Importance of the Work of Mark Whitaker for Commons Theory

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By Michel Bauwens.

Mark Whitaker is a professor at SUNY Korea in Seoul, and the author of 2 books:

  • Toward a Bioregional State (2005), is a book on ‘green constitutional engineering’, i.e. an inquiry on "how to get more democratic sustainability: changing formal institutions of states for more regional environmental/citizen feedback and for reduction of corrupt party/politician gatekeeping against environmental improvement.

(MB: I have not read this book yet, only summaries online, but it seems very compatible with our Partner State vision)

"The bioregional state (bioregional democracy) is a set of electoral reforms and commodity reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns, toward developmental path that are locally prioritized and tailored to different area for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability."

  • Ecological Revolution (2009), The Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions; China, Japan, Europe offers a ‘green theory of history’; it describes the tendency of unrepresentative elite-based extractive state systems to cause environmental degradation; which leads representative growing opposition of a regional plurality of ‘religio-scientific-ecological’ revolutions. Our own thesis is that these oppositional moments, which aim for a regeneration of the environmental conditions of life for the producing classes, naturally involve the greater use of commons practices and institutions. The case studies of Mark Whitaker, involved ancient China (Zhou, Qin, Han and after), medieval Japan (1200 AD and 1600 periods) and post-Roman Europe up until the Reformation with brief attention to the emergence of the German Greens, rather confirm this thesis.


Bioregional State

"Bioregional State additions to current Republics in terms of democratic theory:�\

  • The empirically durable human-environmental contexts of all governmental arrangements, for good or ill, manipulating their environment with policy/structure.
  • Ideas about the state as an economic developmentalist organization, instead of only a political arrangement.
  • The issue of the innate geographical particularities of citizenship and political concern instead of only abstract and individual.
  • Learning how to improve past republics by viewing their own histories: importance of fresh checks and balances against degradative, corrupt, crony, gatekeeping powers of informal political parties in current and past republics.
  • Political power is more than the formal state as well: political power is exercised from and in conjunction with scientific, financial, and consumptive/economic organizational power as well. Implications: redesigns of these institutions as well.

This book is only about the formal state in a more system-theory-based ecological democratic theory of politics and the kinds of constitutions that protect democracy and ecology simultaneously instead of thinking of these separately.

Preface mentions that another book is planned dealing with the other three kinds of social power: scientific, financial, and consumptive-economic organizational power.

The book introduces 3 concepts, proposed as advances in ecological theory:

At the micro-level: Ecological Self-Interest

“A people’s self-interest is additionally geographically specific and protective of a particular geography, leading to an environmental proxy based politics where human health, ecological, and economic externalities from ecological degradation are effected in human political pressures.”

“Citizen feedback is always in and from particular geographic spaces and human-environmental contexts.”

At the meso-level: Ecological Tyranny

"Environmental degradation is created by formal illegitimacy of existing democratic institutions because current, corrupt, gatekept, states are far more the facilitators of environmental degradation and human immiseration through it instead of being feedback mechanisms against environmental degradation and reduction of suffering.

Any gatekeeping by informal political parties against sustainable politics is an ecological tyranny.

An ecological tyranny represses all environmental feedback from citizens by ongoing unrepresentative state policies trying to demote regional/personal attempts to reduce externalities created."

At the Macro-level: Ecological Contract

Quote: “The bioregional state is a formal facilitation framework that checks and balances against informal corruptions and informal gatekeeping in formal democratic states, when informal parties attempt to repress instead of represent the politics of particular geographically situated citizens that want to influence state development by removing human, ecological, and economic externalities they are experiencing.”

Rousseau’s Social Contract to Post-Rousseau “Ecological Contract”

Past: Rousseau/Enlightenment era ideas of a mere Social Contract: the purpose of democratic states rely on a mutual agreement between citizens to obey the government and government’s duty to protect citizens and make decisions based on the common good or “general will,” instead of only work for elites.

Present and Future: Ecological-era ideas of an Ecological Contract are developing: state has equal responsibility to protect people and ecologies simultaneously for the improvement and betterment of both, instead of only maintain abstract equal social rights or only protect polluters."

The false sense is that the state is only a ‘social’ organization; the bioregional state is a developmental organization and political feedback mechanism for making developmentalism democratic and sustainable.

States are always situated within particular ecologies or across particular ecologies.

Nothing called an abstract or individualized citizen in practice: citizenship and its politics are historically bioregional/watershed-based.

A people’s self-interest is additionally geographically specific and protective of a particular geography, leading to an “environmental proxy” based politics where human health, ecological, and economic externalities from ecological degradation are effected in human political pressure.

An environmental proxy based politics is part of the human condition, instead of a novelty of the 20th~21th century. It has only been expressed through other discourses and manners in the past with ideas/techniques available. (A theme in book Ecological Revolution (2009), reviewed later.)

“Affirmative institutions” are ones designed jurisdictionally to be ecologically aware and facilitative of the particularities of environmental proxy politics.

Ecological Revolution, 2009

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