Where anarchy meets wholeness – a new vision of “panarchy”

  • Posted on: 31 July 2017
  • By: thecollective

From Tom Atlee's transformational thinkpad

Whereas anarchy refers to no one in charge, panarchy can refer to everyone and everything in charge – a kind of self-organized order that arises out of the whole taking care of the whole. There are a number of ways that can happen. Exploring them can help clarify the strengths and weaknesses of traditional views of anarchy and the resources we have available for healthy participation in healthy living systems.

Anarchy! Pretty scary, huh?! What about panarchy?

For some years I’ve reflected on the term “panarchy”. It sounds like “anarchy” which often scares people away or turns them off with images of violence and chaos. Interestingly, anarchism as a social philosophy is mostly about replacing hierarchical control with cooperation and mutual aid. I shared the negative image of anarchy until my experience on the 400-person cross-country Great Peace March in 1986. The small contingent of self-proclaimed anarchist marchers looked to me like the most organized group on the march – and they were quite peaceful and reasonable. So there’s a whole range of people and approaches in the anarchist world – as in everything else!

While I applaud the general thrust of anarchist arguments against top-down control systems, I also believe (a) that top-down control is sometimes needed to serve life and (b) that removal of top-down control can result in life-degrading chaos and violence when the people involved have few skills, habits or systems that support cooperation and mutual aid. So I personally prefer focusing on developing those collaborative capacities while progressively limiting the use of control to those realms of life and modes of activity that clearly serve life better than other modes of power like power-with, power-from-among, and power-from-within. This vision of limiting domination dynamics while developing cooperative capacities is a road to leaderful activities rather than leaderless activities, to the “rule of and by all” – the creation of shared order by all involved – rather than the rule of none by none – i.e., all parts of the system or community acting on their own.

I find “panarchy” an interesting word to embrace the idea of people co-creating shared order together, a range of self-governance forms with a collaborative anarchist tinge to them.

The term “panarchy” is clearly an offshoot of the word “anarchy”. It is not my invention: It has been used by different thinkers to mean different things over the years.* I want to offer my own vision of panarchy here arising from healthy manifestations of those traditions but perhaps more explicitly and directly grounded in “wholeness”.

The term “pan” derives from the Greek word for “all” – as in pandemic or pan-Arab. “Archy” of course derives from the Greek for “rule” – as in monarchy or hierarchy. Given the nature of my work over the last three decades, I want to propose a vision of panarchy – “all rule” – that embraces all forms of governance** of, by and for the whole.

Of course, it isn’t immediately clear what “governance of the whole, by the whole, and for the whole” would be. So here is what I’m talking about:

I see at least three forms of governance that would qualify as panarchy by that definition. Ideally they would be integrated as three dimensions of one coherent vision and manifestation of self-organized society.

1. First we can embrace forms of governance of, by and for whole communities or peer collectives. Examples include things like participatory democracy, communal self-organization, cooperative enterprises, and self-managed peer-to-peer networks. See http://www.wd-pl.com/self-organization/ for an overview.

2. Second, we can consider governance of, by and for all parties involved in, affected by, or relevant to an issue, situation, or goal. We find this exemplified by the collaborative activities of inclusive multi-sector, multi-stakeholder, multi-scale networks focusing on a shared social challenge. See http://www.tomatleeblog.com/archives/175327737 for more on this.

3. Most broadly and deeply, we can envision governance of, by and for the whole living world, taken in all its interconnected aliveness. In a society or civilization this would be epitomized by people and institutions recognizing that humanity is most essentially a facet of larger living systems. We would then honor, take full account of, and “dance with” the needs, dynamics and capacities of nature – and, thereby, the needs of future generations, as well. In reality, of course, the most fundamental manifestation of this kind of governance is already present everywhere: After all, the whole living world is already managing itself and has been doing so for over four billion years and humanity is already part of the natural world whether or not we know it or behave accordingly. Furthermore, “we” are already shaping “nature” and nature is very definitely shaping our lives and destiny. (Some nature-oriented versions of panarchy note that Pan is the Greek god of Nature. And Amazon’s leading book on Panarchy – which I have not read – apparently deals with the subject from this perspective.)

Unlike strict anarchy, “power” in this vision of panarchy can in certain circumstances involve control and domination (“power-over”) but puts it in context with many other forms of power. In a holistic extension of anarchist theory, I note that power-over has profound downsides, including repressing parts of the whole, wasting and degrading life energy and disregarding important factors that need to be taken into account – none of which make sense from the perspective of wholeness. So control or domination, if and when used at all, must be exercised conditionally and with humble awareness of its problematic nature.

In a further dance with the anarchist movement, I am similarly ambivalent about the strategic focus of many anarchists on getting rid of hierarchical institutions like the state and corporations. While I share their concerns about such institutions, a merely “tear it down” strategy can easily backfire if applied arbitrarily or prematurely. People conditioned by top-down institutions and by cultures of domination, competition and violence, often react to removal of their familiar structures with new forms of oppression and/or mayhem that do not serve life.

However, many anarchists see the liberation and development of people’s capacities for cooperation, sharing and mutual aid as fundamental, and their challenges to hierarchy are closely tied to that. I would say that’s true of panarchy, as well. The more these capacities are present in individuals and groups – and are promoted by cultures and social systems – the more the absence or amelioration of top-down dynamics will support the flourishing of life rather than its degradation. Positive social evolution requires a dance between the increased capacity for life-enhancing cooperation and the removal of life-demeaning domination.

I consider the fundamental dynamic of panarchy to be the co-creative nature and power of all parts of a whole, whatever that whole may be. And so the fundamental panarchic social evolutionary project would be to enable all parts of all wholes to fully participate in their intrinsic co-creativity in wholesome, healthy, life-serving ways, in wise alignment with the big picture realities they are part of.

From this perspective, we could say that the Co-Intelligence Institute and Wise Democracy Project envision and promote a panarchic social order embracing all dimensions and forms of self-organization that serve the optimum longterm healthy functioning of life. Many details of how this could be fostered are contained within the wise democracy pattern language and its associated resources and methods.

Ultimately, there’s no question that life will self-organize. Indeed, it always has and always will. The real question is whether we can become conscious, wise partners in that self-organization so that we can remain in the game of life. To the extent we continue to specialize in the dynamics of domination and linear control – over nature and each other – life’s self-organizing dynamics will surely remove us from the game.


* For an overview of existing perspectives on panarchy, check out the articles in Wikipedia and the P2P Foundation.

** GovernMENT is a subset of governANCE. Governance means simply the management of affairs, which can occur in any form at any level and in any realm of our lives. GovernMENT, as a subset of that, is one category of institutionalized approaches to managing public affairs. Many forms of governance involve no institutions at all, or those created ad hoc by the actors most closely involved in the matters at hand, such as families, neighborhoods, or informal networks.

* * * * * * *



Still prefer "biarchy," panarchy is for gamers who make out w the same sex just to appear edgy or please their partners

So now you're confirming that this anarchism thing was really all about sex... like under that nice catholic puritan thin veil.

Ok so long dudes I'm off to Cambodia!

Your reading comprehension is pretty low, huh?

No u

But actually, that reply was gibberish.

But actually you're just an edgelord who wants to have the last word at all costs.

I'm just a commenter that noticed the reply made no sense?

1st comment was "I thought that word meant sex stuff"
2nd comment was "so anarchy is all about sex, also I'm going to cambodia"

… are you too much of a nihilist for coherence or something?

I don't take identity or myself too seriously but that said; I identify as an insurrectionary egoist nihilist communist with anti-civ tendencies haha

Which is probably evidence to support Tom's point about the hoops you have to jump through to achieve clarity while calling yourself an anarchist.

So sure, a "panarchist", why not? Everyone is equally "leaders" when we've all become relatively assertive and ferocious. The cost of any surge of authoritarianism, from within or without, increases.

The mutual respect we have for each other is because given enough reason, the rest of the wolf pack will turn on you. Well armed societies often have elaborate codes of etiquette because the cost of seriously offending others is so high. So it should be! Docile sheep are cheap to shepherd so the more expensive it is to get the wool, the better.

Don't whine about the "moralism" of people who disagree with you. Laugh because they're powerless to stop your "immoral" behaviour. If you aren't strong enough to laugh in their faces, you should admit to daddy Nietzsche that you might be labouring under some slave morality of your own.

One last thing, laughing in the face of your enemies only has dignity in the physical world, not so from safely behind a keyboard. That doesn't count, unless maybe if you're pulling off Jeremy Hammond style hacks. Otherwise, keyboards are coward's weapons ;)

Just totalitarian collectivism under a different label. You're forgetting the aspect of personal consent, and beyond that, just the person him-herself. Like his-her consciousness, desires and sensitivities.

The only part where I respect such a doctrine is where it almost openly accepts and asserts (instead of ignoring it as in the dominant liberal morale) the reduction of human beings to mere mechanical slaves to the Machine. Who can be creative yet towards the single goal of collective expansion of the social utopia and its ever-improving meta-infrastructure...

...i.e. the State.

(snare drum and cymbals)

Sigh ... Who are you even talking to Fauve? At least clarify who's in the crosshairs for your anti leftist strawmanning.

Nowhere have I been straw-manning the "Left" here. Not everyone identifiable as "Leftist" would agree with this new-old panarchy paradigm.
There's also those cultist yoga petty-bourgies who came up with the "sociocracy" paradigm not long ago, as replacement for the dead horse of democracy. It's like how many other buzzwords can you invent to give cover for what really just socialism?

Pan-anarchy or Pan's anarchy are way cooler than panarchy. Archy should be Left on the frying pan.

oh whatever, don't lie! you start stabbing a voodoo doll named "The Left" as soon as you open your eyes in bed.

I have a Leftist sex dolls but you don't wanna know what I do with it in bed.

better Rightist sex dolls with leftist positions than vice versa

Look at them in a mirror and they appear the same! Left, Right... All just spooks reified with latex or other plastic shit. Or virtual, like Pornhub sex dolls, who may or may not be CGI... but still are even when they are Montreal hot snobbish chicks made of flesh, who're as human as anarcho-syndicalist or RCP robots.

I have a male Rightist sex doll called Bush. I'm into old rich and powerful heavy duty dolls, MWUHAHAHAHAAA

I'm married to an Idpol puppet so I don't need no sex doll.

a-narchy and pan-archy are still the opposite. Just superficiality can lead you to the conclusion, that it could be same.
The destruction of domination or its absence is something else than democracy. Just because your obsessed with politics, dont see that the psychological aspect of domination can be really dissolved to everybody, total policing...
ugly shit...

Pan-archy is still same old socialist totalitarianism. Its State's predominance is based on the assumption of an external, global community that abstracts upon relations at arm's reach level. Fuck all faceless politics... people are not committee and organs. As if humans weren't enough reduced to serve big corporate organizations.

Might be the general to the specific when it comes to a descriptive development in history. Anarchy is something that is fundamentally non historic and temporal as far as I'm concerned. Panarchy might be the most preferable general development as far as a historical species goes. I don't see us forgetting back to the forests any time at all. It's preferable to some homogenized civilized development. At the end of the Matrix trilogy for instance there was a preferential compromise with the machines. That's probably the best that those interested in anarchy and a prefered general state can opt for as there are certainly worse things that can happen.


In over ten years of my routinely surveying people online, none of them knew that the dictionary merely contains popular definitions, listed according to how commonly they are used. Yet, over half of them insisted on making up their own definitions, and dismissed my idea that they may want to actually read a dictionary and confirm what I'm saying. Some of these people had advanced degrees, and made the most compelling arguments, without ever realizing that they were merely re-enacting the classic Three Stooges slapstick routine, of arguing over the definition of stupid, and who is the better example.

The only other question I asked, was if anyone knew the simple distinction, between a lynch mob and a democracy. Nobody has ever answered correctly but, please, feel perfectly free, to encourage people to babble about panarchy. Richard Dawkins is an academic who popularized the term "meme" but, according to linguists, it has no demonstrable meaning and is just more gibberish. He's also the leader of atheists, who now recognize no less than 17 distinct types of atheism, including the oxymoron "agnostic-atheist", and all of these terms can be traced back to 1920s era Soviet propaganda, designed to encourage contentious Babylonians, to argue over the definition of stupid and who is the best example and, hopefully, convince them communism is the answer to their problem. That's what panarchy is all about, and I have a anarchist bowl movement all by myself, whenever I go the bathroom.

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