Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blond’s “civic state” . . . vis à vis TIMN

[UPDATE — October 13, 2012: ResPublica published another pertinent study last year — "Civic Limits: How much more involved can people get?" (.pdf) — that is interesting partly because it finally mentions the network form.]

[UPDATE — December 24, 2011: ResPublica’s new publication — ResPublica A-Z: Celebrating two years of ResPublica — is well worth a read. It barely mentions Blond’s concept of the “civic state” — the focus of this post — but it shows that his think-tank remains intent on developing a new conservative ideology that combines principles from, yet goes beyond, today’s Right and Left. Thus the document advocates “an associative society” for the common good that is strong on “reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity” as well as civic responsibility and public accountability. ResPublica’s economic ideas remain pro-market, opposed to unrestricted or uncompetitive capitalism, in favor of a “social economy” and “moralized market” — indeed, a “participative economy where assets are distributed to the many and not hoarded by the few.” Sounds good to me.]

[UPDATE — October 15, 2011: Add Phillip Blond’s latest article to the ones I discuss below. Those earlier ones were upbeat about the prospects for Red Toryism. But this latest reflects deep pessimism about the new government.
“The “big society” was the Tories’ chance to remake a broken society and economy. The opportunity was missed. Now, unless Cameron tackles the excesses of those at the top, he will be betraying those at the bottom. . . . That we are governed by compromise, oscillation and U-turn is not merely a fact of coalition politics. At a deeper level, it is an expression of what Gramsci would have called "hegemonic crisis", in which reality is no longer captured by conventional ideas and orthodox policies.” (source)
Blond also laments that Red Toryism had been “reduced to a caricature of volunteering and philanthropy” when it’s really about “new associative models that blend private and public capital in social enterprises” to the benefit of people at local levels.]

As previously noted, while looking at Bobbitt’s “market state” concept, I also happened to look at Phillip Blond’s “civic state” and Michel Bauwens’ “partner state” concepts. A prior post focused on Bobbitt. This one is on Blond. I’d meant for it to be about Bauwens as well, but it’s become so long that I’ll spread the posts out.  (I initially figured on covering all three in a single post — woeful me, with apologies to any readers.)

Why group these three — now two

Why these three in serial posts? Bobbitt, because it was time I read-up on his work. Blond, because he announces his vision by rejecting the market state depicted by Bobbitt. Bauwens, because he not only criticizes the market state but also nods at Blond’s ideas, while aiming to peer beyond and apart from them.

Yet, while Blond’s and Bauwens’ points intersect in their criticisms of the Bobbittian market state, I’m fitting their writings side-by-side for other reasons as well.

One is ideological: they are coming from and going in different directions — Blond to the Right, Bauwens to the Left. And what makes this interesting for TIMN is that they end up in roughly similar places with rather parallel views about the future:
  • Both recognize that the state will remain a crucial institution.
  • Both want state and society to become less market-oriented.
  • Both aim to revitalize the roles of community and civil society.
  • Both propose new organizational approaches to civic association that reflect +N — Blond for public services, Bauwens for the commons.
That last point is crucial.  Their ideas about the future of the state pertain to the +I component of TIMN.  But they also engage new ideas for civil-society associations.  That serves my search for how a network (+N) sector may materialize — a primary reason for discussing them here.

Indeed, Blond and Bauwens seem headed in quadriformist directions — ecumenical, neo-limitarian ones at that, which suits my TIMN preferences. They want to break away from aging triformist models, and see possibilities for doing so. Thus both are evolutionary optimists, to a degree — and I like that, for it tracks with TIMN’s long-term outlook.

In contrast, collapsitarians and dystopians across the ideological spectrum argue that many states and other big hierarchies are goners, markets have become too ruinous, and thus the future belongs to whoever can best cluster together around tribal and network modalities. I want to dig into these pessimistic views from a TIMN perspective sometime too, but for now that’s a secondary interest.

So far, I’ve looked mainly for ideas about the future of the state that come from scholarly circles. Blond and Bauwens do not lack academic or other credentials, but their orientations are far more philosophical and ideological, deliberately political, even theological and spiritual, than I normally see in searching for future speculations that bear on TIMN. This too makes them interesting to review together, as a change of pace.

Each in his own way, Blond and Bauwens seek to surmount old distinctions about state vs. market, public vs. private, and Left vs. Right.  Their views are not exactly representative of new philosophizing about the state on the Right or the Left, but I sense that they are indicative.  (And if anyone has other writers to suggest, please do so in a comment or an email.)   

Increasing relevance of Blond’s and Bauwens’ writings

Blond and Bauwens are not as prominent as Bobbitt. His books, despite criticisms, still have currency all these years later. Yet, the ideas that Blond and Bauwens represent have gained currency, this past year in particular, though neither has the name-recognition that Bobbitt has achieved.

Blond’s Red-Tory ideas have lately attained a bit of notoriety in Britain (and the United States). And their influence may grow now that his Conservative Party has won office and the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, has vowed to promote “big society, small government” ideas that are Blondian. But even if Blond’s efforts prove a passing flash, they still cast a revealing light for TIMN.

Bauwens’ writings are less well-known, except in activist circles interested in trends in peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. But in those circles — which, like Bauwens himself, identify mainly with the Left, often reside more in Europe and Asia than America, and operate through the blogosphere more than formal print — his work keeps gaining audience. And his focus is on what I view as cutting edge ideas and possibilities — the rise of P2P networks, the growth of the commons. (Besides, Bauwens likes TIMN.)

Caution about source materials

In reviewing Bobbitt’s analyses, I had lots of writings to go on, even without perusing his book. That’s not the case with Blond and Bauwens.

For Blond, I rely on a handful of recent articles and speeches, other material at his ResPublica website, plus commentary by a few other analysts and reviewers. Blond has just published a new book — Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It (2010) — but I’ve not seen it, and I’ll just have to presume it reflects the writings I have seen.

For Bauwens, I have much less to go on. He does prolific posting at his P2P Foundation blog. But little is about the partner-state concept , and what there is amounts more to preliminary than final thinking. I supplement it with related postings by some of his associates and other analysts, but this additional material is sparser and less diverse than for Bobbitt or Blond.

Blond looks ahead to the “civic state”

In 2009, Phillip Blond declared that an “epoch-changing moment” had arrived for British politics and the nature of the state:
“1979 brought an end to the welfare state, 2009 will see an end to the market state and the next election will, with the election of a conservative government, usher in the birth of the civic state.” (source)
And what Blond has in mind for the civic state involves a radical reform of Britain’s economy and society as well:
“There are three dimensions to this new order: a civil state, a moralised market and an associative society.” (source)
Blond’s concept appeals for several TIMN reasons. It purports to supersede both the welfare state and the market state in the near future. It aims to make conservatism progressive, by moving away from libertarianism toward communitarianism (i.e., more T, less M). It calls for a better balance among state, market, and civil-society actors — balance being a crucial criterion for TIMN. And while the details of Blond’s layout aren’t quite +N, his emphasis on invigorating old and new kinds of community associations has a +N quality (though he doesn’t speak of the network form per se, at least not in what I’ve read).

 --  Vigorous critique of Britain’s past and present condition

I’m interested mainly in how Blond views the future, not the past and the present.  So I’ll note only briefly his critique of Britain’s current situation:  Accordingly, the welfare state and the market state have both had awful effects. They’ve led to excessive statism and individualism, to corrosive public monopolies and private cartels, and to the undermining of community associations that represent civil society. Liberalism has been the cause of this, far more than conservatism.

To impart a sense of Blond’s style and substance, here are some choice quotes, one or two apiece from the five article-length writings I’ve read, on which this post is based.  

From his article on “The Rise of the Red Tories” (2009):
“[T]his crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the “market state” and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last 30 years.”

“Look at the society we have become: we are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry. The intermediary structures of a civilised life have been eliminated, and with them the Burkean ideal of a civic, religious, political or social middle, as the state and the market accrue power at the expense of ordinary people.”
From his article on “The Civil State” (2009):
“Yet we also know what is wrong with the market state — too often it replaces a public monopoly with a private cartel. In the name of breaking up the state too little attempt was applied to breaking up the market. . . . Market fundamentalism abandoned the fundamentals of markets.”

“Only markets located in and shaped by a moral architecture are sustainable, as Adam Smith understood.”
From his speech on “The Future of Conservatism”(2009/2010):
“[W]hat the working class thought would save and secure became something that gradually and over time eventually helped to destroy them. Why? Because the state, instead of supporting society, abolished it. The welfare state nationalised society because it replaced mutual communities with passive fragmented individuals whose most sustaining relationship was not with his or her neighbour or his or her community but with a distant and determining centre.”
From his article on “The Shattered Society” (2010):
“The loss of our culture is best understood as the disappearance of civil society. Only two powers remain: the state and the market. We no longer have, in any effective independent way, local government, churches, trade unions, cooperative societies, or civic organizations that operate on the basis of more than single issues.”

“Collectivism and individualism are but two sides of the same devalued and degraded currency. And this has been the history of recent modernity — an oscillation between the state and the individual that gradually erodes civil association, which is in reality the only check on the extremes of either. . . . Contemporary libertarian individualism and statist collectivism created each other and are locked in a fatal embrace that destroys the civic middle and the life and economy of the associative citizen.”
 From his report on “The Ownership State” (2010): 
“Market versus statist thinking is a crude false dichotomy, based on an ideologically gloomy vision of human nature which has led both sectors into today’s cul-de-sac — a nightmare treadmill where every problem thrown up by a dysfunctional system can only be addressed by prescribing larger doses of the treatment that got us into the mess in the first place.”
In my view of TIMN, this amounts to a salient diagnosis.  For it detects imbalances among state, market, and civil-society forces, and seeks to restore a sense of limits and to correct the interplay among the TIMN forms.

Yet, I’m wary of Blond’s wily penchant to blame liberalism for all the ills he detects — e.g., when he claims that “A vision of the good life cannot come from liberal principles.  Unlimited liberalism produces atomised relativism and state absolutism.” (source)  In his view, absolute personal liberty requires an almighty state to police society and protect individual rights, in efforts that end up favoring the rich and harming the poor.  But I leave to others the challenge of reiterating (e.g., here) or refuting (e.g., here and here) this part of his diagnosis.  I’d rather focus on his future vision. 

 --  Promising (but sketchy) vision of the civic state

As to what’s next, Blond is quite sketchy about the civic state. But it’s clear he means a decentralized, distributist state of limited scope. Indeed, he also calls it the civil state, the associative state, the mutualized state, and the ownership state.

According to Blond, the civic state will restore people’s participation in “the common good” by re-enabling “the associative drive” that liberalism stifled. Thus it will be a state that “privileges the associative above the alienated, the responsible over the self-serving and . . . the communal over the individual.” It will express a “radical communitarian civic conservatism” — his “red Toryism” concept — that can “inveigh with equal vigour against public monopolies of state and giant cartels of the market”.

This is not just high-sounding rhetoric, for he makes clear the direction he wants the state to go in:
“In the political realm, we have to admit that democracy doesn’t work particularly well, mainly because it’s hugely centralized and substantially captured by vested interests. We need to turn it upside-down — a doctrine of radical democratic subsidiarity that would allow local associations both to select and vote for their own candidates. We can’t do that in the current political settlement. It’s too locked; there are too many vested interests. But if, like budgetary capture, we had a democratic capture, we could send democracy back to the streets. If we could ally that political economy with actual democracy, we could really have bottom-up associations and render the central state increasingly superfluous.” (source; my italics)
“The new civil state would restore what the welfare state has destroyed — human association. This new civil state will turn itself over to its citizens; it will foster the power of association and allow its citizens to take it over rather as it had originally taken over them. . . . So conceived the monolithic state could gradually be broken down into an associative state where citizens took over and ran their own services . . . .” (source; my italics)
Thus, Blond proposes that the “public sector should be broken up — not privatized out” — and many of its services transferred to civil-society actors apart from the existing public and private sectors.  That appears to be his main point about the civic state; it is mainly "a facilitator” in this associative scheme. The state is still a parliamentary democracy atop a party system; but its bureaucracy is smaller, and its orientation to the economy and civil society has been redefined and restructured.

He links this to ideas for a “re-moralized market” — a “whole new model of social capitalism” based on a “civic economy” — that would benefit small and medium businesses and be less fraught by government bureaucracies and corporate cartels. However, I’m going to skip over that, and head into what’s far more significant for my sense of TIMN: Blond’s proposals for new kinds of civil-society associations.

 --  Inspired ideas for civil-society association

Blond’s vision is about creating the civic state. But to make that feasible, his vision is even more about re-energizing civil society — so much so that local civil associations get to assume functions long performed by the state:
“Finally, the real recovery has to come in civil society itself. Society should be what rules, what regulates, what is sovereign. Both the state and the market must be subservient to renewed civil association. This requires a restoration of social conservatism that recognizes the claim of the common good over the free agency of the individual. “

“This is the essence of the Western liberal tradition: the rise of association — a state that isn’t dictated by the oligopolies of the market and the central government. The task of a radical conservative politics is to recover this: the middle life of civil society. Villages should run villages, cities cities, and neighborhoods their own streets and parks.” (source)
Blond’s intellectual anchor for thinking this way is Edmund Burke’s notion of “the little platoon” — in TIMN, a proto-tribal/clan (T) formation:
“It was Edmund Burke who famously spoke of conservative radicalism being founded on the little platoons of family and civic association. “To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” This is the true spirit of [David] Cameroonian conservatism and, taken seriously, it represents a break with the monopoly logic of the market state.” (source)
In Blond’s view, fostering such “little platoons” will transcend the unhealthy oscillation between individualism and collectivism:
“Association is outside both state and market, and yet it makes the proper functioning of both possible. Association expresses both individuality and community. Association marks the politics of the future: it is the way we will deliver our state, and it is the way we will free our market.” (source)
The proving ground for this part of Blond’s vision is a new way to provide public services, as spelled out in The Ownership State (2010).  Here are choice passages from that document:
“A new approach is needed. This report argues that real improvement depends on harnessing two powerful forces: the insight and dedication of frontline workers, and the engagement and involvement of citizens and communities.”

“We propose a new model of public sector delivery, in which services are provided by social enterprises led by frontline workers and owned by them and the communities they serve.”

“This power would allow the formation, under specific conditions, of new employee and community-owned ‘civil companies’ that would deliver the services previously monopolised by the state. Central to this power would be the obligation to ensure that full budgetary delegation of all the supporting services goes along with new responsibility. The new civil company would be structured as a social enterprise, with the scope and flexibility to allow a number of different governance structures in the light of local conditions. Such structures include community interest companies with an asset lock that prevents external transfer of the resources of the new organisation, or alternatively a similar level of social reassurance could be provided by a partnership trust along the lines of the John Lewis model.”

“Governed neither by the public state or the private market, this new civil association would localise responsibility, direct agency and promote ethos. It would do this by spreading the ownership of publicly funded provision, revolutionising public service delivery for the benefit of all.”

“What is needed is a system that will give the public, as individuals and as client groups, a literal stake in their service providers. The state must enable new associations of service-users, community members, voluntary contributors and existing social organisations to take ownership of their services, as partners with direct influence over providers.”

“That means producing something that can work on the small scale so that its universal applicability delivers gains to the widest possible magnitude. Our aspiration should be ‘mass micro’ — innovation that when repeated across the public sector can yield a macro-gain.”
That’s quite an agenda. It envisages the rise of a “social economy” based on a “new localism”. And it’s loaded with lingo about public service businesses, social businesses, social enterprises, civil companies, and civic companies. I’m not exactly sure what such terms mean, but the aim is clear: a bottom-up system for “citizen groups to take over government budgets and run them for themselves” (source). Blond favors worker buy-outs, employee-owned coops, and local investment trusts, where employees and other locals get to share in ownership, and profit is not the key purpose. His emphasis is on the delivery of public services, but he also proposes reforms to banking. It’s all very much about mutualism and distributism, in conservative senses.

What Blond lays out is consistent with what I think TIMN may imply for the future: a more delimited but also stronger kind of state (a “nexus state”), along with the rise of a new networked social sector. What’s missing from Blond’s vision is a connection to the network (+N) form. The Ownership State (2010) mentions that the “baseline requirements” for his proposals include “open systems” in which “hierarchies give way to networks” (p. 11). It also recommends “a flatter management structure in the public sector” . . . “where peer-to-peer motivation builds ethos and expertise and replaces vertical sanction” (p. 34). But so far these points are made only in passing; they deserve elaboration.

(Sidenote: Blond is not the only British leader thinking in new ways about civil society. Similar ideas appear in the Carnegie-sponsored Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society (2010) and related documents.)

A few critical reviews that try to raise doubts

I’ve looked for reviews, pro and con, of Blond’s writings, and as could be expected, the reviews are quite diverse. Many are preoccupied with where to fit him in the ideological spectrum. A common criticism is that he offers little more than a rehash of old conservative ideas — a nostalgic “Arcadian” dream about reviving small-town and village life, as laid out decades ago by G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and their Catholic Distributist League. And Blond’s “Red Tory” moniker has even prompted a counter from the moderate Left: “Blue Socialism” — meaning “socialism with a Burkean tinge” (source). [UPDATE — August 18, 2012: Another contrast is provided by the term “Blue Labour,” which receives an interesting discussion in the post by David Bollier here.]

Okay. But what about Blond’s proposals for the future? In this regard, I’m struck by three criticisms, all presumably leftist, that pertain to TIMN.

The first, from Jonathan Raban’s disparaging review of Blond’s new book, is that his proposals mean dumping public services on the emerging social or third sector, to no avail:
“Stripped of its obscurantist rhetoric and foggy sermonising, Red Tory issues a moral licence to government to free itself from the expensive business of dispensing social services and to dump them on the ‘third sector’ of charities, voluntary organisations, non-profits and the like.” (source)
That might have been partly true in the past, but not necessarily the future. If TIMN is on the right track, the third/social sector is where many services will end up, for the better. Raban hasn’t grasped the potential significance of the rise of the network form for this.

The second, from a critic in P2P circles, claims that Blond’s conservatism cannot be peer-to-peer. Accordingly, his notion of community remains quite hierarchical and vertical, and the kind of state that would unfold under his vision could end up being “neototalitarian”. (source)

I’m not sure what that means, or how far to go in questioning it. But for now, I’d note that, in order for TIMN to hold up, all major political ideologies, including conservatism, will adapt to network forms and learn to use them, including P2P varieties. Surely conservatism cannot be defined a priori as being anti-P2P.

A third criticism that piqued my attention, this one from a different critic in P2P circles, is that the market would creep back into the civic associations via privatization (source).

That too is an interesting point. And it may be a risk for a while — but only until the network form gains enough strength to overcome the gravitational pull of established states-and-markets forces.

Interim wrap-up comment apropos TIMN

This post was once supposed to be about five pages long, not the wearying fifteen it’s become. So I’m ending by just quoting a passage from when I first began to speculate about TIMN (1996, p. 31):
“In the looming age of networks — assuming civil society is strengthened as the framework forecasts, or that a new network-based realm emerges from it — a new model of the state will emerge that may be relatively leaner, yet draws new strength from enhanced abilities to act in concert with civil-society actors. . . . It is not clear what actors may comprise a network-based sector or realm, but the TIMN framework implies that many will be non-profit, socially-minded NGOs. As noted earlier, some activities currently associated with the public or private sectors are already being redesigned into multiorganizational networks — notably in the areas of health, education, and welfare — and these seem likely candidates to migrate into the new realm.”

That passage reveals why Blond’s ideas immediately struck a chord — and Bauwens’ ideas too. Blond’s proposals for a civic state and an associational sector move a long way in the TIMN directions implied by that quote, even though he does not (yet?) relate matters much to the rise of the network form.