Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change


Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change


Printout of draft, dated 29 May 1995.


One of seven papers digitised from item 1225.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 18, Item 1225




This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[27] leaves. 20.03 MB.





an Australian perspective on radical institutional change.
... people are ready for change and the impending debate will result in
constitutional change. We should, therefore, explore all options ... J
As elsewhere, there is growing dissatisfaction with Australia's political institutions, and

increasing demand to change them. This demand, hiding co-optative elements, has been

initiated and fostered in a conspicuously top-down fashion, by politicians and by academics.
There is so far little surge of political enterprise at grass-roots levels, little pressure for the
usually very limited changes proposed. Nonetheless, along with apathy, there is widespread
popular disenchantment with present political arrangements. There is now an opportunity

(although still only a small window no doubt) to put green and radical themes on the agenda for
real political change in Australia. That opportunity should not be missed, within Australia, or
elsewhere. While the exposition that follows concentrates upon Australia, as a convenient

advanced example, much of what is argued and urged applies or adapts elsewhere.

1. Disenchantment with politics, and political proposals for change.
There is now evident in Australia, what is variously described as disillusionment and

anxiety, cynicism and pessimism about the state of politics—a loss of confidence in it, and a
retreat from commitment. As much and more, Mackay has nicely exposed in a survey of the

Australian situation:
anxiety about the nature and quality of Australian politics [has] increased. ...
Widespread anxiety about the state of politics is based [in part] on an uneasy feeling
that, if the parties are not going to stand for some identifiable philosophy, and the
leaders are going to be chosen on the basis of their potential as television performers
or even as head-kickers, then the only appropriate response is cynicism.
That cynicism is reflected in a turning away from support for the major parties ... and
revealed in the attitudes of young Australians ...12

who often cannot be bothered registering to vote, or voting (though voting is legally


Hon. Ian Macphee, ‘A new constitution?’. Of course Macphee did not really mean all options, nor
even all constitutional options. Furthermore, his claim about preparedness of people for change is
incompatible with Mackey’s data (mentioned below) on exhaustion with change.


Mackay pp. 174-177. For all the Australian casualness of Mackay's presentation, his sociological
findings are nonetheless fairly solidly survey and interview based (if occasionally stretching the
data). Main findings are replicated by other sociologists.



Lack of confidence is beginning to show not only as cynicism about politicians, but
also as doubt about the integrity of Australia's political institutions.3
In a recent survey, ‘62 percent of [Australians] expressed either little or no confidence in the
political system. Such a figure accurately reflects the mood of the Australian community’.4

Australian loss offaith in conventional politics is attributed to a mix of factors. A first

explanatory factor as regards this disenchantment comes from the changes in politics already

remarked (ranging from policy issues to media performers) and from resultant uncertainty. ‘...
the Australian electorate is confused about which party stands for what, and about whether any
party has a long-term commitment to any particular point of view’ .5

A complex ‘second factor ... concerns the adversarial nature of two-party politics’.6

How can this ‘two party, adversarial approach ... continue to be appropriate when the
distinctions between the two parties themselves are so hard to define’? But ‘redefinition of
party politics implies the possibility of a redefinition of the whole parliamentary process itself’.

Why ‘when parties seem quite capable of stealing each other's policies or of invading each

other's traditional philosophical territory, [can not] politicians work together in a more co­

operative and harmonious spirit’?7 ‘Adversarial politics may have made sense ... when ...
distinctions between the parties were stark and when arguments about principle could be

justified; today, the idea that politicians would be arguing over a point of principle or
philosophy is almost unthinkable.... [They] are much more likely to be arguing over matters of

personality, prejudice and power than over issues which effect the long-term health of the body

‘The quality of parliamentary debate is regarded not only as a symptom of the

adversarial nature of the institution, but also as a symptom either of the poor quality of
politicians ..., or of the effect of the system on those who are enmeshed in it’.9 Unless there is

Ibid, p.178


Ibid. The figure is the more surprising inasmuch as such disillusioning factors as corruption and
graft are not features of overt political life in Austral-asia by comparison with elsewhere in the
hemispherical region.


Ibid. pp. 178-179.


Ibid. The adversarial character of dominant State legal systems is also becoming subject to more
and more criticism. It appears likely that significant movement towards different inquiratorial
systems will occur, not least because of the huge expense and growing unaffordability of
adversarial systems.




Ibid, p.180.


Ibid, p.179. It is a symptom of both, the latter especially.


marked improvement in party philosophies, programs and performance, ‘the call to re-examine
the nature of the parliamentary process will gather momentum’.1011

A third relevant factor contributing to loss of faith is the impression of Australians that
‘they are overgoverned ’H, with too many expensive bureaucracies and too many houses of

Conflicts between State and Federal parliaments — and between the various State
parliaments themselves — are regarded as a particularly unproductive expenditure of
political energy, and Australians question whether 15 houses of parliament may be
too many for the efficient government of 18 million people. The sheer number of
parliaments is often blamed for the problem of too many bureaucracies and for many
duplications of bureaucratic and political activity between State and Federal
... Whilst there is little love felt in the Australian community for Canberra and for the
idea of more centralised government even that is beginning to appear preferable ....
The widespread support for the idea of a republic which emerged during 1992 is
closely related to the underlying sense that Australia is overdue for some kind of
reexamination of its political institutions, and even the notion of Federation itself. ...
As debate about the idea of a republic proceeds ... it has begun to incorporate the idea
that Australian's political structures and systems might be quite significantly
Such disaffection reflects too a growing awareness that Australia’s political arrangements

owe more to historical accident than to rational design. Even though the main proposals for
change no doubt remain reformist in character and could lead in unfortunate directions, some of
them are far-reaching by normal standards. Both the extensive disenchantment with present

political arrangements and the felt need for significant change further suggest political times are

not altogether normal. Elements underpinning a political paradigm shift are already present, as

are features supporting rational redesign, to which radical additions are now feasible.

So far there have been, along with normal inertial resistance to change, two main
responses to growing pressure for change: political, from politicians, ex-politicians and political

commentators, and academic from intellectuals, academic entrepreneurs and academic
journalists. By and large, political responses have been grander, more sweeping and vaguer;


Ibid, p.181.


Ibid, p.181, itals added. The problem has now surfaced strikingly in the heavily indebted
Australian Capital Territory (“toy town” as its is facetiously called locally) which is swamped by
bureaucracy, where it has been discovered that there is one expensive bureaucrat for every fifteen


Ibid. p. 181-2. Republican proposals have been circulating for some time. But the cause was
finally taken up by prominent politicians, who made it their own, after which it became a popular
issue. Mackay's accurate presentation of popular support for political change contrasts drolly with
the first part of his book which depicts an Australian populace exhausted by change and longing for
the old ease and somnolence.


academic responses more theoretical and cautious, piecemeal and detailed. But there are no

grand detailed plans.

Under the leading proposal so far for political change, Australia's constitutional
monarchy will be displaced by a constitutional republic with its own head of state displacing the

monarch, but with perhaps minimal adjustments otherwise.

Nonetheless, as a result,

republicanism is in the air. Politicians have begun to contemplate other practical reforms, while

academics have begun to embroider theories around republicanism and institutional reform.
What happens to the Australian federation of states is one of the many unresolved issues

presently being debated.
The main reason for reform offered by the political camp can be summed up simply as
changing geopolitical circumstances. The camp tends not to acknowledge what would reflect

adversely upon it, the poorness of federal political practice. Rather it tends to attribute popular
dissatisfaction to economic circumstances and uncertainties: declining real standards of living,

extensive unemployment, persistent recession until recently, problems to be surmounted by

full-steam ahead untrammelled economic growth, to be attained by recoupling Australia to the
Asian economic express. Meanwhile an orchestrated republican movement can help divert
popular political attention from poor political management and a gloomy economic predicament.

Much has changed in the century since present antiquated political arrangements were
hammered out, arrangements making the newly-fashioned Commonwealth of Australia,
politically a federation of states, into a constitutional monarchy coupled to Britain, arrangements

of convenience fashioned for very different circumstances. Most non-symbolic linkages with
Britain, which has been inching towards a place in a united Europe, have already been severed.
Australia has gradually begun to appreciate its geo-political position in the Indian-Pacific region
(and the money-making opportunities for a sagging resource-based economy in allegedly

booming parts of Asia). Whence the main idealistic proposal: for an independent republic,

decoupled from Europe, assuming its own (prominent) place in its geo-political regions. In
principle at least, place and region begin to assume, or resume, some of their neglected, but
historic, significance (however that is not how it is yet seen).

Most proposals for constitutional and federal reform fit within that limited idealistic
conception. One important proposal, advanced by established political players, their most
radical proposal so far, includes abolition of the present states. Such a proposal would clearly
represent a welcome step in anarchist directions, were it not regularly offset by the idea of a
strengthened central state.13 Supposing this latter unfortunate idea is bracketed for the moment,


Anarchists can even rest (if uneasily) with a constitution, so long as it provides for an
organisation, Australia Inc. even, sufficiently different from a state and its authoritarian trappings.



then what is being seriously considered already starts to look like a much more rational
regionalism than what presently prevails.
The present states of Australia are undoubtedly an anachronism, based on accidental

boundaries of a contingent colonial history. They are ecologically irrational management units,
utterly failing to reflect ecological regions. Yet the states possess extensive environmental and

other management powers, inappropriate ‘powers which derive from what was largely a
political bargaining process conducted a century ago.’ Another effect of inapposite state-federal
arrangements, especially ‘funding arrangements, has been to lock out local government and,

more importantly, local communities. ... local communities must be given greater control over

those decisions of government which effect their lives ...’; the opportunity ‘to design and
provide the services which are needed locally.’14
At this stage of the dialectic McPhee slides easily and naturally from localism to

A glance at the map reveals natural regions for local government on a viable scale [an
optimistic contention]. Some cross State boundaries, and I would envisage that State
governments would be replaced with regional governments. These would be more
akin to larger local governments and would certainly not have the trappings of the
States. They should not have parliaments and the expensive, unwieldy and inefficient
bureaucracies which characterise our States. They should have a small number of
full-time councillors ... Regional governments should be solely accountable to their
ratepayers ...15 .

So far so good: however McPhee thereupon begins to infiltrate stock (small Z) liberal

management assumptions. Nonetheless the basic idea to retain is simple: that of ecologicallyrational local and regional rearrangement of anachronistic state partitions.

regionalization should be greened, as reform should be radicalized.

But that

More generally,

opportunites now present themselves to insert more radical ideas throughout the debate about

Australia’s future directions.

For much has been left off political agendas for change, not merely environments and
habitats of their less prominent or noisy inhabitants, but also such issues as rights and liberties,

transformation of antiquated legal and executive frameworks, and so on. Omission of (human)
rights is especially remarkable in states such as Australia, whose constitutions astonishingly do

not mention at all (what is however often supposed to justify states) individual rights, such

rights only being ensured, so far as they are, assumptions from uncodified common law, by

All quotes in this paragraph are drawn from McPhee. An address along similar lines to the Hon.
Ian McPhee, also proposing abolition of the states, was delivered by the former Prime Minister
R.G. Hawke. Hawke's speech, by contrast with McPhee's, attracted much media attention, and
though facilely dismissed as “unrealistic” by some practicing politicians, appeared to gain a good
deal of support.


McPhee ibid.


indirect routes (statutes regarding treatment of minorities and the like). Nor do the political
camps pushing limited change speak of rights or liberties; a very limited conception of

adjustments required prevails (though without rights and liberties and a generous public sphere
there is little, and little prospect of, justification for a state at all). Accordingly political agendas

for change need to be conspicuously broadened, to accommodate a decidedly more ambitious
range of constitutional and institutional redesign.
2. A project within a project: radically reshaping Australian institutions.

Academic entrepreneurs have also responded quickly to proposals for constitutional and
institutional changes. Early to scramble on the bandwagon was the institution to which I am
affiliated, the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, with its

ambitious decade-long project, Reshaping Australian Institutions: Towards and Beyond
2001.16 One small part of this project does connect with the republican push, which no doubt

helped inspire it and gain its funding. The academic version of republicanism furnishes an

institutional and historic setting, tracing its roots back to ancient Rome, and thereby linking in,
what admits much modem adaptation, notions of citizenship and civic virtues. But most of the

project is independent of any republican reorganisation.
The Reshaping Australian Institutions project is presented in predominantly reformist

fashion, unsurprisingly. It is supposed, for instance, to ‘provide major input into evaluation
and reform of Australia's institutions’; indeed it is explicitly ‘aimed at contributing to Australian
constitutional reform’.17

Nothing however precludes consideration of reshaping or

transforming Australian institutions — those of the whole ecological region — in a unreformist
and possibly unconstitutional way, in a radical way.

Admittedly, the rough boundary between reformist and radical routes becomes even more

blurred when the constitution of a country is open for possible major reconsideration and much
political infrastructure may be altered. Nonetheless, from the perspective of a strong central

state, the stock boundary stands intact. For reformist changes would amount to comparatively
small adjustments leaving the state substantially intact. For example, a minimal transformation,


A recent brief description of this two million dollar project, now outlined in several places, is
given in Tynan, pp.17-19. Fuller descriptions are available from a main coordinator of the project,
J. Braithwaite, Law, RSSS, ANU. One of the many strands (17 at last count) of this project is an
environmental (or green) strand.
The immediate predecessor of this article was presented in a workshop at RSSS on green political
theory, arranged under the project. That accounts for some of the otherwise puzzling structure of
what has eventuated. Another earlier version was tried out at Ecopolitics VIII, Pacific Visions,
held at Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand, in July 1994.


‘Reshaping Australian institutions: towards and beyond 2001’ in Tynan , p.17, italics added.


of the sort presently much favoured, from constitutional monarchy to Australian republic,

though entailing non-negligible constitutional redrafting, need only amend the roles of a few
elite power- and position-holders. By contrast, radical changes would substantially alter that
strong central state, perhaps (as will be proposed) eliminating it altogether.

There are appealing reasons for attempting wider, more radical investigations. For,
firstly, there may be more satisfactory institutional structures not accessible, or even visible,

along normal constitutional reform routes. Secondly, there is a demand, a small but growing
demand from green directions for instance, for radical institutional change. It would be

prudent, then, to make some investigation of the options, to assess their prospects. Thirdly,

reflection on such structures would certainly be part of a more comprehensive study of and
theory of institutional design, which the Reshaping project also presents as an objective.

Fourthly, much more controversially, major environmental problems cannot be satisfactorily
solved along merely reformist paths. For states, what are reformed, states themselves are

ecologically dysfunctional. In practice this appears obvious enough. Simply reflect upon their

environmental records; these are even worse than those abysmal records compiled for human
rights. But the practical case can be argued in detail in a state by state way, or less laboriously,

through the familiar rough classification of states into first, second and third world states. In
main third world regions, the rise of the state has seen the serious decline of environments.
Those third world states that have not largely destroyed their natural environments are in rapid
process of doing so. The activities involved are, furthermore, not merely tolerated by these

states but are usually actively encouraged (e.g. with state participation or by state concessions,
as through taxation advantages, subsidies, export incentives, etc.).

Further, the role of

exploitation and plunder of remaining natural “resources”, and depletion of “biological capital”,
by third world states, most of which are now trapped in debt and structural adjustment, has

increased many-fold in the last two decades.

How destructively second world states of eastern

Europe treated their own (and also other regions’) environment, how they over-expoited and
polluted them, has recently been much publicized. While the recent record in first world states
is no doubt marginally better, many of these states dominated their natural environments and

their wild inhabitants in the past, and have heavily polluted and congested their urban and
industrial regions. Nor does their present record gain an environmental pass. For example,

those that have any natural forests (similarly fisheries) left are in the process of eliminating or
degrading most of what remains; most are failing seriously in meeting (their own) targets on

greenhouse emissions, and so on. More theoretically, it is unlikely that states, increasingly

focussed narrowly upon shallow and short-term economic agendas, will or can deliver

satisfactorily environmentally. A prime reason is this: states are ineluctably committed, more
and more as their populations expand, to high levels of economic activity characteristically to


economic growth of sorts which impact heavily environmentally, inducing inevitable

Accordingly, there are then, or should be, two bands to any green (or environmental)

strand of a restructuring Australian institutions project: not merely an important reformist side,
but as well a radical spread. It is part of this underfunded and undersupported radical spread

which forms the main object of investigation in what follows, that part that relinquishes present
state structures, in favour of more environmentally benign institutions - which no doubt can be
designed, even if not so readily brought into practical operation.19
In order to reach radical redesign ideas quickly, let us touch only lightly upon some of the

more distinctively green reasons for this anarchoid quest (familiar anarchist reasons stand: the
illegitimacy of present states, the undesirability and severe disutility of states, which typically
are highly destructive and corrosive institutions based on concentration of power, hierarchical
authority, massive coercion, manipulation by economic elites, technobureaucracy, utilitarian

rationality, and sundry other evils.20) As indicated, present states are incompatible with stock

ecologically sustainable practices, because of their heavy unrelenting commitments to shallow
economic growth. More generally, standard states and their practices comprise very significant
parts of environmental problems, but quite insufficient parts of any solutions. Moreover, states
constitute an enormous and destructive drain on regional environments, a feature particularly

evident in smaller states which are always looking out for revenue-raising expedients for their
own expensive running.

Apart from those greens who have recognised the excessive environmental costs of states

and their heavy demands on environments, and thus or otherwise have come to recognise the

desirability of their withering away, there are many more who have become ambivalent about
states, who appreciate their very problematic character and very questionable legitimacy, but do
not see yet how to get along altogether without them, or more exactly (to indicate thereby a

partial resolution) without certain functions that they serve. Indeed to point immediately

towards a resolution of this crucial problem, the functional dissolution idea advocated is this:
that the functioning parts may be separately utilized without the colossal whole. The state is not


This theme, that states are normally ecologically dysfunctional, is documented and argued in detail
elsewhere; see e.g. Carter and especially Sylvan 96. On the dismal environmental records of
particular states see Ponting. For shocking figures and illustrations as regards environmental
exploitation in third world states, see Bello, pp. 57-65.


Nonetheless practical revolutionary displacement of the state is not so remote, or difficult, as is
generally supposed.


To adapt a referee’s trenchant summary. For detail on some familiar anarchist reasons, see Burnheim
and above all Marshall.

an organism the functioning parts of which must fail without the whole. So it may well be the

enormous fat of state can simply be shed, to great advantage.

In any event, ‘the State is a social institution’, always ‘within’, Marxists continue, ‘a
concrete historic setting’.21 Granted, it is an institution. For an institution in the relevant sense

is ‘a society or association for the organisation or promotion of some particular object or
function’.22 Institutions include therefore the state, the central state. So it too is up for

reshaping, radical slimming, and possible removal in a concrete historical setting, such as late
twentieth century Australia. Whittling away the state means in turn dismantling corporate
capitalism, which now dwells in symbiosis with the bureaucratic state, and also much else,
often environmentally undesirable, that the state affords a supportive framework for and enables

to flourish.
Ideas and schemes for radical redesign are already available from rich anarchist and

socialist sources, those for green design and reshaping from growing and diverse

environmental sources. In main part, then, radical ecoredesign is a matter of convivially
meeting (not joining) the two, an intersection that favours anarchist inputs. Something of the

sort has already been attempted, in an environmentally shallower way, in eco-anarchism, alias
social ecology, and in a deeper way, in deep-green social theory.23 Moreover, it could be
attempted in other kinds of deeper green theory—itself really a plurality of theories, which
however does not itself force radical ecoredesign, though most variants would support it. Thus
Naess's “deep ecology” for example, which is not so far politically radical, only strongly
reformist, could (and should) be given a radical turn.24

Concentrating upon the radical spread of deeper green theory does not preclude

concomitant reformist investigation and activity. Both sides of the green street should be
played. Reformist opportunities should of course be pursued—incremental change, social

engineering, “ecologizing” economics, greening bureaucrats, lobbying politicians, and like

activity (but better really to cut through much such pleading and obiesance and be rid of
politicians and bureaucrats). There are many reformist proposals being advanced for the
greening of Australian federal institutions—with but few so far having much impact on


Thus, Green p.61, who adds quite wrongly that Proudhon and his disciples do not see it that way
‘but as an abstraction and aberration’.


Adaptation of the Oxford English Dictionary. An institution is, so to say, an organitution.


On social ecology, see Bookchin 90, and for information on deep-green social theory, see Sylvan
and Bennett 94 and Routleys 80.


As to the political character of deep ecology, and why it should be turned, see Sylvan and Bennett
94, where an expose of the political theory of Naess's ecosophy is presented.

practice.25 Nonetheless, more limited, more constrained, proposals of this sort certainly have a

better chance, within the prevailing paradigm, of making a difference than radical redesigns, too
smartly dismissed as “unrealistic” or “utopian”. No doubt the normal “reshaping institutions”
investigations are rightly focussed then upon institutional reform, not upon revolutionary

reshaping, where much freer scope for redesign is offered. However the real possibility of

radical change should not be excluded; green radicals should be prepared. There have been
various opportunities for revolutionary change in Australian history, the last occurring,

according to some historians, with the ignominious fall of the Whitlam government. There
may well be opportunities again both in the near and intermediate future, especially should some

solid work be put into propagating the prospect. In the near term there is economic disarray,
social fragmentation, and constitutional destabilization; in the longer term increasing ecological

problems and expanding eco-catastrophes loom.

Under present incremental reform and regression, for all the spasmodic environmental

rhetoric, comparatively little in the way of radical green change occurs or can be expected.

Witness, for comparison, the snail pace of the establishment movement towards a rather
minimal grey republicanism in Australia, or differently away from meeting carbon-reduction
commitments. It is increasingly doubtful, given prevailing responses to economic and other
difficulties, that present structural and systematic problems confronting Australia, for example,
will be satisfactorily addressed, environmental problems such as extensive and expanding land

and water degradation not least. Furthermore, under more incremental reform, the sorts of
problems concerning reorganising society in deeper green ways, problems that provide
subsequent topics, would likely not arise. So in getting beyond more muddling along, do
imagine fairly free scope for institutional eco-redesign is somehow dispensed. One nice

corollary is that once it is worked out where to go organisationally, it is much easier to ascertain

how to arrive there.
3. A basic problem of structure: central or decentralised organisation?
There are large and immediate advantages in pursuing a problem-oriented approach to
redesign. That approach, which will tend towards anarchoid outcomes, will be anarchistically

guided in this respect: Unless there is a genuine problem, already causing difficulties or

developing, nothing need be done; otherwise let things alone, let Being be.26 On this non­


There are many many narrower economic and technological proposals. One of the more interesting
wider proposals comes from an Opposition not noted for its green initiatives and commitments, for
an overseeing Department of Sustainable Development, a Department that could see to the
greening of all federal institutions.


To echo also Heideggerian wisdom. The non-prejudicial term ‘anarchoid’ is deployed, not because
what emerges will not be anarchistic (as characterized in Marshall and in Sylvan 94), but because it

managerial low-work approach a good deal of structure presently inoperational, and of idle
regulation presently enacted, can be removed; organisational arrangements can be very
significantly down-sized.

The leading methodological idea is that enough relevant

(biodegradable) structure is introduced to resolve organisational problems, but not substantially
more. Organisational oversupply and waste is thus avoided. Moreover, much structure that

keeps so much environmentally destructive industry in business is likewise shed.

Among basic problems for deeper green theory are those of political reorganisation and so

of organisation. Evidently institutions, and their types, are critical to such organisation. And a
major organisational problem for any putative green society concerns structure', to take a critical

case, whether society is centrally organised (concentrated, bureaucratised, hierarchical, large-

scale and so on) or decentralised (dispersed, non-hierarchical, small-scale and supposedly
beautiful, and so on).

This focal problem, to centralise or not to centralise, is sometimes presented as a serious
dilemma for concerned green theorists.27 The binary horns of this dilemma are respectively: on

the one hom, the pull (or push) to localisation and regionalisation, to non-anonymous smallscale low-impacting environmentally-friendly arrangements, to diffusion of power and
dismantling of the incubus of a central state with its crippling costs and unfriendly practices; and

on the other horn, the need for continuing and further central income generation and welfare
(re)distribution, central regulation and control, and the pressures to environmental reliance upon
and use of the central state.28

The dilemma has been trenchantly posed as follows:
... the demands of the Greens sometimes appear contradictory, in seeking increasing
environmental regulation and welfare measures... alongside a halt to industrial
expansion, the very source of income for the welfare state. Yet the expansion and
further centralization of the bureaucratic state apparatus is neither their overt goal nor
covert motivation. Quite the contrary. Their genuine long term vision is of a
decentralized, steady state society of self-sufficient, relationally autonomous (albeit
interlinked) regions.29

departs from standard forms of anarchism in significant respects, not least in planned political
organization. In this exercise organization is of the essence.


As by Jacobs of The Green Economy, who has posed the problem sharply, as part of an argument
however for retaining the central state (and much of present status quo arrangements).


Environmental reasons for favouring small-scale bioregional organisation are nicely gathered in
McLaughlin, chapter 10.


Unknown source.

As it happens, not only does the theoretical and utopian literature run both ways, towards and

away from centralisation, but so does practice and experience. As to theory, anarchisticallyinclined presentations tend to favour decentralisation, perhaps with some central compensation

through federation (thus recent Blueprints, ecotopias, and so on), whereas socialisticallyinclined presentations invariably opt for powerful central states (to control and redistribute

grander social programs, etc.).

As to practice, there are local councils, community

organisations, residents' groups aiming to keep out, or to remove, the state-sponsored nuclear

plants, toxic waste incinerators, waste dumps or super-highways, on the one horn; and, on the

other, central states blocking, modifying, or regulating local or regionally promoted schemes
for large dams (e.g. Tasmania's Franklin), forest exploitation, pulp mills, strip mining, and so

To some extent, the way the problem has often been re-presented, in terms of a dilemma

between top-down and bottom-up structure and power transmission, already points towards a
theoretical resolution: namely, both, or rather enough of both. But how is this combination to

be achieved? An answer does not fall out by pure reason, operating in isolation from other

problems. By taking advantage of information gathered from other connected problems, a
promising answer can be teased out. Neither standard socialism nor anarchism afford answers,

socialism because it leaves the central institution of state intact. But standard anarchism, much

more promising, does not resolve the problem either, because federation, as usually explained,
does not leave enough structure; it may not even concede sufficient power to delegates to
constrain exploitative local communities.

A solution to such dilemma lies through a combinational strategy, which includes partial
dissolution of the central state, into its actual organisational functions in each region. While

removing the state, itself source of several environmental and social problems, and its
concentration of power, invariably under environmentally unfriendly control, functional
dissolution nonetheless retains its apparently essential services, including (where necessary)
those of environmental regulation. Relevant continent-wide functions would persist or be

introduced: for example, services controlling inflow into Australia of damaging forms and
materials such as toxic wastes and exotic pest species, or regulating outflow from Australia of

native wildlife and flora. In part, ecoregional functionalism offers a radical continuation of the
separation ofpowers of recent historical process, of church and state, legislature and executive,
and so forth. As these functions come to operate separately while remaining coordinated, so

would those functional arrangements and institutions dissolving the state.


Much turns on the exploitative character of certain local and regional communities, their get-richquick schemes, what they are prepared to do to survive in old or superficially affluent ways, and so


It is a major illusion of modem political theory that a central state, ceded monopolies on
coercion, currency, taxation and so on, is necessary in order to secure adequate supply of

public goods, including public order and environmental regulation. To the contrary, the most

that appears required, the most that arguments would support, is some network of specific
organisations functioning to look after specific kinds of goods and services, those necessary for
this or that, that are not otherwise supplied. There is no inherent reason why communities

should not institute and regulate specialised bodies coordinated among themselves (by
negotiations or, failing that, through recognised arbitrators) to ensure the adequate maintenance
or production of various types of public goods, including control of damaging crime. Each
such institution could gain community standing from its support base, for instance through

achieving democratically-generated recognition. Such an institution would aim to secure

execution of its recommendations and decisions by sanctions and like admissible means, and in
doing this it could mobilize in co-operation with communities and with other recognised

There are many examples of such institutions operating successfully both

regionally and internationally; for instance, those for postal and communicational arrangements,
international sporting bodies, international academies and clubs, environmental and consumer


Selecting satisfactory political arrangements within the span of anarchoid

Anarchoid options come in a wide variety of forms, including, among others, both right­

leaning individualistic or capitalistic varieties, and left-leaning social or communitarian

varieties.32 A suitably generous political pluralism will allow for all these forms, while not
encouraging all, as they are of very different merit. For example, some may be neglectful or

repressive of some of their inhabitants, or destructive of their environments; others, superior in


This passage borrows from the summary in Burnheim 86 p.221 of Burnheim 85. For much fuller
elaboration see Burnheim 85 and Sylvan 94.
The critical issue of funding administration, without a coercive taxation system, is also broached in
these places (and developed in Sylvan 96). The broad proposal is that low-cost administration,
much of which would be volunteer, could be funded by rents (there would be no property in land
and resources), use charges, and fines.


There are many more varieties of political systems than much recent theory has cared to concede.
For example, to take right-leaning dimensions, all of individualism, market-organization and
capitalism function substantially independently. There can be markets without capitalism
(characterised through opportunities to accumulate capital), and conversely, capitalism without free
market arrangements. And so on. Most historic and modern systems, upon which political theory
has tended inadmissibly to concentrate almost exclusively, are hybrid arrangements with mixes of
different elements drawn from both “left” and “right”.

these socio-environmental regards, may not be. Dismantling or deconstructing a state does not,

on its own, make a sharp selection between alternatives. No doubt the hope is, what can be
striven for, that adequate designs are sought and adequate selections made, that inadmissible

forms rapidly perish. Those remaining forms that are admissible can be ranked; for instance,
they might be graded according to defeasible criteria based upon “pillars” of German green

movement such as environmental sensitivity, democratic institutions, and nonviolent practices.
While right-leaning anarchoid arrangements could work in theory (e.g. under what is

improbable, benevolent capitalism), they are unlikely to succeed in practice, for several reasons.
Consider, to illustrate in outline, why that much promoted rightist form, market (or “liberal”)

capitalism is unlikely to serve. For one reason, an intrusive state is likely to emerge, with state
controlled and state funded standing military and police forces, needed to defend capitalist

interests and accumulation, to protect private property, to uphold endemic social inequalities,
and to enforce particular market and trade structures, with a substantial and heavy taxation

system to fund these forces and a corresponding bureaucracy needed to administer and regulate
these and other institutions, such as those required to guarantee that capitalist liabilities are
strictly limited and to keep markets (far from self-regulating) unclogged, “free” and competitive.
Not only are anarchoid conditions thus violated, so are those for benign green societies. In

normal practice, market capitalism tends to be highly environmental exploitative, as modern

history demonstrates all too plainly (plainly too it is not alone in this propensity, so are other

modem statist systems). Furthermore, given the sorts of humans these systems tend to elevate,

and exalt, and the sorts of practices (including extravagant consumption for all that can afford it)
they encourage and sometimes even enforce, extensive exploitation is to be expected and liable
to persist. At least that is so without, what is thereupon required in a self-reinforcing spiral,

further state intervention to distort “natural” capitalistic incentives and institutions, to limit

practices on private property (thereby effectively altering the institution), to establish new
instruments and commodities such as pollution licences, green investments and futures, and so

forth.33 Even though a shallow greenness can also be sprayed upon parts of market capitalism
(factories in fields, forest reserves retained for tourists, and so on), and some green showcase

exhibits tacked on, environmental depth cannot. Shallowness is both an inevitable consequence

of the justifying socio-economic theory, and also an expected best outcome of practice.
Accordingly in institutional design it is much more promising to look in democratic left­
leaning directions. For, as argued, it would be rash to gamble upon any bright new dawn of
environmentally and socially benign market capitalism, which in any event could easily revert

back towards dark industrial times. However, very similar arguments to those sketched could

Infiltrated, along with propaganda on behalf of such instruments, is much mythology, including
acclaimed environmental virtues of private property and privatization generally.


be developed as regards centralised socialism, especially as untempered by democratic

procedures. While island communities of a wide range of varieties are naturally not excluded
under anarchoidal pluralism, brighter continental prospects lie through modifications of

democratic sociality, which appears to permit much of what is sought in design.
Under duly decentralized social organization, each requisite function would be carried out

by some association of agents comprising operative and support staff (that is, as regards bare
formal structure, more or less as now, in institutions like departments and corporations). For

direct accountability downwards, and also to ensure desirable separation and dilution of power,

upper operatives, those of a directing or steering committee (the nervous system of the
organisation), would be democratically selected (from a relevant lower level constituency, and
from the whole people of an ecoregion in case of a typical bottom level institution). Note well

that selection is not election: election is but one method of democratic selection, and often
enough not an altogether satisfactory method. The point of some sort of democratic selection,

as a guiding though not invariant rule, is manifold: it is in part to ensure due accountability, in
part to prevent unethical accumulation of power in special classes, and in part for reasons that

devolve from the very notion of democracy itself.
In brief, certain forms of democracy offer promising prospects for green reorganisation,

particularly within complementing left-leaning settings where those forms can function in

favour of sustainability. However even with an informed democracy in place, there are few
guarantees. Some structure, such as limited executive power separated from judicial and
administrative functions, needs to be set in place to block or retard worse eventualities (such as

mob actions, selection of tyrants, mistreatment of noncitizens and so on). Even then several
thorny problems remain for any deeper green political reorganization.


Problems of chauvinism and present-time bias in democratic political

In modem usage of the motherhood term democracy, two main lines are visible: included

are not only forms of political organisation where ‘power [is presumed to] reside in the people

as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them ... or by officers [selected] by them’, but
‘often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or

arbitrary differences of rank or privilege’34. It is on the basis of this second line that the call for
democracy has operated to remove chauvinism and discrimination of a range of forms: against

unpropertied minorities, nonconformists, women, blacks, tribals, and so on. Even so pursuit


Oxford English Dictionary entry 1, main entry. These two lines are by no means the only
distinctive lines now visible: increasingly conspicuous in calls for “democracy”, notably in Asia,
are calls to freedom and rights: not merely for basic legal freedoms such as free assembly, fair
process and so on, but for freedom to access information (the “right to know”).


of the line, where successful, has not generally conferred adequate representation and rights on
several of these groups; but, more important, pursuit has stopped short in its inclusions at
certain humans, such as those granted citizenship—though relevant interests of many other

creatures and welfare of many of other items may be affected by what those citizens elect to do.
While democratic voters can perhaps be entrusted to take some account of those near and dear
(within remarkably sharp limits, as the situation of women in many regions still shows), such
as those deemed incompetent to vote: the young, deranged, and so on, much evidence reveals
that they cannot be relied for what is less near or dear (and indeed are easily herded into casting

their votes in accord with a shallow mercantilism). Consider what gets left out, outcasts of

even perfect democratic control:• spatially distant agents. For example, the interests of many humans outside USA are much

affected by practices of the US government, which however is outside their democratic reach.
• temporally distant agents. Since the past is past, it is future agents who would be affected,

often drastically affected, by present practices, that matter. Some way of taking due account of

future agents, their interests and welfare, is required, even under shallow long-term ecology,
that is under lighter green positions. Sustainable development has been regularly diverted
into—what is part of what it is about—such a way, an indirect and so far utterly ineffectual


Much more of importance is also excluded according to deep-green theory:
• creatures with interests, other than present human citizens, and
• items with welfare, but perhaps lacking interests. The category includes items with intrinsic

value, whose value can be effected, made to fare worse or better.
A major problem, little addressed, is how to take due account of such democratically

excludeds. It is a problem especially for deeper green theories: that deep problem is, so to say,

how to obtain satisfactory representation of all that is of value in the natural world? That way of
putting it, while a little misleading, does point to a particular type of resolution.

Problems special to deep ecopolitical theory, include, that is, issues as to adequacy of
representation of items of value outside those humans that are represented, representation of

their interests, where they have them, of their welfare otherwise, of favourable conditions for
their sustenance, continuation and retention of value. Democracy of discussed modem sorts,

whether representative or participative, will not serve these purposes at all satisfactorily. For

instance, insofar as party-political representative democracies represent anything (even human
“bottom lines” as is sometimes erroneously supposed), they appear to represent primarily

interests of certain business-allied elites. Among the issues are of course those as to adequacy
of retention and protection of nonhuman items of intrinsic value, tropical forests and their

inhabitants and elements for instance.


As observed, there is really no organisational alternative to proceeding with and through

agents, preferably well-disposed and quality agents. It is hard to guarantee either politically.
As agents are but a subclass of what requires democratic representation and what should have

its welfare or interests considered, how are the rest to be taken care of satisfactorily? There are
significant older responses to like problems, through totems and taboos, guardians and

constraints. Looked at one way the problem repeats, more or less, a familiar problem: namely,
how in larger constituencies do decision-making agents represent the whole mass of agents and
others in the constituency? A main democratic answer, designed to avoid many shortcomings
of alternatives, was: by representative means—only “representation” was almost never taken
seriously or literally enough. The sorts of considerations that made representation a promising
resolution make what is to be proposed—where representation has, in any case, to be expanded

—also promising. A key principle is this: all relevant items are to be represented. Relevance
criteria enter importantly. Steering committees of lower level institutions among the main
decision-making bodies should be appropriately representative of all items whose welfare is
affected by their decisions (principle of deepened demanarchy).

Under more equitable

arrangements, then, some decision-engaged agents will have to be selected as representative of

relevant classes of excludeds. Electoral arrangements do not so readily allow for such;
sortition, well-designed selection by lot, does.35 Of course, however good the selection
processes, however disinterested and well-intentioned the agents selected, some bias may

remain. Nonetheless prejudice and maltreatment can be much reduced.

As already hinted, deepened representation is not the only promising resolution of the

present problem that might be tried. Another, which could be attempted either separately or
concurrently, operates through the directive of ecologically sustainable development, requiring

as a constraint, not only intergenerational equity but also preservation of items of ecological
value.36 It might be suggested that such a directive be made mandatory, applying to all relevant

steering committees. But, as already evident, there are severe obstacles to getting such a

directive properly implemented. (In prevailing oligarchical circumstances, even very dilute

versions are worth pressing for however, as they would offer definite improvements upon what
presently happens.)


A fundamental dilemma for deeper green organization: democratic or

authoritarian procedures?


No doubt there are electoral approximations; e.g. candidates in separate classes for each category to
be represented.


For elaboration of this option, see Sylvan and Bennett 94 and its sequel.


There is strictly no logical space for a deeper green democracy, according to Saward for

one. For there is a clash, an essential tension, between democratic procedures and deeper green
values and commitments, notably to intrinsic values in nature. The main drift of the argument is

that green values, which are mandatory for deeper greens, require for their implementation anti­
democratic, indeed authoritarian procedures; otherwise they cannot be guaranteed.
This nasty conundrum for green theory over democracy, which the theory typically

sponsors, is put in

sharper form as follows:37

Democracy concerns procedures,

environmentalism certain outcomes. What guarantee can there be that the procedures will
deliver the outcomes? What guarantee that democracy would yield a way of protecting

However the type of situation is worse than a matter of guarantees, which greens are not

really seeking and could not in general expect. (For here as almost everywhere else, things can
go wrong. Anarchism especially supplies few absolutes and little certainty.) It is a type of

situation, moreover, which effects not only environmentalism but any sort of social and other

amelioration, and even democracy itself. For democratic procedures may yield unsatisfactory

and even anti-democratic outcomes.

Unfortunately there are few or no guarantees that

meritorious forms will eventuate or persist. Political history itself copiously illustrates that.

But it can be argued theoretically. For example, succession of regimes must occur (owing to
finite lifetimes of power-holders, etc.), and in successional transitions deterioration can occur;

nor are there effective mechanisms that can exclude decline absolutely. Democratic procedures

of certain sorts offer better controls, and better prospects of satisfactory transition than most
others available, but even they afford no cast-iron guarantees of adequacy, and they are beset by
paradoxes of their own. With inadequate democratic structures plausible scenarios are easily

designed where just such outcomes occur, for instance as in what has been called a “paradox of

democracy” where a constituency elects an anti-democratic tyrant.38
A concerned attempt is made by Saward to mount a destructive version of such a paradox
against deep-green political theory (which he darkly calls ‘dark green’). The version is based

upon holism and intrinsic value requirements, coupled with democratic demands, of deeper

green theory. In clearest form, the version runs as follows: Holism implies consistency or

compatibility. But intrinsic value maintenance and democracy are not compatible, under evident
conditions (e.g. democratic procedures result in diminution or destruction of intrinsic value).
Firstly, partial confirmation for this explication:

Goodin, condensing Saward, p. 168.


Such paradoxes of democracy, and variants thereupon, are presented trenchantly by Popper, and
presumed nullified in Sylvan and Bennett 90. Improved structures can undoubtedly much reduce the
likelihood and problematicness of paradoxical overthrows.


[The green imperative] usually contains a number of elements, variously
economic, political, social, geographical, religious, and so on. Its force
comes partly from the holism it embodies, and partly from its basis in the idea
of the ‘intrinsic value’ of nature. Holism implies that the various elements
which make up the imperative are compatible. The elements of the imperative
gain their importance, and their links with each other, by being referable back
to a common, intrinsic value of nature. It is at this point that we can pick up
the position of democracy or ‘direct democracy’ in lists of basic values set out
by greens. [These goals are the elements of the overall green imperative, and
gain their importance from both the holistic nature and intrinsic merit of the
values which the imperative represents]39


As should now be plain, and is becoming plainer, consistency is not an invariant desideratum,
and not to be insisted upon; coherence is what is “implied” and what supersedes consistency.40
As more than a century of Hegelian theory should have revealed, there can be inconsistent


A further key assumption in the argument is that guaranteeing that intrinsic value is
protected (or like absolutes sustained) will require undemocratic procedures, such as
authoritarian ones.

An underlying assumption (soon to be rejected, for instance as

incorporating an offensive false dichotomy) is that only undemocratic, authoritarian procedures

fit with deeper green imperatives or givens.41 Several illustrations are offered of inconsistency
of green imperatives with types of democratic procedures—none of which tell, without testing

adaptation, specifically against deeper green positions.

A first illustration is directed against Porritt:
A direct democratic procedure (is not) compatible with imperative goals like
‘local production for local need’, ‘low consumption’, ‘labour-intensive
production’, and ‘voluntary simplicity’ (other items from Porritt’s list).42

Against this and other illustrations, it is worth emphasizing goals resemble objectives and
targets; goals are goals which are not mandatory and by no means always achieved, especially if
the achievers, like present humans, fall short (e.g. in ecological sensitivity) or their
organisational means and opportunities are inadequate. Observe too the oppositional attempt to

convert or to twist (since it is an up-grading by high redefinition) goals and programs and
principles—through ‘imperative goals’ and the like—into ‘imperatives’, ‘prescribed outcomes’,

undeniable principles, ultimates. That attempt should be resisted.

A second example looks at an alleged

G. Saward, p.65; square bracketed sections are taken from an earlier circulated version of this


See Priest and others.


G. Saward, p.63


Saward, p.66.

contradiction in the programme of the German Green Party. ‘Grassroots
democracy’ is one of the four ‘basic principles’ of the party’s ‘global
conception’. Another is the ‘ecological’: ‘Proceeding from the laws of nature,
and especially from the knowledge that unlimited growth is impossible in a
limited system, and ecological policy means understanding ourselves and our
environment as part of nature’. In effect, this means that certain outcomes are
proscribed from decision-making procedures. Such proscribed outcomes
must surely go well beyond any plausible list of outcomes which must be
proscribed in the interests of defending a direct democratic decision
procedure. Therefore, there is a clear contradiction between elements of the
value-set, whereas given the holism the green imperative is based on we
would have the right to expect these goals and values to be thoroughly

The last charge repeats the critical point already rejected, that holism implies consistency. A
further critical point should also be rejected: the flawed inference that ‘certain outcomes are
proscribed’. A political party in a democratic system has to be prepared to see its principles,
however spendid, overridden, certainly by other parties if they gain or hold political power.
There is a misconception too about principles (especially higher level principles) and their roles:

‘principles [too] can only be akin to [givens and] “laws of nature”, against which democratic
procedures must inevitably be traded off the board’. Sets of principles, which may themselves

turn out to be inconsistent, are hardly akin to natural laws; consider for instance reasons for

their revision, procedures for rechecking and revision, and so on. In any case, democratic
procedures are not traded away against laws of nature, which they may try to upset or suppress.
(Rather effort should be directed at informing the electorate and the like.)

To reinforce his case, Saward appeals to other authors who have advanced similar claims
(it is like appealing for confirmation of a newspaper report to other newspapers).
Boris Frankel accuses Rudolf Bahro of an ‘anti-democratic ’ vision of an
ecological society, given that politics as conflict will have no place in a sea of
‘givens’. He sees the dilemma as being similar to that of socialists—deeming
certain things as desirable in an ultimate sense, but proclaiming attachment to
democracy and the diversity it implies. Ophuls has stated the matter especially
clearly. The basic question about politics, he writes, is ‘Is the way we
organize our communal life and rule ourselves compatible with ecological
imperatives and other natural laws? ... how we run our lives will be
increasingly determined by ecological imperatives’44

In an ecological society, enough of the demos (members of democratic constituency) will hold
ecological attitudes and vote or select accordingly, almost by definition. Problems of effecting

change lie with unecological communities, which may not support ecological principles under

instituted democratic procedures (as presently in many places). Principles, and ecological
“givens”, stand, they remain ‘desirable in an ultimate sense’, but they are not followed and

Saward, p.66.


Saward, p.67. Note that only a very streamlined version of Saward’s case is being presented.

implemented, while revealed democratic preferences go unchanged. There need be no ‘anti­
democratic vision’, but rather an unecological praxis, which principled greens will work to

The route is accordingly barred to Say ward’s
important conclusions...: that at best direct democracy[, and for that matter
indirect forms of democracy,] can only be at or near the bottom of value-lists
of greens. A commitment to democracy must clash with core green values
which, if taken on board, limit the range of acceptable policy outcomes
beyond these self-binding constraints that democracy logically requires.45
What Saward proposes instead is depressingly familiar: pragmatism, jettison intrinsic value.

Out therewith go deep-green positions.
... greens should not think in terms of overriding principles or [green]
imperatives. Indeed, it suggests that to think in terms of imperatives based on
arguments about intrinsic merit is unjustifiable.46
Fortunately the argument developed does not sustain the proposals. There is, to iterate a
central point, no internal or latent contradiction between (deep-)green policy objectives and

democratic procedures. Rather, green objectives would fail to be achieved without well-

disposed decision makers, who may not straightforwardly reflect any “will” of the demos. A
logical requirement on a realistic set of political objectives is that there are accessible
circumstances where they are realisable, where all elements of the whole would obtain. It
should not be required that there are are no situations where they may conflict, become


It is certainly not required that they are realised, by whatever means.


community, as variously represented, can choose better or worse. There are many means
available, which it may shun (again there are no absolute guarantees), enabling it to choose
better, including improved structures, attitudinal change and consciousness raising, and so on.

In the end Saward too recognises the popular power of attitudinal change, thereby

himself removing his previous imposition of authoritarian means upon greens. There


Saward, p.68. The lead-in to Saward’s proposal was clearer in the earlier circulated version, which
ended in more precise (and dubious) form:

A commitment to democracy must clash with values that are inherent to
ecologism—and ecologism is about inherency, intrinsic values, laws of nature and
holism. Things—like democracy—that can only have instrumental value must lose
out to imperatives backed by inescapable canonical force.

Saward, p.75. Of course it is now put in terms of “imperatives”; it would be better expressed
simply in terms of (what did not figure in the earlier version) principles, policy objectives or the

Opposition to deeper green political approaches often derives, as in Saward and in Goodin, from a
underlying shallow utilitarianism. The differences concern not only depth; they also concern the
rejection of individual interest bases, in favour of welfare bases and holism of deeper approaches.



needs, from a green perspective [and others], to be a change in political
culture such that it will be compatible with sustainability. This, of course, is a
familiar theme from green writing. How[?] ... It can only be the case that
‘political change will ony occur once people think differently or, more
particularly, that sustainable living must be prefaced by sustainable thinking’.
By abandoning foundationalist myths of intrinsic merit, greens abandon the
implicit arrogance that have made democracy such a tenuous part of green
political theory.47
But he overstates the attitudinal point, with ‘only...the case’. People can be politically led

(retardation, however, as distinct from genuine advancement, is more familiar); they could just
elect a green government which instituted, under permissible democratic methods, sustainable
living or the like. Worse still, his final ungrammatical sentence is a complete non-sequitur.

Attitudinal change may include coming to appreciate intrinsic merit in natural things other than
humans, and seeing through pragmatic utilitarianism.
7. Ecoregional demanarchoid reshaping of Australian political institutions: one

Is such a radical restructuring as that suggested feasible? Initial investigations hold out
the hope that major problems for deeper green theory can be solved, at least in theory.

Investigations accordingly suggest that the project within the Reshaping Australian Institutions
project is viable and worth pursuing. A logical next stage offers sketches for a radical political

reorganisation of Australia.48 Evidently there would be many designs (thereby removing facile

jeers against “the blueprint”, a part of co-optative strategy for persistence with prevailing statist
arrangements). Among the many designs, some few, conforming to favoured principles,
would be selected for detailed study. If the study were attempted, most appropriately through

systems modellings, then flexibility could be built into modellings, so that even though only a
few basic designs were examined, many variations would be feasible. Not only .is systems

modelling particularly well suited to modelling network designs; it also further offers prospects

for computing simulation and implementation, and even some simulated political
experimentation. Furthermore, such modellings begin to give some grasp on the size and


Saward, p.77. There are further defects in this passage than those noted in the text. For one,
admission of intrinsic merit does not entail foundationalism. For another, such recognition of
merit—which is less liable to disturb democracy, or render it tenuous, than adherence to
Christianity—need carry no tinges of arrogance; to the contrary, by contrast with humanism it may
yield a certain humbleness.


Such design, well accomplished, would help considerably in revealing what is possible, thereby
providing a seriously neglected contribution to politics, itself sometimes presented, with undue
licence, as the art of the possible.


complexity of the task (a useful comparison is with World 3 modelling of the on-going “Limits

to Growth” project49, or, better, with a regionalized version of it).

To get started on such ecoregional design, for Australia, two broad classifications and
associated maps and charts are required:

• 1. an ecoregional classification, with partitions and overlays, for Australia and its continental
shelf. Observe that this classification would be hierarchical, as smaller regions merge into

larger regions; but it is a benign hierarchy of levels (it facilitates no accumulation of power or

wealth). Observe too that any such classification is far from unique. Plurality has already set
in, and a choice of classification (or a few choices) would have to be made, taking due account

of political organisational principles and objectives. Fortunately some of the preliminary
classificatory work has already been accomplished in Environmental Regionalisations of

Australia, where 3 broad classifications are presented and procedures for generating many more
given.50 For political purposes further classification attributes (e.g. demographic features) need

to be included.

Ecoregions provide the basis for spatially linked administrative and community units.

(Not all units need be of this sort; many contemporary arrangements are spatially unlinked). At
this stage a basic principle of decentralization and distributed and smaller-scale organization can
be invoked, namely

• subsidiarization: organisational functions should be allowed to fall down to (or to be pushed

down to) the lowest level compatible with their satisfactory performance. Thus, for instance,
most matters concerning such things as sewerage and primary education would be localized.

This subsidiarization principle, drawn from classical anarchism, has been widely adopted in
green planning proposals.

(It is said to have been applied by the Catholic Church in

administration of the Holy Roman Empire, whence the not altogether apt title derives. It is

presently being reassessed for use in that successor organisation, united Europe.) No doubt the
principle is open to challenge, for instance on grounds of efficiency, that larger size may prove
more efficient, of duplication, and so on.

But, the objective is not maximization of

technological values such as efficiency factors; instead it aims to satisize on a wider framework

of values, including holistic social arrangements. Presumably, however, undue duplication of
expensive administrative bodies is to be avoided.

Coupled with subsidiarization is another principle,
• direct accountability downwards: units should answer directly to regional constituencies. This


See e.g. Meadows.


See Thackway and Cresswell. Rudiments of a politically useful classification begin to emerge on
their 30 Group Regionalisation.



.contrasts with prevailing accountability (such as it is) upwards, through some indirect and

tenuous, centralized circuiting chain.

Naturally much more gets comprehended under

accountability, for instance openness of environmental accounting.
There are also principles interrelating smaller with larger regions, both bottom-up and topdown (or centre-down) principles. Among these will be

• representation of smaller regions in relevant planning institutions of more comprehensive
regions. Representation, appropriately regulated, would often replace anarchistic federation,
which as observed appears too weak for requisite environmental control.
The point needs no labouring that the classifications and principles are open to challenge

at every step; for instance, there is nothing rock-hard about the type of ecoregional classification

preferred, nor about social functions to be addressed.

At a theoretical stage that is

unproblematic: there are other (less preferable) models; elaborate your own if you want to and
can. In any case, it is to be hoped that a diversity in theory might be to some extent reflected in

some diversity in practice—with different regions and continents trying different arrangements,
with much less of the sort of cosmopolitan political monoculture that we are presently being
harassed toward, with much more resilient political biodiversity. Of course, not all political

forms (including stateless types) are equally desirable or satisfactory, and some (including
present state examples) are unacceptable. So there are bounds upon diversity. Moreover, what

suits one community or region well may not suit another to be satisfactory for it. So too there
are limits upon successful transfer of organisational structure; what works in one region may
require much modification in another, or may substantially resist transfer.

• 2 a social function classification, of those community matters that require explicit organisation

at some level. An initial listing can be compiled by consulting Australian metropolitan telephone
directories, especially the government sections that used to feature in the front (until a year ago).
What results under redesign and reorganisation would, of course, look very different from what
is listed. Parliaments, parties and all their supporting apparatus would vanish; the Australian

Bureau of Statistics will assume a new significance and independent role, and so on. But

which institutions are retained, which adapted, and so on, would depend on further social
organisational features, not yet considered here. The result would be a levelled pyramidal

structure, a flat-untopped network as depicted in the structural diagram below, not a power


Structural diagram: a schematic depiction of organisational structure
(with some sample components indicated, but not all their network interlinkages displayed).


upper levels:
ground level:




control of

(a to k)

(1 to n)








region 1

region n

While some requisite research has been undertaken upon how the various functional

bodies and decision-making committees can be selected and can operate51, insufficient

investigation has been made of the interrelations and adequate funding of the bodies and

institutions involved — whichever they are! For little such detailed anarchoid modelling has
apparently been attempted for any region anywhere. Evidently there is much to be done


Thus e.g. Burnheim 85. The present article is not only heavily indebted to Burnheim's work, but
overlaps on-going investigations on his part.

theoretically. Detailed modellings could bring issues down to earth, without setting things in

concrete; no doubt too they would disclose many further problems hidden in the detailing,

problems to which anarchoid solutions can however reasonably be expected.
Nonetheless comparatively little is likely to be done, unless requisite support is
forthcoming, support in the shape of researchers (research volunteers and students) and

research infrastructure (from research gifts, donations and the like). For such support, support

for investigating its own demise, a state is hardly likely knowingly to supply; nor are its
established research institutions. Insofar then as it is done visibly, it will probably have to be

accomplished largely outside state-supported and state-supporting infrastructure, such as
prominent university projects (like Reshaping Australian Institutions). Fortunately there are

now other structures, such as internet and radio communicational channels, that can facilitate
interconnections and interchanges of researchers, both regionally and internationally. On these
sorts of anarchoid communicational bases, networks of groups interested in elaborating such
alternative political modellings, both in theory and in practice, could be formed. Given the

dismal state of present political arrangements, almost everywhere terrestial, there is a great

need, as a very minimum, for networks of innovative researchers who share such goals.52

Richard Sylvan
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To echo one referee. My sincere thanks to demanding referees for several helpful suggestions and
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Richard Sylvan, “Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed June 15, 2024,

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