My Political Principles: Part III

In the third installment of my explanation of my political philosophy, I discuss the most technical and unusual part of my views and some of the reasons for them.  It may help to have read Part I and Part II before reading this one.


The next question is one that is often quite fundamental to our political beliefs as we can see from the rancorous debates over the question of rulers.  Political structures, regardless of their complexity and subtlety, ultimately answer the same question:   Who gets to decide what the rules are?  Framed another way, the question becomes:  Who are the rulers?


The vast majority of individuals’ political views either take for granted or attempt to justify the notion of rulers of some kind to act as the legitimate authority within the community and in negotiations with other communities with regard to their level of cooperation and competition with those communities.  I describe these views as hierarchical, and while that may seem overly simplistic, I do recognize that there is much genuine diversity among proponents of hierarchical political structures, from patriarchy and matriarchy to kritarchy and monarchy, from aristocracy and representative democracy to autocracy and plutocracy.  There are simply too many forms to list and discuss here.


There is a relatively small minority of individuals who reject traditional hierarchical political structures, and this minority is often deeply misunderstood.  Political theorists who favor anarchy are often accused of wanting to abolish all the rules of human society, but their true goal is to abolish rulers.  They are generally fundamentally opposed to hierarchical political organization as traditionally understood.  While this is indeed a far too simplistic an account of anarchist thought, I must trust the reader to be able to learn about the various divisions along economic lines (anarcho-socialism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-capitalism) and along various moral lines (anarcho-pacifism, anarcho-primitivism, green anarchism, Christian anarchism).  There are many more which are too numerous to list here.


There is yet another broad type of political organization which, as far as I have been able to determine recently by using internet search engines, may have as many as two adherents in the English-speaking parts of the world.  I am definitely one of those two people.  For those who are more technology-minded, it might be helpful to examine hierarchical database structures and heterarchical database structures in order to understand the kind of political and social organization I prefer.  For those who are not familiar with database structures, I will attempt to explain plainly.

In a heterarchical structure, there can be all sorts of structures which are either parallel to one another or intersect with one another.  There might be local political structures that lack any hierarchy whatsoever and other local political structures which are rigidly hierarchical.  Either one of those local structures could be under the authority of another kind of structure which could very well be hierarchical, non-hierarchical, or a composite of several different kinds of structures which are closer or farther away from being purely hierarchical.

As an example, we might consider the constitutional democratic republic of the United States.  There are local governments, some of which are governed by consensus-based town hall methods and others which are governed by an elected mayor or a city council or both.  These local governments are under the authority of state governments which have varying political structures, some of which are more directly democratic and others which are more rigidly hierarchical while still being somewhat democratic.  These state governments are under the authority of a federal government which has changed dramatically in some structural ways over the course of its existence and has remained the same in other respects, particularly in its separation of powers into the Judicial (rigidly hierarchical and only slightly democratic), Legislative (bicameral, somewhat hierarchical, and indirectly democratic), and Executive (rigidly hierarchical, distributed democratically elected ruler).  The federal government is under the authority of a constitution which can be altered by mostly non-hierarchical consensus-based means and interpreted by the Judicial branch which has a rigidly hierarchical structure.  This structure is parallel to the other national governments which take varying forms as well; the global political order is distinctly heterarchical, including various treaties and international organizations that have developed organically and which have their own varying structures, none of which fit into the neat and tidy model of a global anarchy or a single-point global hierarchy.

Why Heterarchy?

I tend to favor heterarchical organization for large institutions for several reasons enumerated below in brief.

  1. First, it allows us the flexibility of using a structure for a particular function of the institution that suits the purpose of that function of the institution.  For example, a group of experts using the same analytical framework and sharing the same values and goals can use a direct democratic model for decision-making (e.g. academic research groups).  Or we could use a single-point hierarchy for decision-making that needs to be timely and doesn’t need to (or by necessity won’t) be optimal for everyone who is affected by it (e.g. military organizations).  These quite disparate functions can exist within the same heterarchical organization and be mutually beneficial.
  2. Second, the heterarchical structure distributes the authority of the decision makers so that the damage they can cause when making a bad decision is limited.  This has the added advantage of limiting the range of skills they need to be a competent authority.  No human being can be good at making decisions on every matter because we simply cannot be experts in every subject, but most human beings can be effective decision-makers in at least a couple of domains, and heterarchical organization reduces the problems that arise when we try to have an individual authority or small group of authorities making decisions on issues when they have insufficient expertise to understand the issues properly.
  3. Third, the heterarchical structure has the advantage of being explicitly adaptable to the cultural homogeneity or heterogeneity of the polity.  It is eminently customizable to suit the people it serves.  In a sense, this organizational approach is agnostic with regard to culture (values, beliefs, and practices) which is such a common problem with the one-size-fits-all approach to political structures which are so incredibly popular among political theorists and are frequently such dismal failures in recent history.
  4. Fourth, the heterarchical structure will be extremely advantageous as we move beyond a planetary civilization and begin to expand our communities into the wider cosmos.  We will need a useful organizational approach that can handle the dispersion across different planetary environments and increasingly variable physiological needs which will likely arise during our interstellar and intergalactic expansion.

Whereas hierarchy and anarchy are broad organizational approaches that are very useful under specific circumstances, the heterarchical approach is useful regardless of the specific circumstances and allows us to continue to make use of hierarchy or anarchy where they would be useful.  Perhaps most importantly, it is a valuable way of thinking about our political structures that may allow us to devise more effective ones or simply improve our existing polity.

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2 Responses to My Political Principles: Part III

  1. Pingback: My Political Principles: Part II | Isorropia

  2. Pingback: My Political Principles: Methods & Madness | Isorropia

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