An archon-based understanding of voluntary relationships

published Jun 03, 2012, last modified Jun 26, 2013

What is an archon? What is anarchism? Why should you care?

People who aren't yet acquainted with voluntaryism often have a hard time understanding how voluntaryists see the world, or why.  Here, I will attempt to explain how voluntaryists categorize human relationships and individuals.


As always, we start with the basics.

Anarchism is a composite word derived from the parts "an" (prefix meaning "no") and "archon".  The word "archon", translated into English, means literally "ruler" or "lord".  In the Greek use of the word, and for the purposes of this writeup, "archon" always refers only to individuals who share two key characteristics (which might not be obvious at first):

  1. The archon exercises power over others.
  2. The archon has not obtained conscious, voluntary consent and authorization for exercising his power.

This is, as you can see, completely contrary to the erroneous (yet quite widespread) beliefs that "anarchism" means "absence of order" or "absence of hierarchy".  Analyzed from etymology, it becomes evident that all (consistent) anarchists are against all archons, no exceptions.

Who is an archon?  How can we tell?

Of course, the question then becomes who is an archon?  Let's use an example to deduce it.

Neither anarcho-capitalists, nor anarcho-communists, nor ancient Greeks themselves, would say that a doctor in a normal non-dysfunctional doctor-patient relationship is "an archon".  This is the case, even though the doctor most definitely assumes a  role of power over the patient.  From this observation, you can deduce that merely having power is not a sufficient condition for anyone to qualify as an archon.

If having power isn't "enough" to be called an archon, what, then, distinguishes archons from regular individuals?  Well, let's look at the example again: what fact authorizes the doctor to have power over the patient?  Quite simply, the fact that this eventual power derives from a voluntary, non-coerced, mutual consent from the patient, which the patient can withdraw without fearing coercive punishment from the doctor as a consequence.

So, for the purposes of determining if a particular person is an archon, you would have to ask whether the relationship between the alleged archon and others is consensual and voluntary.  Which happens to be the relevant distinction between, say, a businessman, a surgeon, or a boyfriend, or a loving father (not archons), compared with a politician, a butcher, or a rapist, or an abusive father (cleary archons).  The distinction is consent, along with all the facts implied in such consent.  This consent can come in two forms:

  • Either explicitly given: such as a detailed contract or a "power of attorney".
  • Or reasonably inferred: where a reasonable and justifiable assumption has been made, that the other person would have consented, had he had all the factors and time to make an informed decision regarding such consent.

Using this criterion, we can evaluate human relationships to discover archons.

For example: an employer would not be an archon, because his employee consents to exchanging his work for money (and vice versa).  Conversely, a policeman who drags a man into a cage for possessing the wrong plant, is an archon, because he inflicts violence without any previous consent (explicit or reasonably inferred) from his victim.  A person who yanks his kid or his friend away from oncoming traffic isn't an archon, because he is operating under the presumption that the other person would have consented to the forcible yank, had he had a chance.  Conversely, a person who initiates violence against his child after the fact, for disobeying, or to terrorize him into not doing a particular action, is an archon.  A guy who seduces a girl and takes her to bed, with her willingly going into bed, is not an archon.  Conversely, a guy who rapes a girl even after she has said no, or while she was drugged, is an archon.

Most importantly, from the above we can deduce that all anarchists share one thing in common: they all are in favor of mutually consensual, voluntary relationships.  This is true for anarcho-communists, and it is also true for anarcho-capitalists.

The corollary of this, is that anyone who tells you certain archons are acceptable or necessary -- he who tells you that a state is necessary, or that parental violence is good -- is simply not an anarchist, no matter how much fervently he calls himself an anarchist.  And anyone who tells you that obviously consensual relationships involve archons, is trying to trick or deceive you.

A side note on property

Now, in my personal observation so far (a couple of years transacting with them), the fundamental distinction between anarcho-communists and anarcho-capitalists is whether they consider property owners to be archons or not.  The anarcho-capitalist's position is that defense of property (in particular, of capital goods) is ethically equivalent to defense of self, and that the person seeking to appropriate others' things by violence or subterfuge, is an archon himself.  The anarcho-communist's position is that property owners are archons, and that appropriating others' property by violence of subterfuge is ethically equivalent to obtaining unowned own property.

As you can see, the divide is straight along the line of what rule set should people follow, to decide who gets to use what at which times? (in other words, what model of property is the "correct" one).  It is entirely a normative dispute, as you can see.  It's an important dispute too, because choosing the "wrong" model of property has been known to cause mass human death (which is precisely the outcome that a "good" model of property is intended to avoid or prevent).

Many rule sets to determine have been proposed.  I won't speak for other stripes of anarchism, but all anarcho-capitalists accept the property model known as Hoppean private property.  In any case, and merely as a personal observation, I personally suspect very strongly that the adoption of certain particular rule sets is a direct consequence of certain forms of child abuse, but I won't elaborate on that further since that's a bit off-topic.

From these observations of mine, you can probably draw useful conclusions.