4.2.6. Criticisms

At the commencement of this section on hierarchical organisation it may have seemed unlikely that such a structure could be suited for a governance network; and indeed, like anarchism, it was found to be unsuitable in its pure form. To recap briefly, the bureaucratic form of hierarchical organisation was found unacceptable because it devalued the identities of participants by limiting them to the performance of defined roles; oligarchy was unacceptable because it provided no normative basis to justify the authority of the oligarchs; and meritocracy was found unacceptable in cases where the merit of its incumbents was assessed by hierarchical means.

However when combined with a participatory form of governance such as anarchism, it has been found that an hierarchical structure does have merit. In particular, the following two hybrid cases have shown promise:

Both of these options remain vulnerable to criticism. As for the first, it was found necessary that the meritocracy not only be established by, but remain subject to the supervision of some democratic or consensual process, which begs the question, what such process? Whilst there may be an answer to this, it has not yet been discussed.

As for the second option, the idealism of the assumptions required for this form of hierarchical ordering to become tenable is its main downfall. For example, all that holds it together are the transaction costs that make other mechanisms of governance relatively more expensive. What is to ensure that these transaction costs are set at the right level, particularly in the short term?[1] While they are too low, the governance network may lack cohesion, reducing its effectiveness. If they are too high, then its stakeholders may still be oppressed, reducing its legitimacy.

Even where the assumptions of this model do hold, some of the same shortcomings of the free market may be replicated in a forum whose authority is drawn from its success in what Netanel describes as the market for “alternative rule regimes.”[2]That is, just as the free market is regulated in order to more closely conform with society’s norms of distributive justice, it may be necessary to mediate disparities between the power of participants in a governance network (such as civil society and governments) if the network is not to exhibit the same imbalances as exist in the broader international system. The anarchistic/hierarchical hybrid does not do this (and neither for that matter does pure anarchistic ordering).

Even apart from this, all that has really been shown is that the success of a governance network such as the IGF depends upon it not upsetting its stakeholders enough that they are forced to seek alternative mechanisms of governance. Like the first option above, it still begs the question of how it is to make decisions that are most acceptable to the IGF at large, save that it be through some participatory mechanism.

Thus, although we have come close to an acceptable form of organisation for a multi-stakeholder governance network, there remain significant unresolved issues. If these issues can be resolved, then it may be through one of the democratic or consensual forms of organisation that have yet to be considered, but to which we now turn.

When previously considering a democratic method for the selection of an hierarchical leadership for a multi-stakeholder governance network, it was a considered problematic that there was no existing democratic polity to represent all stakeholders transnationally. But does this necessarily defeat the ideal of democratic ordering? This is one of the principal questions next to be addressed.



In the longer term, if the market for governance regimes works well, network effects should reduce the number of competing governance networks to a sustainable number, whilst the oppression of stakeholders should be minimised by the prospective entry of new entrants into that market. However such an equilibrium might take decades to achieve.


Netanel, Neil W, Cyberspace Self-Governance: A Skeptical View from Liberal Democratic Theory (2000), 405–406