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.


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!

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