Amos Zampatti

Governance 2.0




The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candle-making.
Oren Harari


It seems to me undeniable that our system of governance is failing to face the new challenges that are posed by a post-globalization planet, where the free circulation of goods and capitals is active, and the free circulation of people is overwhelmingly placing itself among the most current issues. The magnitude of failure can be seen from several signs: the incessant growth of global state debt (tripled in the last 10 years), even faster than the growth of global GDP, which should make us think that what we are doing today is happening at the expenses of the next generations and not for their benefit; a renewed nationalism willing to ignore the global challenges and that manifests itself with the ever more insistent emergence of regional independence or with the growing electoral consensus of populist messages and figures, both the result of a simplistic vision of "us vs. them". The nationalistic outlook is trapped in a rhetoric that can be very easily employed with the masses and for this reason is quite dangerous as it leads historically to social disasters and it is capable only to suggest new material or normative divides. But there are also good news, such as the growing development of backward countries, thanks to the vanishing of economic borders and geopolitical isolation, caused by globalization, rather than by certain forms of predatory activities.

Another sign of the failure of the current system is the growing of electoral abstention. Although this phenomenon is wrongly accompanied by expressions like "silence means consent" or "if you don't vote you can't complain", there is no denying that the philosophical premises that legitimize the democratic approach and that morally celebrate this form of government over the others in the eyes of the masses, have irretrievably crumbled whenever a growing number of those entitled renounces to vote: what is the right to vote if voting does not mean anything, if the vote can be expressed only on matters that are completely marginal or not very influential with respect to the real decisions of what and how something should be done?

The affirmation of democratic republics or of parliaments elected by universal suffrage in the most advanced countries is seen by the great majority of people as an acquired and inalienable fact, the definitive system of government after millennia of brutality and therefore the most advanced of all. Yet, in the long period of history, parliamentary democracy is a rather recent solution and till now has guaranteed only some decades of peace in some territories of the planet like any other previous system, but at the same time it has produced two world world wars, causing the greatest number of victims than all other previous conflict combined. Democratic states have taken part in or in some cases triggered many wars with less advanced states, have allowed the development of the most deadly totalitarianism and instituted a large number of prison camps among which we can also list the current centers for migrants, established at the border countries of Europe and the most atrocious in Libya.

Are we so sure that this paradigm is the most civilized among those possible, also in the light of technical innovations, and also the most suitable to face today's challenges in a society with increasing complexity and interconnections?

The social contract hoax

To find alternatives to the system that today seems the only one possible, let's start from the beginning and let's ask what is governance and what is its purpose. Without making a philosophic treatise, we can just synthesize it as the set of institutions, laws and roles with which a society tries to guarantee peace among people.

To achieve this goal we must first minimize the opportunities for conflict; so it is necessary to establish rules of the game to be followed, rules as much as possible shared by all members of a given society. It should be clear that if a rule is not accepted and shared, it will be totally ineffective in reducing conflicts and violence since it would always end up causing further friction not only between the conflicting parties but also between the contenders with respect to the rule itself. If the rule is felt unjust by those who suffer it, it would cause conflicts also with the maker of the rule and with the judge who applies it, increasing dramatically the efforts/costs to implement it. In the end, it should be enforced with violence, thereby undermining the foundations of the very usefulness of the system of governance (which should aim precisely at avoiding violence and not to exploit it in order to satisfy the interests of someone).

Historically, right or wrong, the form that this social function has assumed is that of the hierarchy of power. Just as it happens in nature with the law of the strongest, in the human society the strongest, militarily, politically, electorally according to the epochs and the ways of reasoning, dictate the law according to somebody's vision, in pursuit of his own goals and comforts. However, this system is not as effective as one uncritically believes, precisely because the rules that are written in this way are produced by someone and imposed on everyone and are unlikely to be shared by those who have no voice in producing them. This is a discrepancy that is pointed out in the philosophy of natural law that preaches the existence of natural/divine laws, more just than those written by the rulers and to which the rulers themselves should abide.

How then is this contradictory feeling reconciled, which on the one hand claims the necessity and utility of a system of laws and on the other legitimizes the primacy of the rulers and the substantial arbitrariness with which they write the laws? In short, how is the victory of the strongest justified as a conquest of civilization?

The most diffused theory underlying the legitimacy of rulers and the concept of sovereignty as we practice them today is based on the hypothetical consensus that everyone offers to a superior authority, in exchange for protection, by a system of rules produced by that authority. This theoretical consensus tried, over the centuries, to demonstrate how such a pact would guarantee benefits to its members, why it is necessary and how a consensus can be presumed even if it is not explicit. In short, a theory that legitimizes authority based on the will of individuals and at the same time denies to anyone any possibility to express a will other than that metaphysically hypothesized.

All these contract theories are flawed and have been subject to several critical remarks about various aspects (1), starting from the mystification about the initial conditions in which humanity would have come down to this kind of pact, moving from dogmatic hypotheses denied by the facts. In order to reach such an automatic conclusion, we must clearly assume that every man is “homo homini lupus”(2). If so, we can't understand why the delegated ruler should not behave as an evil man too, enjoying, in addition, the advantage and protection given by his position; or the fact that every man is always a rational being, in search of maximum material profit like the utilitarian “homo economicus” put forward by economic theory, so that it would be possible to predict everyone behaviour by merely demonstrating its rational utility (3), in a sort of scientist delirium.

Another critical aspect is, for example, that of the possibility of revocation of consent, which usually resolves by saying that one is free to leave, neglecting the reality that one is not so free; in fact, even in the best of situations, the burden of leaving home, family and land seems decidedly disproportionate as a form of withdrawal. One of the most controversial points concerns the implicit nature of this consensus: by applying the same arguments with which the implicit social contract theory is defended, one can very well justify slavery (if you are a good slave and do not rebel with violence or deception, it means that you agree with being a slave) or extortion by the mafia (if I live in a country controlled by the mafia and armed henchmen ask me for money to keep open my shop under the threat of closing it or worse, the simple payment of extortion does not mean that I agree with the mafia system).

Even in the presence of a social contract in its explicit formulation like a constitution or a founding act, no one has ever answered the question of inheritance of the contract in absence of any kind of agreement by the heirs (if my grandfather founded an association with friends and have entered into a valid contract between them when I was not even born, why can I be forced by the heirs to be part of it, respect the rules and pay the costs without anyone asking me explicitly to join it?) (4).

Finally, the most ridiculous fact of all is unanimity: all the versions of the theory affirm that the contract is universally valid because it is unanimously accepted at a fixed moment, without any distinction; yet we know that such a hypothesis, with a certainty of 100%, is not plausible even in theoretical physics, let alone in terms of opinions among human beings. So it would be much more reasonable to consider that this type of agreement is valid only for some people, may be even a majority, but certainly not by the totality.

The real problem with many of these contract theories is that they all are justifications of the status quo and not an objective investigation of the nature of the contract. The upholders of these theories have no interest in putting forward a social project but are intended to use them as smoke-screen in order not to question authority as we know it today. They are blindly in love with the advantages that this authority would give to someone and therefore willing to accept any sophistry and mystification in order to deny the possibility of seceding or of unmasking the pretence of the strongest to be the legitimate defender of the weak.

Do not get me wrong, what I would like to discuss is not so much the utility in itself of associating and delegating certain functions to someone, as protection, but the conditions to which this delegation is granted and who should be subject to it. I have no interest in depriving of his Leviathan those who appreciates this form of association, but I have the presumption to define its limits, as already introduced by Proudhon in his version of the contract theory (5), because I believe that behind a good intuition like that of the social contract, some theses have been produced that represent dangerous positions that can justify whatever interference by any group in any aspect of the personal life of anyone. Totalitarian regimes have amply demonstrated it (in fact the propaganda of the regimes, fascist, Nazi or communist, was very sympathetic to this kind of theories to justify the invasion of the state). Obviously anything in the universe produces voluntary or no effects on the rest of the universe.

"Things are linked by invisible bonds, you cannot grasp a flower without disturbing a star" said Galileo Galilei, so we might infer that to grant the greater good, the state should be entitled to manage everything in the universe.

I reiterate that I am not denying any legitimacy in tightening up an agreement with which the use of force is renounced by delegating it to a single subject so that it can produce defense against external aggressions or use it in the social organization as the solution of disputes between subsidiaries or the redistribution of resources in the interest of the affiliates themselves. But it should at the same time be specified that there is also a deep difference between this type of deal, between associates and addressed to them only, and a similar agreement by only some people for the overall dominance of everybody, indiscriminately, even those who are strangers to the pact and not guilty of having tried or threatened any aggression to the members of that association. While the former can be considered a free association, which does not violate the freedom of anyone but it is instead the product of a free agreement, the latter is usually recognized in the courts as organized crime. The difference is the same that runs between the concept of self-defense and preventive war: the former is considered an undeniable right to stop the aggression suffered; the second is only a verbal hypocrisy to define a strategic form of aggression.

History, anthropology and archeology show examples of many forms of dominance, of sovereigns and states founded on military conquests or arising from some bloody revolution. No political authority was founded on reasonable premises unanimously approved by the governed and this should make us suspicious because such theories are inevitably contradicted by the facts and tend to appear, retrospectively, more like rationalizations or forms of propaganda (6).

A true social contract

Then, what can we appreciate of contract theories?  Surely the intellectual effort in showing the usefulness of cooperation, the thesis, expressed in high-sounding terms, of the concept "unity is strength".  But strength does not necessarily mean "good" or even "reason". So those contract theories should simply be cut to size by inserting just one simple element:  the will of the individuals. Real.  Explicit.  Individual.

By adding this concept, we discover that the basic idea of ​​the Leviathan still continues to work, without forcing or deceiving anyone. In fact, what would prevent people of goodwill from joining and binding each other for a form of protection or for any other collective advantage?  Nothing.  Just as nothing would prevent them from defending themselves from those who choose not to adhere to the bond if they threaten the life or property of the members.  Furthermore, if the contract were real and individual, it would be possible to have more than one type, all those possible, while maintaining the only requirement of consent.  Everyone could choose what degree of rigidity to demand from his/her associates; there could be very strict communities and others more flexible for those who do not want too much rigidity. Each community thus formed would have the possibility to develop its own forms of law and the instruments of government with which to produce its own right, just as it happens today in the different states. We could have democratic contracts through which delegates or laws are chosen by vote, as well as monarchical contracts that save you from getting involved in politics by relying on a "CEO" for example.  Any contract based on consent, if contained a real possibility of withdrawal under certain conditions, such as a fixed renewable time of validity, or terminable in the event of serious infringements by one of the parties, would not lose its effectiveness but rather would constitute a competitive form of free trade between the different contractual formulas and this would ensure what is convenient to the associates and would greatly limit the possibility and profitability of abuse by the Leviathan.

Certain contracts could be limited to a simple protection agreement or to the adherence to a system of rules to which the associates must abide in their intercourses, while others could also provide packages of collective services such as health insurance, education, retirement and any other form of welfare that the associates believe they want in order to manage collectively sharing costs and benefits in the way they prefer.

The only simple principle that these contractual communities should adhere to is that of consensus, starting precisely from this principle, that of recognizing each one's own individual authority instead of suffocating it, as a matter of fact, with so many empty words. We can find in this the very foundation of a mutual recognition system between these communities: what we now call international law.  A protocol that allows these different communities or collective subjects to interact with each other, accepting and respecting all differences.  Most people may not care about freedom if they can live in a fair world.  What they do not understand, however, is that, to achieve what everyone mean by justice (and there will never be a single vision for everyone) it is necessary that everyone has the freedom to produce that fair world and the same opportunity to choose it freely, otherwise the only result will be the absence of freedom.

In nature, the health and stability of ecosystems is guaranteed by diversity;  the multiplicity of the forms of life that compose them constitute in fact multiple possibilities of evolution and resilience to crises.  Diversity means competition, and that, through the evolutionary mechanisms, allows the selection and the "meritocratic" success of the most suitable.  We must not oppose diversity, we must not consider it an unpleasant fault to be corrected but, on the contrary, we should make it our best resource.

By will and not by birth 

At this point a question arises naturally: how could all the residents of the same territory find a form of consensus and generate their own unitary voluntary status to manage that territory, without falling into the error of crushing individuals who do not want to join?

As already mentioned, perhaps the most critical point on which traditional theories of the social contract fail is attributable to the universality of human beings: the unanimity of consensus.  This aspect avoids the problem of property/housing rights of a territory: if the agreement requires total unanimity, then every land is under the control of the Leviathan, even if you have a regular purchase or inheritance title;  therefore the only way to disengage from the contract is to leave that land.  But here we meet the second problem hidden under the carpet: if the social contract gave life to political authority through the unanimity of all the inhabitants, all the inhabited land is owned by the members and if you want to get out of the pact where can you go?  If all the habitable territories have come under the unquestionable jurisdiction of a Leviathan, how do you express the will to cut this implied pact, excluding space travels?  Vice versa, if the contract is not universal but territorial, and every land has its own Leviathan, still it would be impossible not to join or to withdraw. The only way forward is to move to a territory under the control of another Leviathan, of which we are not even part, jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and losing also any right to the fiction of power "of the people" exercised through the right to vote and the protections reserved for citizenship, so dear to simplistic supporters of democracy.

First of all, the state, as we know it today, is based on a territorial monopoly, i.e. the idea that within a perimeter everything is attributable to the government of someone, king, oligarchy, parliament or dictator; a bit similar to what do in nature certain dominant males who mark the territory and use violence against any internal insubordination or external threat.  History shows quite well how this fragmentation of the planet has been the driving force of many violent outcomes.I could not list even a single advantage, if not for someone at the expense of someone else.  According to anthropology, the motives behind this territorial phenomenon have a social origin (7): it has evolved from the tribal/family aspect when all the members of a society resided in the same place and were related among them. Basically the assumption is that the territories coincide with the populations and that within different geographical areas it is possible to distinguish groups of homogeneous people, who then share the same culture, which is the glue of the system of  governance (it is easier to develop shared rules between similar people, already bonded in some way).  In this sense, it was also established the principle of self-determination of groups of people, reclaiming, with legitimacy, their own autonomy of organization (8).  Even in the past, however, when the criterion of social organization moved back from the territory to the kinship/ethnical identity, after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, a rather simple solution was found to see how to deal with elements extraneous to one's social group: the personal right, that is the idea that a person was bound to his own traditions and that he was judged by his moral beliefs, regardless of where he lived.  For example, just think of the Middle Ages that had a plurality of legal systems coexisting in the same cities (9), or think about the lex mercatoria.

Even today there are situations of coexistence on the same territory of citizens subject to different legal systems such as diplomatic corps.  It is a recent fact the relocation of a large agency of the European Union for which several cities were competing: the possibility of having such an office on a country's territory means, in fact, hosting hundreds of officials subject to foreign and non-local laws including certain tax advantages; yet no one has even suspected for a moment that such a mixture of norms provokes chaos, on the contrary it is hoped and looked for.

If we can imagine a real "social contract", or rather a political commutative contract limited to some social issues as defined by Proudhon, why apply it on the basis of a completely random factor such as the territory of birth and not instead according to the will and personality of the individual?

Towards a new scenario 

Up to now it has been tried in every way to limit the power of the ruler, mostly through the fiction of the separation of powers conceived by Montesquieu. However, it is sufficient to widen the view over the national borders to realize that all separation is only between the right hand and the left hand of a single legal entity called State, which reincarnates the millenary dominant caste living at the expense of the rest of the population. In this way the power of the State is not restricted but it multiplies in different forms, competing amongst them for a larger slice of resources and powers, to the detriment of the governed.
What if it were possible to limit the power by distributing it instead of concentrating it in a single body?

A recent study by Yaneer Bar-Yam (10) about the increasing complexity of society suggests that the only possibility to increase our ability to face the resulting challenges in terms of governance lies in overcoming the hierarchical paradigm (which stil permeates the modern democracies) to embrace new distributed models, in which different functions are assumed by different institutions or specialized groups, directly connected to each other in a network of relationships rather than gathered under a single top-down ruling entity.

Many texts have been produced offering examples of management in the past and the future possibility of a decentralized reorganization of different functions that are today the exclusive monopoly of the states: from the production of laws to the management of the courts, from security (11) to money, as we can see today with blockchain based cryptocurrencies.  Perhaps the time has come to seriously consider these alternatives and make up an overall picture, a real alternative, truly based on civilization and not on force, based on individual consensus and the free emulation of competing legal and social systems, a change that probably would displease the current rulers keen on preserving the  status quo.

To understand how it is possible, for example, to have a voluntary/contractual state and simultaneously manage a territory, we need to separate the two functions: territorial governance (roads, waste, environment, local services), which cannot exist if not in some institution in which the residents of that territory participate (which in this case would express their own adhesion with their presence or freedom of movement), and that of social government belonging to that community (to which they would join by contract), without no relationship of subordination between the two "managements".  This would entail a substantial redefinition of the powers of the state, effectively breaking up the absolutist and totalitarian monopoly that characterizes it today within its own borders, guaranteeing to it a complete arbitrariness and impunity, unlikely to be put into crisis by international institutions, especially when there is no predatory interest from the strongest states to help in some way other populations.

A similar differentiation and commingling of citizenships and residences would also be an excellent guarantee against the possibility of conflicts between social states, as it would make it particularly difficult to declare war on someone else if the citizens of a certain state and those of the enemy lived mixed everywhere in the world (12).  In the same cities would also live other citizens of other nationalities who would probably have every interest in maintaining local peace.  In the end, entire systems of armaments, starting from the most lethal as nuclear weapons, would be suddenly unusable and completely useless, something that no agreement on disarmament was able even to promise.

We should therefore move from a centralist and authoritarian paradigm, founded on hierarchy and coercion and characterized by the irresponsibility of power, to a decentralized one, to widespread intelligence and responsibility, based on free accession.  We can break those monopolistic clusters that are today's states, each omnipotent in that little cut-out of planet that they consider their home, and take back, as humanity, all those necessary functions, develop them in as many institutions and communities as necessary, universally guaranteed to anyone who wishes participate in it, regardless of the territory of birth.  We can replace the law of the strongest with emulation and cooperation.  We may rediscover the true nature of the human being as a social animal:  the individual is not the link of a chain of command or a step of a pyramid; it is the place of all relations, the only one possible.



(1) Mike Huemer, The problem of political authority, 2013
(2) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651
(3) John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 1971
(4) Lysander Spooner, No Treason, 1867
(5) Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Del principio federativo, 1863
(6) James C. Scott, Against the grain, 2017
(7) Harold B. Barclay, Lo Stato, 2003
(8) Corte Suprema del Canada, Sentenza 385/1996
(9) Paolo Grossi, L’ordine giuridico medioevale, 1995
(10) Yaneer Bar-Yam, Complexity rising: from human beings to human civilization, a complexity profile, Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, 2002
(11) Gustave de Molinari, Sulla produzione della sicurezza, 1849
(12) John Gall, Systemantics, 1975


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