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Panarchical governance: towards a state that isn’t a state

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th February 2010


We have opened the door on the notion 1) that the state could participate in the new networks as a legitimate actor, or 2) that the state could decentralize to the point of being a network itself. Certainly states participate in networks already, but for many global networks the impetus to their formation is the failure of the state to adequately address their interests. The result is a general antipathy toward the state, a resistance to its inclusion, and an oppositional attitude. On the second point, the primary characteristic of statehood is an embrace of hierarchy (at least one), i.e. that the state is the supreme legitimate representative of the collective will and that all others must be ultimately subject to it. This fundamentally at odds with the “plurilateralist” nature of networks. Therefore, in both instances, it may be that for the state to continue to participate effectively it would have to overcome its own nature, or state-ness, and in so doing would no longer be a state in any real sense.

The above quote is from Paul Hartzog’s master essay on Panarchy:

* Panarchy: Governance in the Network Age

It has a definite relation with our own concept of Partner State.

My conviction regarding the state is that:

1) it is a current inevitability

2) in the long term, we do need an expression of general interests that is separate from a mere federation of private interests, even if these are expressed by peer governed civil society networks

But it is important to realize that the current form of a class-based state, which needs to balance 1) the interests of the dominant factions; 2) the social balance of forces and the interest of the whole system; 3) and its own interests as a separate entity …

is not an eternal form of that general interest.

Our notion of the Partner State is a transitional concept, that would allow the state to evolve from its current corporate welfare orientation, to one where it both becomes an enabler and servant of civil society and its peer networks, and a arbiter in charge of meta-governance between public, private and common/civil functions.

What I’m predicting is that 1) many new functions will progressively replace state functions as they are made progressively redundant; and 2) that for the remaining functions, the very nature of the state as an oppressive entity will change.

It is my understanding that Paul Hartzog’s approach, as evidenced in the quote above, is quite congruent with that.

As he writes, in what could be an alternative definition of the Partner State concept:

it may be that for the state to continue to participate effectively it would have to overcome its own nature, or state-ness, and in so doing would no longer be a state in any real sense.

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