Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : a Paradigm
(2002 - 2013)
From territorial sovereignty to personal seigniory
In principio (^)
The beginning of time presented a world where the only barriers to movement for living creatures were constituted by nature (a river, a mountain, a desert).
Slowly, human beings, through their efforts and ingenuity, have been able to overcome many natural obstacles and have been willing to move from place to place, in search of the richest areas for hunting animals and collecting wild fruits.
Nomadic life does not favour any attachment to a particular territory, nor the tracing and fixing of limits in order to take possession and to guard protection, permanently, of some specific tract of land.
It was only when people stopped moving and started tilling the soil, developing agriculture, that, for many, life became sedentary. Following this epochal shift, a series of related changes has taken place. One of the most relevant was the delimitation of territories to safeguard the efforts put into their amelioration and cultivation.
Power : territorial sovereignty (^)
Since ancient times, with more and more people settling down cultivating land and fixing borders around the patch they cultivated, the possession and control of land became the most evident sign of power.
This was true for the pharaohs in the fertile Nile valley, for the Roman senators with their vast estates, and even more when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West and small territorial masters appeared on the scene.
The nomadic German tribes that had shaken Rome to the foundations, gave way, in the course of time, to a scattered crowd of feudal lords all over Europe.
These feudal lords appropriated for themselves the function of granting security to the rural inhabitants, in too many cases after having first brought hell and insecurity in the attempts to exercise and extend their territorial power.
The need for security is as strong as the need for fresh air; but as the latter is not felt until somebody has heavily polluted the air we breathe, so the former becomes paramount only when somebody has previously jeopardized it; and usually, those who destroy security, in the first place, are the same who, immediately after, advocate for themselves the exclusive prerogative of granting it.
In any case, whatever the particular dynamic, each feudal lord proclaimed his sovereignty over a specific territory he could control and from which he could derive his sustenance. This sovereignty was characterized by three aspects:
- small territory. The area under a feudal lord was small, at least with respect to most other historical periods, when the ruling power extended over empires or large dominions.
- low levy. The feudal appropriations consisted of a ten per cent imposition on produce, for the maintenance of the master, his family and his (small) retinue of people, plus some working obligations during the course of the year. These customary exactions were quite light, at least with respect to the squeezing taxation of much later times.
- feeble control. The feudal master, in his castle, was generally a distant master; who did not interfere with the lives of those living in the territory under his protection. He could become intrusive, but this was not the general attitude, not least because the rural labourers could rebel and declare allegiance to another master. In any case, the control and interference of the feudal master were quite loose comparing to what would take place in later periods.
State power : total territorial sovereignty (^)
The birth of some nation states (e.g. Italy, Germany) could be seen as the process through which the mightiest or shrewdest feudal lord, starting from his home base (e.g. Piedmont, Prussia) came to dominate and annex a vast territory.
In other words, statism, that is the coming to prominence in Europe (from the XVI century) of a system of states, represents the enlargement and accomplishment of the pyramid of the feudal system.
Statism is feudalism on a large scale, with the elimination of petty obstacles (e.g. a toll at every turn of the road) and the relaxation or abolition of restrictions (of movement, of commerce, etc.) between regions and places, now under one single power. At the same time, the means of control of this larger territory (bureaucracy, army, police) augment in relation to the increase in the means (revenues) extracted by the central power.
Territorial sovereignty becomes then, under the state, total territorial sovereignty. This total territorial sovereignty is characterized by three aspects:
- large territory
The annexation of some territory, with the consequent strengthening of the power, acts as a stimulant and a lever for the annexation of more territory, until either natural or political obstacles are met.
- high levies
Dominating a large territory and so controlling a large repository of resources, the state power can extract a considerable income, that greed and necessity (war, luxury, patronage, etc.) push to inconceivable heights.
- strong control
Within a large territory and through large revenues, the state power can hire a large number of obedient servants (bureaucrats, taxmen, policemen, military personnel, etc.) to exert a strong control on the territory and its people. The state attributes to itself total (indivisible) and absolute (unlimited) sovereignty over every matter (social, cultural, economical, educational etc.) and over every person living within its fixed borders.
To retain, rein in and reinforce this total territorial sovereignty, the state power uses two instruments:
- nationalism as the ideological glue, manufactured through the fictitious invention of a specific culture linking all the people born on a certain territory and confirmed by the imposition of a state nationality ascribed, willingly or unwillingly, to all of them. This manufactured culture becomes the state accepted culture (norms, language, etc.), that obliterates, or tries to obliterate, the historical traditions and practices of the individuals living in communities, before and beyond the state, with the intention of making them isolated and defenceless in front of the mighty state.
- imperialism as the political vent for channelling energies in the direction of the glory and power of the state.
It is interesting to remark that many revolutions, out of which a national state was born or regenerated, have ended up in promoting imperialistic policies: from the French revolution (the campaigns of Napoleon), to the Russian revolution (the satellite countries), down to independent India (the occupation of Goa), communist China (the annexation of Tibet) and unified Vietnam (invasion of Laos), just to mention the most notorious cases. Imperialism seems to be nothing else than the continuation of nationalism, the will to impose the ruling power of one national clique over larger and larger territories.
In the past, the western élites presented both phenomena under a favourable light; nationalism as noble aspiration to freedom and independence and imperialism as a vehicle for the "civilizing" mission of the white man.
It is now clear to almost everybody that they were and are, mainly, abominable expressions of the deception and brutality (e.g. violence, manipulation, ethnic cleansing) of the state power.
While no modern state ruler advocates any more, at least openly, policies based on nationalism and imperialism, what still remains, strongly upheld by every state politician, of any political inkling, is the concept of national sovereignty.
Time has come for the national sovereignty of the state, in whose name all sort of crimes has been and is still committed, to be thrown into the dustbin of history.
The erosion of total territorial sovereignty (^)
During the XIX and XX century, the notion of national sovereignty (total territorial sovereignty) had already found some opposition and limitation.
In 1865 a convention was signed in Paris that established the International Telegraph Union, the first international organization in modern times. In 1874 representatives from 22 countries convened in Bern and founded the General Postal Union (later, in 1878, to become the Universal Postal Union). It now has 189 members.
It was followed by the International Bureau of Weights and Standards for the unification of systems of measurement, and the International Railway Union for setting rules and standards for the circulation of rail carriages in Europe.
After the First World War, the League of Nations (1920) and the Permanent Court of International Justice (1922), gave only a glimpse of a world beyond the nation state or, at least, one in which the nation state was accountable for its deeds and misdeeds. But the League appeared dominated not only by the states but by the concept of the nation state and of its total territorial sovereignty. For this reason it was bound to fail miserably.
After the Second World War, a renewed attempt was made through the institution of the United Nations (1945) and collateral international organizations, to keep the nation states bound to a code of conduct where (extreme) nationalism and (political) imperialism would not be accepted.
On the economic scene, in Europe, the petty national protectionism of the first half of the XX century appeared obsolete and so an enlarged commercial space came into being in Europe under the name of the European Common Market.
Beyond these institutions and institutional changes, other powerful factors (especially cultural and technological) have operated, in recent times, to dismantle the strictures imposed by the nation states.
These factors affect:
- products. Goods circulate again, more or less freely, through the world, even if some areas (i.e. the less-industrialized regions) are kept or remain aside. Firms have found it convenient to install branches in various countries; they are called 'multinational' companies, and their allegiance is not to national bureaucracies but to customers and shareholders, wherever they are or come from.
- individuals. An increased economic affluence has produced a renewal of migration flows, of permanent or occasional nature. In the first case (permanent migration) people move from regions still dominated by cultural or institutional heavy controls to regions more relaxed styles of life and so more affluent standards of living. In the second case (occasional displacement) people go in search of exotic or just different places, to enjoy variety and undergo new experiences.
- messages. From the time of the first message sent by the airwaves to the millions of daily messages sent and received to and from every corner of the world, the reality of communication has undergone an astounding transformation. Even counting the fact that not all the messages (i.e. their contents) are for the good, what is undoubtedly good is this freedom to transcend barriers and link people, this possibility to converse and construct new exciting experiences.
All these changes-exchanges have worked and are still working in favour of the erosion of national sovereignty and towards its eventual dissolution.
The present/actual reality (^)
At the dawn of the XXI century, the nation state is a reality without a future. If it is left to carry on for much longer, humankind might not have any future.
The basic tenets of the state need to be totally superseded and with them the state itself. They are:
- closed territory (fixing of borders)
The state, as fiefdom on a large scale, is still attached to land, to territory, and the larger the territory the more powerful the state. The first thing to do for the control of a territory is the fixing of borders and this is the first preoccupation of any state.
Within a closed territory, the state wants absolute control of all the subjects living inside. That is why international individuals, like the Jews during the first half of the XX century or the Arabs in the early XXI century, are looked on with total suspicion. The state has so manipulated the minds of people that a word like "multinational" has become almost a swearword. Contrary to this deceitful image, it is necessary to stress that polycultural and polyglot individuals are multinational or transnational or a-national.
- exploitable territory (raping of nature)
To be based and rely on a specific territory does not mean that the state, as impersonal owner, is gentle and thoughtful with nature. In actual fact, where the central national state is weak, as in Switzerland, nature is in full splendour and extremely well managed; on the contrary, where the state has been more in control (e.g. the communist states of Eastern Europe) we had as result the most polluted and ravaged natural environments. This is because the state is essentially anti-nature, seeing nature as something to exploit savagely for use in the present and not something to manage wisely for the long-term enjoyment of everybody.
Following a distinction introduced by Aristotle (oikonomy and chrematistics), the policy of the state in dealing with resources should be defined as "pecu-nomy" (rules for making money) instead of "eco-nomy" (rules for managing the house). This has been true, at least, since the time of mercantilism, when the aim of the state was to accumulate gold and riches, down to the contemporary neo-mercantilism, motivated by the same aim of enlarging, through taxation, the coffers of the state. And the higher the production/consumption, the higher the accumulation of riches. So, the reaping of revenues for the state is in direct relation with the raping of nature by the state and its associates.
These realities, of national states, national borders, national sovereignty, are fast crumbling down, falling to pieces like the Berlin wall, no thanks to the benevolence and farsightedness of some national politicians, but because some individuals (eco-activists, mind shakers, etc.) have ignored the border posts and shown the path towards new ways of thinking and acting.
The state, as a closed-imposed territorial reality, cannot cope any longer with the open-spontaneous development of natural and personal energies sprouting all over the global village.
That is why new realities have started appearing towards the end of the XX century and new potentialities are becoming more and more visible and feasible at the beginning of the XXI century.
The present/potential trend (^)
The inability and impossibility of the nation state to cope with the new reality emerging after the Second World War, led to the birth and expansion of many international organizations.
The present trend is towards political and economic entities, or just commercial agreements, covering almost an entire continent, as shown by the examples of the European Union, Africa Union, North American Free Trade Agreement and so on.
These realities are meant to get over the pettiness, foolishness and destructiveness of the nation states; but they are only a timid step towards a borderless world, based on the harmonious intercourse between nature and individuals.
Besides that, there are severe potential dangers in a reality made up of Super Blocks on a continental basis (Africa, North America, Asia, Europe).
They might be a replica, on a larger scale, of the feudalistic model of the state, with its protectionist-mercantilist policies, the permanence of borders, the usual stinking bag of nationalism and territorialism, only on a larger level and on a larger scale (e.g. Western Europe versus North America).
There are already signs of this mentality and of the related practices. The European Union, for instance, has erected a new barbed wire fence around the Fortress Europe, replacing and rivalling the old Iron Curtain, obstructing and repelling the entering and the free circulation of people and goods from other areas.
However, to oppose this new super-nationalism and super-territorialism at a continental level, there are other powerful realities in operation. They refer to:
- natural reality: the physical conformation of a region can present obstacles (a mountain, a river) but does not impose boundaries in the sense of insurmountable barriers. Barriers are only man-made. The natural elements such as air and water (be they clear and fresh or stinking and polluted) move and flow freely, irrespective of countries and continents, without taking notice of silly borders set up by silly governments of states or super states.
- cultural reality: throughout history, the development of culture, that is the knowledge base and artifacts of a community, has resulted from the intermingling of individuals, their wandering through places and ideas, their exchanging information.
Communication does not have borders; like the air transported by the wind, the airwaves transport messages. To communicate is natural; to introduce obstacles to communication or movement is the exact contrary. Here, again, the close link between nature and culture shows also their clashing with the territorial restrictions and limitations imposed by the states. Any border control produces culturally mutilated people, segregated and disadvantaged communities, in one word, non-grown-up individuals, eternal minors subjected to the guardianship of the power.
Now, human will and technological tools are allowing more and more individuals to move away from a culture based on a delimited territory and administered by the power of the moment to a culture (knowledge base) transcending space and time, in hyperspace and hypertime. It is the world of virtual reality.
- virtual reality: the physical-material
reality, over which the territorial power had so much control, is
not anymore the (almost) exclusive reality and, in many cases, not
even the principal one.
This means that individuals can create and communicate virtual realities (e.g. a virtual library, a virtual university, a virtual community) beyond the control of territorial powers and against which territorial powers are impotent.
For this reason, an economy based, for example, on virtual currencies and planetary exchanges represents the nightmare scenario for any state revenue system, insofar as it heralds the era of voluntary allocation that replaces compulsory taxation.
The problem represented for the states by the existence of the multinational firms is nothing compared with the coming a-national a-territorial units of exchange, especially if/when new communities appear that are based on extra-territoriality (free spaces of autonomous communities where territorial sovereignty is neither exerted nor accepted).
Natural, cultural and virtual realities are incompatible with the model of total territorial sovereignty represented by the nation states and aped now by the continental super states.
New individuals are, more and more, realizing that what is needed is:
- varieties of cooperating realities/entities in distinct times/spaces
- varieties of competing realities/entities within the same time/space.
To achieve this we have to move away from territorial sovereignty towards personal seigniory.
Personal seigniory (^)
Personal seigniory is intended as the empowerment of individuals interacting within and between communities.
Without negating the concept of 'society' and the existence of collective realities called 'societies,' it is nevertheless necessary to stress that:
- individuals and their interactions make societies and without interacting individuals there would not be any society;
- individuals have needs, values, customs, not society in the abstract; what are called social needs are, simply, needs common to some or many individuals.
- individuals bear responsibility for what they do or do not do; to talk of responsibility with reference to society is only a figure of speech, that means (or should mean) the responsibility of each single individual in a group
The old paradigm is totally pervaded by the concept of society as a real entity beyond and above real individuals. Furthermore, in the old paradigm, society has become so identified and confused with the state that there are people who still believe in the fallacious notion expressed by the statement: we are the state. This statement reveals, not only the naivety of the person who makes it, but also the deceitful entanglement between reality and organizational phenomena super-imposed on reality. In fact, with the disappearance of the state (an historical form of organization of individuals) we do not disappear as individual human beings because we are not the state; we just change the form of our organization.
Personal seigniory is the convergence and coincidence between the form (ways of organizing) and the substance (who organizes what) of organization, insofar as both are meant to refer to real self-administered individuals and not to abstract super-imposed entities.
Having clarified this point, we can briefly sketch some aspects of personal seigniory. They concern and are grouped under two categories:
- individual responsibility (actors)
- universal husbandry (actions).
Personal seigniory as individual responsibility (actors) (^)
The territorial powers known as nation states have arrogated to themselves all sort of prerogatives and attributions concerning every possible aspect: security, justice, trade, education, environment, etc., considering them matters of national interest to which national measures apply.
Now, this view of problems, delimited by national borders, dealt with through national solutions, laboriously elaborated by national states, is not only ludicrous but out of this world.
In actual reality, the states have started taking into consideration some problems only because pushed and led to do so by individuals and voluntary organizations (associations, trusts, cooperatives, etc.).
These responsible individuals, local communities and non-state organizations, are examples of personal seigniory, to be expanded and improved everywhere.
Personal seigniory means moving from subjected people, compulsorily ascribed to a national state and its territorial political reality, to connected individuals, free to chose which community they want to participate in and contribute to and, within that community, which provider of services they want to use and support.
In order to make this feasible and possible, we need to cut the knot tying individuals to the territorial power, to abolish any claim by territorial powers on the life of individuals born and living in a specific territory.
In place of national subjects, with ascribed imposed membership and obligations, we have individuals who freely choose (if) to become members of one or more communities, on the basis of selected shared interests.
This would clearly mark the end of territorial powers, exerting unlimited power with unlimited irresponsibility on a bordered territory; and the true beginning of a borderless space, the entire globe, in the care of individuals that know both their duties and their responsibilities.
The cosmopolitan, polycultured, polyglot human being is one who shows class in what he/she does while not belonging to any class; one who masters many structured notions (that is, the world knowledge) while not being mastered by any straitening nation (that is, the deceitful ideology of a territorial power).
This individual, free to evolve and to choose without restrictions as to movement, settlement and development, is the one who, in association with other individuals, will start getting out of the morass and disasters engendered by the territorial powers.
They will be the actors of universal husbandry.
Personal seigniory as universal husbandry (actions) (^)
The end of territorial powers with their illusory bag of nation-made solutions to global problems, will bring to the fore the exigency and the existence of:
- universal principles. Like protocols of communication, universal principles express the needs and values, intrinsic to human beings, cherished and developed by individuals and communities throughout history, that have been tested and have withstood the passage of time and have become the robust core of guidelines for all living creatures.
- local practices. Principles, per se, are useless if they are not implemented in the day-to-day occurrences of life. This is why, the lofty declarations of intents coming from the state are a void shell when compared in importance to the actual attitudes and actions of human beings in their daily intercourse.
Universal principles should be the result of the reflection on historical local practices, and local practices should rely on and implement these universal principles as a concentration of wisdom out of experience.
The union of universal principles and local practices is the foundation of universal husbandry.
Personal seigniory as universal husbandry is characterized by:
Ownership is possession and use of products of human activity and of means of production. It can be:
It concerns, mainly, products that belong or are used by a specific individual. As a general rule, the personal ownership of the basic means of protection and sustenance (shelter, food, clothes, etc.) should be a universal possibility and reality.
It concerns, mainly, means of production that belong and are put to use by groups of individuals, for instance, a company, a trust, a club, a cooperative, an association or any type of organization where the possibility for involvement of the members is not distant or occasional. Common ownership should not be confused with state ownership, fallaciously called public ownership, that is ownership in the name of all for the vested/vicious interest of some.
Stewardship is the management and maintenance of the various spheres of human experience (biosphere, sociosphere, technosphere) for the enjoyment of present and future generations. It refers to the common heritage (natural, cultural), administered but not owned by anyone in particular except by humankind and all the living creatures (past, present, future). Stewardship can be:
The management and maintenance concern specific artifacts or places such as, for instance, a painting, a museum, a building, etc.
Management and maintenance concern the total environment and their inhabitants, seas and rivers, fields and trees, mountains and forests, gardens and parks including views and sceneries and whatever else is worth preserving and cherishing.
Personal seigniory means individual responsibility and universal husbandry in order to contribute to the well-being of onself and others.
The individual responsibility for universal husbandry could very well imply and require, in some cases, the active ostracism and boycott of individuals and communities that implement bad precepts and follow bad practices that result in damage or even violence to other individuals and communities. A serious continuous boycott of a violent institution or of a polluting company can be very effective in a networked world, because it is fast acting and very persuasive, if the pressure applied is sufficiently ample and resolute.
Individuals, associations, trusts, voluntary organizations, they have done more to protect the environment, to defend human dignity, to promote freedom and security, than all the territorial powers put together who, more often, have been the destroyers of nature, the offenders of humanity and the negators of freedom and security.
The disappearance of territorial powers would finally mean:
- the removal of artificial borders and the assertion of the universal freedom of movement - settlement - development;
- the end of compulsory national ascription and the beginning of contractual option, in other words, the choice if, when and which community-communities to start, select, support.
The time of personal seigniory has arrived.