David Ronfeldt in Dialogue with the Partner State Concept

David Ronfeldt, the author of an integrated theory (TIMN) of the evolution of governance, is starting a detailed and fair treatment of the partner state concept, for which I’m very grateful, since my own writings have been quite scattered. Here for the first time, they are collated by someone else. We publish his own ‘first part’, in two parts. The second part by David will be published on a as yet unspecified time, but we are eagerly awaiting it.

* Article: Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 1 of 2) . . . vis à vis TIMN. By David Ronfeldt. ‘Visions from Two Theories’ blog.

The version below is without the links to the source material, so go to the original for them.

David Ronfeldt:

“This is the third in this series of similarly-titled posts about the future of the state vis à vis TIMN. The first focused on Phillip Bobbitt’s concept of the “market state,” the second on Phillip Blond’s “civic state.” This one is about Michel Bauwens’ “partner state.”

The earlier posts explained why these three together (mostly alliterative happenstance) and provided background on each. The post about Blond also noted some similarities in his and Bauwens’ future prognoses. Since then, I’ve noticed additional differences regarding how Bobbitt, Blond, and Bauwens look at the state — differences that I’ve reduced to space-time-action (STA) orientations, in a nod to this blog’s other theme:

* Space: In Bobbitt’s writings, perhaps because he’s a constitutional theorist, the state has majesty; it looms large — it’s a centerpiece of social evolution and high civilization. This is less true of Blond’s writings. As a conservative, he’d like to “render the central state superfluous” — though not the state en toto at all levels of society, for he still regards government as necessary. In Bauwens’ writings, presumably because he is on the Left, the state seems more like a begrudged necessity, worth having for limited purposes if it is radically reoriented and kept “modest” in scope. For him, the size of the state is less important than how it is embedded in society. In a way, that makes his perspective extra-interesting for TIMN; many theorists on the Left are so anti-hierarchy that they’d prefer to eliminate the state altogether in the future.

* Time: Bobbitt is sweeping in his historical scope, starting with the 1500s and seeming to reach far into the future. However, my sense remains that his market-state notion is more about the present and near future than the long-range. In contrast, Blond recounts little deep history, but for mentions of Edmund Burke. He is preoccupied with the present and near future — yet I think his ideas apply to the longer-range future, better than Bobbitt’s. Of the three, Bauwens engages the longest time span. That reflects his partly-Marxist orientation, as well as his interests in social evolution, Kondratieff waves, and complexity theory. The longer the time perspective, the more interesting for TIMN.

* Action: All three believe that people have leverage over the future. But each offers a different emphasis. Bobbitt’s is on the logic of markets, and Blond’s on the logic of civil-society associations, though both nod to other forces. For Bauwens, everything is now being permeated by the logic of networks. Of the three, only he emphasizes the rise of network forms of organization, specifically peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Lots of theorists are interested in networks nowadays; but few are also interested in how they may alter future social evolution — and Bauwens is one of the few.

I’ve intended to post about Bauwens’ concept for months. A recent post — “Blog status update” — alludes to why my posting has lapsed for so long. But there’s another reason for my delay with this particular post: When I first planned to do it, Bauwens had written little about his concept — far less than Bobbitt or Blond had written about theirs — and I expected to have a relatively easy time drafting a post. But then, in a prolific burst, Bauwens produced a string of elaborations; and the longer I languished, the larger grew my backlog of readings about P2P theory and the partner state. I’ve ended up having to read more than I did about either Bobbitt or Blond. I’m still not fully caught up, and I’m still not sure I’m quoting and citing the best sources for Bauwens’ ideas. But what I have here about P2P and the partner state — and I’ve included lots of quotes, perhaps too many — will have to do for now. I expect to draw on additional readings to have more to say about TIMN vis à vis (and versus) P2P in future posts.

Bauwens anticipates the “partner state”

In Bauwens’ view, what will — and should — supersede the nation-state (as well as the welfare-state and the market-state) is the “partner state.” This will — and should — occur not so much because it offers a better kind of state per se, but because, as the information age progresses, society as a whole will be transformed by the spread of P2P networks across all sectors, and by the growth of the commons as a favored sector. Indeed, his partner state requires a P2P-oriented society that has a strong commons sector.

There is a lot to describe and explain here. And it might be clearer if I were to begin by discussing P2P networks and the commons first, before getting into the nature of the partner state. Bauwens proceeds that way in his own posts at his blog. But I’m sticking to my pattern for this series of posts — sketching the nature of the state comes first.

Bauwens’ partner state is meant to be a state that enables and empowers people. It should not dominate and determine on its own. Rather, it should support and guide — provide expertise, remove obstacles, be an arbiter, act as a regulator and orchestrator — on behalf of the actors who matter most in his vision: groups and individuals who are arrayed in P2P networks and embody P2P values. Some of these actors may emerge in government and business circles that define the traditional public and private sectors. But most will arise in civil-society circles that reflect a radical expansion of a new third sector — the “commons sector” — which is expected to become as, if not more, influential than the traditional two sectors.

Here are a few statements about these points, excerpted verbatim from a few of Bauwens’ blog posts (please overlook occasional grammar issues):

– “Beyond punctual adoption of pro-commons policies what we want to achieve in a next phase is a “reform” of the state, towards more of a Partner State model, whereby public authorities empower and enable the social production of value by civil society, and in this way sustains a wide variety of commons-oriented institutions and practices. . . . [W]hat we want to reach ultimately is a transformation of the state, as guarantor of a commons-based civilization. . . . [F]or a thorough commons transformation to occur, we will need fundamentally different state formations.” (source)

– “We need a political extension, one that, based on a commons-oriented policy framework, and a push towards replacing the corporate welfare state with a Partner State, . . . [that] institutes commonfare . . . and retakes control of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’, now in the hands of the destructive predatory factions that have taken control of the market states . . . .” (source)

– “We believe that under conditions of peer production, the state form will continue to exist, because the common good cannot be solely taking care of by individuals or groups taking on contracts, nor by the invisible hand of the commons, . . . The ultimate goal is the transformation of the present state form which privileges private interests, towards a ‘partner-state form’ which works for the common good, the general interest of the commoners, and the thrivability of the commons.” (source)

– “Rather than seeing itself as sovereign master, the state must be seen as embedded in relationships, and as in need of respecting these multiple relationships. . . . We can probably expect that the nation-state, along with the newly emerging sub- and supraregional structures will continue to exist, but that their policies will be set through a dialogue with stakeholders. The key will be to disembed the state from its primary reliance of the private sector, and to make it beholden to civil society, i.e. the commons, so that it can act as a center of arbitrage. . . . This is why we will say elsewhere in the text that one of the key goals of a P2P movement will be, or should be, ‘For a Commons-based Society with a reformed market and state’.” (source)

In many respects, Bauwens observes, the partner state will correspond to a kind of multi-layered and cross-linked “network state” (à la Manuel Castell’s renowned concept of the same name):

– “What emerges is a new form of the state. It is a state made of shared institutions, and enacted by bargaining and interactive iteration all along the chain of decision making: national governments, co-national governments, supra-national bodies, international institutions, governments of nationalities, regional governments, local governments, and NGOs (in our conception: neo-governmental organizations). Decision-making and representation take place all along the chain, not necessarily in the hierarchical, pre-scripted order. This new state functions as a network, in which all nodes interact, and are equally necessary for the performance of the state’s functions. The state of the Information Age is a Network State.” (source)

(Note his substitution of “neo-governmental” for “non-governmental” in the standard definition of the acronym NGOs. I like that.)

Those quotes seem to represent the essence of Bauwens’ partner state. It’s a rather spare concept, in that little is said about what such a state would look like in detail — a point true for Blond’s civic-state concept as well. But no matter, the important point is that the philosophical direction is clear, as are its main organizational principles. Many states have long tried to do much that the partner state is supposed to do: enable and empower people in ways that strengthen civil society. Yet, the rise of P2P networks offers a distinctive forward-looking way to do so, one that could not have been proposed before our era. For Bauwens, how the partner state may itself be structured is less important than how it is embedded in the embrace of new P2P networks that represent civil society and especially the commons sector.

Lest Bauwens’ concept — or my sketch — seem too spare, I hasten to point out that it relates, as he occasionally notes, to concepts about “deliberative democracy” (not to mention variants like associative, collaborative, and/or participatory democracy). Liberal democracy has long emphasized indirect representation — representative democracy — by way of political parties and popular elections. Deliberative democracy is about creating more direct and immediate ways for people to shape government policies and laws. Thus, deliberative democracy would foster mechanisms like community forums to generate citizen inputs about policy and budget priorities. Bauwens foresees that organizing pro-commons civil-society actors in P2P networks around the partner state may be crucial for instituting deliberative democracy attuned to the information age.

The big picture of which the partner state is a part

Clearly, the partner state amounts to only a part, even a relatively small part, of Bauwens’ overall vision. Bobbitt’s market state and Blond’s civic state are the central features of their visions. Not so for Bauwens’ partner state. The nature of P2P society writ large is the central feature for him — the state amounts to just a layer in that vision.

It’s not entirely clear to me what all the layers are. But P2P-oriented actors representing civil society and the commons sector appear to comprise the major layers (and players). And there are also layers that allow for more traditional public- and private-sector actors. But details aside, my point is that the evolution of P2P society is envisioned in layers — sometimes onion-like with the partner state at the center, in other instances strata-like with the partner state atop. Here is one statement about this:

-“The vision of P2P theory is the following:

1) the core intellectual, cultural and spiritual value will be produced through non-reciprocal peer production;

2) it is surrounded by a reformed, peer-inspired, sphere of material exchange;

3) it is globally managed by a peer-inspired and reformed state and governance system, a “partner state which enables and empowers the social production of value”.

Because of these characteristics, peer to peer can be said to be the core logic of the successor civilization, and is a answer and solution to the structural crisis of contemporary capitalism.” (source / source / variant)

What’s significant (in my view) is that Bauwens’ formulation of a future P2P society / civilization keeps the state around, playing crucial roles, although he and many of his colleagues on the Left might prefer to see states wither away eventually, with other P2P mechanisms (or layers, to stay with the metaphor) taking on their functions. Here is one statement to that effect:

– “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 . . . 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[n] 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.

. . . As [Paul Hartzog] 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.”” (source; punctuation and paragraphing slightly edited by Ronfeldt)

And, according to Bauwens, this new society and its state should evolve in phases, over a period of many decades, first by attracting political and other actors who come to see its value, then via new social movements that favor the growth of the commons sector, and finally by generating enough reforms to institute the partner state. Here is one statement about this:

-“I see different steps of political maturation of this new sphere of peer power. First, attempts to create networks of sympathetic politicians and policy-makers; then, new types of social and political movements that take up the Commons as their central political issue, and aim for reforms that favour the autonomy of civil society; finally, a transformation of the state towards what I call a Partner State which coincides with a fundamental re-orientation of the political economy and civilization. You will notice that this pretty much coincides with the presumed phases of emergence, parity and phase transition.” (source / source)

In other words, P2P theory is a grand (but not grandiose) theory of social evolution that has visionary implications. But before turning to that, I find that there is much else yet to lay out.”

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