The Commons and World Governance

Darren mail at
Tue Sep 11 19:24:50 BST 2012

David Bollier comments on the essay: “The Commons and World Governance,” 
by Arnaud Blin and Gustavo Marín.

He writes:

“I recently encountered a bracing essay, “The Commons and World 
Governance,” by Arnaud Blin and Gustavo Marín. Blin is a French 
historian and political scientist, and Marín is a Chilean-French 
economist and sociologist who is Director of the Forum for a new World 
Governance. Their 33-page piece is a terrific philosophical and 
historical overview of capitalism and governance, and it makes a strong 
case for the appeal of the commons in meeting contemporary ecological 
and economic challenges.

The essay’s opening paragraph states that we are now undergoing “the 
first global revolution in history” brought on by the declining powers 
of the nation-state:

Today the state is no longer equipped to ensure the sustainability of 
humankind, nor is it able to prevent itself, other states, and private 
actors from plundering our most precious treasure, our planet, 
irretrievably. The sudden powerlessness of the most powerful actor of 
the global stage has been caused by the onrush of globalization, which 
with breathtaking speed has overtaken the traditional actors of 
international politics and rewritten the rules of the game of economics. 
By doing so, it has also fostered the need to devise and uphold what can 
be described as the global interest, one that should inevitably take 
precedence over the outdated and ineffectual individual “national 
interests” that have for centuries determined the direction of 
international affairs.

How can humanity begin to articulate and protect the “global interest” 
in the face of marauding national and transnational corporate interests, 
and the decline of state power? That is the problem.

One reason that the “national interest” is losing its coherence as a 
concept, according to Blin and Marín, is because it can no longer 
intelligently declare who is friend and who is foe. This is a defining 
element of any society, according to the German jurist Carl Schmitt, 
“who posited that each society defines itself by its opposition to other 
societies. As such, politics in and of themselves are defined through 
the dichotomy friend/foe, with the state having historically embodied 
the most complete form of politics.”

Today globalization is destroying this dichotomy. It can be extremely 
difficult to uphold the “friend” vs. “foe” duality because things have 
become much more complex through globalized commerce and culture. With 
the rise of the Internet and cheap and transnational communication, the 
state no longer has a monopoly in making and molding judgments about 
friend and foe; the people can more readily make their own judgments.

This is part of a larger story: the waning power of the nation-state to 
control things, most notably the environment, global economic and social 
justice, migration, global resources and common goods, among other 
things. Most significantly, the nation-state is not well equipped to 
control capitalists’ abuses of people and nature.

As the limitations of state power become more clearly recognized, it is 
more likely that they will also be challenged, write Blin and Marín: “In 
the nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville counter-intuitively noted 
that political regimes begin to crack not when they revert to authority 
but rather when they open up, thus showing their shortcomings, which 
then appear intolerable, a logic that precedes many revolutions, as it 
did notably in France and Russia. The same logic is true of neoclassical 
economic practices.”

Blin and Marín note that our received notions of “private property,” as 
asserted by John Locke, have become a tool for a privileged few to 
oppress and dispossess the many, all in the name of freedom. This must 
change — and the commons may help. “….Our definition of what property 
entails needs to evolve from a very narrow vision of individual property 
to a broader understanding of collective property, one that not only 
involves rights, as with private property, but also responsibilities, 
one that does not simply amount to a ‘negative’ vision of property, as 
belonging to no one but rather as belonging to everyone, a subtle 
distinction that in both theory and practice has significant 
consequences. In this light, the emergence of the commons as a key 
concept in contemporary political thought might prove crucial in 
altering our basic conception of property. This, in turn, might be a 
formidable stepping stone toward establishing the structure for a truly 
global system of governance.”

Blin and Marín go on to discuss the “failure of global society” and the 
need for a “global social contract,” noting that “the concepts of 
‘commons’ and ‘commoning’” hold great potential. They allow one to 
“radically transform the traditional equation of freedom and property by 
reasserting freedom in a global – and not just individual – fashion 
while also extracting from this concept its traditional tie to private 
property.” This might be the basis for imagining a new sort of global 

It’s hard to do justice to Blin and Marín’s essay in a brief blog post. 
I recommend that you chase it down and read it.”

Poor Richard Says:
July 8th, 2012 at 3:01 am

David wrote:

“Blin and Marín note that our received notions of “private property,” as 
asserted by John Locke, have become a tool for a privileged few to 
oppress and dispossess the many, all in the name of freedom…”

1. Locke on property is misinterpreted and twisted as much as Adam Smith

2. Locke was a philosopher, not a jurist. Private property in philosophy 
and in law are two very different animals.

In law, all property ownership is conditional and has been for thousands 
of years. Even the so-called “fee simple absolute title” in US real 
estate law confers far less than absolute ownership. Several sticks from 
the “bundle of rights” always remain in the possession of the state. And 
in many cases the rest of the bundle is divided multiple ways.

It is fair to say that very few people (including lawyers) really know 
much about property law and that much of the public mythology about 
property comes from popular misinterpretations of philosophers like 
Locke. These misinterpretations affect how people use and mange 
property, but such cases are analogous to using the wrong end of a 
hammer. The problem is user error, not hammer design.

There are many good reasons to protect our legacy of property law, 
especially from philosophers. I try to cover most of them, including 
those pertaining to the commons, in

“All Ownership is Conditional”

Poor Richard

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