Pluriarchy, confederalism and abundance

Pluriarchy and community confederalism are simultaneously the result of, and a guide to, the path towards abundance. They are forms of organizing that maximize the ability to evolve and survive of the social space opened by the new optimum of scale and the emergence of distributed networks. Both put the focus on the true center of this whole transformation: community.

NetocratsIn 2002, Alexander Bard and Jan Soderqvist published Netocracy: The New Power Elite and Life after Capitalism. The main thesis of the book has never had greater interest. Much like other attempts to give a “Marxist-style” foundation to anti-consumerism, it attempted to argue that social classes based on production were being overcome by new ones, founded on the relationship with consumption. Bourgeoisie and proletariat would mutate into netocracy and consumariat. The netocrats would be those capable of having an influence on the great consensus that defines lifestyles in the age of networks. The consumariat would be made up of the passive masses whose identity is defined by the netocrats.

However, in studying how conversational networks function to make their argument, Bard and Soderqvist made an important discovery. According to them, in these communities connected as distributed networks, “democracy collapses”:

Every actor individual decides for him/herself, but lacks the capacity and the opportunity to decide for any of the other actors, which makes it impossible to maintain the fundamental notion of democracy, where the majority decides for the minority when differences of opinion occur.

They call this system “pluriarchy.” The world of pluriarchy is a subtle one. First, because there’s no coercive power in conversational networks, even if the majority not only didn’t sympathize with a proposal, but was openly against it, it could not avoid it being carried out. Democracy is, in this sense, a system of scarcity: the collective has to choose between one thing and another, between one filter and another, between one representative and another, whereas pluriarchy inevitably produces diversity. But Bard and Soderqvist soon point out that even if this is possible, pluriarchy

…is not anarchy. You cannot do what you like, you have to adapt to the rules and laws of consensus.

This idea of consensus is the true key to understanding what pluriarchy means and the nuances between the different kinds of communities connected as distributed networks. Consensus defines identity, and identity defines belonging. Pluriarchy means total individual freedom within community, as long the individual acts within the basic consensus that makes up that identity. For example, we are in the paradoxical place that leads anarchist groups to establish the rule “it is forbidden to forbid.” Beyond the border of consensual identity and shared values, it is possible change conversational networks, or create a new one (“fork”).

What hurts Bard and Soderqvist is that identarian dissidence can mean the loss of the community belonging for the individual. And, in fact, this is fairly frequent. In practice, conversational communities, centered on creating a given set of knowledge or developing sets of coherent values, tend to have more precise and strict identarian criteria over time, which leads them to “be less to be more,” and ultimately leads to what Juan Urrutia has defined as the path of “individuation through belonging”: the development of individuality by successively belonging to different communities, which a person joins and later dissents from throughout their life.

But the interesting thing is that an individual dissenting from consensus also means the loss of members for the group. So, when communities incorporate productive activities–from developing software to producing objects–that trend begins to have a strong counterweight, because inclusiveness is a need imposed by survival. As we’ll see, when pluriarchy leads to production, it imposes a certain laxness on communities in the definition of that consensus, and therefore a opening to innovation and risk, which are completely new. And, in summary, two opposing tendencies define identity in pluriarchical networks: inclusion and dissidence, communitarization and individuation.

Therefore, where Bard and Sodeqvirst saw a symptom of the decomposition of democracy, we Indianos saw an emergent property that is characteristic of distributed networks, to which Juan Urrutia added a very important consequence: when a network configures itself as a pluriarchy, it becomes impossible to indefinitely maintain privileges or advantages for an individual or a group of individuals, because either consensus corrects the situation, or the disadvantaged will leave the network to join another one, or create a schism, a “fork.” And so, one way or another, rents dissipate. Pluriarchy is the form of organization characteristic of communities oriented to abundance, whether they are exclusively conversational communities or communities that also produce.

ConsensoAnd indeed, pluriarchy is not only in virtual conversations: it appears as a defining element in the new technological cooperativism, in networks of free software developers, in teams that design products for the Direct Economy, and we could even interpret the experience of the communitarian movement of the last thirty years as a transition from democratic mechanisms to consensus as a hegemonic form of decision-making.

But there’s still another important element. A real community organized under a pluriarchical system coincides with what Juan Urrutia defined as “identarian community,” its consensus, its identity, is “mutation-proof.”

If one of the individuals or nodes on a completely distributed network changes its nature or the community is infiltrated by a few individual agents from another community, these new individuals do not change the memes, but rather adapt themselves to them.

This is the feature that made that Bard and Sodervisq remind us that pluriarchy and anarchy are not the same thing. In pluriarchy, there is a characteristic identity of the network or community. And this analytical idea of “identarian community” is, as we’ve seen, key in the foundation of abundance, because it drastically reduces, if not eliminates, the better part of transaction costs.

From pluriarchy to confederalism

juan-ouisharefest-2015And this is relevant because when we increase the scale of the social network, a new logic appears in inter-community relationships: a re-reading of the confederal idea in the light of networks. Confederation has important parallels with pluriarchy. For example, the fundamental difference between confederation and federation, as Juan Urrutia pointed out, is that…

In a confederation there’s no ultimate authority, and it is better to accept this than try to forge one artificially.

The result therefore necessarily asymmetrical, an overlapping network of commitments, topical consensus, and traces of shared identity that make it possible to reduce transaction costs at different moments and in shifting situations with allies. It is, as we see in the world of free software or the direct economy, a world in which peers, always linked, occasionally ally in action, resulting in a kind of map that’s closer to a dynamic representation of brain activity than to the representation of a commercial bloc or the organizational chart of an industrial group. The community of social relationships is presented to us as a changing mix of diversity and multi-specialization.

evolucionAnd continuing with the well-known results of economic theory, Urrutia points out that

We know that it may be that this diversity will not make the optimum result attainable, but, as in many examples from biology, it maximizes the possibilities for survival of the whole.

That is, confederation reinterpreted from pluriarchy produces a “evolutionarily resistant” result where the fabric as a whole will have more possibilities for adaptation and survival than if it had opted for another form of organization that would homogenize the parts. In a new sense, we again accept an exchange of scale for reach.


Pluriarchy and community confederalism are simultaneously the result of, and a guide to, the path towards abundance. They are forms of organizing that maximize the ability to evolve and survive of the social space opened by the new optimum of scale and the emergence of distributed networks. Both put the focus on the true center of this whole transformation: community.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

3 Comments Pluriarchy, confederalism and abundance

  1. AvatarConnor Owens

    This is interesting but it’s nothing new. Social anarchists have been calling for confederations of self-governing communities as a socio-political model since the 19th century.

    This model has similarities especially to the libertarian municipalism devised by social anarchist and Communalist Murray Bookchin.

  2. AvatarDavid de Ugarte

    Dear Connor,

    Confederalism was defined by Proudhon, and already in 1873 there was a local-confederalist revolution in Spain

    The contribution of Bard and Urrutia is they link confederalism with network dynamics and experience… what by the way is not done by Murray Bookchin whose theory is just a rebranding of traditional federalism.

    By the wawy, dont you think theory born of direct historical practice from Proudhon to Urrutia should be the reference and not a one-man’s-job out of social movevement like Murray Bookchin’s? This new obsession in Bookchin is something more than anglocentrism?

  3. AvatarBob Haugen

    I’m pretty sure Murray saw himself as part of that whole stream of practice and theory, and not as inventing something himself out of whole cloth. His communalism, by the way, arose after he quit calling himself an anarchist.

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