The collapse of socialism and the sovereignty gap

When socialism collapsed in the late 1980s-early 1990s, many debates and contentions were settled, but the issue of sovereignty has only grown in importance thanks in large part to more economic integration. The European attempt at federation, undertaken after the fall of socialism, has not gone well precisely because it cannot close the Westphalian sovereignty gap. The bloodshed in the non-liberal world has largely been a product of the inability of states to fragment, an inability which is encouraged by notions of Westphalian sovereignty and institutionalized by IGOs such as the United Nations or World Bank.

If states wish to break away, but are prohibited from doing so by enormous costs (such as violent aggression from the state it wishes to break away from, or hostility from illiberal states that can use IGOs as mediums to act on those hostilities), then a federation which welcomes states into its union, and which is strong enough to deter aggression, would be a welcome, liberal development.

This is from my forthcoming article in the Independent Review. Here’s a sneak peak (pdf) at the whole thing. I’m guest editing a symposium on the subject at Cosmos + Taxis, in case any of you want to write a response, or add to the conversation…

Nightcap

  1. More talk of civilization-states Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
  2. World-state formation Christopher Chase-Dunn, PGQ
  3. Responsibility, generality, and natural liberty James Buchanan, Cato Unbound
  4. No cheers for Kamala Harris Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth

Nightcap

  1. Pakistan, corruption, and the rule of law Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. Sovereignty, annexation, and anarchy Ankit Panda, Diplomat
  3. African-Americans and the War on Drugs Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic
  4. Native treaties and Native sovereignty David Nichols, Origins

“Polycentric Sovereignty: The Medieval Constitution, Governance Quality, and the Wealth of Nations”

It is widely accepted that good institutions caused the massive increase in living standards enjoyed by ordinary people over the past two hundred years. But what caused good institutions? Scholars once pointed to the polycentric governance structures of medieval Europe, but this explanation has been replaced by arguments favoring state capacity. Here we revitalize the ‘polycentric Europe’ hypothesis and argue it is a complement to state capacity explanations. We develop a new institutional theory, based on political property rights and what we call polycentric sovereignty, which explains how the medieval patrimony resulted in the requisite background conditions for good governance, and hence widespread social wealth creation.

By Alexander Salter & Andrew Young. Read the whole excellent thing here. I wonder how much the author’s conception of “polycentric sovereignty” has in common with Madison’s compound republic?

Salter & Young do a great job bringing decentralization back into the overall “economic growth and political freedom” picture. Over the past two decades, political centralization as a good thing has been making a comeback under the guise of “state capacity.” This isn’t a bad trend, but it has left several large gaps in understanding how economic development and political freedom works. (For example, how to prevent centralized states from pursuing illiberal ends, or using illiberal means to pursue supposedly liberal ends.)

This article brings decentralization back into the picture, using Elinor and Vincent Ostrom’s conception of polycentricity as a model. However, I don’t think they spend enough time on Vincent Ostrom’s understanding of the American compound republic. The American federalists were concerned with exactly the same thing that we are concerned about now: how to maintain a proper balance of centralized power and decentralized power so that liberty may flourish. I’ve emphasized the important part with italics. The liberty aspect gets de-emphasized to make room for the sexier “economic growth” aspect, but political freedom is still paramount when it comes to thinking through matters of politics.

The American federalists, and especially Madison, came up with the compound republic to address the centralized/decentralized debate. Scholars continue to underrate its genius and usefulness for capturing humans as they are. Ostrom’s book on the Madisonian compound republic is worth your time and money. Read it in tandem with this book on the Federalist Papers and this book on the formation of the American republic and this short paper on the continued viability of the compound republic to today’s world. Once you’ve done the readings, start writing (or better yet: blogging!).

Nightcap

  1. The United States needs a new foreign policy (federation not considered) William Burns, Atlantic
  2. The elusiveness of a liberal world order (federation not considered) Patrick Porter, War on the Rocks
  3. How autocrats use sovereignty in the Westphalian system Lisa Gaufman, Duck of Minerva
  4. A reflection on information and complex social orders Federico Sosa Valle, NOL

Nightcap

  1. Immigration, identities, and the state of exception Mila Dragojević, Disorder of Things
  2. Great piece on Himalayan geopolitics Akhilesh Pillalamarri, Diplomat
  3. Orders of civilization Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon
  4. Hey Rawls: Which Original Position? Jason Brennan, 200-Proof Liberals

Nightcap

  1. A calibrated campaign of genocide in China Kapil Komireddi, Critic
  2. The art of dissent (under Soviet communism) James Le Sueur, LARB
  3. Is citizenship just a rent? Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  4. Local citizenship Michelangelo Landgrave, NOL

Nightcap

  1. Where is the Panchen Lama? Han & Yang, American Interest
  2. Why is China expansionist and India pacifist? Raghav Bahl, Quint
  3. Sovereignty in the Himalayas Akhilesh Pillalamarri, Diplomat
  4. Silicon Valley’s war against the media? Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker

From the comments: Microstates and military protection

I took a look at the table Easterly & Kraay provided in the paper that you cited (here is an ungated pdf; it’s on pg 22) and all of the rich small states save for The Bahamas (which is 50 miles away from Florida) enjoy military protection from larger polities.

Bahrain and Qatar have the US Navy looking after them, Iceland is in NATO, Bermuda is a Crown Colony, and Luxembourg is nestled comfortably in between France and Germany (and people say the EU is worthless!). If you throw Macau and Hong Kong into the mix you’re looking at a well-protected group of microstates.

It’d be very interesting to see how empirically robust this observation is, but I suspect it won’t be done because most people who focus on microstates tend to have a soft spot for them. To acknowledge the deep intertwinement that successful microstates have with larger polities is to acknowledge the prominence that incoherence and messiness enjoy when it comes to existence of states and the issue of sovereignty.

This is from yours truly, in a dialogue with Chhay Lin on microstates and economic development. Read the whole thing from the top!

Nightcap

  1. Deepak Lal: Rest In Peace Kapil Komireddi, The Critic
  2. Why the French Revolution was so important Robert Blackman, Age of Revolutions
  3. The limits of fiction Katherine Voyles, War on the Rocks
  4. “Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism” Stuart Jeffries, Financial Times

Nightcap

  1. Ottoman bird palaces Atlas Obscura
  2. Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism (the 1960s) Barry Stocker, NOL
  3. Liberalism and sovereignty Edwin van de Haar, NOL
  4. Why not world government? Michaelangelo Landgrave, NOL

Nightcap

  1. The perils of sacrificing sovereignty to gain sovereignty Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
  2. State capacity libertarianism and the Chinese model Scott Sumner, MoneyIllusion
  3. A thought experiment in distributed government Rick Weber, Notes On Liberty
  4. Trapped in Iran Nicolas Pelham, 1843

Nightcap

  1. European courts have ruled in favor of Catalonia over Spain Khan & Mount, Financial Times
  2. Between God and nature: Pufendorf on power and liberty Knud Haakonssen, Liberty Matters
  3. The world that Christianity made (but does it matter?) Ross Douthat, New York Times
  4. How should the United States treat the Palestinian Authority? Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists

Nightcap

  1. Charles de Gaulle’s alternative model for Europe Samuel Gregg, Law & Liberty
  2. Distance from Khe Sanh to Kandahar: 0 Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  3. Fear of the Ivory Tower Jonathon Catlin, JHIBlog
  4. Anarchy and public goods Pierre Lemieux, EconLog

Nightcap

  1. Wars makes us safer and richer Ian Morris, Washington Post
  2. Sovereignty is no solution Dalibor Rohac, American Interest
  3. American conservatism and Marxist paradigms Mary Lucia Darst, NOL
  4. Libertarians and the legitimacy crisis Arnold Kling, askblog