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by John Spritzler


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We’re taught that desirable and necessary social/economic order on a large scale involving thousands or millions of people requires a hierarchical authority structure of some kind so that a person at the top of the hierarchy—be it a CEO or a president or a commander-in-chief or a king or a top priest or whatever—can command all those below to do what he/she commands​. Based on this we-need-hierarchy-to-have-order presumption, when people hear that egalitarians reject the very notion of centralized national governments with this kind of hierarchical structure, i.e., with the power of a small number of people who constitute the government to make laws that many millions of people must obey (e.g., “sovereignty”) the common reaction is that the egalitarian idea is crazy and could never result in anything except chaos.

But the we-need-hierarchy-to-have-order presumption is simply false. Current reality proves this to be so, as one will see by actual examples below.


Order on a large scale, even on the scale of an entire continent, can be achieved in two very different ways. The way we are most familiar with is on the basis of the invalid authoritarian principle. The invalid authoritarian principle (read "What Makes a Government Legitimate?" about the valid authoritarian principle) says that everybody must obey the law (or policy) determined by the highest authority in a hierarchy, such as the central government in a nation or the CEO in a corporation. The principle is that as long as this highest authority has been deemed supposedly legitimate, one must obey it no matter what. This principle enables an oppressive elite to rule over, dominate and oppress hundreds of millions of people by simply controlling--with bribes or threats--a small number of people who constitute the central government, as in the United States today.

Many people wrongly believe that honoring the authoritarian principle is the only way to achieve--on a large scale such as nationally--the kind of order in society that we need in our extremely complex modern world.


The fact, however, is that there is another basis on which to achieve order on a large scale that is better: voluntary federation. Voluntary federation is a way of achieving order among many relatively small organizations by enabling them to reach a consensus (mutual agreement) on an overall plan they agree to carry out. There is no "highest authority" that every small organization must obey no matter what. Any small organization that remains in disagreement with the plan the others mutually agree on is free not to carry out the plan and leave the federation (and, of course, forfeit the advantages of being in a mutual agreement with the others.)

Here are some examples of order achieved by what is essentially voluntary federation. Example #1 is national is scope; example #2 is continental in scope; example #3 is global in scope.

Example #1: The National Football League (NFL). The NFL website describes how the League achieves its high degree of order:

"The NFL pays meticulous attention to every detail that goes into putting on a professional football game — crafting the rules, training the officials, implementing the technology and more — to make sure that games are fair and entertaining.

The league does this by leading through consensus, but acting decisively when it’s in the best interest of the game.

It starts at the top, with the Executive Committee and the commissioner.

The Executive Committee includes one representative — an owner or top officer — from each of the league’s 32 clubs. Any change in game rules, league policy or club ownership or other modification to the game must be approved by at least three-fourths of the committee. Without consensus, nothing will pass." [bold not in the original]

A football team may apply to join the NFL, or decide not to join it. If it does not join it, then the NFL has no authority over it. If it does join it, it is entering into a form of voluntary federation, with the Executive Committee playing the role of facilitating mutual agreements between the membership teams. If a team cannot reach a mutual agreement on something it considers important, then the team is free to leave the NFL and do things as it wishes on its own or with other teams that it can find mutual agreement with. There is no "Football Czar" who can command all football teams how to operate whether they want to or not. And yet, the fans of the NFL teams do not complain that the League is characterized by chaos or annoying disorder, do they?

Example #2. In his The Conquest of Bread, written in 1892, Peter Kropotkin writes about how the European railroad system achieved its very high degree of continent-wide order:

"We know that Europe has a system of railways, 175,000 miles long, and that on this network you can nowadays travel from north to south, from east to west, from Madrid to Petersburg, and from Calais to Constantinople, without stoppages, without even changing carriages (when you travel by express). More than that: a parcel thrown into a station will find its addressee anywhere, in Turkey or in Central Asia, without more formality needed for sending it than writing its destination on a bit of paper.

"This result might have been obtained in two ways. A Napolean, a Bismarck, or some potentate having conquered Europe, would from Paris, Berlin, or Rome, draw a railway map and regulate the hours of trains The Russian Tsar Nicholas I dreamt of taking such action. When he was shown rough drafts of railways between Moscow and Petersburg, he seized a ruler and drew on the map of Russia a straight line between these two capitals, saying, "Here is the plan." And the road was built in a straight line, filling in deep ravines, building bridges of a giddy height, which had to be abandoned a few years later, at a cost of about [pound sign]120,000 to [pound sign]150,000 per English mile.

"This is one way, but happily things were managed differently. Railways were constructed piece by piece, the pieces were joined together, and the hundred divers companies, to whom these pieces belonged, came to an understanding concerning the arrival and departure of their trains, and the running of carriages on their rails, from all countries, without unloading merchandise as it passes from one network to another.

"All this was done by free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, by congresses at which delegates met to discuss certain special subjects, but not to make laws; after the congress, the delegates returned to their companies, not with a law, but with the draft of a contract to be accepted or rejected.

"There were certainly obstinate men who would not be convinced. But a common interest compelled them to agree without invoking the help of armies against the refractory members.

"This immense network of railways connected together, and the enormous traffic it has given rise to, no doubt constitutes the most striking trait of our century, and it is the result of free agreement. If a man had foreseen or predicted it fifty years ago, our grandfathers would have thought him idiotic or mad. They would have said: 'Never will you be able to make the shareholders of a hundred companies listen to reason! It is a Utopia, a fairy tale. A central Government, with an 'iron' director, can alone enforce it.'

"And the most interesting thing in this organization is, that there is no European Central Government of Railways! Nothing! No minister of railways, no dictator, not even a continental parliament, not even a directing committee! Everything is done by contract."

Example #3: The Universal Postal Union is the reason that one can send a letter or parcel by mail from any one of 192 countries to any other of those countries and be fairly confident it will be delivered successfully and efficiently. The UPU's website states:

"Established in 1874, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), with its headquarters in the Swiss capital Berne, is the second oldest international organization worldwide.

With its 192 member countries, the UPU is the primary forum for cooperation between postal sector players. It  helps to ensure a truly universal network of up-to-date products and services.

"In this way, the organization fulfils an advisory, mediating and liaison role, and provides technical assistance where needed. It sets the rules for international mail exchanges and makes recommendations to stimulate growth in mail, parcel and financial services volumes and improve quality of service for customers.

"The Congress is the supreme authority of the Union and meets every four years. Plenipotentiaries from the UPU's 192 member countries gather on this occasion to decide on a new world postal strategy and set the future rules for international mail exchanges."

Nations are free to join (or apply for admission in the case of non UN nations) or not join the UPU as they wish. If they do not join, the UPU Congress has no say in how they handle mail. The UPU "fulfills an advisory, mediating and liaison role," which is to say that it facilitates mutual agreements among the nations that voluntarily join it; it does not command all nations on the planet what they must do--whether they want to or not--regarding postal-related issues . The UPU is thus a kind of voluntary federation and it is not at all based on the invalid authoritarian principle. And yet the UPU has achieved a high level of order for international mail. 


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