The Kultusgemeinde and Its Relevance to American Anarchism

By: Kyle Stephens

Among the many practical issues facing anarchism there is one that attracts the biggest amount of criticism from minarchists: the size of a community. They point out that we do not live in a Hutterite or Anglo-Saxon but urban and global society. As such, size matters. As a settlement grows larger, libertarianism becomes harder to enforce as a covenant. Small communities are easily formed outside the urban matrix, they are not easily sustained on an economic level.

For example, a libertarian community might have a population of 150 people. If a reasonable small business employs a minimum of 25 people, there could only be a total of 6 businesses in that town. To attract additional labor implies if not settlement, nearby arrangements (i.e., company towns and hamlets). If this is the bulk of all its employment, it wouldn’t matter. There are only 150 customers to attract, thus little profit to encourage such a business expansion in that community to begin with.

Certainty reigns, so does opportunity cost. Though amassing great company encampments outside the covenant community could become profitable, there is a big metropolis a few miles away that is inhabited by millions of people. Where is the entrepreneur going to go?

Worse, these encampments or company towns amount to enlarging your covenant community. Most bigger cities are actually smaller quarters, separated by wealth or racial characteristics and enjoined as one later on. Suburbs formed from a massive migration of workers to the rust belt. Over time, suburbs became metropolitan areas in tandem with an independent city that is controlled by singular municipal statesmen.

None of this is mitigated with automation or technology either. Companies could invest in it with cloud computing and the like, that would eliminate the issue of opportunity cost previously discussed. However, lacking production means the need to import most goods.

Now, trade makes that easy but that is flawed in a covenant community. Importation implies transportation. If there are top few customers in this small covenant and a large metropolis boasts many, the cost to transport this product is likely greater than what minimal revenue comes from sale. Thus, opportunity cost remains a burden as not only production but importation crash.

The Owenite communes died out for one big reason: people lacked opportunity and sought it elsewhere. It is easy to suggest that this fate was a consequence of its economic model and for sure, communal living does fail. However, it is naive to assume we are in the clear with size in mind.

Though economics are technically secondary to libertarian theory, a community whose population all emigrates makes attempting it fairly futile. Economics in that sense does matter to our success. How could this problem be addressed? Easy.

Within any larger city, there are separate neighborhoods and boroughs with similar characteristics uniting them each. If these became covenant districts, the city itself is only a geographical assembly of covenants. However, labor and capital flows more practically between them. As such, it is sustainable and requires no modification to the broader covenant approach.

This might appear an only minor addendum, but I find the examples most intriguing for it. In areas such as Vienna, Orthodox Jewry tends to live together but differently than he might in Poland with his shtetl. While any gated community is plumbline covenant, these operate with mutual aid in mind (as an extension of religious identity).

Its pricing is not a donation, but mandatory like a tax. This keeps it relatively homogeneous, not only in culture but class too. It is too easy to ridicule that word, “tax” until you realize it is no more an obligation than the bylaw your covenant binds you to. In fact, the covenant most typically proposed by anarchists on the right – though devoid of taxation mention looks more like a social “contract” than a voluntary community (3). Voluntary, it is insofar as you do not need to live there. That is already the way by which a social contract operates, this only excepting its positive law component.

That this too, is basically a social contract, I do not accept as I believe they turn into states with time. Rather, I propose an easy alteration to it. First, let’s understand how these orthodox communities factor in interests. As is the deal with any other typical covenant community, misbehavior means expulsion. However, mutual aid in our typical model covenant community is detached from that contract and only intended as a mitigative measure to be encouraged in lieu of welfare.

If mutual aid is basically a given, the Orthodox Jew loses it once he misbehaves. He loses it however, because he got expelled altogether. In my proposal, misbehavior does not necessarily result in your expulsion (this could vary by the heinousness or pettiness). However, the misbehaving party is no longer eligible for mutual aid. Is that all? No. Though he is no longer, ceasing payment does in fact mean expulsion. He pays and does not receive; this payment then goes to the victim party.

That is not all. So, in a Frankpledge, bylaws are per se voluntary too. This sounds insane, but it isn’t. In them, those who opt-out of the covenant bylaws are not eligible to go to court and it could even implement social credit to classify him as a parasite. Essentially, he no longer abides by the community conduct but is totally ostracized for it.

Not all people receive aid, but everyone pays in. But the needy paid in over the years, having already explained residents pay an expensive fee to live here. What if someone does not pay in more than once or twice, now he receives?

First, leeching would qualify as a misbehavior in the code. Second, how is this defined? Well, two ways. One, new residents might not be eligible for its receipt but only after they have resided there for a number of years. Two, such aid has a time constraint (e.g., a year’s worth). Those who are eligible for aid may at no time receive for longer than one year at a time.

After that year, they must pay it back. They pay it back in a way that is very similar to tax deference. If you do not pay it back, you are expelled. Think there has to be a limit on how frequently you may receive these years’ worth of aid? No. What happens if you, an insured driver gets into an accident? You pay a higher premium, being that you are a risk to the insurance company. Well, every time a resident here eligibly receives aid, the amount of money he is expected to pay back (in addition to the regular fee) is increased more and more.

Not only does this act as a dual vetting process for immigration, but it also then increases the odds that you get expelled for exploitation. Being as it is voluntarily contributed, mutual aid appears to already have its built-in mechanism against exploitation (i.e., people do not enjoy being exploited). However, collective finance means he who contributes does not decide who might receive.

He might, be it operated by its members with transparent books or in that a mismanaged charity alienates its contributors who then move to a competing organization. That risk has not discouraged charities today from doing so, they simply try not to get caught. If that is to happen, so too will a popular demand for its regulation. An anarchist society is only stateless, it cannot outlaw that a state be invented. As such, what in this public choice analysis feels unfashionable makes it no less relevant.

If the social contract does not in stateless form become a state, it remains collective. In his book, Democracy: The God that failed, Hans Hermann Hoppe addresses voluntary individual behavior as pertains the use of his or her own property. He addresses this, not only as pertains use but permission to invite and so forth. However, his covenant is only stateless and not voluntaryist. Autonomy is a voluntary description of inhabitance or association but that is with the use of property, all. Auberon Herbert described it differently, much closer to the Frankpledge that I have previously outlined.

There could be elements of both these visions, especially regarding mutual aid and whether to have it at all or that of immigration already incorporated in the Kultusgemeinde that I example. Nonetheless, options are worth exploring if we are to attract the more hesitant anarchists screaming tyranny at the former.

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