Working Anarchies

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Yochai Benkler:

"The defining feature of peer systems is their voluntarism; in particular, the absence of coercive power grounded in a delegation from the state and backed by social understandings of exclusive ownership. Property-based systems often exhibit substantial voluntary behavior, but they are based on a delegation of the state’s monopoly over the use of asserted legitimate violence, and widely enforced through social understandings of proper relations around such a designation and delegation. Where control of a resource depends solely on one’s own power to maintain possession, or on the goodwill and cooperation of neighbors, that is possession, not property.

The defining feature of property is that it harnesses the power of the state to back decisions of the “owner” with regard to the resource, even where as a practical matter that ownership is respected through social convention with only rare resort to the application of the delegated state power.

By “the state,” I mean Weber’s monopoly over the legitimate use of force, where “legitimate” has the same meaning it would in legal positivism: a sociological fact about the world, stating that relevant observers see this violence as “legitimate,” rather than based on a substantive claim of legitimacy according to some conceptual morality rather than social fact. Relevant observers would include a core set of the relevant elites (those whose collective judgment is habitually persuasive to a majority of the relevant population) and a majority of those who live under the state’s power.

By “working anarchy,” then, or mutualism, I mean voluntaristic associations that do not depend on direct or delegated power from the state, and in particular do not depend on delegated legitimate force that takes a proprietary form and is backed by shared social understandings of how one respects or complies with another’s proprietary claim." (