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Exploring Libertarian Municipalism and Parecon…


[ZNet Editor’s Note: In early November, 1999, ZNet posted an article by Michael Albert entitled Assessing Libertarian Municipalism. This page is devoted to discussion of that article. It includes messages received and rejoinders and explorations that ensued, as best we have been able to assemble them. Older at the top, newer as you go down.

One note on how these were transcribed. Exchanges have been by email, via listservs, and so on, and often include quoting. All messages have been reproduced in full below — save for one proviso. Since whole threads are included, to keep redundancy to a bearable minimum, where a message quotes from the immediately prior message for context, that is included. But where a message includes accumulated quotation from further back — often due to the writer’s simply not deleting the material — which doesn’t bear on the immediate reply, that is removed. This is done similarly throughout. At any rate, any reader can see all the words of any exchange easily enough, by reading all the messages in turn. Where we noticed, we have also cleaned up typos and misspelling. Again, older at the top, newer as you go down the list.]

Anonymous Response forwarded to us
This appeared on some listserv and was kindly sent our way…

In an article on libertarian municipalism by Michael Albert some concerns were raised (see below) that I, so far, have not seen any replies to by adherents of libertarian municipalism. Is there a reply to Albert somewhere on the web?

Albert: "Insofar as libertarian municipalism is a vision for a new type polity, in addition to wondering why the authors don’t discuss mechanisms for adjudicating disputes (the kind of thing that now leads to law suits) and handling difficult problems of enforcement-I also wonder why they feel that each citizen needs to be directly involved, face-to-face, in all decisions."

Well, perhaps if Albert tried reading and thinking first and questioning later, he wouldn’t produce sentences full of confused notions like this, which would take an entire essay to straighten out. First of all, most of the disputes that end up in lawsuits today happen in the first place because of the hierarchical, class society — one that is in addition heavily bureaucratized and statified — that we live in, a society that necessarily creates myriad competing interests on many more levels than can be discussed here, on an e-list. People tend to forget that these competing interests are the main reason why law in this society is so insanely complex and obfuscatory; laws can literally be hundreds of pages long when written out, because of the myriad "loopholes" and "breaks" and "exemptions" that must be in place to serve the various interests with which the various legislators are each embroiled. This of course requires an army of state-technicians (lawyers) — and yet another enormous bureaucracy ("legal system") — to dispute and interpret, etc, all these various subsections of this and that and the other thing. In a rational society such as the one envisioned in libertarian municipalism this incredible waste of energy would no longer be necessary, as in a stateless, classless society, competing interests would be greatly reduced and ultimately, under conditions of libertarian communism, eliminated altogether.

In an LMist society, disputes would be resolved politically in the assembly or at a confederal level, depending upon the dispute. How this would be done exactly is not really for us to decide, as what we envision is a direct democracy. These are the sorts of issues that people in assembly will decide for themselves, as the build their new society. If "radicals" like Albert need to have every conceivable t crossed and i dotted in advance of a new society (why even bother to have a democracy if every detail is worked out in advance?) they might as well just join the Democratic Party and run for Congress, as their line of reasoning just runs them straight backwards into reformism.

To the greatest extent possible, enforcement would take the form of trying to reason with people in a rational political debate, in an authentically democratic forum, be it local or confederal, where, again, the people would decide. If recalcitrance remains an issue there are various other means of persuasion — economic boycott, for example. And issues of human rights or counterrevolution would be resolved, if necessary, by means of the militia if means short of violence prove ineffective. Finally, too, as in every society known or imagined, there will always be a few dangerous or dangerously antisocial people who will have to be isolated from the society, in this case, of course, in the most humane way possible. Again, one would hope that in a different form of society, there would be many fewer people developing in this direction. But there will always be some. And even Bakunin, by the way, believed that there were some people who, by their own actions, place themselves outside of society and therefore its protections. So they would have to be dealt with as humanely as possible, but dealt with just the same. I would personally be much more concerned about political threats to freedom in the form of counterrevolution and the various ways that economic interests might re-emerge in capitalist formations if the resolve, consciousness, and vigilance of the citizenry were to decline.

Finally, if Albert would read, he would say that we do not insist that "every" citizen need be directly involved in "every" decision. What we insist on is a direct democracy in which every citizen would have the concrete opportunity to be as directly involved as he or she wishes. Not all people, even in revolutionary situations, engage themselves politically to the same extent. Some are totally engaged on one side and some, hopefully few, are not engaged at all on the other, with an entire range of engagement between. This talk of "every" citizen etc is simply childish. Even in the sections of revolutionary Paris — one of the most democratic of historical situations — during the most revolutionary times, there were many citizens who did not attend meetings, assemblies, rallies, etc, for various reasons, much less did "every" citizen man the barricades. The point is that, in a democracy, they can be engaged if they want to be; outside one, they cannot, even if they do want to be.

Albert: "While the general thrust of the assembly vision seems positive, why must it be exclusive? Why is it unwise to use other decision-making mechanisms as well, when assemblies aren’t optimal? I am not sure, for example, why libertarian municipalism feels that no means of representation can ever be designed to function compatibly with popular assemblies, preserving democracy but functioning better in situations that transcend small group concerns."

While it’s nice to know that Albert thinks "the general thrust" of direct democracy is "positive," apparently he’s willing to settle for "representative democracy" — in short, republicanism — for decisions that are not "optimal" for the people themselves to decide. So, again, why not just run for Congress and drop the pretense of radicalism? He also ignores the entire subject of confederation which, in a directly democratic manner through recall and mandate, functions "better in situations that transcend small group concerns." (Notice we are still talking about "groups" here, while in LM, we are talking about the citizenry as citizens, not as members of "groups.")

In short, if Albert knew half as much as he thinks he knows about LM, he would not have raised these red herrings in the first place.

 

Albert’s Reply to Per-Anders Svärd

I received a message from Per-Anders Svärd, as advocate of Parecon, in the mail…I’m not sure precisely by what route I got the message. It seems to have been written to a listserv and then forwarded to me. It refers to and reacts to an article that I wrote and placed on ZNet, and mailed to various folks… I am replying, via my email reply button. I don’t even know where that means this reply is going…if anywhere…so I will try to be brief.

Critic: In an article on libertarian municipalism by Michael Albert some concerns were raised (see below) that I, so far, have not seen any replies to by adherents om libertarian municipalism. Is there a reply to Albert somewhere on the web?

The article was just placed on line, mailed somewhat earlier to a number of folks central to the social ecology project… Janet Biehl and Murray Bookchin both replied to me right away that they looked forward to responding to the points raised and hoped that a lively and productive discussion would ensue — one that would be, in their words, "comradely and constructive"…but, because they are working on a book on deadline it would be some time before they could get to it. I replied, sure, that’s okay, no rush, good luck with the book, I look forward to seeing it.

I wouldn’t have expected reactions from anyone else so soon either.

Critic: "Well, perhaps if Albert tried reading and thinking first and questioning later, he wouldn’t produce sentences full of confused notions like this, which would take an entire essay to straighten out."

I wonder why it is necessary to be uncivil, even in the first line of a communication, even before making a single substantive point. I trust that won’t be typical of replies. I shall try not to follow suit…

Critic: First of all, most of the disputes that end up in lawsuits today happen in the first place because of the hierarchical, class society — one that is in addition heavily bureaucratized and statified — that we live in, a society that necessarily creates myriad competing interests on many more levels than can be discussed here, on an e-list.

I am quite aware that many of the types of disputes now adjudicated and many of the criminal actions now dealt with by law courts as well as modes of enforcement will not exist in a desirable future society — but that doesn’t mean that these functions entirely disappears. Not to me, anyhow.

Among economists there is a joke…an economist, physicist, and chemist are stranded on an island. They have lots of cans of food, nothing else to eat. They have no can opener. The physicist arranges a very complicated combination of rocks and levers to hit the can just right to get an opening large enough to pour the food out. The chemist devises a fire with a heat just such as to slowly crack the top from increased pressure, thus getting at the food. The economist says: "assume a can opener…."

For a visionary to say — and I am not sure this is what you (whoever this is I am replying to) intend to say, but it is something many visionaries do say — that there is economic plenty and thus no need for choice, or that there are people with perfect personalities so there are an insignificant number of disputes, or that there is essentially no violence, etc. is, I think, comparable to saying assume a can opener.

Critic: People tend to forget that these competing interests are the main reason why law in this society is so insanely complex and obfuscatory; laws can literally be hundreds of pages long when written out, because of the myriad "loopholes" and "breaks" and "exemptions" that must be in place to serve the various interests with which the various legislators are each embroiled.

Indeed, you get no argument from me on this. But then nothing I said in the piece suggests that you would. And all this tells us is that in a good society laws having to do with can dos and can’t dos will be quite a bit simpler than now and that there will be fewer areas of dispute that require adjudication and that, as well, there will be less rationale and less cause for violence and crime and therefore less need for legal actions of that sort too — but that still leaves us with describing those dimensions of the polity, nonetheless — which was my point.

Critic: This of course requires an army of state-technicians (lawyers) — and yet another enormous bureaucracy ("legal system") — to dispute and interpret, etc, all these various subsections of this and that and the other thing. In a rational society such as the one envisioned in libertarian municipalism this incredible waste of energy would no longer be necessary, as in a stateless, classless society, competing interests would be greatly reduced and ultimately, under conditions of libertarian communism, eliminated altogether.

This is, in my view, like assuming a can opener. In a good society, the best I can envision, there will still be serious disputes, there will be conflicts, there will be jealousies, there will be pathologies….there will be need of means of adjudication, intervention, and even enforcement — different than now, to be sure, which is why a vision of a better polity ought to talk about such matters, it seems to me.  

Critic: In an LMist society, disputes would be resolved politically in the assembly or at a confederal level, depending upon the dispute. How this would be done exactly is not really for us to decide, as what we envision is a direct democracy.

Well, okay, if that’s the view, so be it. I don’t find it very convincing, I admit, but others might. But in the book I read even that much wasn’t said…there was simply no reference to the issues.

Critic: These are the sorts of issues that people in assembly will decide for themselves, as the build their new society.

You might as well say the same about the assemblies themselves, or about anything else. It is either useful to envision desirable institutions or it isn’t. If it is, as I believe, then it would seem to me that just as law making bodies are a good thing to envision, for example assemblies, so too are legal institutions.

Critic: If "radicals" like Albert need to have every conceivable t crossed and i dotted in advance of a new society (why even bother to have a democracy if every detail is worked out in advance?) they might as well just join the Democratic Party and run for Congress, as their line of reasoning just runs them straight backwards into reformism.

Is this type rhetoric necessary? In any event, taking your point at face value, I fail to see how wanting to hear how a proposed desirable polity would deal with legal issues, among others, leads back to wanting only to ameliorate ills within our existing society.

Critic: To the greatest extent possible, enforcement would take the form of trying to reason with people in a rational political debate, in an authentically democratic forum, be it local or confederal, where, again, the people would decide.

So my neighbor is drunk and threatening me… My husband is trying to beat me to death… The person I jilted last week after a year long relationship is stalking me… Some pervert soul is killing people for kicks and I see him down the block… There is a dispute over x that involves two or let’s say four folks and me…

In these cases I wait for an assembly meeting and take it there and try to reason with all parties with the whole town, or everyone who cares to, partaking of it. I am not impressed with this as a vision for judicial institutions…but maybe others are.

If your answer is, hey, your examples miss the point, in an LM society no one gets drunk, no one beats anyone, no one gets into a jealous rage, no one is homicidal, and no disputes that involve only a few people occur…I say that is assuming a can opener, which is to say, assuming away problems that are real and require attention.

If the answer is sure, that exists, it will need methods of dealing, but we’ll wait and see…well, then I don’t understand why LM is so adamant about many issues but about the legal and police functions of the state, usually thought to be among its most oppressive in past practice, it is silent. There may be a good reason, but I haven’t perceived it.

Critic: If recalcitrance remains an issue there are various other means of persuasion — economic boycott, for example. And issues of human rights or counterrevolution would be resolved, if necessary, by means of the militia if means short of violence prove ineffective.

Well, this to me just doesn’t have much to do with real world circumstances of the sort I raised above, which could be enlarged ad infinitum…which is to say that I doubt the desirability of trying to deal with the sorts of problems noted above (a tiny sample of what might be listed) by economic boycotts and militias…

Critic: Finally, too, as in every society known or imagined, there will always be a few dangerous or dangerously antisocial people who will have to be isolated from the society, in this case, of course, in the most humane way possible. Again, one would hope that in a different form of society, there would be many fewer people developing in this direction.

Yes, we agree on this….

Critic: But there will always be some. 

Yes, again we agree, and so we need to have some idea of how that part of the polity functions, which is all I asked for in this segment of the article, which you have responded to. I don’t see why doing so leads to this exchange…

Critic: Finally, if Albert would read, he would say that we do not insist that "every" citizen need be directly involved in "every" decision. What we insist on is a direct democracy in which every citizen would have the concrete opportunity to be as directly involved as he or she wishes.

In other words, it is desirable that everyone who wants to be directly involved in any decision they wish to be able to be involved, with everyone having the same vote and majority deciding. Yes, I understand, and it is not obvious to me why this is in fact important, much less a high priority, among other concerns I have with it. These are enunciated in the piece…and here you don’t really treat them…for example, the desirability of each actor having a say proportionate to the degree they are affected instead of the mechanical one-person one-vote which makes sense sometimes, but not others.

And actually, what I read in Janet’s book and quoted in the piece I wrote gives only one mechanism for decisions — maybe there are others in the LM vision, or even in the book, but that’s all I found. That is votes, majority votes, in assemblies. There are Congresses of delegates too, but in what I read all that happens there is the delegates come with instructions that they carry out–thus, they bring the results of votes in the more local assemblies so in fact the decision/vote was taken locally, and the delegates are merely bringing the results together — I didn’t understand why this was the approach, as I noted in the piece I wrote.

Critic: While it’s nice to know that Albert thinks "the general thrust" of direct democracy is "positive," apparently he’s willing to settle for "representative democracy" — in short, republicanism — for decisions that are not "optimal" for the people themselves to decide.

This doesn’t really seem to me to be an answer…nor does the last phrase relate to what I wrote in the full essay. An answer would be an argument for why, as but one example, having recallable representatives elected in truly open and sensible ballots make decisions on behalf of their constituencies in some situations, cannot be anything but inferior to having ballots that everyone can vote on. Why, also, having votes that require something other than majority rule can’t ever be more appropriate than having only majority votes.

Critic: So, again, why not just run for Congress and drop the pretense of radicalism?

Is this a general approach to addressing critical views and questions. Just keep saying that if someone disagrees with something you believe, then they must be a closet Congressional candidate?

Critic: He also ignores the entire subject of confederation which, in a directly democratic manner through recall and mandate, functions "better in situations that transcend small group concerns."

Actually I didn’t ignore this. I quoted a description of it and then wondered about it. Yes, I would have thought this would have been the basis for a proposed solution for some of the kinds of concern I had. But when I read about federation it wasn’t — instead, it was a kind of human delivery system for a plebiscite. Now maybe I got the wrong impression, though I did quote the passages that led me to believe that the delegates — sharply and explicitly distinguished from representatives — were only permitted to voice the pre-stated, in writing no less, views of their constituents.

Critic: In short, if Albert knew half as much as he thinks he knows about LM, he would not have raised these red herrings in the first place.

Well, then I maybe I only know a quarter of what I think I know…

Response from Gary Sisco

Michael:

I apologize for the slowness of my response; I haven’t been online much for a week or so. And I am sorry also for causing offense with my tone. I’m not at all sure about email as a medium for political debate, as there is something about its immediacy that tends to make prickly personalities, like mine, more prickly still. Anyway, to address what seem to be your main concerns:

Re assemblies and other representative bodies that you apparently think might need to exist at some confederal or other than municipal levels of society: It is true that libertarian municipalism rejects the notion of "representation" and insists that power must reside with the people in popular assemblies, be they town, city or neighborhood. The reason for this is quite simple, really, from our perspective, because libertarian municipalism seeks to create an authentic democracy, not simply "more democratic" versions of representational institutions. Once "representation" appears, an institution (and a body of people) exists apart from and over the citizenry — an institution of rule, however one may fudge language. That is why in libertarian municipalism, confederal assemblies are composed of mandated and immediately recallable delegates, not representatives. The delegates are only empowered by the popular assemblies to fulfill their mandates by casting their weighted votes in accordance with the will of their citizens’ assembly and to oversee the administration of policy decided by the confederated assemblies. These confederal delegates are expressly not empowered to create policy. As you know, we consider these distinctions between creation and administration of policy to be crucial points, and on this we do not compromise. The confederal bodies in libertarian municipalism do not exist over and above the popular assemblies. (By the way, this is a very traditional aspect of confederalism in libertarian tradition. Even if too often honored in the breach, this is the way the CNT and FAI, for example, structured their organizations.) So, yes, I suppose that, in a certain way of speaking, you might refer to votes of confederal bodies as being plebiscites. But, obviously, they would also be forums for debate and discussion, and there is nothing stopping delegates from returning to their assemblies if they encounter, for example, some good, perhaps unconsidered ideas in confederal debates that might change a local assembly’s position on one thing or another. But the delegates would not be empowered to act on their own in ways that are not in accord with their mandates. They are not junior congressmen, and if they were to become so, then society would have moved, whatever language we choose to use, from being a democracy to at least an incipient republican form of statism (at best).

Re adjudication of disputes: Any civilized society requires law and some form of court system to adjudicate disagreements that cannot be otherwise resolved, or to deal with seriously antisocial behavior, and also, I might add, with counterrevolution — democracies can be overthrown (or "evolve" into statist systems from lack of consciousness and vigilance) and in fact, historically, have always been (so far). Needless to say, these things would not look anything like the systems in place in the existing society: Indeed, in a propertyless, classless, and stateless society, the whole notion of "crime" would be radically changed and, in many cases, would simply cease to exist. (What would be the point of stealing in a society without private property and based on "from each according to ability and to each according to need"?) What precisely these institutions would look like and how precisely they would function is, to me, a debate that will need to take place and be decided by the people in their assemblies and confederations, in the process of creating their new society. Here, I can only offer personal opinions of what I would think an acceptable solution to the problem. I would hope for — and struggle for — a very public form of court, with very large juries (perhaps several hundred) chosen by sortition, and for "trials" where each side had ample opportunity to present its views and arguments. I would argue for a smaller group of "judges," also chosen by sortition, that would act more as moderators whose purpose is to ensure that the new society’s accepted and democratically determined rules for such institutions are observed. I am well aware that many people are afraid of the notion of sortition. But libertarian municipalism also has a distinct view and definition of citizenship, as you know, as not just a legalistic category but as a way of being political in a democratic society. The process of creating that society and citizenry that we hope for is itself the school for creating educated, democratic citizens. Indeed, we can think of no other. Therefore, in a libertarian municipalist society, all adult citizens of sound mind would be viewed as competent to serve in these capacities (as, indeed, citizens are viewed as competent to serve as jurors — not to mention as congressional delegates — even in the existing society).

But, again, as to the actual makeup of legal institutions in a future society, it is not for me, or anyone, to decide these things in too detailed a way in advance. For one thing, I don’t think any of us has sufficiently liberated our own minds from the shaping of our thinking that has necessarily taken place by having lived in the present system. We are all, even the most liberated thinkers among us, products of society, culture, and history. The best we can hope for is a distant view of what life would really be like in an authentically revolutionized democracy. In the same way that I find it unacceptable to use too much historical hindsight when criticizing the past, I also find it unacceptable to drag too much of the present along with us into the future.

As for your specific example of antisocial behavior — a drunken nitwit stalking and terrorizing a woman — again, I can only offer personal opinions. One, I don’t think that there would be many people behaving in this sort of fashion after a long and conscious struggle on the part of many, hopefully most of the people to create a new society such as the one that we envision, if only because most people after such an experience would simply not countenance such behavior. Indeed, even in the existing society, such behavior can be dealt with very differently and more effectively when other people not directly involved in the relationship intervene. Public pressure and even ostracization can count for a lot, in my view, in stopping these forms of boorishness. For example, once a comrade and I lived in an apartment building in a medium-sized Vermont town, where most of the tenants were single mothers, most on welfare a good deal of the time, and none very much affected by feminism or anything of the sort. Many of them were also terrorized by former or current male companions. We got sick of that right away and began intervening on our own by basically informing the men that they were going to leave, right now, or suffer serious consequences; that if there was any more violence or terrorism against women in the building that they would have to deal with us, and that we would definitely cause them injury and pain if they came around again. For many of those women, it was the first time anyone had ever intervened on their behalf and it was very interesting to see what developed, as, eventually, some of them began to defend themselves and their friends — once chasing a batterer from the building themselves with baseball bats. And for the men, it was definitely the first time they’d ever been confronted with other men (aside from cops). For them, too, I assure you it was an eye opener. And, at least in that building while we lived there, behavior that was considered traditional changed pretty damned fast. I suppose some would call it vigilantism, but I assure you it was much more effective than the current way of dealing with this problem. We chose to call it counterterror.

Gary Sisco
 

Reply from Albert to Sisco

I previously received comments from someone named Per-Anders Svärd about the article I wrote on Libertarian Municipalism (now also available on ZNet, linked from the top of this page). I replied in some detail…and now have received comments from Gary Sisco. These comments also seem to be from a listserv for Social Ecology.

> (Gary wrote:) I apologize for the slowness of my response; … And I am sorry also for causing offense with my tone. I’m not at all sure about email as a medium for political debate…

With email is that you don’t see facial expressions or hear tone. It is easy to take something as harsher than it really is, to reply in kind, and to then spiral out of control. On the other hand, email makes quoting very easy, and this can help.

> Re assemblies and other representative bodies that you apparently think might need to exist at some confederal or other than municipal levels of society: It is true that libertarian municipalism rejects the notion of "representation" and insists that power must reside with the people in popular assemblies, be they town, city or neighborhood.

But what does that mean? It seems to mean, as noted in my essay and last message, that the local assemblies must vote on everything. But then they are just a place for people to bring already-determined and written out instructions — issue by issue. If so, there is no point, that I can see. That is, if LM requires that every issue is addressed and decided in local assemblies, why bother choosing delegates to take the votes to a higher smaller congress and announce them for a tally? It adds nothing…

As for the advisability of having all decisions decided locally, that’s a different issue that I had many comments about in the essay and last message.

> The reason for this is quite simple, really, from our perspective, because libertarian municipalism seeks to create an authentic democracy, not simply "more democratic" versions of representational institutions.

This explains liking each actor to vote on each matter in their local assembly. But it does not explain, given that choice, what the purpose or value of confederal bodies at some higher level is. Nor does it tell us, even just regarding legislation, how normal human beings are supposed to live full lives and also concern themselves with every political decision-making matter — legislative, judicial, executive — that occurs at their own assembly level and also at every higher (more encompassing geographic level) up to the whole country. Nor does it tell us any of the information requirements or how they are met. Nor does it address what to me is the deeper issue of different actors rightly deserving to have different influence.

Obviously I am not saying you should have done all that in your reply — but the problem is, I haven’t been able to find where LM does it, at all…

> Once "representation" appears, an institution (and a body of people) exists apart from and over the citizenry — an institution of rule, however one may fudge language.

This is a statement which could be true or false. But one has to argue it.

Suppose a syndicalist said to you, once a political institution appears, then a state exists, and states oppress, of course, so we can’t have any political institutions.

You would presumably say: no, you haven’t demonstrated any link between political institutions per se and statism, you have simply assumed it. You’d be right. But a similar rejoinder to you is that you haven’t demonstrated that representation means reducing some citizens to insufficient influence over outcomes and elevating others to excessive influence over outcomes, you have only (vaguely) claimed it.

Suppose someone comes along and says here is a way to organize the polity so that it operates efficiently and with due respect for people’s time and energy and in accord with information constraints and possibilities — so that over time it legislates, adjudicates, executes wisely and in so doing also affords to each citizen influence over political outcomes in proportion as he/she/they are affected by them, and so that it accords with, as well, other values that we hold dear.

To me that is what one should be able to say about a political vision, including enumerating those other values. Now what allows you to say it is impossible that such a thing could include some elements of "representation"?

Bookchin is very elegant and clear in pointing up the error that some anarchists make in prejudging political visionary possibilities by equating political vision per se to statism (read, authoritarian domination of the many by the few) and then rejecting statism and thus also political vision. He says that IF political vision meant authoritarian statism, then yes, he’d have to reject political vision too — but of course it doesn’t.

Equating representation per se with bureaucratic elite rule is a comparable leap to the one Bookchin criticizes, structurally quite similar. It could be warranted, it might not be, but it can’t simply be taken as a given.

But there are two different issues — one is whether are desirable alternatives to having local assemblies decide every single issue at every level of polity. The second is whether this option itself, put so baldly as to be not just A method but THE ONLY method, is viable or even desirable.

> That is why in libertarian municipalism, confederal assemblies are composed of mandated and immediately recallable *delegates,* not representatives.

Using phrases like "immediately recallable," a nice one that I like too, without explaining the implementation of it doesn’t really solve issues. It needs substance.

If a delegate is someone who runs back and forth carrying information about tallies — you can replace them with a phone wire that conveys bits of information, and save a lot of time and trouble. If a delegate is someone who engages in discussion, exploration, and research along with other delegates, and in light of all that casts votes meant to accord with their constituency’s desires and preferences in the new context of the delegates’ discussion and debate, then I understand having the higher level bodies and think having them could be a good and essential idea…supposing one also has systematic relations and role definitions that preclude fixed bureaucracy, biasing of outcomes, etc.

> The delegates are only empowered by the popular assemblies to fulfill their mandates by casting their weighted votes in accordance with the will of their citizens’ assembly and to oversee the administration of policy decided by the confederated assemblies. These confederal delegates are expressly not empowered to create policy.

Say the issue is the future of the Grand Canyon, or perhaps a new national law protecting some wildlife animal, or maybe some foreign policy, or a new judicial ruling, or all of them. My little assembly discusses these — and a few thousand other agenda items — and we have a vote on each. You are the delegate who we send up to some higher layer, and you get chosen again, and ultimately wind up at the national federated layer. You and the others can now either (a) present the tallies from your locals and go home — which would seem to me extremely odd. Or (b) discuss the matters, perhaps utilizing new information from people whose job is to research these issues, certainly hearing new views from other assembly delegates, etc. Suppose you do (b) and it is hard for me to see any other reason for coming together. Now what? You can vote in light of it, with delegates free to change their vote to continue according with the preferences of their constituents as best they can read these in light of the new information. Or you can have everyone go home and do a new ballot after relating the contents of the discussion, as they interpret it. The first is called, generally, some form of representation. The second, which LM seems to advocate, seems to me utterly unworkable and, in any event, oddly redundant, the delegates having no real role. If you really want to do the second, televise the discussion and have a plebiscite…no need for delegates doing any tallying or vote carrying (and I think this is also a useful method that might fit in a better polity, not exclusively, but for certain matters).

> So, yes, I suppose that, in a certain way of speaking, you might refer to votes of confederal bodies as being plebiscites. But, obviously, they would also be forums for debate and discussion, and there is nothing stopping delegates from returning to their assemblies if they  encounter, for example, some good, perhaps unconsidered ideas in confederal debates that might change a local assembly’s position on one thing or another.

Why discuss at all among a few delegates? If you do, for edification, pre-vote, why not have it be a televised discussion that everyone can benefit from?

Why not just go with the initial vote from all the assemblies (something which I think is literally impossible and unwise anyhow, in many instances, though sensible in others, but I am just flowing with you here)?

Where does the knowledge and information come from that each assembly has at its disposal for intelligently assessing every issue? Or that the higher order delegate senates have?

In your version, above, the delegates do have some power, to decide to question the vote they are carrying and go back to tally anew. Imagine it in practice… Any delegate can hold up any decision to go back and rediscuss and revote locally. With presumably hundreds of delegates what is to say that any decision would ever be taken? More, do LMers really think that every citizen (even any citizen?) wants to delve into the details of every judicial, legislative, and executive decision for every geographic realm that impacts their own, and to do this not just once, but repeatedly — not just for critically important matters, but for all matters?

> Re adjudication of disputes: Any civilized society requires law and some form of court system to adjudicate disagreements that cannot be otherwise resolved, or to deal with seriously antisocial behavior…

Well, this may or may not be true — I tend to agree that it is. But once you think this, or even think it is remotely plausible, then doesn’t presenting a vision for a desirable polity entail presenting a vision for a desirable way of adjudicating disputes as well settling on and interpreting laws — or else a demonstration that adjudication is of relatively minor import and can be ignored at small danger of hurting the vision proposed? This all seemed largely absent from LM.

> Needless to say, these things would not look anything like the systems in place in the existing society:

Actually, it probably needs considerable saying to come to such a conclusion. That is, even the most radical critic of contemporary relations could feel that while its economy is horrendous, it state is horrendous, its racism and sexism are horrendous, that its legal system has considerable merit (though largely masked by the impact of those others horrors). I tend to suspect, instead, along with you that, the legal system itself, even abstracted from the rest, needs considerable and in some instances fundamental changes. But that suspicion is far from being a compelling argument…

> Indeed, in a propertyless, classless, and stateless society, the whole notion of "crime" would be radically changed and, in many cases, would simply cease to exist.

This is where quoting matters…again. I don’t honestly feel that here, or above, you are replying to what I actually offered. It feels more like you read it, took away some elements and impressions, and are reacting to those via a statement of your own views that is only barely a response to my actual concerns.

Of course what is a crime, and what crime is, would both differ from now.

> (What would be the point of stealing in a society without private property and based on "from each according to ability and to each according to need"?)

If everyone can have anything they say they want — I need it, I get it — then stealing is non-existent, yes, you are correct. But this is a dream world with no relation to reality. I want your winter coat. I want your child. I want your house. I want a 300 foot yacht. I want the Mona Lisa for myself. My community wants endless amounts of rum, or wants to shut down the airport that serves five million people which abuts our region, and so on.

> What precisely these institutions [legal] would look like and how precisely they would function is, to me, a debate that will need to take place and be decided by the people in their assemblies and confederations, in the process of creating their new society.

Fine…if LM is only saying that a nice part of winning a new society is establishing local assemblies that take up political matters and fight for just gains in the present and that become a key part of political structures celebrated in the future, so be it. That would be fine. I wouldn’t have any confusion about that or argument with it. But LM claims to be a political vision — and, even an economic one — and even a strategy, and a pretty stringent and demanding one at that — and if it is going to claim all that, it has to answer questions, it seems to me.

Suppose someone comes along and says I am for justice and equity, etc. and that’s my vision. You say back, well, that’s great, but what about direct democracy in local assemblies? They say, no no — that’s something to be decided by agents of change as they evolve the new world through their practice. Well sure it is, you say, and so is everything else. But what is going to guide that practice, what aspirations, what desires? At some point we need to have some clarity about what we want…much more clarity than saying we are for some fine values like justice.

And if this person is going to claim to you that they are offering a vision to provide hope, direction, orientation, etc., well, you will, I bet, rightly feel that they have to do better to be remotely compelling. Well, that’s, I guess, what I am saying about LM insofar as it says its a vision of the polity even, much less that plus a vision for the economy and a strategy for change.

I think a political vision is very much needed. That is: a vision of how the polity of a good society would be structured and operate. Such an institutional aim would give us a touchstone for critique of the present. It would give us hope and aspiration. It would provide orientation to organize our efforts at change — since they have to not only address the immediate world we encounter, but lead toward the one we desire.

Such a vision should, of course, be compatible with visions for a better economy, kinship sphere, culture, etc. But while I agree with you that the political vision (or any other), per se, needn’t dot every i and cross every t of a future picture (and shouldn’t, if it is going to avoid being arrogant nonsense) — it does need to at least clarify basic defining institutions. In the political case, basic institutions for legislation, adjudication, implementation, etc. I think LM has done part of this, and I have some qualms with that, though I like some as well.

As to your own personal intuitions about a desirable vision…I think I will pass on commenting on them. I want to address LM as a viewpoint, only, at this point.

> But, again, as to the actual makeup of legal institutions in a future society, it is not for me, or anyone, to decide these things in too detailed a way in advance.

Why not say the same about law making or decision making. LM thinks it makes sense to decide, in advance, that there should be only one-person one-vote majority rule decisions, only local assemblies as the seat of decision making, and so on. I don’t happen to find these allegiances compelling, but that aside, why in one aspect of polity does LM offer vision and in another say that it is unneeded. Perhaps there is a logic, but it isn’t offered in the work I read which simply ignored, as I noted earlier, other aspects of polity…

> For one thing, I don’t think any of us has sufficiently liberated our own minds from the shaping of our thinking that has necessarily taken place by having lived in the present system.

To use these kinds of arguments to defend not envisioning X (judicial institutions), when you have adopted a vision of Y (some legislative institutions), seems odd to me. What makes Y envisionable and X not?

A good answer, I think would be that Y is critical in the sense of being a broad defining institutional structure whose character is key to our having hope, desire, and strategic centering re the future. Fine…this means we shouldn’t go into peripheral matters, and certainly not into matters over which there will be lots and lots of acceptable choices. I agree. But the defining institutions of adjudication and enforcement?

> We are all, even the most liberated thinkers among us, products of society, culture, and history. The best we can hope for is a distant view of what life would really be like in an authentically revolutionized democracy.

So what if I say that LMers’ limited experience with representation has led them to reject it outright without even entertaining that there could be desirable instances…and that therefore all of LM is suspect. Your reply would presumably be, no, that is a very important aspect of a future polity and that you have therefore thought long and hard and are willing to put forth views on it. Fine, why not do that regarding other aspects also critically important?

As to your personal discussion of enforcement, again, I want to talk about LM, not individual’s views — but, yes, the idea of everyone having to develop the capacity to exercise the skills and talents needed to deal with all manner of disruptive and violent behavior, on the one hand, or asserting that there simply would be no such behavior, on the other, don’t strike me as compelling answers to the question what happens to what we might call the "police function" in a good society?

Finally, I know there have only been two replies, and perhaps it is a function of lack of clarity in my original piece, but I do think we are focussing on issues of less fundamental import…of those I raised. Not that I mind discussing these, but I hope someone will take up the other more central matters, too.

Sisco Rejoins

Michael — I have not much else to say in this discussion but wanted to clarify a couple of matters before taking leave to move on to other work. I shall try to be as brief as possible,  given the length of your own responses on these questions.

First, re delegation at the confederal level: No one ever said that the only thing a mandated confederal delegate would do is cast his or her votes, as if the confederal meeting were nothing but a transmission of the voting record of local assemblies. Again, here, we are running into the conflation of policy and administration. So, let me attempt to clarify this question, briefly, again. Before any confederal assembly meets, an agenda of all important questions — ie, policy issues — would be compiled and distributed to municipal assemblies, allowing appropriate time for deliberation, debate, voting, and instruction of delegates by the assembly re how they are expected to vote and what issues they are to raise and what positions they are to take, etc, at the confederal meeting. The confederal body then meets and votes, majority rule, on its forewarned agenda items.

Obviously, this would include deliberation and debate; it would not be just a proforma meeting that records votes of the local assemblies. For one thing, again I stress we are talking about the difference between policy and administration.

In libertarian municipalism, questions of *policy* are decided at the municipal level. At the confederal level, it becomes necessary to organize and coordinate the various ways required to *carry out* the broad policies decided by municipal assemblies. So, the policy questions are settled by the mandated delegates casting their weighted votes, majority rule. But this isn’t the end of the matter but rather, in a way, the beginning.

Since we are talking about majority rule, the minority is bound by the decision (although, of course, it is always free to try to become a majority through persuasion, debate, propaganda, organization, protest etc if necessary). That is, the minority doesn’t just pack up and go home.

Once a policy question is settled through the vote, the hard work of discussion and negotiation begins. Eg, How do we now implement this decision and organize an effective way to carry it out *that does not violate the policy mandate established by the majority of municipal assemblies*? These kinds of questions and issues would be debated and decided by the various confederal bodies *but they would never be free to esta

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