Visualizing the territorial limits of State power

•02015.06.20 • Leave a Comment

An even better map of the situation in the Levant than the one in the last post about the State:

Syria Iraq ISIL 2014From a recent Congressional Research Service report (

Again, nowhere near the complexity I think would actually exist in a map of effective State control or legitimacy as I last described, but this one does do a good job at showing the limited reach of the “regime” versus the internationally recognized borders.  I’d argue that one could make a map like this for any State, regardless of if it was in a civil war or not.  There’s also different levels of control that each group has over the areas that are shaded in as ‘theirs’ in maps like these, which isn’t reflected here except when two or more groups are actively contesting for an area.


Defining the State

•02015.02.06 • Leave a Comment

A “ruling organization” will be called “political” insofar as its existence and order is continuously safeguarded within a given territorial area by the threat and application of physical force on the part of the administrative staff.  A compulsory political organization with continuous operations will be called a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.  Social action, especially organized action, will be spoken of as “politically oriented” if it aims at exerting influence on the government of a political organization; especially at the appropriation, expropriation, redistribution or allocation of the powers of government.  (54, emphasis in original)

The second sentence of that quote is probably the most well known and regularly quoted of all of Weber’s work.  I’ve often heard it shortened to not include the word “legitimate,” which is quite unfortunate, as that substantially changes the definition.  It’s not that the State is an organization that has a monopoly on physical violence altogether in a territorial area.  It’s that it successfully claims to be the only organization that can legitimately use physical violence.  This concept goes to the core of the standard “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” reasoning that most states have resorted to at some point.  Beyond tactical considerations, such an action would be a recognition by the State that the organized ‘terrorist’ group’s use of physical violence was indeed legitimate, since it enabled that group to take politically oriented action based on physical force, which was outside of the processes established by the ruling organization, and yet still was able to get some kind of ability to negotiate.  The only substantial difference under this understanding then between terrorists and the State is that terrorists don’t effectively control the use of legitimate physical force in a territorial area.

Overall I like this definition, but it remains somewhat lacking.  One issue has only become more readily apparent in the last decade or so: the emergence of hollow states.  This is where a government still exists and can function on an international level (as in it still is an internationally recognized government and territorial borders), but in practice doesn’t control large areas of its territory.  In the past decade, examples of this would be things like the large amounts of territory ISIS holds in Iraq and Syria, the little control the Afghan government has over its theoretical territory outside of the capital and a few regions, and many northern Mexican border cities.   This is different than a failed state, where a government has completely collapsed and almost no services are being provided.  The hollow state phenomenon isn’t actually that new; it’s just much more apparent in recent years given changes in technology and international norms (in particular the increased accessibility of small arms to non-State actors, combined with the relatively strong post-WWII norm against State-based territorial conquest).  But this has definitely happened in the past as well.  Think of the expansion of the United States westward, and the large sections of the west that were not effectively under the control of the government; the US controlled that territory on paper (at least as recognized by the Europeans), but could not successfully uphold the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.  It seems that there should be a some sort of taking into account of the degree of control of this idea of legitimacy on physical force that an organization must have in a territory to be considered the State, but that would potentially have Weber’s definition leaving us with a strange looking map of the world where instead of uniform blocks of colors to designate particular territories, we would have to shade areas within them based on some sort of “degree of perception of effective control over legitimate use of physical force” in their territory.  This would be especially confusing when we would try to map this and find the extreme variation in small territorial areas, from city blocks run by organized crime to small rural separatist communities, and so on.  Interestingly, The Atlantic recently tried to do just this with ISIS:

ISIS control

While this is an attempt to make visible the pockets of control in a hollow state, it still doesn’t even approach the complexity of what a map like the one I described above would look like, where different levels of State power may actually vary on the level of city blocks.  Maybe this is more like how the world actually is, but beyond the complexity of making such a visualization, those who cartographers traditionally served don’t want to make this apparent in their ‘political’ maps.

Trying to relate this definition to intentional communities is quite tricky.  If the State does have a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, it would follow that the State can also decide to limit the amount and types of physical force that will be allowed in the area it controls (torture, summary executions, etc.), and no organization (including itself) could have the legitimate ability to do this in that area.  But what if a territorial organization completely excludes the possibility of physical force, such as the many intentional communities that are non-violent as a core value?  For the purpose of trying to better understand Weber’s definitions, I’m theorizing here that there would be no larger State-like entity above the community itself, mainly in order to see if we can apply the this definition of the State to a non-violent community (this isn’t that far-fetched of a thought experiment, especially considering that many of these communities already try to interact with the government as little as possible, although of course there are plenty of instances where their social forms adapt to this necessity).  It seems to me that Weber’s definition falls apart if physical force is excluded entirely.  Such as organization would not be a State, and would not be a “ruling organization” either according to how he has set these terms up.  We could perhaps salvage his concepts by arguing that the ruling organization of such a community does indeed claim that it has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, and it is using that authority to disallow any person from using it at all, including those working for the organization.  This seems like quite a stretch though, and is fairly self-contradicting.  More importantly, this isn’t how anyone I have interacted with at these communities has conceived of the foundation of their non-violence principles.

Why am I attached to applying Weber’s definition of the State to intentional communities?  Couldn’t we just accept that such communities don’t have anything that could be called a State?  There are a few reasons I am trying to do this:

Weber gives us many different ways to analyse many different types of organizations.  However, the communities that I am writing about don’t fit well into just one or even a small number of these organizational types, but instead are a collection of different forms of organizations whose number approaches that of a small town.  This is especially true in the larger communities that I am familiar with like Twin Oaks and East Wind, and that doesn’t even take into account historical intentional communities in the United States like the Harmony communities.  It seems to me that there needs to be some way to account for the central political system that holds these organizations together, and it’s hard to see what can do this besides a “ruling organization.”

As I’ve written before, intentional communities in many ways appear to be small societies onto themselves.  The larger of these have decision-making frameworks that could still operate relatively unchanged if they had a massive increase in size.  Derived from Skinner’s outlines in Walden Two, Twin Oaks’ planner-manager system was intended to function with ten times the population of the current community.  However, the larger the population, the more complex the series of social relationships become.  While there would of course be no way to know this unless it actually happened, I think the decision-making systems would function significantly differently with a much larger population, even if they had the same formal organization.  The Community Planners would almost certainly be a full time job, as well as many other ‘executive’ positions.  The number of positions necessary for administrative tasks would expand as well.  This would potentially lead to certain people spending most or potentially all of their time on administrative tasks.  At the rate things are going in the community now, we could expect an corresponding increase in the number and complexity of policies.  Eventually, we would need people who spend a significant amount of time focusing on interpreting and arguing about policies and decisions, a sort of nascent class of lawyers and judges.  It seems to me that at some point, we need to call this thing a ruling organization or a State, and I don’t think the point that happens is when such a community builds a jail or allows certain people to carry around weapons to enforce decisions.  But where exactly does this transition happen then?  Could we then consider the existing organizational forms a proto-State?

Power and Domination

•02015.01.30 • Leave a Comment

“Power” is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless on the basis on which this probability rests.  (53)

This seems very vague, and would be hard to study except in very overt forms.  We can see resistance clearly when it is physical, or when the someone clearly expresses displeasure at a certain action in an attempt to stop it.  But we need to be much more precise if we are looking at social relationships.  Weber recognizes that almost anything we can sociologically study can be a source of power under this definition.

“Domination” is the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons.  “Discipline” is the probability that by virtue of habituation a command will receive prompt and automatic obedience in stereotyped forms, on the part of a given group of persons.

These definitions seem a bit better.  What we would look for in domination are commands, if they are obeyed, and how habituated people are to following commands in this social relationship.

Domination here only means a person successfully issuing orders to others.  Weber points out that this doesn’t necessitate the existence of an administrative staff or organization (for example, the traditional role of head of household is a position of domination without either of these), yet Weber believes it is uncommon for domination not to be at least related to one of these.  If members of an organization are subject to domination by virtue of the established order, they are part of a “ruling organization.”

In this section, Weber doesn’t relate these concepts to anything he has discussed previously beyond what I’ve mentioned above.  In that case, I’m left with thinking that we must interpret “domination” broadly here to mean simply the issuance of orders and their compliance.  This would then seem be independent of the types of legitimacy of a social relationship; voluntary as well as compulsory organizations rest on domination:

If it possesses an administrative staff, an organization is always to some degree based on domination.  But the concept is relative.  In general, an effectively ruling organization is also an administrative one.  The character of the organization is determined by a variety of factors: the mode in which the administration is carried out, the character of the personnel, the objects over which it exercises control, and the extent of effective jurisdiction.  The first two factors in particular are dependent in the highest degree on the way in which domination is legitimized.  (54)

Weber is going to go into detail about the different ways in which domination is legitimized later in the book.  For now, I think this seems like quite an expansion of the definition of domination, at least beyond how I would commonly use the word.  Are the people in any position of responsibility in a position of domination?  It seems like if they can give orders within their given certain context of legitimacy and have those orders followed, that meets Weber’s definition.

I think I’m having trouble accepting this definition because it doesn’t seem that the same word should apply to the relationship between ranks in a military and positions of responsibility at an intentional community.  Weber definitely allows for this to be a relative term, but the difference between those two situations seems qualitatively different to me.  There are still clearly power relations involved in either situation, unequal levels of power depending on the context, and different levels of habituation to that relationship.  However, the source of this legitimacy to give orders and the subjective perception of why those orders should be followed seem extremely different: one is a hierarchical organization of command whose goal is to use physical force to control a territory, and the other is a largely egalitarian system where certain people have responsibility for maintaining certain areas of the community, whose goal is to provide for the material needs of its members.  Maybe it’s not the concept but the word choice itself that’s more of the problem for me.  I can’t really think of anything better to use though, if what we are trying to define is simply the ability to issue orders and have them followed.

Organizational order and authority from within and without

•02015.01.23 • Leave a Comment

An organization may be autonomous or heteronomous, by which Weber means the governing order has been established by their own members on their own authority, versus imposed upon them by the outside.  Organizations are also either autocephalous or heterocephalous, meaning the chief and the staff are either appointed by the autonomous order of the organization itself, or from outside the order.  (49-50)

Intentional communities are almost completely on the autonomous and autocephalous side of Weber’s definitions, perhaps more than almost any other form of organization.  The internal order is created by the members themselves, setting up a structure for things that are typically not altered in other organization, such as property rights (at least, I’ve never worked for an corporation in dominant culture that had extensive agreements on personal ownership).  As explained above, those who we could consider to be chiefs and staff (although I’m sure many people would object to those terms, Weber is using them quite broadly here) are appointed through the processes that the group has come up with themselves.

While intentional communities are largely autonomous and autocephalous, they are not completely so.  By virtue of having to interact with the rest of the world, in particular with regulations from the modern State, communities need to take on certain roles or functions that I doubt they would otherwise.  For example, at Twin Oaks there are yearly elections for what they call the Shadow Board.  These are the Board of Directors that the state insists that all organizations of a certain type have, consisting of a President, VP, Treasurer, and Secretary.  These names need to be filed with the appropriate regulatory office, and legally these are the people who can sign their names on paper on behalf of the community.  Legally they can also be held responsible for the corporate actions of the community.  However, these positions would not exist if the State did not require them. In terms of the internal order of the community, these people have no decision making authority whatsoever.  Their entire job consists of signing any official documents put in front of them by someone with legitimate internal authority, going to jail for the community if it comes to that (if this were a realistic possibility, I imagine there would be trouble filling these positions at all), and making entertaining campaign speeches for this privilege.  However, these positions still have to exist, so to some degree the order of the organization must be heteronomous and heterocephalous.

Lack of complete autonomy can also be seen in dealing with various State regulations.  The organization has to pay taxes, which means that businesses have to operate in a certain way, and there must be specific systems of accounting, and people to do those tasks.  It is unlikely that these positions would operate in the same way if such external regulations did not exist.

Beyond the organization itself, the same voluntary/imposed dichotomy can be applied to specific rules that are imposed either from within or without (52-53).

Again with Weber, these terms are a matter of convenience and degree, and are only useful to the extent that they help us to understand what we are studying.  He thinks that we can also use these terms to examine different sub-parts of an organization, so such a group can fit into different categories in different areas.  For example, a local government may be largely autonomous and autocephalous in terms of its school system, but the opposite in terms of criminal law and enforcement.  Some of the teams that run Twin Oaks are pretty much self selecting (the current team members choose a candidate to fill an empty seat, subject to varying but relatively minimal levels of wider approval), while other managerial positions are directly appointed by the council that area falls under.

Consensual versus imposed order

•02015.01.16 • Leave a Comment

An organization’s order is established by either voluntary agreement, or by it being imposed and acquiesced to.  Under this terminology, an order is always imposed to the extent that it does not originate from a voluntary personal agreement of all the individuals concerned.  (50-51)

I discussed themes from this a while back in my post about social contract theory and its application to intentional communities.  In that post, one of the things I tried to explain as a major different between such organizations and the dominant forms of government is that joining an intentional community is a voluntary agreement.  Most forms of government do not operate this way, falling under Weber’s “imposed order”: you must submit to the order because you were born in a given territory, and the government has the means (generally) to ensure your compliance.

Weber goes on to explain the importance of constitutions in either form of order:

The only relevant question for sociological purposes is when, for what purposes, and within what limits, or possibly under what special conditions (such as the approval or gods or priests or the consent of electors), the members of the organization will submit to the leadership.  (51)

The “constitution” he is referring to, to be clear, is not necessarily the written constitution, if an organization even has one.   Instead, he thinks we shouldn’t be distracted by what is written, which can be significantly different than actual practice, or otherwise not answer the core question he is asking here, and focus on the observable relationship between those who give directives in an organization and those who follow.

I again think that definitions like this are, if not anarchist, then at least fit quite well into anarchist theory.  The question Weber is asking is under what conditions people will obey the leaders of a given organization.  This implies that if those instructions are illegitimate, made through an illegitimate process, or given by people using their offices illegitimately, they will be faced with resistance from the other members, if not outright refusal.  What determines if a directive meets this criteria is the order of the social organization.

Weber also points out that even in cases of formally voluntary agreement, it is very common for there still to be a large measure of imposition.  He doesn’t really give any examples here, so this could be interpreted in a number of ways.  He could be referring to the point made just above about looking at the actual practices of those being studied instead of the formally stated agreements.  It’s also possible that he’s referring to systems that we consider to be ‘voluntary’ but are often not to many people, such as a perpetual minority in a majority-rule system.  Or maybe he’s just saying that beyond the initial agreement, there are a variety of non-voluntary forces that could come into play in that system.  Perhaps this will become clearer later on.

He seems to be talking about the voluntary-ness of a social order, not the individual decisions beyond their constitutionality.  Returning to intentional communities, I think this would mean that just because someone in a leadership position has made a decision that one does not like yet has to follow, that does not make the decision itself imposed.  The order itself is still voluntary, and the decision comes from the legitimate use of a leadership/follower structure created from that voluntary order.

Weber doesn’t address additional aspects of this here, especially change over time.  Someone who joined a community 20 years ago could find themselves in a very different social situation now compared to when they joined, largely because of population turnover.  While many of the community institutions would probably be recognizable, it’s also possible that the social order as Weber would have us understand it has gone through major changes.  Is it necessary for all of these changes to be voluntarily agreed to by everyone?  At what point does a proposed change become imposed?  It seems like under his definition that anything less than a voluntary agreement is by definition imposed.  What is the measure of acceptance of a given order?  Is there something more to look for than lack of overt resistance?

Also, I think it’s important that we not confuse the voluntary versus imposed dichotomy with questions of legitimacy.  They are tied together, but are not the same thing.  Often people (on the modern far left especially) equate imposed with illegitimate.  From Weber’s perspective, I think he would argue that is because one has a certain perspective on legitimacy of a social order.  There are plenty of examples of imposed orders that members of that group consider to be legitimate.  I already mentioned the modern State (whose authority most people seem to accept in most contexts), but this could also include the typical organization of a corporation, or a family structure.  I think that Weber would want us to recognize that if we are claiming that an imposed order lacks legitimacy, that is because we have a certain personal view about what legitimacy is, and therefore are making a normative argument that those who we are discussing may not agree with.

Defining Organizations

•02014.09.27 • Leave a Comment

For Weber, an organization is a closed or limited admission social relationship whose regulations are enforced by specific individuals.  Those individuals, through whatever legitimate process they reach their positions in that organization, thereby have “executive powers.”  “Organized action” is therefore either actions taken by the administrative staff, or members’ action as directed by the staff.  This applies to all organizations, whether communal or associative.  (48)

A lot of this is tied into points I was getting at in the last post on representation versus mutual responsibility, but in this case Weber is clearly asking who is empowered to make decisions in a particular organization.  There are many varieties of ways in which such executives are chosen or derive their legitimacy.  The main point that Weber seems to be making is that organizations have to have some person or group able to make decisions on behalf of an organization, and then, for whatever reason, those others that make up the organization will follow those decisions.  If there is no probability that others will follow these decisions, then the most we can say exists sociologically is a social relationship, but not an organization.

Like I explained previously, this is easily observable in larger intentional communities like Twin Oaks or East Wind.  Each of those communities have a large number of managers, teams, committees, boards, and other positions that have specific responsibilities.  Decisions made by those legitimately created individuals or groups in their specific area of administration are (generally) followed by the other members.

I again wonder how smaller communities that operate by consensus would fall under Weber’s definitions here.  The best that I think I can fit a consensus based process like at Acorn Community would be to say that all of the members constitute executive powers in the context of community meetings, and otherwise follow the decisions of that meeting when it is not in session.  That would seem to work, although it’s hard to see that Weber would have intended this definition to apply to all members of a group.  I also don’t think it’s fair to not be able to call a consensus based community an “organization” and instead just a social relationship, something like a cultural group without any method of making binding decisions.


Representation versus mutual responsibility

•02014.09.20 • Leave a Comment

For Weber, the division between these terms exists in all social relationships previously discussed:  (46-47)

  • Representation is where the action of certain members can be attributed to all others
  • Mutual responsibility is where the action of each participant can be imputed to all others

There are many different degrees of these types of relationships.  They may apply in all aspects of the social relationship, or may apply only in certain situations.  People may be able to represent others in a certain context for a limited period of time or indefinitely, and in a limited geographical area or anywhere.  The ability to represent may come from any of the bases of legitimacy previously discussed (traditional, affectual, etc.).

We can see many forms of this in intentional communities.  At Twin Oaks, managers are responsible for particular areas of the community.  The Vehicle Use Manger can make decisions that affect everything ranging from vehicle maintenance to who gets to use vehicles when.  Like any official position, their ability to make decisions on behalf of everyone ends at a certain point, which can often seem arbitrary.  For example, even though they are vehicles by definition, this person has virtually no say in any aspect of the tractors, which fall under the Farm Manager’s area.  The main point for this section though is to understand that when the manager makes a decision about something in their legitimate area of operation, they are making a decision on behalf of the entire community.  When the Vehicle Use Manager decides to purchase a new vehicle, it would be accurate to say that Twin Oaks has decided to purchase a new vehicle.  That person is empowered in this context to take an action that is attributable to the whole community.

Mutual responsibility can be most easily understood in contexts of identity based on membership.  For example, if a member of the community were to do something like rob a local bank, this would have a serious negative effect on the community and all of its members as a whole.  Legally of course, only that one person would be held responsible, unless there was some sort of concrete tie to the community.  But even though that person was in no way empowered or sanctioned by the organization to do that action, the community as a whole will, regardless of legal process, likely be perceived by other people in the county as that group of people who are organizing robbery and other such actions.  The action of this one person can be perceived to be the actions of the whole.

Consensus based decision making systems are interesting under this division, because they reverse the normal balance of representation versus mutual responsibility as found in most organizations in dominant culture.  In most organizations, there are only a few people who have the ability to represent the organization as a whole (and, relatedly, these people are often chosen by non-democratic means).  By contrast, most aspects of consensus systems are based on mutual responsibility.  The group itself is based on the idea of everyone having an equal say in deciding on a course of action, and the actions that one takes is supposed to represent the group as a whole.  There are still levels of representation where working groups are formed or tasks are delegated to specific individuals, but these are often temporary or rotating positions, and can be changed by the group itself.  An example of this in many of the activist groups I was involved with in DC was the media spokesperson.  We wanted to try to get our message out to the media as clearly as possible, and news programs have a very particular format where at best you will get a clip of one person saying something for 10 seconds, so having one person authorized to speak on behalf of the group as a whole was essential in trying to meet the goal of having the main part of our message effectively communicated.  This was not without significant controversy in different groups, with people often complaining that one person was always dealing with the media, or wasn’t effectively communicating the decided upon message.  Those complaints are telling though, since they show that the point in choosing one person in particular to speak with the media was to effectively represent the group, as opposed to all members being able to do so.  The complaints were often that the person wasn’t effectively doing this.  (Other complaints were about the entire strategy in general, and I am more sympathetic to those, but that’s beyond the point of this post.)