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

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

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Printout of draft, undated.

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One of seven papers digitised from item 1225.

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

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

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

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PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS IN DEEP
ECOPOLITICAL THEORY:
an Australian perspective.
... people are ready for change and the impending debate will result in
constitutional change. We should, therefore, explore all options ...T
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 therefore 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. Recently
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 ...2

who often cannot be bothered registering to vote, or voting.
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. ‘...
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).
Ibid, p.178
ZbztZ.

2

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 politic’.8

‘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 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 overgovemed ’n, with too many expensive bureaucracies and too many houses of

parliament.

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 governments.
... 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
5
6

7
8
9
10
11

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.
Ibid, p.180.
Ibid. p. 179. It is a symptom of both, the latter especially.
Ibid. p. 181.
lbid. p. 181, itals added.

3

Australian's political structures and systems might be quite
significantly reformed.12
Even though the main proposals for change no doubt remain reformist in character, 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 normal. Elements for a political paradigm shift are already present, 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;

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 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
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.

4

Indian-Pacific region (and the money-making opportunities for a sagging resource-based
economy in 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,
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 statefederal 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

regionalism.

A glance at the map reveals natural regions for local government on a
viable scale [an optimistic idea]. 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 /) liberal

management assumptions. The basic idea to retain is simple: that of ecologically-rational local
and regional rearrangement of anachronistic state partitions. But that regionalization should be

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.
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.

5

greened, as reform should be radicalized.
Much has been left off these 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 consititutions 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, by 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 modern 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 comparative

small adjustments leaving it substantially intact. For example, a minimal transformation, of the
16

17

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

6
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 suggested) 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 direction 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.18 A prime reason is this: a central state is ineluctably committed to

high levels of economic activity which impact heavily environmentally, characteristically to
economic growth of sorts which impact very adversely environmentally, inducing inevitable
degradation.
Accordingly, there are then, or should be, two bands to the green (or environmental)
strand of the 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 readily brought to practical use.
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, and so on.19) As
indicated, present states are incompatible with 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 point towards a
18
19

This theme, merely stated here, is argued in detail elsewhere; see esp. Sylvan 95.
For a summary of these familiar reasons, see Sylvan 93, and for detail on some, see Burnheim 85
and above all Marshall.

7
resolution) without certain functions that they serve. 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 an organism the

functioning parts of which must fail without the whole. So 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’.20 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]’.21 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.
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.22 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.23
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, greening bureaucrats, lobbying politicians, and like activity (but better to cut
through all 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 practice.24 Nonetheless, more limited, more
constrained, proposals of this sort certainly have a better chance of making a difference than
radical redesigns, regularly smartly dismissed as “unrealistic” or “utopian”.25 No doubt the
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’.
Oxford English Dictionary, adapted. An institution is an organitution.
On social ecology, see Bookchin 90, and for information on deep-green social theory, see Sylvan
and Bennett 94 and Routley 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.
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.
Too smartly, as we argue elsewhere (e.g. Sylvan and Bennett 90).

8

normal “reshaping institutions” investigations are rightly focussed 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.
For all the spasmodic environmental rhetoric, under present incremental reform

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 towards meeting carbon-reduction commitments. It is

increasingly doubtful, given prevailing responses to economic difficulties, that present
systematic problems confronting Australia will be satisfactorily addressed, environmental

problems not least. Furthermore, the sorts of problems concerning reorganising society in deep
green ways, problems that provide subsequent topics, would likely not arise. So do imagine

that a rather free hand for institutional eco-redesign is somehow dispensed. Also, once it is

seen where to go organisationally, it is much easier to discover how to arrive there.
3. A basic problem of structure: central or decentralised organisation.

There are large and immediate advantages in taking a problem-oriented way. That way,
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, let things alone let Being be.26 On this non-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 environmental destructive industry in business is

likewise shed.
Among basic problems for deep ecopolitical 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 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
26

In vulgar parlance: if it doesn't itch don't scratch (and even if it does, resist).

9
dilemma for concerned green theorists.27 The binary horns of this dilemma are respectively: on
the one horn, 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
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,

anarchistically-inclined presentations tend to favour decentralisation, perhaps with some central
compensation through federation (thus recent Blueprints, ecotopias, and so on), whereas

socialistically-inclined 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

on.30
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. 31 But how is this combination to

be achieved? An answer does not fall out by pure reason, operating in isolation from other
27

28
29
30
31

As by Michael 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.
Fox, Ecopolitics III.
Much turns on the exploitative character of certain local and regional communities, their getrich-quick schemes, what they are prepared to do to survive in old or affluent ways, and so on.
In the immediately generated simple picture there are four options (familiar from relevant
logic):
predominantly top-down
T

both

B

N neither (e.g. populist anarchy)

1
predominantly bottom-up

10
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. Standard anarchism, much
more promising, does not resolve the problem either, because federation, as standardly

explained, does not concede sufficient power to representatives, for instance to constrain

exploitative local communities.
A solution to the dilemma lies through a combinational stragegy, 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.
It is a major illusion of modern 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
institutions.

There are many examples of such institutions operating successfully both

regionally and internationally; for instance, those for postal and communicational

arrangements, international sporting bodies and international academies and clubs.32

32

This passage borrows from the summary in Bumheim 86 p.221 of Burnheim 85. For much fuller
elaboration see Burnheim 85 and Sylvan 94.

11

4. Technical interlude: Strong family resemblances of ubiquitous problem-generating
structures.
The skeleton or scaffolding of organisation is structure; it is the frame on which
organisation is hung, which organisation fills or fleshes out. The sense of structure, explicating
the underlying organic image, implies as much. According, for instance, to the Concise Oxford

Dictionary, ‘structure: manner in which a building or organism or other complete whole is

constructed, supporting framework or whole of the essential parts of something’. Structure
itself is primarily, though not entirely, a matter of relations of elements and parts.

Remarkably, the same sort of problem-generating structures occur in a range of
seemingly diverse theoretical areas, to be displaced in each case by a similar sort of problem­
dissipating structure.
To illustrate, consider an order on a type (or set) of items £1 given by one order relation R,
where R may itself depend on item c in Q, i.e. R = Rc. For example, where Q is a system of

worlds including your world the ordering R of worlds may depend on your world (and my
world could supply a different order). Differently, where Q is a system of values or valued

items, R may depend upon your values; and so on. As an order, R is at least transitive, and
perhaps either (if like <) reflexive or (if like <) symmetric, on its range. The system <Q, R> is
a simple ordered structure, or aframe. (The latter is the term now used in modal logic, where
such structures are the bases of models for the logic.) A cap or top t of such a system is an
element such that all items of Q bear R to t but which does not itself bear R to any element of

Q. (The notion, that of supremum, and likewise maximum, may be similarly defined relative to

subsets or types within Q.33)
Simple Theorem. There are order structures without tops.

Examples are provided by systems (often with much more structure) with no supremum. Here
is a simple 6 element example drawn from relevant logical theory.

+1

+2
„ - {-2, -1, -0, +0, +1, +2}
+0
R = — is as shown by arrows.

-0

T = {+0, +1, +2} is a truth component
-1

-2

Topologically, several notions of prime political and philosophical cast are tantamount to

tops in order structures, including chiefs (top persons in power rankings) hierarchs, grand
leaders, centres, absolutes, and objective items.

33

Consider, a pertinent issue, the matter of

A supremum t of R (in type T) is an (that) element (of T) such that all elements (of T) bear R to t
but which does not itself bear R to anything (in T).

12

central control or authority, where as in the next diagram all elements answer to t.

t

c
Cl

C4

a

C2

c3

b

a3

ai
b2

a2

bi
Looked at from above t is centre of a network. In the diagram shown, it remains a structure, a

flattened hierarchy, when t and relations leading to it are deleted, under decapitation so to say.
What this shows in a simple fashion is that there can be ordered structures without central

control (and ranging further there can be statelessness, absence of central control, anarchy

without “anarchy” or chaos, because there is order), anencephaletic structures. Order,

including good order of a range of sorts, does not require central controls, leaders, absolute
rulers or arrangements, or similar. Order does not require hierarchy, such hierarchy.34

Let us briefly allude to a much wider philosophical sweep. Related order structural
considerations to those that tell against central states, absolute rulers, top authorities as required
for satisfactory order, also count against absolutes of other sorts, such as absolute truth (there

need be none, as the first diagram above indicates), absolute order (thus R itself is relative to c),
and objectives of various sorts, such as objective fact (another supposed absolute), objective

value (supplied under an absolute order), and so on. On this broad sweep the following sorts
contrast sets emerge:35
centralism
elitism
statism
absolutism
realism
objectivism

in
rough
contrast
respectively
with
maximizing rationalism

decentralism
egalitarianism
anarchism
pluralism
nonrealism
nonjectivism

satisizing rationalism

Naturally, these simple structural considerations are only indicative, not decisive. For we
might find, as more and more constraints are imposed on structures, as account is taken of

34
35

Part of what seems correct in Bookchin's vendetta against hierarchy can be captured in this way.
For a fuller picture see Sylvan 94, chapter 10.

13

actual conditions, that freedom contracts, that structural arrangements are forced towards
centralism or absolutism. While such forcing may now look, in the light of a little logic,

implausible, it requires further argument that it need not in general eventuate. The argument
here against centralism and statism takes these lines: that there is ready design of institutional

arrangements for decentralised communities which does not lead back to a central state. The
state is organisationally otiose.
Organisation is delivered anencephaletically, more specifically through a decentralised

functional ecoregionalism. As to how this can be accomplished, a sweep of anarchoidal work
discloses.36

5. Problems of chauvinism and present-time bias in democratic political institutions.
Under decentralized social organization, each requisite function will 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 to ensure separation of power, upper operatives, those of
a directing or steering committee (the nervous system of the organisation), will 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 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 modem usage of the motherhood term democracy, two 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’37. 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 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 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

Most of the key elements are already available from political theory relevant to anarchism. As to
putting them together see e.g. Burnheim 85 (where demarchy and much else of relevance is
explained) and Sylvan 95.
Oxford English Dictionary entry 1, main entry. These two lines are not the only distinctive lines
now visible: increasingly conspicuous in calls for “democracy” are Asian 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”).

14

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 get 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 will 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 way.38
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
excludes. 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 modern 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.
There is 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

38

See Sylvan and Bennett 93.

15

<r

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.39
As already hinted, deepened representation is not the only promising resolution of the
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.40 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 present oligarchical circumstances, even very dilute

versions are worth pressing for, as they would offer definite improvements upon what presently

happens.)
6. Ecoregional demanarchoid reshaping of Australian political institutions: one
beginning.
Is such a radical restructuring feasible? Initial investigations hold out the hope that major

problems for deep ecopolitical 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.41 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
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 93.
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.

16

computing simulation and implementation, and even some simulated political experimentation.
Furthermore, such modellings begin to give some grasp on the size and complexity of the task
(a useful comparison is with World 3 modelling of the on-going “Limits to Growth” project42,
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 will 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) will 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.43 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 subidiarization is another principle,
• direct accountability downwards: units should answer directly to regional constituencies.

This contrasts with prevailing accountability (such as it is) upwards, through some indirect and
tenuous, centralized circuiting chain.
42
43

Naturally much more gets comprehended under

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

17

accountability, for instance openness of environmental accounting.

Schematic diagram of organisation structure

Structural diagram:

(with some sample components indicated, but not all their network interlinkages displayed)

statistics
bureau

upper levels:
administrative,
executive,
research
ground level:
functional

selectoral
college

Australian
region
(federal)

immigration

inflow
control
materials

super­
regions
(a to k)
interregional
transport, etc.

(local)
regions
(1 to n)
upper
levels

arbitration
bureau
rental
entitlements
office

resources
income
office

ground
level

water
systems

sewer
systems

hospital
systems

region 1

region n

There are also principles interrelating smaller with larger regions, both bottom-up and
top-down (or centre down) principles. Among these will be

• representation of smaller regions in relevant planning institutions of more comprehensive

regions. Representation, appropriately regulated, will 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

18
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.

• 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 will, of course, look

very different from what is listed. Parliaments, parties and all their supporting apparatus will
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, will depend on further
social organisational features, not yet considered here. The result will be a levelled pyramidal
structure, a flat-untopped network, not a power hierarchy.

While some requisite research has been undertaken upon how the various functional
bodies and decision-making committees can be selected and can operate44, insufficient

investigation has been made of the interrelations and adequate fundings 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
theoretically. Detailed modellings would bring issues down to earth, without concretizing

them; no doubt too they would disclose many further problems hidden in the detailing,
problems to which anarchoid solutions can reasonably be expected. But comparatively little is

likely to be done, unless requisite support is forthcoming, support in the shape of researchers
(research volunteers) and research infrastructure (from research gifts). For such 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.

Richard Sylvan
References.

Bookchin, M., Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future, South End Press, Boston,
1990.
Burnheim, J., Is Democracy Possible?, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1985.

Burnheim, J., ‘Democracy, nation states and the world system’, New Forms of Democracy,
(ed. D. Held and C. Pollitt) London, Sage, 1986, pp.218-239.

44

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.

19
Fox, W., in Ecopolitics III, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Green, G., The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist?, International Publishers, New York,
1971.
Jacobs, M., The Green Economy: environment, sustainable development, and the politics
of the future., Pluto Press, Concord, Mass, 1991.
Mackay, H., Reinventing Australia: the mind and mood of Australia in the 90s, Hugh
Mackay, Pymble, NSW, Angus & Robertson, 1993.

Macphee, I., ‘A new constitution?' (excerpts from an opening address) NILEFA Newsletter,
Griffith University School of Law, June 1993.
Marshall, P., Demanding the Impossible: a history of anarchism, London, Harper Collins
1992.
Me Laughlin, A., Regarding Nature, SUNY Press, Albany NY., 1993.

Meadows D., and others, Beyond the Limits, Chesley Green, Vermont, 1992.

Naess, A., Ecology, community and lifestyle (trans, and ed. D. Rothenberg), Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1989.
Routley, V. and R., ‘Social theories, self management and environmental problems’, in
Environmental Philosophy (ed. D Mannison and others), RSSS, Australian National
University, 1980.
Sylvan, R. and Bennett, D., Utopias, Tao and Deep Ecology, Green Series , RSSS, Australian
National University, 1990.

Sylvan, R. and Bennett, D., The Greening of Ethics, White Horse Press, Cambridge, 1994.

Sylvan, R., ‘Anarchism’, in Contemporary Political Theory (ed. R. Goodin and P.Pettit)
Blackwell, Oxford, 1993.
Sylvan, R., Green Anarchism, to appear, 1995.
Sylvan, R., Deep Plurallism, University of Edinburgh Press, 1994.

Thackway, R. and Cresswell, I.D., Environmental Regionalisations of Australia,
Environmental Resources Information Network, Australian National Parks and Wildlife
Service, 1992.

Tynan, L., The Institute of Advanced Studies, The Australian National University, May 1993.

Collection

Citation

Richard Sylvan, “Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed May 18, 2024, https://nuclearharm.org/items/show/182.

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