith is on the right track when he shows how it can be used to improve things currently done by geostates. Indeed, all of the good features of the polystate are simply features of the free market.

Weinersmith explores many variations on the polystate idea, but does not really touch on the idea of being a member of multiple anthrostates. Why not have one anthrostate to provide courts and one to provide police? Why not let people choose their police provider whenever they want? If the polystate is really voluntary, then in its purest form it is equivalent to anarchy. Indeed, the involuntary nature of government is what differentiates it from the majority of human institutions. As soon as compulsion and coercion are stripped away, it becomes just another company looking for customers.

Polystate correctly identifies government as a problem in and of itself. It also entices curious readers to step out of the usual debate over how much government power should increase each year and instead asks them to be open minded about solutions. The book’s focus on voluntary government and the sovereignty of an individual to choose who to associate with makes it a worthwhile read for those who are interested in better forms of government, and for some lucky few, it may even be their gateway to libertarianism.

Three Murrays.

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