Friday, March 02, 2007

A Confederation of Confederacies?

I Recently Re-read Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Samuel Kercheval (1816). In the letter to friend Samuel Kerchavel, Jefferson intended to provide advice to his friend on the proper administration of Virginia's counties. In the process, he introduced his somewhat famous idea for "Ward Republicanism":

"Divide the counties into wards of such size as that every citizen can attend, when called on, and act in person. Ascribe to them the government of their wards in all things relating to themselves exclusively. A justice, chosen by themselves, in each, a constable, a military company, a patrol, a school, the care of their own poor, their own portion of the public roads, the choice of one or more jurors to serve in some court, and the delivery, within their own wards, of their own votes for all elective officers of higher sphere, will relieve the county administration of nearly all its business, will have it better done, and by making every citizen an acting member of the government, and in the offices nearest and most interesting to him, will attach him by his strongest feelings to the independence of his country, and its republican constitution. The justices thus chosen by every ward, would constitute the county court, would do its judiciary business, direct roads and bridges, levy county and poor rates, and administer all the matters of common interest to the whole country.

These wards, called townships in New England, are the vital principle of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self—government, and for its preservation. We should thus marshal our government into, 1, the general federal republic, for all concerns foreign and federal; 2, that of the State, for what relates to our own citizens exclusively; 3, the county republics, for the duties and concerns of the county; and 4, the ward republics, for the small, and yet numerous and interesting concerns of the neighborhood; and in government, as well as in every other business of life, it is by division and subdivision of duties alone, that all matters, great and small, can be managed to perfection. And the whole is cemented by giving to every citizen, personally, a part in the administration of the public affairs."

So, Jefferson believes that each layer of government should be as decentralized as possible:
  1. The Federal Government, for foreign affairs
  2. The State Government, for issues relating exclusively for the citizens of said state
  3. The County, for issues relating exclusively for the citizens of said state
  4. The Ward, for all other issues
Jefferson's ideas amount to decentralized direct democracy. While direct democracy is considered unworkable with a population size larger than a few thousand, Jefferson's "Ward Republicanism" makes it feasible.
I am no fan of democracy, as it is tantamount to legalized theft and coercion. The more widespread it is, the more expansive and thorough the level of theft. According to Hans-Hermann Hoppe, author of Democracy: The God that Failed:

"Imagine a world government, democratically elected according to the principle of one-man-one-vote on a world wide scale. What would the probable outcome of an election be? Most likely, we would get a Chinese-Indian coalition government. And what would this government most likely decide to do in order to satisfy its supporters and be reelected? The government would probably find that the so-called Western world had far too much wealth and the rest of the world, in particular China and India, had far too little, and hence, that a systematic wealth and income redistribution would be called for. Or imagine, for your own country, that the right to vote were expanded to seven year olds. While the government would not likely be made up of children, its policies would most definitely reflect the 'legitimate concerns' of children to have 'adequate' and 'equal' access to 'free' hamburgers, lemonade, and videos."

What Hoppe fails to consider, however, is a far preferable (possibly even to to privately-owned monarchical government) form of democracy: decentralized democracy. In a decentralized democracy, the small polis size only allows theft from one's neighbor, limiting its size. The more expansive and centralized a democracy is, the more expansive and thorough the theft of total strangers can be.
This brings me to the possibility of a "Confederation of Confederacies", a model for true anarchocapitalism (or minarchocapitalism) to emerge in the 21st Century. Under such a system, government systems cannot tax individual citizens or corporations, but can only tax the treasuries of their own political sub-units. If applied to the United States, the system would look like the following:
  1. The Federal Government can only levy a tax on the treasuries of the states
  2. The State Governments can only levy a tax on the treasuries of the counties
  3. The County Governments can only levy a tax on the treasuries of the Cities and Towns
  4. The The City and Town Governments can only levy a tax on the treasuries of neighborhood associations
  5. The Neighborhood Associations can only levy a tax on their voluntary members

Since taxes can only be raised on the treasuries of the political sub-units, local entities can opt for anarchocapitalism/minanarchocapitalism by simply reducing their own tax intake. The members of a Town, for example, could decide that they no longer need government and reduce their taxes to zero. As far as government composition goes, all government members above the lowest level will be appointed by their political sub-units, i.e. a state legislature comprised of county representatives voting to elect the state's representative at the federal level. Majority requirements, whether they be 50.1% or 100%, will be determined by each political unit. restricting democracy to the lowest level will prevent the widespread theft we now see in the present day.

Although I consider myself a right-libertarian, a "confederation of confederacies" should be quite appealing to those on the libertarian left as well as decentralized socialists. One could simply relocate to the place they feel most comfortable at: left-libertarian envionmentalist envlaves, right-wing anarchocapitalist cities, Theocratic counties, etc. etc. Statism for the majority, minarchy for some, and anarchy for others.


  1. That sounds more stable than what we have now. What exactly is direct democracy? Perhaps something like we see in the corporate world would also be more fair than what we have now - imagine government as an entity made up of shareholders who own one single share, regardless of anything else. As a shareholder, one would be entitled to attend any legislative function, or in one's absence, designate anyone they choose to attend and vote in their place. This could ensure full responsibility and representation in any proceeding by all concerned interests, rather than those who represent merely the most well-funded or well-organized interests.

    I'm also not a fan of democracy for similar reasons as you, mainly that it institutionalizes theft. To clarify your statement about localized democracy limiting such theft, it does so indirectly, by keeping responsibility in your face, if you will. What I mean is, that any tax levied is done by someone whose face you will see frequently, so that they will be subject to your personal feedback on the effectiveness of whatever program they deem to tax you for.

    Good article, in any case. Thanks for thinking.