Sunday, 29 September 2019

On Convivial Governance

Over the last two years, I’ve written twenty-six essays on political and ethical philosophy, government, and the ills of the political system under which we suffer today. The first twelve covered the philosophy, with side trips into science and environmentalism. The second group of seven were mainly about economic matters; though I did also discuss property and borders. The third group of seven led towards my diagnosis of the problems we face.

I’m just about done with the diagnosis. So today, I’ll embark on my search for Cure.

This essay is the first of a set of four, in which I aim to outline a new system of minimal or, as some say, “minarchist” governance. I call this convivial governance. This system will be bottom-up and de-politicized. That is: First, it will focus on the individual, and on small communities. And second, it will not allow any political ideology or agenda to be imposed on any of the governed against their wills.

In this, the first of the set, I’ll give an overview of my system. I’ll look at its aims, its functions, and its general design. The second essay will address the ethical principles on which it will be based. These are: First, moral equality, and the Convivial Code which encapsulates it. Second, common sense justice. Third, human rights. And fourth, maximum freedom for every individual. The third essay will sketch out some of the institutions which might implement convivial governance. And the fourth will discuss the thorny matter of how it should be paid for. After that, I’ll fill in some of the remaining gaps in a number of follow-up essays.

I’m sure that many people will find my ideas crazy, unworkable or both. But in that case, it’s up to them to tell me where and why I’m wrong, and to suggest better solutions if they can.

What is convivial governance?

Convivial governance is the phrase I use for a future system of minimal governance, which will allow good people to live together in an environment of peace, justice and maximum freedom for every individual. Put succinctly, it will be governance of convivial people, by convivial people, for convivial people.

It will govern a community of individuals, in much the same way as a referee governs a football match. It will also adjudicate as needed on the relationships between those individuals, the voluntary societies to which they belong, and other individuals and societies with which they interact.

Conviviality

The word convivial, meaning living together (with a side sense of living together well), I have borrowed from the Belgian philosopher Frank van Dun. His convivial order is a framework in which: “people live together regardless of their membership, status, position, role or function in any, let alone the same, society.” And he describes it as: “an order of friendly exchange among independent persons.”

I think of convivial governance as a system of governance intended to support, and to help to maintain, a particular kind of order. That is, Frank van Dun’s convivial order. And this “order” is, indeed, ordered. Though it is not a social order; it is not order imposed from the top down. The convivial order is a bottom-up order. Convivial order is spontaneous order.

I also use the word convivial in a more general sense, of treating other people peacefully and civilly. And convivial conduct (also known as conviviality) is the behaviour habitually indulged in by those who are, generally speaking, good people to have around you. Peacefulness, truthfulness and dealing in good faith are examples of convivial conduct. And aggressions, thefts, lies, dishonesty, deceptions and bad faith are examples of unconvivial conduct.

It’s important to note that convivial conduct is not at all the same as obeying the rules or laws of any particular culture, society or government. In fact, the core rules of convivial conduct – that is, what is convivial when dealing with strangers – are independent of any culture, religious rules or government laws. I’ll say more about this (the Convivial Code) in the next essay in this set.

The aims of convivial governance

Convivial governance aims at two main things. First, to supersede, and eventually to extinguish, the top-down, failed, 16th-century system that is the “Westphalian” political state. Along with the super-states and multi-national political organizations that have flowed from it, such as the EU and the UN. And second, to form an embryo, from which can grow a future world free from war, injustice and the imposition of political ideologies or agendas.

By getting rid of the state, I expect that convivial governance will solve several of the problems we suffer today. One, it will end the imposition by political factions or pressure groups of laws that are harmful to ordinary people. Two, it will make starting a war both difficult and very, very risky. Three, it will end re-distributory, punitive and abusive taxation, by making a direct link between what individuals pay for governance and the benefit they receive from it. Four, there will be no “sovereign immunity” to allow officials or favourites to get away with what, if done by someone else, would be crimes.

The governed are a community, not a society

Convivial governance starts from a slightly different premise than the “social contract” idea, which has dominated political thought for centuries. That premise is, that the people in a particular geographical area form, not a society, but a community. Such a community is bound together, not by a “general will” to follow any one direction or political agenda, or by a contract, whether signed or not; but merely by ties of mutual convenience. It is similar, for example, to the communities of people who own homes in the same development, or flats in the same block.

Such a community may spawn societies, which act in certain respects on behalf of all those in the community. Such as a home-owners’ association, or the management company of a block of flats. Indeed, the two primary organizations for delivery of convivial governance, which I call the Community of Convivial Governance (CCG) and Society for Convivial Governance (SCG), will be societies – in essence, non-profit companies. But the community itself has no leader, no officials, no goals as a group beyond living together for mutual convenience, no political ideology, and no agenda beyond its own continuation.

A system of very limited function

The valid functions of governance in a community, as I discussed in an earlier essay, consist of three primary and three secondary functions. The primary functions are: To maintain peace, including defending the governed against attack or violent disruption. To deliver objective justice as needed, including the arbitration of disputes. And to defend the rights of every individual who respects others’ rights. Broadly, these correspond to the military, the justice system (with its back-ups, such as prisons) and the police in current systems of government.

The secondary functions: To co-ordinate, as necessary, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, such as roads, between communities. To maintain good relations with other, friendly communities. And quality control on every aspect of the governance process.

Convivial governance will never interfere in matters like religion, health, education or welfare, that are outside its valid functions. Nor will it ever attempt to impose, or allow to be imposed, any political ideology or agenda on any of the governed against their wills.

Moreover, it will not seek to control or to meddle with the economy in any way. It will not interfere with any economic activity, unless there is rights violation, fraud or actual harm being done to someone; or intention to violate rights, to defraud or to cause harm; or recklessness beyond the bounds of reason.

A bottom-up system

Convivial governance is a “bottom-up” system. It focuses, first and foremost, on the individual. It seeks maximum freedom for every individual, consistent with living in a community of convivial people. And it expects every adult individual to take personal responsibility for the effects on others of his or her voluntary actions.

It seeks to work with the nature of peaceful, honest, productive human beings, rather than against that nature. It eschews aggressions and wars. And it avoids, as far as possible, pitting people or groups against each other. It seeks to let people “agree to disagree” wherever that is workable.

Its institutions, too, will be built from the bottom up. First, a local or neighbourhood community; then a second level of community on the scale of a town or small city. On the few occasions on which a larger scale of agreement is necessary – for example, fighting a defensive war, or agreeing on infrastructure development – this will be accomplished through alliances, with representatives of the different communities working together.

A de-centralized and networked system

Convivial governance will be, by its nature, de-centralized. The communities, into which the governed will be grouped, will be small enough to produce diverse “flavours” of community for people of different tastes. Economically, different communities will also tend to specialize in different things. For example: agriculture, retail, finance, new technology, particular industries, or providing specialist services over a wide geographical area. So, there will be much trade, both between neighbouring communities and between those further apart from each other.

Thus, convivial governance will be like a network, not a hierarchy. It will have no head, and no central point at which political power can collect. And it will have no mechanisms to allow one interest group or community forcibly to override the interests of others.

Moreover, free movement between communities will be the norm. Change of residence, while requiring the agreement of those in the receiving local community, will be easy enough that dis-satisfied convivial people can choose to move to places more congenial to them.

A reactive system, not a pro-active one

Convivial governance will be reactive rather than pro-active. It will not send out officials seeking things to meddle in. It will expect convivial individuals to be on the alert for things which are, or may well be, real wrongdoings. And it will expect them to report these as they see them.

In particular, every adult will have the right to arrest anyone they reasonably suspect of a real wrongdoing, and bring them to justice. This is like the English common law tradition of the “citizen’s arrest.” Thus, in convivial governance, everyone will be a member of the executive.

A free-market system

The two primary vehicles for delivery of convivial governance, the CCG and SCG, will be non-profit companies. The CCG will provide services which must be delivered locally, in the immediate vicinity of those who need them. On the other hand, the SCG will provide those services, which can be delivered on a wider scale than simply a single community.

I’ll give more on these two organizations in the third essay of this set. At this point, I’ll merely say that SCGs will be able to compete in a free market for the custom of the inhabitants of CCGs. It is also important to note that SCGs do not have to be territorial. In that sense, they will be like insurance companies, not like political states.

A system of accountability, impartiality and honesty

Under convivial governance, everyone will be accountable for the effects of their voluntary actions on others. And that includes those involved in the processes of governance itself. The managing director of an SCG, a top detective, even a senior judge, are all to be held accountable in the same way as anyone else.

Moreover, convivial governance will have procedures designed to ensure maximum honesty, integrity and impartiality in all its doings. It will always seek the facts and the truth in any matter. It will make its judgements as objectively as possible. It will keep meticulous records, and make them open to inspection. And it will not allow its processes to be influenced by lies, hype or political agendas of any kind.

A flexible system

I have tried to build flexibility into the system in several different ways. First, while it must work initially in a defined geographical territory, I want it to be adaptable to a future non-territorial system, in which SCGs will compete for customers in the free market, like insurance companies.

Second, I want it to work over a wide range of scales, from a few households up to communities of town or city size. That is, up to the size of community which can be economically viable or “sustainable” in a totally free market. Its de-centralization and networked nature should then enable it to be scaled up to areas inhabited by hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people. Eventually, so I foresee, it can grow to become world-wide. But this will not be a “world government,” or anything like it. Its growth will be bottom-up like the Internet, not top-down like the EU or United Nations.

Third, I want it to be able to adapt as people move in or out of communities, or as tastes change. I envisage that, at need, communities will be able to split via what I call “friendly secession.” Or, where appropriate, to join together via “friendly union.”

Fourth, I want it to work for and among many cultures. As I’ll explain in the second of these four essays, there will be a fairly small set of core ethical rules. These rules are intended to apply to interactions between parties, who have not made any prior agreement with each other, and who may be from different cultures. Since I expect such rules would need to change only once in a generation or so, this would remove any requirement for a standing legislature.

But convivial governance will also allow for what I call “agreement to vary.” Through such an agreement, societies can agree with their members, if they so wish, extra rules or different rules from the core in their dealings among themselves. Individuals and societies can also agree, by mutual consent, to waive certain provisions of the core rules, either for one transaction or on a more regular basis.

To sum up

I have given a very broad outline of my ideas on how a minimalist system of convivial governance might work. Some of the major differences between this system and current Western systems of government (as exemplified by countries like the UK and the US) are:

  1. There will be no state, and so no sovereignty. Actions such as starting wars, making bad laws and imposing abusive taxation will not be acceptable.
  2. Convivial governance sees the governed not as a society, but as a community. They have no “general will,” beyond mutual convenience and the continuation of the community.
  3. Thus, convivial governance will not impose on anyone against their wills any political ideology or agenda.
  4. The functions of governance are reduced to their core: peace, justice, defence of rights, co-ordination of infrastructure, diplomacy and quality control.
  5. The system will be bottom-up, focusing on the individual and on small communities.
  6. The system will be reactive rather than pro-active.
  7. The system will be honest and impartial, and everyone will be accountable.
  8. The system will be de-centralized and networked, to make it scalable to areas of different sizes, eventually right up to world-wide.
  9. The system is designed to be flexible enough to work among multiple cultures.
  10. The system allows individuals and societies to extend or modify the basic rules by mutual consent.
Let the feedback begin!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

The War on Cars – Video


Last month, I gave a talk to the Libertarian Alliance in London about the “war on cars” that successive UK governments have been conducting against us for decades now. The talk was very wide-ranging, covering:

1.      The green movement in general, and the involvement of the United Nations and the UK government in it.
2.      The “global warming” scare, and the (long and rather sordid) backstory to it.
3.      The “air pollution” scare that is now being used as an excuse to intensify the war on our cars, and the (just as long, and almost as sordid) backstory to it.

This is one of my very rare appearances on video (a good thing they’re rare! I hear some of you saying). The link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUpOj7KabvM.

The talk is quite long (55 minutes) and rather detailed, but I think I got over many important points, and made people chuckle a few times on the way!

Friday, 13 September 2019

See? Humans are good for wildlife, not bad. And it’s “official!”

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking in a park about four miles from my home. And I chanced upon one of those signs which the local borough council had put there to tell people about the area and its wildlife. At first, I didn’t bother to read it; for I expected the usual smug, politically correct rant about “sustainability” and how “we” (whoever that may be) are extinguishing wildlife, polluting the planet and making it into a hell-hole.

Imagine my pleasure, then, when – having cleaned a little bit of the muck off the sign, for it was very dirty – I read the following:

“Shalford water meadows were once lush farmland to grow hay and graze cattle. This was achieved by creating a water meadow system across the fields along the Wey Navigation. Eventually the water meadows fell out of use and nature began to reclaim them for herself.

“If the water meadows continued to be left to nature they would eventually turn to woodland and dry up. This would result in the loss of all the fantastic plants and animals that made the meadows their home. To prevent this happening we are carrying out sensitive management work across the meadows.”

Now, one could criticize this missive for its lack of commas, and for dubbing plants and animals “fantastic” when, in truth, they are real and no fantasy. But this message came across to me most clearly:

See? Humans are good for wildlife, not bad. And it’s “official” – ‘cos Guildford Borough Council sez so!

Monday, 9 September 2019

Globalism, Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

Part of the globalist √©lites’ strategy to bring about their super-state is to permit the people of the world no other options. They pooh-pooh the independent nations and governments, which have evolved over centuries. And they condemn giving individuals any say in our future. They tell us that nations – and even democracy – are old-fashioned and out of date, and their own vision is the only one possible. And they try to make out that people opposed to political globalism are “right-wing” extremist nuts.

Now, one reason it’s hard to argue against this, is that part of it is actually true. While the idea of the nation as a cultural force is still perfectly viable, as is the idea of patriotism (love for the land and people of a particular area), the political aspect of nationalism – that is, the national state – has, indeed, failed. Democracy, too, has failed; as I discussed earlier.

But beyond nationalism and globalism, there is a third possible vision of the future, which most people don’t even know about yet. One of its names is cosmopolitanism. The original of this approach was stated by Tom Paine: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” It does not seek any global political or cultural unity. Instead, it seeks to allow people to associate with whoever they choose, whether from the same or from different backgrounds.

Cosmopolitanism, of course, comes in many different flavours. But my own maxim of: “It doesn’t matter who you are, only what you do” is, very much, one of them. Such an approach, I think, can help to point a way towards a world of, to coin a phrase: “Economics global, politics local.” There will be no centralized political Leviathan, and no √©lite to control it. Governance may remain at the national level in some places, or may be de-centralized into smaller units. And it will be one of my purposes, when I turn to Cure, to sketch out some possibilities. Despite all the storm clouds, there’s hope for humanity yet!

Friday, 6 September 2019

Community versus Society

Before I tackle the final putative binding force, nation, I’ll take a look at what I think may be a major cause of our troubles with today’s nation-states. That cause can be brought into focus by asking the question: Do the human beings, who reside in the territory of a state, constitute a society, or are they merely a community? Otherwise put, do they have a shared set of goals which they all seek, or do they live together simply for mutual convenience?

As I’ve said before, a society has some form of, usually written, constitution. Among much else this will, almost certainly, state the goals of the members as a group. It is likely to have a president or chairman, and a committee or other group of officials. Under its constitution, the society makes decisions based on its principles and interests, and acts on them. Even though some of its members may disagree on an issue, the society as a whole takes only one view.

Now, political states are like societies in one respect; they have a (usually written) constitution. The constitution of the USA, for example, states its purpose as: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” But this is not the same thing as a constitution for a society of all inhabitants of the US! You can see this when you parse the whole sentence: “We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This is a constitution for a government called “the USA,” not for a putative society consisting of everyone in the US.

A community, in contrast, has no constitution. It has no president or chairman, no officials and no goals as a group. It may spawn societies, which act in certain respects on behalf of all those in the community; an example I gave earlier is a home-owners’ association. And the USA government, indeed, is a society whose remit is to act in certain respects on behalf of everyone in the territory called the US. But a community, even if all its members share common values – such as mutual respect for property rights and rejection of psychopathic behaviours – has no “general will,” beyond its own continuation.

If the people of the US (for example) form only a community, not a society, then it would be wrong, I think, to present as “the will of the people” what is, in reality, no more than the will of the USA government for the time being. And it would be wrong to subordinate the people of the US (or of any other country) to whatever political ideology is in vogue among those in power at a given time.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Legal and illegal entry and immigration

Lastly, legal versus illegal entry to an area (and by extension, legal versus illegal immigration).

For me, what is right and what is wrong must be the same for everyone. That is, indeed, implied by the concepts of the rule of law and equality before the law. So, you cannot reasonably claim, of twin brothers Mo and Ahmed, neither of whom has ever committed a crime, that it’s legal for one to be in a particular place in the public space, and illegal for the other. Therefore, no-one may ban any individual, who has not committed and is not committing any harm to anyone, from any point of the public space.

With private property, of course, it’s different. You can say that Mo is rightly on your private property, because he’s a plumber, and you’ve invited him in to fix a leak. While Ahmed, if he was in the same place, would be trespassing, unless you chose to invite him in. But by calling one of them legal in the public space and the other illegal for being in the same place, you reject the idea of equality before the law. You also accept the dangerous notion that a government, unlike any other landowner, has a right to deny the passage of individuals across a piece of land it does not own.

Thus, there is no case for preventing any convivial individual from going anywhere he or she wishes within the public space. Otherwise said, visitors should be able to move freely, as long as they behave convivially.

Immigration, however – by which, I mean entry to an area with intent to reside there, either for a period or permanently – is a more complex matter. Someone who goes to reside in an area is, in effect, joining the community of people who live in that area.

Now, the criteria for joining a community are not as strict as those for joining a society. For example, there is no requirement to agree with a society’s particular set of goals. Nevertheless, the people already in the community must have the right to decide who is to be allowed to join their community. Shared culture is not necessary; but a willingness to accept the culture of the people already there is a requirement. And that is so, however small the community.

There is another aspect, too. If a small community agrees to let an individual join them, that individual should be able to travel to that community. He or she must not be prevented from doing so by a third party (e.g. a government) refusing permission for the individual to enter or to cross its land, such as at a border.

So, the current system of arbitrary borders and immigration controls is unjust and unworkable. This is made worse by deliberate encouragement of mass migration by some political factions, and opposition to it by others. The system needs radical change.