Small Wars Journal

Agora, Anarchy, Action! A New Approach to Unconventional Warfare

Wed, 03/03/2021 - 8:21pm

Agora, Anarchy, Action! A New Approach to Unconventional Warfare


By Daniel Riggs



Unconventional warfare is defined as activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.”

Definition from Joint Publication 3-05.1, Unconventional Warfare:  

The “New” Unconventional Warfare

The return of Great Power Conflict (GPC) has brought a return of Unconventional Warfare (UW) (see definition above) to the Department of Defense (DoD) lexicon.   In lieu of destructive power of a nation state conflict (but still requiring a means to push back adversaries), UW is a requisite environment US soldiers should be training for in the 21st century.  Defense leaders and politicians are right in realizing the utility, effectiveness, importance, and necessity of UW implementation in the GPC struggle (Fowler, 2019).  However, a returned emphasis to UW needs to move away from the Hollywood tactic of merely re-booting a previously successful movie or television show with a slight contemporary twist.[1]  DoD UW thinking needs to consider radical and novel approaches to engage its adversaries.  Merely spending more money and employing the same forces and strategies from a few decades ago is less likely to work than before as most of these adversaries have thriving economies.  In addition, as Eisenhower astutely pointed out, “We need an adequate defense, but every arms dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term weakening effect upon the nation and its security" (Bowie and Immerman, Waging Peace, 622). 

One approach that factors in dynamism and affordability is Agorism, the brainchild of libertarian philosopher Samuel Edward Konkin III (hereafter referred to as SEK3).   Agorism is “a social philosophy that advocates creating a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges by means of counter-economics, engaging with aspects of nonviolent revolution” (Konkin, 1980, 76). The DoD should consider employing Agorism in UW environments, because an Agorist movement is equipped to operate in a complex system and might be more cost effective than traditional support to resistance.  To justify this claim, the following will cover a brief history of Agorism (likely new to many readers), the three Agorism strategies, the role of DoD in supporting Agorism, and the benefits of Agorism in a UW environment


Agorism and its Roots

Figure 1


Note:  Counter Economics logo for its Facebook group


“This manifesto calls for action.” 

SEK3, The New Libertarian Manifesto 


When looking at Agorism it is important to note when and where it developed: the revolutionary American 1960s.  Like other revolutionaries of the era, SEK3 desired radical changes for the country.  SEK3 was a libertarian who wished for an anarchist system.  However, unlike other movements of the era, he took a systemic approach to understanding power and strategy.  Other revolutionary actions and demonstration of the 1960s actions produced little in terms of substantive political change.[2]  The state increased in size and scope and many inspiring representative figures of political and cultural change were deceased or marginalized.  The once peaceful movement devolved into nihilistic, terrorist outbursts.  During the early 1970s, bombing in the US were a daily occurrence (Burrough, 3).  The movement towards peace and freedom failed. 

SEK3 saw the prior movements fail because they failed to look systemically. The problem was engaging in grassroots and traditional politics that the state could subvert, co-opt, or otherwise minimize.  This activity failed as it played the game the state wanted you to play and resulted in an asymmetric relationship with the state far superior to any movement.  In a Nietzschean sense, SEK3 echoed the premise "that if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you."  Any participation in the system was corrupting and what the state would be prepared to handle (SEK3 2009, pg. 17).    SEK3 rejected trying to pack citizens into voting booths or fill Congress with sympathetic ideologues.  He looked at how the state generated and sustained power.  He proposed a means to challenge the state’s power and legitimacy: Agorism.

 Agorism was not a corruptible political party, a movement to be absorbed by the state, a mantra that becomes trite, or even an abstruse philosophy in his mind.   His method was offensive in nature.  It sought to invert the power structure into an asymmetric relationship where the state is in a constant state of reaction.  His philosophy sought to ensure that the nascent libertarian movement was ideologically and practically in concert:

“When libertarianism theory meets counter-economics, what comes

                        out in strict consistency, both externally and internally is Agorism…and

[in practice] is the consistent integration of libertarian theory with

counter-economic practice; an Agorist is one who acts consistently

                        for freedom and in freedom.”    


SEK3 proposed Agorism at a 1972 libertarian conference.  SEK3’s The New Libertarian Manifesto codified these beliefs.  In it, SEK3’s Agorism proposes the pursuit of the “Agora.”   This Greek term is formally “the marketplace” and historically calls to the open spaces in the middle of ancient Greek City-States, which were the site of popular assemblies, debate (e.g., Socrates performed much of teaching and debate in the Athenian Agora), performance, and trade (Britannica). 

SEK3’s Agora would focus on trade.  It would be society’s marketplace where all transactions and human action are voluntary (Konkin, 1980, p. 6), without any overview or interference of a state.  In fact, there would be no state.  SEK3’s anarchist Agora would showcase a society where services, problem resolution, and commerce are conducted between individuals and groups and would “as near to untainted by theft, assault, and fraud, as can be humanely attained in a close to a free society can be achieved” (Konkin, 2009, p. 78).    

            To get from the present to the Agora, SEK3 proposed the approach of Counter-Economics (CE).   The “Counter” in CE was a tribute to then fading counterculture (Konkin, 1995).  CE was a response to what most standard economics ignored or downplayed, black and gray markets (Konkin, 1995).  Both markets are where human action is independent of the state and more importantly constitute much of the world’s economy.  The “Black Market” alone makes up close to 27% of the economy (Elgin and Oztunali), and this does not even include the “Gray Market.” The inclusion of the gray could increase this figure substantially.  This ignored and open environment was the arena Agorism would use to achieve the Agora.     

The first of the markets, the gray market, is the collection of “legal” but unregulated products and services (Kallman).  It might be surprising to some that most Americans engage in gray market activities throughout the year.  However, when one reads that American commit three felonies a day (Crovitz), this should not be too surprising.  If someone hires neighborhood teenagers to mow the lawn or babysit (Bylund), they are engaging in an Agorism gray market.  After all, there is no W-2 or like means to register this work with the state and ensure that the state gets their cut.  This gray market also extends to using cash (specifically to avoid any transactional record), crypto-currency, or “non-profit” “gifting” strategy, and avoiding regulations/licensing/permit requirements (Kallman).  The state tolerates the gray market but does not approve of it.   

The “Black Market” is the collection of all voluntary human interactions deemed “illegal” by the state (Kallman).  A mistake people might make when imagining the black market is the popular version of it.  This understands the black market is solely restricted to prostitution, illicit drug deals, and exotic animal products from the endangered species list, etc. (Kallman) when they hear black market.   However, it can also include the example showcased in the film Dallas Buyers Club, which is done for more noble purposes.  In the film, the FDA restriction of “illegal”/unapproved medications leads to a network of people nonetheless finding way to distribute them to suffering AIDS patients. 

It is important to note that participation in black and gray markets is not the same as the “Free Market” (Kallamn), which is often misinterpreted for a type of lawless anarchism.  In the free market, the customer has access to a formal means (e.g., de jure) of protest and protection if wronged by a vendor, and the knowledge that their activity is in concert with state activity.  Their economic activity in the free market enriches the state.  It does not degrade it. 

Agorism’s participation in these markets (essentially civil disobedience) would challenge the American power structure (i.e., nexus between politics and economics) by simultaneously (1) draining the state of legitimacy and (2) revenue through engagement in these markets.  Much of the legitimacy[3] of the state comes from its ability to provide services the free market cannot.  These services (notably national defense) require revenues to sustain and legitimately execute operations.  Even if a state is somewhat liberal in its monetary policy, resources bind them in ways they cannot print their way out of (e.g., time, devoted personnel, corporeal resources, legitimacy).  Agorism inverts the power structure into an asymmetric relationship where the state is in a constant state of feckless reaction.  In other words, Agorism shifts the playing field from one of familiarity and ease to a novel, disorienting setting. These markets are Agorism’s locus of change. 

CE attempts to divert consumers from the open market (i.e., “white” market) to black and gray markets to begin the asymmetry.  By participating in these markets, actors implicitly question the state’s authority by engaging outside its rules, deny tax revenue, and (if serious enough) requiring the state to utilize resources to fight the problem.  After all, violation of rules in a hierarchical relationship questions the hierarchy.  It becomes an existential threat.  The following section will look at how the three strategies of Agorism utilize these markets.

Figure 2

Flag of Agorism

Note.  Flag of Agorism from Wikipedia Agorism Page


Employment of Agorism

Agorism has three strategies (Bylund, 2006): (1) Vertical/Introvert (VI), (2) Horizontal/Extrovert (HE), and (3) a combination of the two.   All three attempt to choke the lifeblood and soul of the state: taxation and validity.  However, each strategy is foundationally different.   


“Back to the Land”: Vertical/Introvert (VIS)

The anarchist Karl Hess is the father of the Vertical/Introvert Strategy (VIS).  This strategy is introverted, because it asks its participants to move away from their current relationship with the state.  This strategy is demanding as it calls for and requires the creation of education, security, and utility services for participants to depart towards.  VIS requires participants to build the infrastructure and technology to support the community (Bylund, 2006) that is looking to live outside the state.  This is a notable obstacle and one creative Agorists need to overcome.  

At a competent stage, a strongly formed “vertical” community would circumvent the state by providing a level of basic utilities, access to basic needs, and security.   Philosopher Karl Hess, himself a practitioner of sorts, imagined as setting where people would come “together in a free neighborhood, develop and maintain community technology, grow vegetables on rooftops, breed fish in basements all in order to produce what is necessary for survival and a good life” (Bylund, 2006).  The developed community would be self-sustaining.   Even if the state looked to block or similarly isolate the community, the actions would be feckless.  Everything for survival already exists within the insurgent community.  In a sense, the VIS would be an autarky.      

As seen in the documentary Wild Wild Country, the efforts of the Rajneeshpuram community in Wasco County, Oregon in the 1980’s is a notable example of VIS.  The community developed an urban infrastructure, a postal code, and housed over 7000 residents (Way, C. and M. Way).  It was its own autarky for a time, but soon fell apart due to increased mania manifesting in terrorist and criminal activity.     


“The Original”: Horizontal/Extrovert (HES)

HES is most aligned with SEK3’s original strategy of CE.  HES is the practice of human action that evades, avoids, and defies the state (Konkin, 1980, p. 18) via participation in black and gray markets. 

Unlike VIS, HES is not as demanding as vertical.  There is no call or need to drop out of formal society.  This strategy calls for “actively creating networks and structure for black markets” (Bylund, 2006) where individuals are engaging in free economic exchanges.  This strategy does not require large community buy-in, infrastructure development, or an inward movement.  However, it does require the proper mechanisms and incentives to foster the networks and initiatives required for success.      

This concept is not too abstract or a tough sell as many in the United States currently engage in the HES as mentioned earlier with the example of paying neighbor kids for services like babysitting and lawn mowing with record.  Many do so without knowing it.  SEK3 saw it as possible practical, and even profitable to encourage large collections of humanity from statist society to the emergent Agora (Konkin, 1995).  Current digital platforms could dramatically expand the potential for this (though this could quickly change with states looking to use those as means of control, not liberation) along with the rise of Bitcoin.     


VIS and HES Combination

Bylund argues (2006) that both approaches have benefits but require a melding to affect change.  In the case of HES, participants still need to move beyond personal convictions or reliance on state services (Bylund, 2006).  Consider those on the American political right who left social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and migrated to Parler (Newhouse, 2021).  While it seems like this was a keen move to avoid backlash and be free, they were not beyond consequence.  Everyone could still see the posted messages on these new platforms or cast aspersions onto those sites.  In the end their new freedom did not last.  Payment processors still could “cancel” those whose opinions they oppose (Kantbot) or be pressured into “cancelling” individuals or business.  Following the events at the US Capital Building in early January 2021, Amazon pulled Parler’s hosting and Apple and Google pulled it in their app stores (Fung 2021).  This case study shows that infrastructure must complement exit.

For VIS, the initial buy-in and foundational development may be too difficult to launch.  After all, VIS is a kind of entrepreneurial enterprise.  Its new business is a new society for would be Agorists to depart towards and electing out of a comfortable choice.   Like any new business, it is subject to the same forces as any start-up, which fail 80 percent of the time in America (Wagner).  When VIS Agorists are selling their new enterprise, they must ensure they have a resource strategy to get them through the early days.       

A combination of VIS and HES, the third strategy, would reinforce and shore up deficiencies that each approach presents on its own.  A state would be hard-pressed to combat a system of CE (HES) with community technology and independence (VIS) producing foodstuffs and technology exceeding internal demand (Bylund, 2006).  In an ideal format, a VIS/HES combo would yield a beneficial for-profit network that replace most or all the state’s functions (Bylund, 2006).  When working in concert, the two approaches have the potential to subvert the state in a denied environment.    


Case Study of Successful Agorism

The following figure will juxtapose Agorism using the HES strategy with the National Maximum Speed law (NMSL) of 1974.  It will show that over from its inception until its repeal the consistent violation of the NMSL made it impractical to enforce. 

Figure 3

Steps of Agorism and the NMSL


Description automatically generated

Note. Image created by author.


Beyond Smokey and the Bandit: Agorism in the Denied Environment

The NMSL case study is useful means to see this approach in practice.  How can the DoD execute something beyond violation of a speed limit in a UW environment?  

The execution of an Agorism strategy is contingent on the DoD avoiding dictating the contours of the movement and CE.  This might be anathema to some as it limits control.  However, a proper Feasibility Assessment (FA) with an understanding to vet a resistance group for support would be key (Department of Defense, 2015).  To further guard against supporting a possible nefarious group this FA would include identifying the resistance’s political contours (Riggs, 2019) to avoid embarrassment.  However, the DoD needs to allow the subsequent movement to evolve[4] after it agrees to support.   If assistance is necessary (especially at the outset), that is more than fine.  Resistance through Agorism might still be cheaper and more efficiently than previous assistance.      

Perhaps this is anathema to DoD circles, but this is a strategy that does not require a substantial campaign plan.  Instead of writ large plans, the DoD group should follow certain principles prior to, during, and after execution (or at resolution) of an Agorist movement:  

  • Identification of systemic tensions, not just vulnerabilities.
  • Identification of power in the system, how one acquires power, and what institutions and people maintain the most power.
  • Constant re-framing of the environment; not just intelligence estimates.
  • Be comfortable with a certain level of risk and uncertainty.

Whoever ends up supporting Agorism resistance needs to re-frame their interaction through different metaphoric reasoning to follow these principles and consider the role of a baseball bench coach. 

While the metaphor of football has been a part of military thinking since the early 20th century (Weeks, 1998), it will not help with Agorism.  The NFL coach calls each play, runs the whole coaching staff, makes substitutions, can be the face of the team, and may also make all personnel decisions.  While leaders may like to think of themselves as a Bill Belichick coaching the Super Bowl, DoD agorists should think of themselves like an MLB Bench Coach, chief assistant to an MLB Manager.  Instead of being bound by a 60-minute game with full control, the DoD“Bench Coaches” (Edes, 2008) would serve an “in-game advisor”, offer situational assistance, and engage in a reflective back and forth on the game to assist the “Manager” come to a prudent decision.  The relationship would be a discursive dialogue over the course of seasons that can yield insights otherwise unavailable.   These “Bench Coaches,” which will be the term for these figures for the rest of this essay, conceive of the role as long term (the 162-game season instead of a singular game), which is critical as an ill-structure problem will not be solved by a single operation (like one football game). 

The central concern for the bench coaches would be to focus not only on protecting the resistance but creating conditions for expansion and inclusion of the average person into black and gray markets.  After all, this strategy asks people to engage in either unethical or illegal behavior against the state, the entity that dictates and executes punishment.  Bench Coaches needs to understand the operational environment (OE) and come up with imaginative means to increase compliance within the CE by increasing the payoff for participants (e.g. blockchain communication development at the tactical level to increase safety).  The Bench Coaches need to constantly be assessing and reassessing how it assist with this. After all the fundamental principle of counter-economics is trade risk for profit (Konkin 1980, p. 23).   SEK3 understood risk to be the central issue to overcome.   OPSEC (though he would not call it that), and counter-intelligence measures would be requirements for aspiring Agorists: “[take] reasonable steps to conceal your activities from accidental discovery, learning to talk only to trusted friends, spotting poor risks or government all reduce your risk and increase your payoff “ (Konkin 2009, p. 54).  So, who would be these Bench Coaches?      

Within DOD, possible participants do come to mind.  Agorism appears to be something that Special Operations Civil Affairs (CA) would be key contributors for.  Their specializations in network development, civil/humanitarian assistance (to including infrastructure), and civil military operations would be beneficial for a nascent movement.  Personnel trained in Non-Standard logistics would also be key in developing and providing the occasional “speedball[5]” of support to the nascent CE and resistance.  Psychological Operations (development of narratives at three levels of war) and Special Forces (development of security and underground) might be key contributors as well.  Both receive training to negotiate ill-structured problem sets like UW.   Both could help develop organic and eventually sustainable (i.e., do not require US assistance) auxiliaries and undergrounds, the necessary lifeblood of any movement.  The important consideration is not to be prescriptive, but to choose the necessary military and government personnel that fit the mission requirements for execution of Agorism in a specific environment. The personnel must match the needs and requirements of the operation.

People from the private sector might also fill the ranks of a prospective Agorism Task Force group.  Their ability, instincts, and culture of rapid reaction and innovation would be key for the CE and resistance to receive the necessary tools and expertise to combat an adversarial state.   Regardless of government affiliation or not, all would require mentally flexible, holistic experiences to complement one another.   


Why Agorism Makes Sense

Agorism should be an appealing alternative as it presents unique opportunities and reflects self-interest that make success much easier than traditional aid to resistance.  While Agorism may appear to present an unrealistic utopia as the goal, the means to realize it are not utopian.  The first of these benefits is its more realistic look at human nature.   

As SEK3 wrote, “Agorism wants no ‘true believers’ (Konkin 2009, p. 16).  It just needs practitioners.  Agorism is asking people to engage in their self-interest to undermine an adversarial state.  It does not require a lofty argument or norm/belief style behavior change that may be unrealistic.  SEK3’s approach is a practical and accessible means for all people to engage in the development of a free society.  There was not a requirement to read heady books.  Agorism starts with basic self-interest and the belief that most people (not just Agorists or Libertarians) desire a free society (Konkin-76) or at least one removed from unnecessary coercion a nation state can engage in.      

In the case of tribal societies for instance, Agorism would not ask rival tribes to rebel against millennia of tradition, instinct, culture, or history. They can still trade with each other in black and gray

markets and undermine the adversarial state.  They may do so through gritted teeth, but the effect is the same. 

This self-interest approach towards foreign populations might be better than previous approaches from the last few decades.   For instance, the Iraqi population needed to engage in behavior changes orders of magnitude from their Saddam Hussein baseline.  Pentagon strategic planers expected the average Iraqi to understand democratic voting, have a conception of and tacit agreement towards a federalist system, agree on a shared Iraqi identity established by large-scale societal consensus, and ignore century long tensions.  Many anthropologists or political scientists would identify this unsolvable tension as the Hoover Institute’s Ken Jowitt did in 2004 (UCTV):

“…Over 50% of Iraqis are married to their cousin including Saddam

Hussein.  What does that tell you?  It tells you about the relative

 availability of loyalty to the nation state.  And if you don’t have loyal to

the nation state it’s little hard to get democracy.  When your loyalties

 are reduced and conflated to the family, where the family the concrete

expression of your political and religious loyalties, what you have is

a society that is fragmented. And to go into that society and assume

you’re going to have the free-floating political loyalties and resources

to create an Iraqi civil civic democracy is not only an act of faith

but would depend on a social miracle.”


Agorism’s self-interest helps to sidestep these Civil-Military and cultural landmines.  

Agorism would also be more adept at dealing with complex open systems, setting of a UW problem, than a whole of government approach that DoD calls for in doctrine (DoD, 2013).  Bureaucracies, the units this whole of government approach, are exacting, hierarchical, have a rigid division of labor, enforce inflexible policies and procedures, centralize power, and value predictability.  While a bureaucracy may arrive at the product/action/message, it may be too late and come across as stale (Riggs, 2020). This is not because planners are stupid or ill equipped.  It is a function of where they work, and the bureaucratic environment does not work well to address the problems in complex systems.

Defined by Professor Melanie Mitchell (2009, p. 13), a complex system is “a system in which one where large networks of components with no central control and simple rules of operations give rise to complex collective behavior, sophisticated information processing, and adaptation via learning or evolution.”  This definition seems appropriate to describe not just societies experiencing political upheaval, but any groupings of humans in general.  The problem with current DoD UW efforts is it is unable to engage in a complex system.  The learning/evolution in these systems often can outpace the ability of a collective-bureaucratic cooperation. 

In a complex system, the amount of data and preferences in the system makes it impossible to capture everything for an effective macro decision.  This approach conflicts with what Ludwig Von Mises adroitly identified the “Economic Calculation Problem” (ECP), which SEK3 notes (Konkin, 2009, p. 66) is a major influence on Agorism.   The ECP states that bureaucracies (or any central planning agency) often misidentify the subjective values of consumers (or citizens) at the macro level (Mises, 1990) thus creating policies and action that fails to reflect what the nodes (both organizations and individual) in the system require.  It creates inefficiencies and reflect biases of central planners, not realities on the ground.  To Mises it is backwards.  Subjective values at the micro value ought to be translated into the objective information necessary for rational allocation of resources in society (Mises, 1990) absent of a central authority. 

Agorism’s focus on subjective value and individual desire identifies why human beings act (though it is not necessarily predictive) due to its praxeological roots from Mises (Konkin 2009, p. 21). All three Agorism strategies (VIS, HES, and Combo.) seek to understand “life at a micro level rather than seeing the world only from above” (Bylund, 2006) which is often where military planning and considerations are conducted.  Agorism is dynamic (Konkin 2009, p. 66) and not only adjusts to the system but also can be the force in the system that not only accounts for complex behavior.  It can also send the signals for information processing that leads to adaptation in a system.  It is radical, not reactive.  Agorism can force tensions in a complex system of UW and does not merely attack vulnerabilities one might target from a Center of Gravity analysis.  It forces economic reorganization and questions the legitimacy of the state.  It overturns how people conceive of and interact with the state. 

Another argument for Agorism is it does not sell false hope.  People engaging in the CE understand the risk.  Soldiers do not have to sell a utopian vision or convince them that resistance should engage in the CE.  It helps to avoid turning the shoulder due to changes brought about by election changes or new strategic realities (e.g., Kurds in 2019).  Freedom is the solution for Agorism with a substantial buy-in.  However, it is honest about it. 

Agorism also possesses a certain degree of positive game theory outcome on its side for the participants.   Much of a state’s law enforcement depends on a type of stage magic (Yarvin, 2019).  The state is not God, as it does not possess omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence.  A state like any other entity or organization has fixed resources.  The state can focus its energies like the lidless eye of Sauron on a fixed area, but it is still blind to a great deal of activity within its borders.  The stage magic is there to keep everything in line and everyone in compliance.  What keeps everything in line and people compliant is the belief that any moment the state’s hammer can fall on anyone at any time.  More often, the threat compels compliance to laws.  When authorities arrest a criminal, the hope is that, his/her punishment will serve as an example to the rest.  In the United States, the idea of the “Perp Walk” is more psychological by the state than necessary with the thought being this could be you.  Even the IRS annually states that income tax depends on voluntary compliance (Konkin 1980, p. 21).

What works in Agorism’s favor is most crimes/transgressions go completely unreported and undetected.   The state’s statistics (e.g., rates of apprehension) represent an upper limit of what they can accomplish (Konkin 2009, p. 52).  After all, a state has diverse governing requirements/interests and expectations/demands from its citizenry.  For instance, imagine the state is trying to stop smuggling into its borders.  All ports of entry and border crossing receive more resources.  The citizenry receives messages that the state is cracking down on these activities.  Legislation/executive activity reflects this in the bureaucratic bodies.  All these are true and serve as evidence of the dangers of smuggling and the state’s response to it.  However, the state cannot hope to enforce a law once it exceeds a high enough threshold.  If it devoted all its energies and resources to stopping smuggling, education, infrastructure, healthcare, etc. will receive what is left of the little.    

Possibly what is left is governmental inertia to all other concerns and an angry citizenry.  The elites, especially in an oligarchical and autocratic regime, ought to become fearful that “the dog” becomes “a wolf” after a few missed meals.  The numbers are simply against the state once a certain number exceeds the capability.  While the state is typically the largest entity within society, SEK3 notes that even a large and powerful state has a great deal of trouble coercing a rebellious majority and would have a next to impossible time stopping an enterprising minority of black marketer and Agorists (Konkin 1980, p. 102). 

The state can enforce rules through a sort of panopticon logic. The panopticon (see below), developed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, is a prison design wherein one security guard can watch all prisoners.  The theory is all the prisoners can never know if they watched.  A type of docility should follow as no prisoner is certain whether his or her actions might incur punishment.    

Figure 4

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon

A picture containing outdoor

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Note.  This popular panopticon image used by Center for the Future Of Museums Blog entry “Futurist Friday: The Digital Panopticon“ on May 28, 2015 at


The panopticon provides little profit for engaging in CE activity.  Agorism must convey to would be


Agorists that while danger does exist, but the payoff exceeds the punishment. 


More so, even if they are in a type of panopticon, if enough people engage in the activity, the limited resources of the state make it impossible.  As Jim Bucher said, “You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away.  You just have faster than the guy next to you.”  If enough people become involved, the state becomes overwhelmed.       

A final strength is what one might consider a drawback: lack of control.   A strategy of Agorism would require a substantial removal of DoD fingerprints and influence towards resistance.  With conflict moving beyond the traditional modernist understanding, a heterarchical and laissez-faire approach might be appropriate, especially in a complex system where planners the economic calculation problem.  In other words, there might be an art to leaving something alone.  In the documentary Poverty Inc., the viewer sees that all the expertly planned and best-intentioned efforts of companies and NGOs are deleterious in preventing poverty in undeveloped countries.  Even the company Tom’s Shoes, donating pairs of free shoes into African countries creates greater disparities in the country and destroys local industries (Taub, 2015).  However, Agorism is not without drawbacks. 


Moving Beyond Utopia: Drawbacks of Agorism

Figure 5

Futility of Agorism

Note.  A Flag for Absurdist Postleftism (based on the Philosophy of Albert Camus.  From unknown Reddit User at


The libertarian philosopher Murray Rothbard saw Agorism as unrealistic and naïve.  He argued that black and gray markets had already existed and failed replace the state or any of its edifices (D’amto, 2018).  Rothbard noted that traditional political action and the free market were forces for the growth in human freedom in the 18th and 19th century as opposed to Agorism, which did not deal with the “unpleasant features of the real world” (D’Amato, 2018).  Traditional politics was needed.  However, both Rothbard and SEK3 fail to understand that even beyond economics the state has certain powers that makes Agorism an uphill battle. 

Beyond Rothbard’s critiques are two strengths of the state that have little to do with economics: armies and “Stage Magic.”  In terms of the latter, theoretically a degrading of the economic strength would lead to a lessened ability of the state to respond.  Less money means less weapons, less soldiers, and less overall support.  However, even the anarchic example of Ukrainian Nestor Makhno provided by SEK3 shows a largely volunteer and somewhat heterarchical force easily defeated by the USSR’s superior numbers (“the full resources of a continent”) from the large state (Konkin 1980, p. 32).  A lot needs to happen to deter this notable strength from immediately crushing a nascent resistance. 

The second part, “Stage Magic,” references Italian philosopher Gaetano Mosca’s theory of the Political Formula.  Mosca argues (2021) that ruling class needs to continually justify itself by moral or legal principle (i.e., the Political Formula.  It must be consistent with the conception of life of the governed community.  The status quo must match the elite’s story.  There are elements in the political formula that resemble stage magic and elements of rich storytelling that excite and inspire the population to continue to support it. 

In these nascent stages of the pursuit of the Agora, the resistance would be required to deal with the full power of the state’s stories and the microphones that inevitably carry more power than an argument of self-interest.  Agorism must inspire.  It needs to capture and reflect Max Weber’s idea of charismatic authority.  The resistance needs a story (not self-interest) and leadership (could even manifest itself like the Bolsheviks did by making the party charismatic), that sets the leaders “apart from ordinary men and [treats] them as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities…with a divine origin” (Weber, 1947).           


Going Forward

Freedom and innovation can be as threatening to a state as any military.  Agorism can work in the favor of those initiating the subversion, regardless of the size.  It forces systemic tensions and the state to use resources and services they otherwise need to administer for other concerns.   In a UW environment, Agorism provides another means for resistance groups to displace the State due to its flexibility, focus on self-interest, reflection of local politics, and difficult enforcement mechanisms forced on the state when it hits a critical level. 

Agorism is not the new solution, but a new suggestion.  DoD planners and designers would do well to consider ideas and strategies outside of the Overton Window in order to compete in this next century. 





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[1] The 2016 re-make of Ghostbusters was a failure not due to misogyny or the patriarchy but due to a lack of authenticity.  Dan Akroyd grew up in a family deeply involved in the supernatural.   As far back as two generations he had family members performing what might be considered occult practices.  This film was Akroyd’s personal story as much as an entertainment blockbuster.  Merely trying to re-boot this property with a gender switch came across as crass, inauthentic, and ultimately rejected by the movie going public. 

[2] While measures such as the Civil Rights Act and end of the Vietnam War did represent change, the structure of the state was unchanged and the power of the status quo was unaffected.   

[3] More on what constitutes the other half of legitimacy will be addressed in “Drawbacks of Agorism” section

[4] Consider the role of Gandalf in the original novel The Hobbit (not the live action film) in his assistance to the Bilbo and the Dwarves.   

[5] A body bag filled with supplies, usually ammunition and bottled water, dropped from a plane or helicopter to resupply soldiers far afield or in dire need (Brody, 2013).

About the Author(s)

Sergeant First Class Daniel Riggs serves as the S-3/5 for the Psychological Operations Courses at USAJFKSWCS in Fort Bragg, NC.   SFC Riggs has previously completed Psychological Operations deployments to INDOPACOM and CENTCOM. He holds a M.S.c in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Before joining Psychological Operations, he served as an Infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division deploying to Afghanistan in 2010. 



Thu, 09/23/2021 - 7:55am

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Tue, 03/09/2021 - 6:19pm

Thanks for the article.  I don't agree with RT-Colorado but a very powerful observation/argument is raised.  Rt argues Agorism's only chance of success is in an open society and doomed to fail under totalitarianism.  This is backwards.  I disagree.   Agorism as a practical philosophy exists for one purpose and only one purporse.  It exists to defeat totalitarianism from within.  Sure, many attempts may fail, but the all seeing Eye can not stop everyone forever ad infinitum.

For totalitarianism to work, and government to maintain legitimacy and levy taxes and wage wars, you need a team of people working to achieve the balancing act.  To maintain fear and order.  It does work obviously, and it is very hard to screw up once achieved.  But agorism is an eternal flame of hope for resistance parties and is ultimately likely highly succesful, not doomed to fail as RT asserts.  Time is the one corrosive to totalitarian dictatorships that really screws them in the end.  As does it us all!

Vetting personal and embedding counter-HUMINT, i.e. security being the most crucial bedrock in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, is the only path forward for a successful underming of the fortresses of totalitarian dictatorships.

Blockchain, encryption, bitcoin, etc are all good tools but to win, you need what the state would consider traitors to be on your side.

Without THEIR safety guarenteed through layering of resources and people by a bench coach or coachee, Agorism will fail and the state will route dissidents like water from the bilge into the deep, dark ocean of the dissappeared.

Very interesting read. Thanks again.


Tue, 03/09/2021 - 3:53pm

First thank you for reading and taking the time to provide critique.

The intention of this paper (not the new TED talk style solution) is to provide narrow minded UW thinkers a new concept to consider regarding the “E” in the national instruments of power.  If I was not clear, Agorism would be one strategy amidst others to consider.  Even in the drawbacks I acknowledge violence is a consideration that has to be met.  Agorism on its own is not a be all solution.  It is no silver bullet.  Anyone saying they have the final solution are selling something.  But it raises questions that planners require. 

Regarding totalitarian states it might be argued that black markets (see jeans, Coca Cola,  and frankly basic sustenance) and western pop culture had more to do with the Soviet Union’s fall than SDI or the Charlie Wilson’s War Myth.  See Ken Jowitts work on this and even Gorbachev’s comments that the television show Dallas had more to do with the Soviet Union crumbling than anything else (read the western security establishment)

Finally, UW doctrine and thinking now is quite stale and requires some rejuvenation.  The way the experts train it is akin to teaching these guys to charge windmills ala Don Quixote.  They are training for the previous century’s war. I don’t want this.  All of my writing, as small as it is, is meant to encourage others to think differently about improving the existing thinking.

All the best and thanks again for reading and commenting.






Tue, 03/09/2021 - 3:53pm

First thank you for reading and taking the time to provide critique.

The intention of this paper (not the new TED talk style solution) is to provide narrow minded UW thinkers a new concept to consider regarding the “E” in the national instruments of power.  If I was not clear, Agorism would be one strategy amidst others to consider.  Even in the drawbacks I acknowledge violence is a consideration that has to be met.  Agorism on its own is not a be all solution.  It is no silver bullet.  Anyone saying they have the final solution are selling something.  But it raises questions that planners require. 

Regarding totalitarian states it might be argued that black markets (see jeans, Coca Cola,  and frankly basic sustenance) and western pop culture had more to do with the Soviet Union’s fall than SDI or the Charlie Wilson’s War Myth.  See Ken Jowitts work on this and even Gorbachev’s comments that the television show Dallas had more to do with the Soviet Union crumbling than anything else (read the western security establishment)

Finally, UW doctrine and thinking now is quite stale and requires some rejuvenation.  The way the experts train it is akin to teaching these guys to charge windmills ala Don Quixote.  They are training for the previous century’s war. I don’t want this.  All of my writing, as small as it is, is meant to encourage others to think differently about improving the existing thinking.

All the best and thanks again for reading and commenting.






Tue, 03/09/2021 - 3:53pm

First thank you for reading and taking the time to provide critique.

The intention of this paper (not the new TED talk style solution) is to provide narrow minded UW thinkers a new concept to consider regarding the “E” in the national instruments of power.  If I was not clear, Agorism would be one strategy amidst others to consider.  Even in the drawbacks I acknowledge violence is a consideration that has to be met.  Agorism on its own is not a be all solution.  It is no silver bullet.  Anyone saying they have the final solution are selling something.  But it raises questions that planners require. 

Regarding totalitarian states it might be argued that black markets (see jeans, Coca Cola,  and frankly basic sustenance) and western pop culture had more to do with the Soviet Union’s fall than SDI or the Charlie Wilson’s War Myth.  See Ken Jowitts work on this and even Gorbachev’s comments that the television show Dallas had more to do with the Soviet Union crumbling than anything else (read the western security establishment)

Finally, UW doctrine and thinking now is quite stale and requires some rejuvenation.  The way the experts train it is akin to teaching these guys to charge windmills ala Don Quixote.  They are training for the previous century’s war. I don’t want this.  All of my writing, as small as it is, is meant to encourage others to think differently about improving the existing thinking.

All the best and thanks again for reading and commenting.





RT Colorado

Mon, 03/08/2021 - 12:30pm

The chances of a successful "Agoraism" resides in open societies exclusively. A plethora of strategists and writers have explored the notion of an Agora style movement, granted from a associated point of view and not as a mainstay strategy, and like so many other strategies it falls apart when confronted by a totalitarian government. It's a delicate mechanism that draws all of the "Ooh's and Aaw's" from the audience but it's the "AK-47" design that survives in a harsh environment. There is no one "be all and end all" in unconventional warfare, each conflict requires a careful consideration and a "trail and error" period before a successful strategy is found and eve then the strategy that works during one phase of a unconventional conflict may not be sufficient to finally win. There are few linear events in nature and fewer single idea solutions.