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Rethinking Sovereignty

June 28, 2009

Michael Strong points us to a fascinating paper by Jurgen Brauer and Robert Haywood. Echoing the idea of breaking the monopoly on law, they argue against the concept of territorial based sovereignty. In its place, they imagine a type of polycentric sovereign order where, in any territory, political authority is fragmented and overlapping among states, civil society and private enterprise. They write:

virtually the entire academic and public discussion regarding global governance is carried out in terms of the Westphalian-type, sovereign state-based, and state-centric system. But unlike global civil and commercial society, the members of that system are, ironically, the least global players. They cannot but act with merely local, parochial interests in mind. Thus, by design, state-based global governance is always likely to fall short of what is needed. Myopia prevails over utopia.

What is needed is an enforceable, rules-based global structure that balances the respective strengths of political, civil, and commercial society, the first operating through power, the second through moral suasion, and the third through markets. Indeed, humanity’s very conception of sovereignty must return to its pre-1648 sense: universal assertion of authority and universal assertion of supremacy, but in a non-territorial way. (For example, religious doctrine generally asserts universal authority and supremacy over the faithful, wherever they may be located.) The question arises of how this can possibly be achieved today. Our suggestion looks to non-state sovereign (civil society and commercial) entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. This refers to trans-boundary, non-state actors as they impinge on and aim to supplement, even supplant, certain powers of sovereign states.

Commercializing the success of free economic zones like the Dubai International Finance Center and Hong Kong is one way to realize a portion of their framework. On that note, Strong and Robert Himber have a new article in Economic Affairs on the lessons Dubai offers for such free market reforms.
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  7. June 29, 2009 11:12 pm

    I know Bob Haywood, and have two relevant comments:

    1. He is working for a foundation that is committed to deepening their mainstream credibility among the academics who study “governance” as well as the NGOs that are committed to improving “global governance.” As such, the directions that are of the most interest at this website are not likely to be among his near-term foci. That said, his success in opening up dialogue in mainstream governance communities regarding the Westphalian nation state assumptions on which all existing global governance rest strikes me as an amazing achievement that is unambiguously useful to the “Thousand Nations” community.

    2. Bob was also a friend and supporter of Michael Van Notten, author of “The Law of the Somalis,” a wonderfully original book that ought to be reviewed at this site.



  8. June 29, 2009 6:30 pm

    Excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a panarchist who expressed some concern that the ideas contained in the Brauer-Haywood article were not necessarily arguing for a system of greater individual liberty:

    I agree with you that there is a chance the authors of the article do not exactly have panarchism in mind. I suppose we will have to wait and see how they follow this up with concrete examples. They refer to the idea of territorialism no less than 19 times in their article, and they use the analogy of religion, as you do, and as De Puydt, Zube, and Rozeff do. So there is a huge overlap. Then there is the fact that their article is cited on a website named: “Let A Thousand Nations Bloom.” (admittedly, the authors of the article may have nothing to do with this)

    I guess we would have to closely examine the underlying internal logic of the system they are proposing. They are proposing non-state entities that supplement and supplant the territorial nation state. The question will become whether individuals can exit these new entities and/or form new ones. If so, then the internal logic of what they are proposing will be in line with panarchism. Because you would have entities that one could join, form, or exit, which entities were supplanting territorial nation states. The internal logic of this, as you can see, is that over time, such “exitable” entities would replace the territorial nation state.

    They use the example of religions which, in my understanding, are organizations one can exit from. I’m less clear on their other examples.

    It will come down to whether voluntary association applies to the non-state organizations they envision. If their vision is simply one of a state/corporate model where corporations enforce State laws, essentially as administrative arms of the State, then obviously this is nothing we would be interested in. But I believe the authors are saying more than this….

    Remember, Darwin did not say (plainly, I believe) that man is descended from the apes, and the founding documents of the US did not say (plainly, I believe) that slavery should be abolished.

    Rather, the internal logic of the original ideas put forth led to inescapable conclusions, as these ideas were worked out over time.

    The promising thing about the Brauer-Haywood article, is that it is possible that the internal logic of what they are suggesting may exceed the concrete structures they themselves are imagining.

    If non-state actors supplant territorial states, and if “non-state actors” are associations that individuals may join or exit, then panarchist principles are being employed, whether or not the champions of such ideas are themselves state actors (members of various organizations associated with the state).

    For these reasons, I’m inclined to view the article as a positive sign, while acknowledging that it could possibly amount to a “false alarm.”

    The authors may be calling for the examination of ideas which if implemented, would put into place important aspects of the panarchist vision, even though when the ideas were put forth, they were (perhaps) not intended to serve this purpose.

  9. Mike Gibson permalink*
    June 29, 2009 12:47 am

    Thanks Adam. I’m excited to check these links out.

    • June 29, 2009 1:23 am

      Thank you Mike.

      The Brauer-Haywood article contains the following references to nonterritorial governance, listed in the order of their occurrence:

      1. territorial-based
      2. non-territorial
      3. defined territory
      4. given territory
      5. governance within the realm
      6. territorially defined (also, “mutually exclusive sovereignties”)
      7. territory
      8. territory
      9. trans-boundary
      10. but in a nonterritorial way
      11. wherever they may be located
      12. trans boundary
      13. non-territorial sovereign organizations
      14. without defined territory
      15. trans-boundary
      16. not beholden to location specific …interests
      17. across territories
      18. non-territorial
      19. non-territorial.

      The authors are saying that the current system is broken, and it needs to be
      fixed by moving towards nongeographically defined organizations that have sway over their membership analogous to how religions do.

      Here is a quote: “This refers to trans-boundary, non-state actors as they
      impinge on and aim to supplement, even supplant, certain powers of sovereign

      If you read the founding document (de Puydt’s essay) of the panarchist philosophy, you will see that the essential principle is nonterritorially defined coexisting governments. And as Brauer and Haywood do, de Puydt specifically uses the example of religious coexistence. (panarchist writers Zube and Rozeff also use this analogy)

      The key is the conception of political groupings as nongeographically defined organizations or associations. This takes away the mutual exclusiveness (monopolistic nature) of government. Your introduction to their article mentions breaking the monopoly on law, and their article mentions “mutually exclusive sovereigns.” This acknowledges that the problem with contemporary government is its monopolistic, mutually exclusive nature. The nonterritorial concept of government solves this problem.

      The most important aspect of their article, as indicated by the nineteen times they mention or refer to territory, is the recognition and insight that government need not be based on territory. In fact, this unchallenged assumption is what is holding back political progress and the political evolution of man.

      Brauer and Haywood’s article is important as a sign of the growing recognition of this fact, and as a sign that thinking of government in terms of nonterritorial coexisting associations is beginning to enter the academic debate.

      Sincerely, Adam

  10. June 28, 2009 9:01 pm

    A group of thinkers referring to themselves as Panarchists have been arguing for a nongeographical conception of government. In this conception, multiple governments coexist on a nonterritorial basis. This idea was outlined in a beautiful essay by one Paul Emile de Puydt in an essay entitled “Panarchy” (see PDF below).

    The key insight, which Brauer and Haywood also cite, is that government can be arranged analogous to how religious organizations have arranged themselves–nonterritorially–and this in large measure solves the problem of conflicting political values. It allows people to choose the governing organizations that fit their level of political development and level of enlightenment, as opposed to having one single and universal government imposed on a geographical basis. Instead of a mutually exclusive conception of government, where one person’s gain is another person’s loss, nonterritorial government allows multiple coexisting governments. This diminishes political strife and the struggle for control of the political apparatus.

    Panarchists are generally against political monopoly (the monopoly on law referred to by Mike Gibson), and believe that government should evolve to become based not on geography, but on individual choice.

    As Brauer and Haywood write: “The question arises of how this can possibly be achieved today.” The answer, I believe, lies in the Internet and related technologies. Nongeographical civil associations could possibly begin to form over the Internet. But larger numbers of thinkers need to be involved in the discussion for the best ideas to come forward on how to proceed with a future nongeographical political vision.

    Below, I’ve posted three PDF’s. One is the original de Puydt essay which is beautiful for its optimistic tone. One is a recent book of essays written by contemporary panarchist authors. And the last is my essay The Present State of Liberty, which makes a case against political monopolism, geographical government, and the brand of libertarianism that is based on those concepts.

    Click to access Panarchy,%20Final%20PDF%2012-7-08.pdf

    Click to access Paul%20Emile%20De%20Puydt,%20Feb.6,2009.pdf

    Click to access Present%20State%20of%20Liberty.pdf

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