Agorism is a libertarian social philosophy that advocates creating a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges by means of counter-economics, thus engaging with aspects of peaceful revolution. It was first proposed by libertarian philosopher Samuel Edward Konkin III at two conferences, CounterCon I in October 1974 and CounterCon II in May 1975, both conferences organized by J. Neil Schulman.
The term was coined by Samuel Edward Konkin III and comes from the classical Greek word ἀγορά (agora) referring to an open place for assembly and market in a πόλις (polis, ancient Greek city states).
According to Konkin, counter-economics and agorism were originally fighting concepts forged in the revolutionary atmosphere of 1972–1973. Konkin credits the Austrian School, particularly Ludwig von Mises, as the base of economic thought leading to agorism and counter-economics.
In the 1960–1970s, there was an abundance of political alienation in the United States, particularly for those in favor of libertarian ideologies. Whereas Murray Rothbard chose to create political alliances between the Old Right and the New Left, Robert LeFevre and his West Coast followers pursued a non-participatory form of civil disobedience. Ultimately, LeFevre's anti-collaboration methods lost favor and faded away.
After the creation of the Libertarian Party in 1971, the debate shifted from anarchy vs. minarchism to partyarchy vs. agorism.
The goal of agorism is the agora. The society of the open marketplace as near to untainted by theft, assault, and fraud as can be humanly attained is as close to a free society as can be achieved. And a free society is the only one in which each and every one of us can satisfy his or her subjective values without crushing others’ values by violence and coercion.—Samuel Edward Konkin III
The concept of counter-economics is the most critical element of agorism. It can be described as such:
The Counter-Economy is the sum of all non-aggressive Human Action which is forbidden by the State. Counter-economics is the study of the Counter-Economy and its practices. The Counter-Economy includes the free market, the Black Market, the "underground economy," all acts of civil and social disobedience, all acts of forbidden association (sexual, racial, cross-religious), and anything else the State, at any place or time, chooses to prohibit, control, regulate, tax, or tariff. The Counter-Economy excludes all State-approved action (the "White Market") and the Red Market (violence and theft not approved by the State).
Agorism believes gradual withdrawal of state support through what Konkin described as "Profitable Civil Disobedience". Starving the state of its revenue and purpose by transferring these responsibilities over to decentralized institutions is the most feasible way to achieve free markets according to agorism:
Rather than slowly amass votes until some critical mass would allow state retreat (if the new statists did not change sides to protect their new vested interests), one could commit civil disobedience profitably, dodging taxes and regulations, having lower costs and (potentially) greater efficiency than one's statist competitors – if any
Agorism does not support political engagement in the form of political party promotion as a means to transition to a free-market anarchism. The methods of the Libertarian Party are not compatible with agorist principles. Konkin referred to these attempts to fight for free markets through state approved channels of operation as "partyarchy":
Partyarchy, the anti-concept of pursuing libertarian ends through statist means, especially political parties.
As with voluntaryists, agorists typically oppose electoral voting and political reform and instead they stress the importance of alternative strategies outside political systems to achieve a free society. Agorists claim that such a society could be freed more readily by employing methods such as education, direct action, alternative currencies, entrepreneurship, self sufficiency, civil disobedience and counter-economics.
Konkin developed a class theory which includes entrepreneurs, non-statist capitalists and statist capitalists:
|Entrepreneur||Non-statist capitalist||Statist capitalist|
|Innovator, risk-taker, producer
The strength of a freed market
|Holders of capital
Not necessarily ideologically aware
"Relatively drone-like non-innovators"
|The primary beneficiaries of government controls
"The main Evil in the political realm"
Konkin claimed that while agorists see these three classes differently, anarcho-capitalists tend to conflate the first and second types while "Marxoids and cruder collectivists" conflate all three.
The agorists prefer the term "free market" to "capitalism", mostly since they bear no ties with the implications that the latter term has in history. The term "capitalism" originally referred to mercantilism, the use of public chartering and corporations to let the political class dominate and plunder important industries. It was coined initially by Pierre Proudhon, an individualist anarchist, and then made popular by Karl Marx specifically to refer to control of industry by the political class. It only later came to be conflated with actual free markets. The favoritism of the government towards determined corporations is seen by agorists as the characteristic that renders much more illegitimate the intervention of the state in various sectors. State-imposed restrictions in favor of certain companies, according to agorists, distort the market, thus making the aforementioned businesses less responsible and less capable. The agorists claim that the debts of businesses cannot be cleared through a government's decree, and that every manager has to be responsible for every act taken.
Konkin opposed the concept of intellectual property and wrote in an article entitled "Copywrongs" in support of such a thesis. Successively, J. Neil Schulman criticized this thesis in "Informational Property: Logorights". Whereas Konkin was opposed to the laws of the state in the cases of patents and copyright, seen as creators of monopolies and distortion, Schulman agreed with Konkin that the state could not be a foundation for any class of rightful property yet sought to demonstrate that exclusive ownership rights could apply to what he ultimately termed "Media Carried Property"—created objects that exist independent of the subjective human mind yet are not themselves made of atoms or molecules.
Konkin's treatise New Libertarian Manifesto was published in 1980. Previously, the philosophy had been presented in J. Neil Schulman's science fiction novel Alongside Night in 1979. Ayn Rand's example, presenting her ideas in the form of a work of fiction in Atlas Shrugged, had inspired Schulman to do likewise. Konkin's afterword to the novel, "How Far Alongside Night?", credited Schulman with integrating the "science of counter-economics" with Konkin's basic economic philosophy.