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An international colloquium seeks solutions to the governance of a complex and pluralistic society.

Eight speakers from universities in Germany, the USA, Spain, Ireland and the UK reflect on centralized and decentralized models of governance in this activity of the project RESPUBLICA of the Institute for Culture and Society

/Speakers from universities in Germany, the USA, Spain, Ireland and the UK have been given quotation at the ICS.

15 | 06 | 2022

The complexity and plurality of today's societies requires finding formulas for governance that ensure that society is founded on principles that are demanding enough for promote a stable civil order, yet flexible enough to adapt to the diversity of its citizenry. 

With this goal, eight speakers from universities in Germany, the USA, Spain, Ireland and the UK met at quotation at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) of the University, at the framework of the international colloquium Governance and Order in a Complex Society. The activity has been organized by the researcher Ramón y Cajal David Thunder, as part of his project RESPUBLICA of the group 'Religion and Civil Society', and has counted with the support of Fundación Ciudadanía y Valores and Proeduca Summa S.L.

For Thunder, reflection on the problems of governance in highly complex conditions is related to other highly relevant questions such as "how we can foster good and meaningful human life, to what extent social and institutional diversity advances human well-being, or what subject ethical culture is needed to deal civically with the problems that arise from pluralism".

agreement According to the expert, the trend over the last four centuries has been towards monocentrism: a political order that gives primacy to centralised authorities such as that of government in fields such as industrial or economic regulation, as well as public finances for Education, security, health, legislation...

"These centralising impulses have reached their peak since the second half of the 20th century, with the growth of the modern welfare state and the development of national bureaucratic institutions," he pointed out.

Against this idea of order of government, which relies on a central government to oversee all social, political and economic life, David Thunder has pointed to another proposal, polycentrism, which has been put forward in various disciplines since the early 20th century, including political Philosophy , law, and institutional Economics . "It assumes that the functions of social government can and should be dispersed across a wide range of cooperating and competing institutions," he said. For him, "the freest society is the one whose citizens have the greatest capacity for self-government because when they lack this capacity, they open the door to demagogy and despotism".

development of a prosperous society

During the colloquium, David Thunder reflected in his speech on the extent to which social complexity financial aid helps society to develop prosperously. He pointed out that, especially in the last third of the 20th century, many philosophers, jurists, historians and political economists criticised the Enlightenment's ambition to centralise state administration. "Their proposals are fundamentally due to a revaluation of complexity and difference", he pointed out. 

In his presentation he defended that "the goal of good governance and healthy social coordination does not consist in monopolising functions, but in cooperating with other relevantactors to increase opportunities for human development ".

For his part, Mark Hoipkemier, Professor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Navarra, explained that one of the basic elements of Aristotelian doctrine is that the political community is architectural: "It includes and supervises all aspects of the general human development , which is, in a certain sense, the goal proper to politics". However, he regretted that the common good as a political goal is often "read in a monistic and all-encompassing way". Such a position, in his opinion, seems to legitimise intrusion into all dimensions of private life and fails to provide an answer as to how such a complex goal could be shared by all.

In his presentation, Hoipkemier has considered the commons as the just goals of any form of common action. "The common goal shared by citizens is the public order among various human goods and projects. It concerns all domains of life, so that politics always embodies a general vision of the human good," he stressed. Thus, the shared goods in each community - families, schools, teams, businesses... - "are not subject to political scrutiny in every detail, but only to the extent that their role in this wider order is questioned".

The ethos in polycentric democracy' was the degree scroll of the discussion paper by Julian Müller, professor of Philosophy Politics at the University of Hamburg (Germany). In it, he explained the extent to which polycentric Structures of government has contributed enormously to human development , introducing a great diversity of cultures, architectures, languages, gastronomies, ways of life... 

According to the expert, the polycentric government Structures is widely misunderstood, since, among other shortcomings, it is blamed for inefficiency and internal redundancies. The greatest threat is, in Müller's opinion, the conception that there is only one morality, which undermines the diversity of government and ways of life. Against this, he has proposed in his work to go back to the Enlightenment debates on religious tolerance, in particular to the famous Fable of the Rings by the philosopher G. E. Lessing, in order to develop a conception of morality that is consistent with polycentric political architectures and different ways of life.

Moral pluralism and cultural diversity

Pilar Zambrano, Professor of Law at the University of Navarra, focused on polycentrism and the intelligibility of law. As she explained, all polycentric theories share a concern for the problems that moral pluralism and cultural diversity in Western societies pose for the functioning of the institutions of the modern state.

In his discussion paper, Zambrano has offered a realistic description of current Western legal practices, in the light of some contributions from the current legal Philosophy on legal pluralism. Secondly, he has assessed the capacity of a polycentric legal order to overcome the challenges that both legal and moral pluralism pose to the intelligibility of law. He also described the fact of legal pluralism and its impact on current legal practices. In conclusion, he called for "a polycentric way of creating and adjudicating law".

Maria Cahill, Professor of Law at University College Cork (Ireland), referred in her speech to subsidiarity, the principle that the state should only intervene in those things that civil society cannot achieve on its own. She pointed out that this term implies a vertical distribution of powers: there is no general distribution model , because there are no competences that belong absolutely to one level or another. 

Moreover, he pointed out that it allows a choice to be made as to which value should guide the decision on where power should lie, notably democracy and efficiency. "In the terms of this first approach, subsidiarity is everywhere, but its invocation is largely ineffective," he said.

However, the approach of other academics implies a certain priority of value, as he pointed out: certain competences do, in principle, belong to one level and not to the other. "Moreover, not all distributions of power along the vertical axis are examples of the implementation of subsidiarity because their conception of authority is slightly different from that of other concepts such as federalism, democracy, sovereignty, etc.".

Political stability of a just regime

Juan Pablo Domínguez, researcher of group 'Religion and Civil Society', spoke on 'Supremacy of the State, doctrinal concord and religious tolerance in the Enlightenment'. In his talk, he commented that scholars often equate the modern idea of tolerance with pluralism, individual rights and the separation of church and state and attribute this idea of tolerance to Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Pierre Bayle and Immanuel Kant. 

Domínguez has tried to show that most Enlightenment authors "did not seek to promote pluralism, but to curtail religious authority, reinforce civil power and restore the social unity that confessional disputes were supposed to have broken". Thus, "they granted the state broad power over the churches, insisted that the individual's right of conscience should be limited by the public interest, and conceived toleration as a means to achieve social, moral and political conformity", he said. 

Pablo Paniagua, researcher of department of Economics Politics at King's College London, focused on polycentric democracy as political stability. In his discussion paper he referred to one of the perennial questions of political theory: how to stabilise a just regime: "The contemporary state can be a vehicle for good if it is governed by a just regime, but also very dangerous if its power is abused", he warned.

According to agreement , some intellectuals have proposed as a solution the virtue of citizenship, which consists of socialising citizens to firmly affirm liberal democratic values. However, he warned that its effectiveness has become questionable in recent years, with the threats posed to democracy by polarising politics, populism and innovations in communication technology. "There is growing concern that liberal democracies are losing legitimacy, becoming increasingly undemocratic and victims of populism from both left and right," he said.

Against this, Pablo Paniagua has proposed a different solution to ensure political stability: advocating distributed polycentric democracy, characterised by plural and overlapping centres of government. "A polycentric regime is not only robust enough to withstand cultural and intellectual diversity, but is also strengthened by it.