Posted by: hobbesonafob | May 25, 2009

Resilient Communities and the Nature of the State: Incompatible?

My understanding of resilient communities is derived from the following two sites: http://transitiontowns.org/Main/HomePage|, and John Robb’s post.  Feel free to post any sites I’m missing. I have yet to come up with my own definition for resilient communities.

The research I’ve conducted has led me to conclude that the Westphalian state or the Weberian concept of the state (see here) is currently an anomaly in the international system and has historically been a rarity. Although the aforementioned observation does not categorically prove that states will transition to forms of resilient communities, I do believe it provides strong evidence that this transition is not as impossible as some people may portray it as. If anything it should be just as easy to imagine resilient communities than the spread of Weberian states or Fukyama’s notion of the end of history. 

Another conclusion that John Robb’s work and my research, which has been partly based on Robb’s work, is that contentious and coercivce non-state actors (CCNAs)/global guerillas have been able to consistently challenge the power of the state. If we accept that CCNAs are growing in power and that CCNAs act contentiously towards the state’s goals, there seems to be at least two options a the state can choose: 1) stay the course and fail; 2) adapt, change, and potentially avoid failure.

If states choose the latter option, the question that governments will have to grapple with is what role they will have in the future if they decide to adapt? One movement that is gaining more traction are the “Transition Town” initiatives in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. These movements are based on the following acts:

• awareness raising around peak oil, climate change and the need to undertake a community lead process to rebuild resilience and reduce carbon

• connecting with existing groups in the community

• building bridges to local government

• connecting with other transition initiatives

• forming groups to look at all the key areas of life (food, energy, transport, health, heart & soul, economics & livelihoods, etc)

• kicking off projects aimed at building people’s understanding of resilience and carbon issues and community engagement

• eventually launching a community defined, community implemented “Energy Descent Action Plan” over a 15 to 20 year timescale (1)

The most interesting aspect of this list, is that its goal is to look after aspects of life that the government — under some Western social contracts — is supposed to be responsible for (some aspects more than others). An effective transition town could, in effect, replace a government – especially if transition towns begin to develop their own forms of security. Although “security” is missing in this list, one may assume it is implicit in a transition town’s objectives. I would not be surprised if “security” was omitted because it would prove too contentious. Although my thesis focussed primarily on warlords and insurgent groups, this example reveals that there are non-violent ways to negate a social contract.

If transition towns become popular enough and gains legitimacy, the state’s response to this “opting out” will be… interesting.

It is hard to imagine that the state would respond violently to these transition towns, but states have used coercion in the past to stamp out alternative means of living (for an example, indigenous populations and their way of life).

One of my favourite thought experiments is to entertain a primitivist anarchist perspective of the state and apply it to the transition town movement. Primitivist anarchists believe that populations are forced into wage economies through the privatization of land and that people have to pay for “materials the earth gives free: the salmon, bison huckleberries, willows, and so on that are central to the lives, cultures, and communities not only of indigenous peoples…” (2). According to primitivist anarchistic theory, the state would be forced to react violently towards transition towns [oddly enough I was conducting research on a primitivist anarchist forum when I stumbled upon Robb’s blogg].  In terms of resource extraction, would a Transition Town even want to pay tax to a state that has effectively been nullified? 

If these communities were threatened with violence by the state and adopted their own coercive strategies, then it would be another example of a social group confronting the state – a CCNA. It is difficult to say who would win in this hypothetical situation, but the trends outlined in John Robb’s blog would suggest that an insurgent group based in a local community and exercises local support has some inherent advantages over the state.

The other option the state would have is to support these transitions. The role the state would then play would be more of a facilitator. Another option would be for the state to only supply one facet of life, which would most likely be security (Maybe international affairs too?) What is important to note is that these transition towns were borne out of the frustrations of the state’s perceived inactivity towards peak oil, and the global economy, among other frustrations. We may state the following: people believed that the state broke its social contract by not preparing for an event that will endanger the whole population (the idea of social contracts and political legitimacy will be touched upon in the next couple weeks by this blog). 

The general conclusion that could be made is that a new form of state may be needed in the future and the implications of this is important for all actors involved.

Personally, if I weren’t a debt-ridden student, I would be investing in technologies that would foster the development of transition towns. But I am a debt-ridden student, so the most I can do right now is write. I’ll openly admit that I’m far from being an expert on resilient communities, but if efficiency is something that liberal economies strive for, I do not understand why we would not want to shift to resilient communities. Why should we continue to use fuels that require immense resources to extract? *cough* Albertan oil sands *cough* . . . 

Works Cited

1. Transition Network. “Transitions Town WIKI,” 2009. From, http://transitiontowns.org/Main/HomePage|

2. Derrick Jensen, Endgame, vol. 2. (Toronto: Seven Stories Press, 2006), 133.

Apologies for any typos – I’m on the run today for this conference. 

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Responses

  1. Do you read Shlok Vadiya?

  2. Hi Jose,

    I have heard of him and should probably check out his blog. When things slow down here I’ll go over his work.
    Why do you ask?

  3. I just saw that you were looking for blogs like global guerrillas. vadiya’s naxaliterage is like that

    Good content here!

  4. Thanks for the recommendation! Vadiya does have some great insights.


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