Natural and artificial non-territorial groups: Part II

In part I, I introduced a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ non-territorial group formation as a basis for looking at examples of non-territorial practices in governing. In this post, I’ll go into a bit more detail on the natural category, and how particular examples from the past have facilitated non-territoriality.

The first commonality between historical cases of non-territorial governance, e.g. Roman Empire, Icelandic Free Commonwealth, establishment of extra-territorial consular jurisdictions, Austro-Hungarian Empire, territorially-dispersed minorities (Maori in New Zealand, Sami in Norway), and Belgium; seems to be that they tend to occur when already-existing ‘group identities’ are incorporated, marginalised or homogenised by an encompassing state or dominant group.

For instance:

  • the Roman state drew together peoples from all reaches of the Empire (Romans, Lombards, Alemanns, Burgundians, Goths, Franks, and so on) and declared them all Romans, subject to the same law;
  • the Icelandic Free Commonwealth is believed to have emerged from an assembly or court of arbitration between pre-established chieftainships;
  • the origins of consular jurisdictions trace back to medieval practices of merchant self-governance in the Mediterranean region (e.g. the Ottoman Empire first granted extraterritorial rights to French merchants, and then all European merchants);
  • the concept of non-territorial federalism was proposed by scholars to quell political disputes among the eleven principal national groups comprising the Austro-Hungarian Empire (e.g. Bosnian-Croatian, Czech, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, and Ukrainian);
  • territorially-dispersed minorities such as Maori in New Zealand, Sami in Norway, and Muslims in India (and as has been suggested for Muslims and Hill country Tamils in Sri Lanka, and dispersed groups in Nepal) have been granted some measures of self-determination and self-governance or representation; and
  • the Belgian composite constitutional architecture helps mediate disagreements between its three primary enthno-linguistic communities (e.g. the Dutch-speaking Flemish community, the French-speaking community in Wallonia, and the small German-speaking community in east Wallonia), and affords some measures of self-governance to both the French and (minority) Dutch communities of the Brussels-Capital region.

At a cursory glance it would seem that potential for non-territorial governance follows when distinct groups are formed or brought together. Moreover, I would suggest three ways that this might happen:

(1) genesis, e.g. following settlement in Iceland and establishment of the Commonwealth, and the case of Belgium as a nation formed at the intersection of Dutch, French, and German communities;

(2) empire, e.g. as was the case with the ancient Roman Empire and the modern Austro-Hungarian Empire; or

(3) exchange, as was the case with European merchant diaspora throughout the Mediterranean, later extraterritorial jurisdiction over merchants exercised by European trade companies in east Asia, and the emergence of the practice of consular jurisdictions.

The commonality between these three general cases is that a plurality of distinct groups are brought into contact with each other, and rather than (or perhaps as a reaction to) homogenisation of the groups under one identity and one law or form of governance, some sort of (non-territorial) compromise is sought. Once the distinct groups are brought into contact, some amount of mobility and mixing occurs; meaning that members of the groups may be distributed over the entire geography of the larger jurisdiction, while still holding onto their original group identity.

Group identities therefore acquire a non-territorial character: Burgundians live in Lombardy and Lombards live in Burgundy during the Roman Empire; thingmen of different Godhi live among each other in medieval Iceland; French and Dutch merchants live in the Constantinople of the Ottoman Empire; English functionaries of the East Asia Company live in Guangzhou, then the only Qing-Chinese port open for overseas trade; Germans, Poles, and Czechs migrate to Vienna, the main capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians (perhaps the decedents of the Constantinople merchants) live side-by-side in Brussels; and so on.

The acquired non-territorial aspect of group identity then agitates for a corresponding non-territorial political/legal jurisdiction. This can usually be justified by referring to an alleged incompatibility between customary cultural and legal systems. There may be a period of attempted homogenisation or marginalisation of distinct group identities under the banner of pragmatic nationalism (e.g. Austro-Hungary, Belgium), empire (e.g. Rome), or simple political hegemony/sovereignty (e.g. merchants in foreign trading ports), that reveals this incompatibility; or the new polity may have been formed with explicit recognition of pre-existing groups reflected in the political arrangement/constitutional structure (e.g. Iceland, consular jurisdictions/treaties, later federal state reform in Belgium).

But the main point is that the groups comprising the larger polity are pre-existing before the non-territorial solution is devised. In part III, I’ll discuss ‘artificial’ groups that have not yet coalesced within a larger polity, and need to be discovered by entrepreneurial action.

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2 thoughts on “Natural and artificial non-territorial groups: Part II

  1. Pingback: Natural and artificial non-territorial groups: Part I | THE DEGENERATE STATE

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