Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Governance Without Government: A Preliminary Overview

Before the 16th century in Europe, states were an important component of a complex system of governance, over territory, individuals, beliefs, customs and the like. From the 16th century on a territorial principle was introduced cuius regio, eius religio, which by the 20th century had metastasized into the notion that political control of a territory subsumed within it the ultimate authority by the political apparatus of the state to control every aspect of life (and otherwise) within those borders—at least to the extent those borders could be defended. The line from the Treaty of Augsburg, through the great French state builders of the 17th-19th nineteenth centuries, to the great panoptic states of the late 20th century is clear enough. These states transformed themselves into great organisms through which everything within them might be utilized for the greater good. The state became the source of an authoritative allocation of values, the entity with the power to frame them through law, and to enforce them through the police power. Nietzsche’s ubermenschen ideal might well then be understood as realized not by natural persons engaged in a personal process of revaluation of values but rather in the elaboration of these great “state-beings.”

But success might well create the conditions for great change. Just as individuals are social animals, so, it appears, are states. States developed systems of relations with other states, and the resulting rules defined a community of states and the international system. But they also served to emphasize the permeability of borders. The reality that borders are permeable produced two simultaneous reactions—control and management. If borders were permeable, then, following the logic of cuius regio, eius religio, it was for states seek to control them to the extent technologically possible, and to assert the power to control the nature and manner of those penetrations. The logic of power and management, in the last half of the 20th century, has been manifested in “globalization”—the coordination of economic, political, cultural and religious systems across borders. But even as globalization has served states in their relations inter se, it also has begun to transform the nature and character of the state. The systematization, institutionalization and bureaucratization of the forms of interactions among states made possible under the conceptual logic of globalization has created a large network of transnational legal authority as a result of which it is no longer possible for the state apparatus to claim to assert sole authority within its territory. Globalization, in this sense, has produced legal pluralism and the diffusion of state power.

That diffusion of power in the wake of globalization has also revived the recognition of private sector governance authority. In its most common emerging form, globalization has produced functionally differentiated transnational public systems that operate above the state. These systems are autonomous collective of actors who come together to create closed governance systems characterized by a limited functional mandate, an autonomous structure that produces its own regulations that may be enforced through the community. These include regional human rights frameworks, regional trade associations, international governance systems like that of the International Criminal Court, and hybrid public-private entities like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In these systems or networks, the state plays a role but no state dominates and no general political apparatus controls, at least one that mimics a government.

Yet political space also has been reconfigured to include actors other than states. But has this nascent revaluation of values of state power also produced a space within which governance is possible without the state? Globalization has provided a framework environment marked by a fracturing and diffusing of power. This environment nurtures functionally differentiated communities of actors who together form closed self-regulating and autonomous governing systems that are not centered on any state. These are governance systems at the heart of what Gunther Teubner describes as polycentric globalization. This is not merely the sum of the privatization of governmental functions, but the substitution of or supplementing of state authority by private organs, self-contained and self referential, in which the state plays an incidental role. Prominent among these have been the rise of internally complete systems of operations of multinational corporations and their suppliers. In an advanced form, they might even merge both public and private actors within a system that is neither, in which an intimate and sustained interaction as equals produces something altogether different. Prominent among these efforts is the current project of “operationalizing” a regulatory framework for multinational corporations within the institutional structures of the United Nations.

Still, the state remains very much alive, and continues to be powerful within the ambit of its authority. However, the debate about governance points to substantial changes in the meaning of governing, and in the distribution of governing power among states and non-state actors. Those changes suggest that governance can focus on issues other than geography as a basis for building an autonomous regulatory community. That reduction in the importance of territorial control as the principal basis for the organization of governing power reorients the concept of the state—from a territorially privileged totalitarian ideal, understood in its sense of the state as the ultimate repository of all authority, to a political actor limited ultimately to what it can control within its territory. Governance without government is as much about the state as it is about alternative bases for the deployment of regulatory power.

In future posts I will provide an overview of the debate over the existence and extent of “governance without government.” I will then examine the strands of the theoretical debate. A distinction will be drawn between the traditional public organization-centered focus of government without governance framework from the more radical notions that private entities may also govern themselves without the state in functionally differentiated regulatory communities. In that context I will attempt an examination of the question whether this debate is purely academic, the search for new language to describe the dynamics of a traditional set of relationships, or whether the debate points to substantial changes in the meaning of governing, and in the distribution of governing power among states and non-state actors.

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