This is the third and final installment from my essay, "Transnational Republics of Commoning: Reinventing Governance through Emergent Networks," published by Friends of the Earth UK. The full essay can be downloaded as a pdf file here.
III. Re-imagining the Polity for a Networked Humanity
However promising the new forms of open source governance outlined above, they do not of themselves constitute a polity. The new regimes of collaboration constitute mini- and meso-systems of self-organization. They do not comprise a superstructure of law, policy, infrastructure and macro-support, which is also needed. So what might such a superstructure look like, and how might it be created? Can we envision some sort of transnational polity that could leapfrog over the poorly functioning state systems that prevail today?
A first observation on this question is that the very idea of a polity must evolve. So long as we remain tethered to the premises of the Westphalian nation-state system, with its strict notions of absolute sovereignty over geographic territory and people and its mechanical worldview enforced by bureaucracies and law, the larger needs of the Earth as a living ecosystem will suffer. So, too, will the basic creaturely needs of human beings, which are universal prepolitical ethical needs beyond national identity.
It may simply be premature to declare what a post-Westphalian polity ought to look like – but we certainly must orient ourselves in that direction. For the reasons cited above, we should find ways to encourage the growth of a Commons Sector, in both digital and non-virtual contexts, and in ways that traverse existing territorial political boundaries. Ecosystems are not confined by political borders, after all, and increasingly, neither are capital and commerce. Culture, too, is increasingly transnational. Any serious social or ecological reconstruction must be supported by making nation-state barriers more open to transnational collaboration if durable, effective solutions are to be developed.
While states are usually quite jealous in protecting their authority, transnational commons should be seen as helping the beleaguered nation-state system by compensating for its deficiencies. By empowering ordinary people to take responsibility and reap entitlements as commoners, nation-states could foster an explosion of open-source problem-solving and diminish dependencies on volatile, often-predatory global markets, while bolstering their credibility and legitimacy as systems of power.
But how might we begin to build a commons-friendly polity? After all, the most politically attractive approaches have no ambitions to change the system, while any grand proposals for transforming neoliberal capitalism are seen as political non-starters. I suggest three “entry points” that can serve as long-term strategies for transformation:
1) begin to reconceptualize cities as commons;
2) reframe the “right to common” (access to basic resources for survival and dignity) as a human right; and
3) build new collaborations among system-critical social movements so that a critical mass of resistance and creative alternatives can emerge.
These three general strategies are not separate approaches, of course, but highly complementary and synergistic.