Posts tagged ‘pollyty’

September 22, 2014

Analogies: the Trinity

The concept of the Trinity has helped me think through a number of issues related to the pollyty, two of which can be derived from the following drawing:


[First off, let me apologize to all Orthodox Christian readers for the filioque arrow. It is there only for historical, not ontological purposes, as i will explain below. For non-Christian readers, you are going to be totally lost.]

Just as the Father is the source of the divine essence and engenders the Son and spirates the Holy Spirit, so the State’s rule of law and the infrastructure it provides make Corporations (or broadly, Capitalism) and Pollyties possible. In that sense, both C and P are built on top of the social and political layer that is provided by S; and yet, insofar as the State’s legal infrastructure is used to define and maintain in existence both Corporations and Pollyties, it is tantamount to a shared essence or ousia: all three are institutions of some sort. But since they are fundamentally different kinds of institutions, and are defined against one another, they cannot be collapsed into one person or hypostasis. Just as the Father never incarnated, and the Son is not just a spirit, so the State is by definition not a voluntary association, and a corporation is not a democratic social net.

The second use i’ve made of the Trinitarian analogy is more basic. Historically, the third person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit) emerged long (say, two centuries) after the Father and Son had been established as separate entities or persons. In fact, the Holy Spirit can be thought of as the necessary solution to the theological problems inherent in the “two God” approach (which seemed to inevitably degenerate into some kind of good god/bad god Gnosticism). The Holy Spirit brought balance to the godhead by serving as a liaison between the just heavenly Father and his earthly loving Son: like the Father, the Spirit was not human; like the Son, e proceeded from the Father; unlike either, e was never addressed in prayer. It is this harmony that made it possible to speak of one God in three persons. In the same way, the pollyty can be thought of as a placeholder for “whatever institution is needed to balance out states and corporations”. Any such institution will do.

September 14, 2014

Theories of Democracy Part 6: Radical Pluralism

[Continuing Series on Frank Cunningham’s Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002)]

Radical pluralism is a democratic theory put forward by such thinkers as Chantal Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau and Claude Lefort. It opposes liberal and deliberative democracy primarily in its insistence that rational consensus cannot be achieved, but that democracy must allow for healthy political clashes between voters whose positions are deeply held and fundamentally diverge. The philosophers are very suspicious of current democratic practices that seek to gloss over fundamental disagreements by switching the register of public discourse from political conflict to moral consensus.

A pollyty is based on a similar assessment of the necessity of political conflict, however, instead of trying to re-insert a healthy agon into the state’s democratic practices, the pollyty relocates those political disagreements away from the state onto a separate, higher level at which particular cultural and moral choices are no longer mutually exclusive. One pollyty can be thoroughly socialist, denying to its members the very notion of private property, while another could restrict itself to providing (capitalist) mutual insurance policies, another could essentially function as a union, whereas a fourth might provide guild-like educational and employment services. Moreover, an individual could potentially be a member of all four of those guilds. This is a marked advance over the agonistics of radical pluralism, which still requires that the state’s democratic process eventually decide upon one set of laws which must then be applied to the entire population.

September 13, 2014

Analogies: walled cities

A walled city — be it Jericho, Athens, Rome or Florence — allows those who live in violent lands to pool their defensive efforts by agreeing to labor (or taxes) and laws that will afford the construction of a rampart and then man and maintain it thereafter. This reduces enemy raids on inhabitants’ homes; they do not die as often by the sword, are not sold into slavery, and needn’t watch their houses and possessions burn. They are hence freer, wealthier, and perhaps even happier.

A pollyty is like a walled city, only the marauding it abates is now but financial, and the barbarian at its gate incorporated.

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September 10, 2014

Theories of Democracy Part 5: Deliberative Democracy

[Continuing Series on Frank Cunningham’s Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002)]

 Deliberative Democracy is described as the grandchild of Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action. As such it is an attempt to avoid the problems of liberal democratic electioneering by substituting a principle of reasoned debate that should as much as possible reach a consensus, but which can employ voting when a decision is not forthcoming. Against liberalism, it sees the democratic process as one of changing people’s minds and preferences, not aggregating them.

If only due to their relatively small size, pollyties will naturally tend towards a more deliberative and consensual approach. Even if a pollyty is operated through software applications, and hence relies primarily upon voting for decision making, it can easily emulate a consensual process by instituting rules that apply a proposed change as soon as 60% or 90% of members have voted “yes” and none or very few have voted “no”. Moreover, since pollyties are voluntary and self-selecting (unlike nation states or government districts) they will also perhaps more easily reach consensus.

September 10, 2014

Sates, Corporations and Pollyties Compared

The following is a preliminary attempt to outline the specificity of the pollyty by comparing it to the two primary sources of inspiration for it. Pollyties are similar to nation states in their goal of protecting people by being just and democratic; like corporations, they are smallish, voluntary associations that require the stability of existing nation states in order to function.

Criteria State Corporation Pollyty
Sovereign  •    
Land-based  •    
Use of violence/power  •    
Maintains infrastructure  •    
Redistributes wealth  •    •
Provides social insurance  •    •
Democratic  (•)    •
Define themselves in laws/rules  •    •
Trans-national    (•)  (•)
Voluntary    •  •
Members are geographically dispersed    •  •
Subordinate to states’ laws    •  •
Authoritarian  (•)  •  
Hierarchical  •  •  
September 9, 2014

Theories of Democracy Part 4 and Excursus: Democratic Pragmatism

[Continuing Series on Frank Cunningham’s Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002)]

Democratic Pragmatism is not so much another theory of democracy, according to Cunningham who is drawing primarily on Dewey, but more so an orientation towards the problems that arise within democracies. In particular, it pays attention to the scope, context and differing degrees of existing democratic institutions. This conforms well with the pollyty inasmuch as the pragmatic approach sees democratic possibilities in a wide range of institutions such as guilds, unions, associations, corporations and, of course, governments at all levels. Democracy will also look and behave differently depending on the cultural, social or economic situation in which people find themselves. Like a pollyty, also, such a pragmatic approach is not concerned with understanding perfectly democratic institutions, but merely how to make existing institutions a bit more democratic than they currently are.

This brings me to a tangent. Why are we striving for democratic solutions in the first place? All theories Cunningham has so far brought forth are concerned with justifying the desirability of democratic institutions, and doing so from the perspective of the (lone) individual. I do not believe the best form of government is democratic, though i could not exactly describe a better form of government. However, i would argue that we needn’t settle on a theory of justice or democracy only then to tweak our institutions into such a format. To channel Rawls, the first virtue of social institutions is not justice but malleability. If we can ensure that our institutions are flexible and respond well to their members’ desires, then they will naturally move towards something like justice, liberty and equality — though perhaps nothing that would exactly fit those three ideals.

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September 7, 2014

Theories of Democracy Part 3: Participatory Democracy

[Continuing Series on Frank Cunningham’s Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002)]


This chapter deals with the intellectual descendants of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And this is the closest we have come to something similar to a pollyty, for Rousseau’s ideas are also best suited to small societies practicing direct forms of democracy by voting directly upon their laws. One of the main thrusts of this vision is to enable a group of people to gradually establish a unique and cohesive volonté générale instead of the merely aggregated volonté de tous that most forms of representative government achieve. This is no different in a pollyty where all members vote on any rule changes, and it is these rules then that constitute this stronger general will, since they are not mediated by representative’s individual wills or by the rent seeking or lobbying that befall indirect forms of legislation. Moreover, a pollyty, especially one that is instantiated through software applications, needs little administration or executive enforcement, since the (small) group itself (or, better, the software) ensures the rules are always followed. 

Secondly, pollyties also match Rousseau’s vision in that they are autonomous, even in the strict sense of Rousseau’s admirer Kant. Pollyties deliberate and decide upon their own rules and live by them. They are also autonomous in the broader sense of not being submitted to outside forces; their primary goal is in fact to protect their members from the vagaries of capitalistic existence. Though inasmuch as they are built upon the existing rule of law, they do remain within the strictures of modern nation states and are thus not entirely autonomous or sovereign (on which more below).

However, differences remain. Rousseau’s entities are sovereign and land-bound. Their model is a Swiss canton. Pollyties are much more like corporations: they can span national borders and would rarely concentrate all their members into one contiguous piece of land, nor are they concerned with providing the infrastructure or policing that lands require. In that sense, pollyties let nation states retain the honors and duties of sovereignty. This in fact alleviates some of the objections made against participatory democracy, namely, that it becomes unmanageable when applied to modern nation states with large populations and land masses. Pollyties abstract themselves from geographic conditions, and though they are intended for small memberships, they can easily federate upwards and thereby manageably encompass millions.

October 26, 2013


Words—spoken and written—invaded my mind long ago. They colonized my soul, tamed my body and created my self in their image. How could i object?—and yet i am torn.

February 14, 2013

An extended simile

A famous myrmecologist was delivering a paper on new developments in his study of leaf-cutter ants at some convention:

A few years ago, one of my good friends re-directed my attention toward large colonies of leaf-cutter ants. He had heard that at least one such colony had recently developed a new means of olfactory communication and wanted to understand exactly what purpose it served. Upon investigation, we discovered that the youngest ants, those just emerging out of larval stage, were apparently being trained by their elders to recognize certain sets of new chemicals and to produce others in return. It was, frankly, as if they were learning some kind of primitive language. But to what end?

As we started to examine this new behavior more closely, we noticed the ants were now experimenting with various new leaves which they fed to the fungi; they were also attempting new architectural forms and even modifying their social structures, etc. It appeared as if they were thinking! Of course, no individual ant was really thinking — or at least that was not the most interesting kind of thinking going on. More importantly, it seemed the colony as a whole had somehow acquired this ability.

We believe three essential ingredients made this new development possible: First, through sheer evolutionary luck the ants had developed a slightly more complex means of communication. Then they systematically inculcated this new “languaging” to their young, forcefully “injecting” the new skill into passive but receptive “brains”. And finally, each individual functioned as a simple gateway, receiving chemical communications from other ants, processing them according to basic formicine logic, and responding as that logic required.

It is important again to recognize that no ant had any control over any of these stages: each individual ant could only “think” in the “language” it had been taught, could only use the “logic” it had assimilated, and could only process whatever information other ants passed on to it. If any ant had felt it was free to think as it wished, it was profoundly mistaken: another intelligence far superior to its own was (merely) “using” this ant to think for itself — admirably and creatively so at that.

Here the scientist paused to reshuffle his papers. He then concluded his talk without further glancing at them:

It is a great pity this new myrmecine intelligence has not yet come to self-awareness. Individual human beings like us might have been able to communicate with it. What feats it could then accomplish! How much more quickly it would evolve! But such a leap would require the colony to start thinking about itself, that is, individual ants would have to become capable of “comprehending” (passively processing) the idea of an infinitely more intelligent and powerful being that nevertheless encompassed them. However, we shall simply have to wait until some few lucky individuals blindly stumble upon this very idea.

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November 11, 2012

A parable of talents

A young couple had joined an early pollykaryote*, but wanting no children though fearing for their investment, they convinced their fellow members to adopt talented orphans and pay for their education in the hope they would in time strengthen the polity.

The first studied sociology and over the years proposed changes to the pollykaryote’s code that increased its cohesiveness and economic defenses to the point that its wealth grew ten-fold. The second studied engineering and then business, returning well over five times what es schools had cost.

The last had wanted to become a doctor, but gradually became lazy and eventually failed es final examinations. The couple summoned the orphan and berated e: “We paid for your entire education and you couldn’t even graduate. What ever happened?” The youth answered through clenched teeth: “I knew you were selfish and only funded my studies to ensure your own financial success, so i became resentful and lost heart.” The couple replied: “If you knew we were selfish, you should at least have worked to pass your exams and repay your debt. Now you will never be received into the safety of our polity, but will instead be cast out with nothing at all into the uncaring world where we found you.”