A conference, exhibition and workspace - opens January 31st in Berlin.


The City in the Age of Touristic Reproduction
Boris Groys
The tourist and the city dweller become identical.

Can the art world really do Hollywood better than Hollywood?
Steven Rand
The hypnotism
of technology: where is the end?

Mobile Utopia
Charles Esche
A utopian day-trip through two views of humanity 400 years apart.

Light Type Writer
Constantin Luser


Utopia with Lara Croft and some other monsters and Aliens
Marina Gržinić
The re-direction of desires, facts & bodies in the global world.

Žarko Paić
How to envision utopia, and not run away from society’s real repression / depression into a ghetto or exile for fantastic outsiders?

Zoran Roško
The rejection of human will, civilisation, & the search for what we have left.

Jacqueline Stevens presenting some of the thoughts and questions behind agoraXchange at mi2, Zagreb, January 2004

Agora & agoraxchange
Natalie Bookchin, Cynthia Madansky & Jacqueline Stevens

The team of Natalie Bookchin, Cynthia Madansky and Jacqueline Stevens are initiating a network driven, open source venue for distributed collaborative and creative social and political thinking and acting. The project will take the form of two Web sites. The first, AgoraXchange, will be an interactive repository soliciting and displaying suggestions and conversations about the substance and aesthetics of Agora. Agora will be an online complex real world multiplayer performance of political debate and conflict resolution in the pursuit of creativity and its rewards.

The following summarizes theories and proposals informing the online game being developed. These ideas are being developed in more detail in States without Nations, a book in progress by Jacqueline Stevens, author of Reproducing the State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

The Failure of Liberal Democracy
Ever since the founding of the United States of America and the French Republic in the late eighteenth century, political analysts throughout the West proclaimed a just and inevitable worldwide drift to institutions of liberal democracy. The chief hallmark of this system of thought was the conviction that individuals should be enabled the maximum freedom to pursue their ambitions, and that government should put in place only those restrictions necessary for protecting the results of these efforts. Underlying everything from the rejection of hereditary privileges for kings as well as nobility to Adam Smith’s cheer-leading for free markets was the conviction that people should be rewarded on the basis of merit, not birthright.

Today’s advocates for liberal democracy fail to notice that the institutions established in its name continue to reinvigorate two systems of oppressive inequality that should be incompatible with liberal democratic premises. The first is that very few individuals can choose their place of residence, much less citizenship. And the second is that no one can choose the economic status of one’s parents. Both one’s citizenship and parental wealth significantly influence our chances of good jobs, health, education, and the cultural networks of which we may partake, all determined on the very basis of birthright that liberal democrats supposedly eschew.

There are two problems with determining nationality—from the Latin nasci, meaning birth—based on birth. The first is how it arbitrarily grants privileges and imposes burdens on people based on their location in political borders. Carlos born in Tijuana is likely to earn about $9,000 each year, while Charlie from San Diego can expect, on average, to earn at least $36,000. The second problem is that using birth for determining citizenship creates the impression of a natural tie among a country’s members. This is the source of daily experiences of discrimination—when a country’s immigrants face persecution abroad as their nationality beyond their borders becomes a stamp of ethnicity—and also deadly violence. The reasons why the experience of an identity as natural or hereditary leads to such cleavages are too complex to explore here. But it is an irrefutable observation that only these differences (nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion) lead to widespread massacres and that others (e.g., professional associations, one’s choice of school, one’s career) do not.

Another birthright unchallenged, and indeed enhanced, by the institutions of liberal democracy is wealth. According to a study co-authored by Lawrence Summers, a former Secretary of Treasury and the current president of Harvard University, about 70% of wealth acquired in the United States between 1900-1974—the period of analysis—came from intergenerational transfers, not lifetime earnings. Legal devices that allow individuals to control property rights from beyond the grave make it possible for some to have access to enormous amounts of unearned wealth while others with the bad luck to be born to poor parents face starvation.

What Is To Be Done
Below is a brief statement of legal changes that would perhaps make possible a future that not only ameliorates these inequities, but sustains a more creative and caring citizenry. The purpose of Agora (www.agora-net.org) is to give virtual reality to these changes, to see how the depravations materialism required by current rules might be replaced by alternative habits of thought and actions were people to act on the basis of the following legal incentives and restrictions:

1) Citizenship should be by choice, and not a birthright. State borders should not restrict the movement of goods or people.

2) Upon death, a person loses all property rights and his or her wealth is redistributed by centralized agencies administered by something similar to the United Nations to provide education, health, clean water and meeting other basic needs throughout the world.

3) States own land, with long-term, including lifetime, leases to individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations and so forth.

4) States cannot establish rules for kinship relations. Child-rearing and other long-term interpersonal relations are established by individual contracts.

The sections below sketch out why these changes could be expected to bring an end to extreme immiseration and exploitation, as well as to ethnic, national, and religious conflicts. Rather than take the rapacious individual of neo-classical economics and the acquisitive tendencies he promotes as needing to be restrained by force, the approach here attempts to reshape the legal molds producing these behaviors. We believe that problems of corrupt dictatorships, terrorism, global inequality and the attendant North/South resentments result from bad laws within and among states, not an innate human nature, to wit, all the cosmopolitan, egalitarian movements resisting such pressures.
Rather than a world government, which alone could only repress but not eliminate ethnic particularity, government institutions in current sovereign boundaries should be used to change what appears as human nature—ethnic loyalties, nationalism, militarism. These incarnations of selfishness and even evil are provisional accommodations to present political structures, not innate flaws of the human condition.

1. The Law of Citizenship
If people want to be free of nationalism, then they must eradicate the nation-state and the conglomeration of naturalized differences arising from this confused conflation of obligation, taxation, and birth. To effect this, anyone 18 years or older who wants to join any state should be entitled to do so by a promise to vote for policies that benefit the public. Referring to citizenship as a condition of governance alone, and not as a prerogative of solidarity based on ethnic ties, radically shifts how we might think of new criteria for this right. If we accept a very basic assumption that governance should come from decision-makers who will make the best judgments, then obviously one wants those who have whatever skills best suit one to make good decisions. Rather than view citizenship as a means of gaining the obedience of individuals—which it has never been—or as a lottery prize for being born in a particular democracy—which is what the right to vote has been—consider citizenship as a form of management consulting, a way for government to take account of the views of those most qualified to offer guidance for rules affecting public order: the public. One alternative model for this is the non-profit organization and the substitution of a non-profit “corporate-state” for a nation-state.
Using the non-profit corporation as a model for political incorporation and governance is not as utopian as it may appear. As a result of the corruption found in the governance of private corporations, the New York Stock Exchange has recommended that the Securities and Exchange Commission begin to require that all private corporations have as a majority of their directors people with “no material relationship with the listed company either directly or as a partner, shareholder or officer of an organization that has a relationship with the company.” This is instructive. Wall Street is now conceding that people who are focused on the overall well-being of the company will make better decisions about that company than those motivated by self interest. And, the NYSE thinks such a system not just ideal, but also practical.

Because of the need for corporate-states to actually do things, and not just avoid corruption, a desire for promoting the public’s welfare is a necessary but not a sufficient qualification for participating. It is the nexus between residency and expertise that makes people who have lived only in Denmark unqualified to vote on U.S. policies. They lack the knowledge citizens have. Because of the tie, albeit imperfect, between living in a place and understanding its practices, residency is a fair criterion for citizenship in a corporate-state.

The proposal that residency and not birth be used for determining who is a voting member of a corporate-state entails two corollaries: 1) free movement among existing states; and 2) the prerogative either to revoke membership or subsequently acquire it in other states if one resides in them for a considerable length of time, say, three to five years.

The beneficent consequence of making citizenship a choice and not a default of birth is that over time national and ethnic conflict would disappear. As membership in a state ceases to be based on birth but on residence and choice, nationality itself would vanish over time, as would ethnicity, which follows from nationality. That is, without past, present, or aspirational nations of Israelis, Palestinians, U.S.-Americans, Mexicans, for instance, there is no ethnicity of Israeli, Palestinian, American, or Mexican. These affiliations develop through a political ruler imposing kinship rules isolating one group from others. Eliminate the birth rule for membership and you do away with the possibility of killing people because of an affiliation based on birth.

Once citizenship is a choice, that form of belonging no longer evokes ancestry and hence no longer allows for segregation on this basis. There still will be a possibility of distinguishing a whole host of other allegiances based on choice, but these have never led to anything approaching the violence associated with divisions of ethnicity, race, and nationality.

While practically speaking it is likely that most people born in a certain state will end up living and dying there, this general pattern does not in itself lead to the wild fanaticism enabled by groups that are hereditary by definition. Children of college alumni are over-represented among those colleges’ student bodies; children of professionals tend to be professionals; and children of Knicks fans tend to be Knicks fans. Colleges, occupations, and sport team affinities are not considered a birthright because the mechanism for affiliating is not birth, and the conflicts among these corporations do not escalate to war.

Ethnic Serbians and Croatians as well as Hutus and Tutsis, for example, would vanish over time—once their political base shifted from one of birth to choice—resulting in at first mixed marriage and ultimately no trace of a difference to count as “mixed.” Without the hereditary association of political rule, sovereign governments will not fight each other. Consider today’s local police forces in developed countries: well-armed, logistically separate units, it is not the case that even amid disputes about county borders, disparities in the distribution of state funds, or fights to lure corporations and so forth that they fire against each other

2. Eliminating Birthrights to Wealth and Poverty
One possible response to the above proposal is that it is impractical: a flood of immigrants from economically impoverished regions would at best ruin the standard of living for those in advanced industrial and post-industrial societies and at worst lead to anarchy. Under current conditions the fear makes sense, but it is based on the current enforcement of yet another birth entitlement that liberal democrats claim to reject: inequality in wealth as a result of family ties, especially inheritance. The concentration of wealth in the North is in part a consequence of different paths of development, but any child will tell you her material well-being depends on her family’s wealth, and to a surprising extent a good portion of this wealth depends on her parents’ inheritance from their parents, or the lack thereof, explaining in large part the inequality among people in this country and others.

Not only do laws allocate resources based on family ties, but, in contradiction with liberal democratic sloganeering, they legally sanction individual rights as well as interests beyond the grave. When the government enforces contracts regulating estates it effectively becomes an agent for a dead person, carrying out desires in the world that one cannot pursue when one passes from it. The result is that the wishes of dead people are granted legal sanction at the expense of those with needs, skills, hopes, and dreams in this world. If the dead cannot designate in their wills who shall succeed them in political office or control their reputations in privacy law—to name just two of numerous examples where one’s individual rights cannot extend to one’s beneficiaries beyond death—why afford legal sanction to dead people’s preferences about what happens to their assets? One straightforward way to put an end to this unfair situation is to prevent legal arrangements whereby people can pass on their accumulated assets to their children or concentrated groups of relations or friends. A good portion of wealth comes from inheritances, a practice that hurts most people because parental wealth has a far more overwhelming effect than income on children’s outcomes in education, health, and future earnings.

The vast majority of the parents, including within the United States, pass nothing on to their children. Parents wanting to look out for their children should support a policy through which wealth at death would revert to a non-profit organization that could accomplish what their own personal wealth cannot. One result of wealth being globally redistributed would be a sturdy floor of education and health care that would insulate people from exposure to the more serious consequences of dire poverty. While the proposal above does call for a UNICEF-type aid agency, this does not entail a world government. Agencies such as UNICEF can offer basic services and states are free to refuse their assistance. With free movement allowed, however, governments denying these would be subject to exodus that would make their regimes unviable. If UNICEF is providing aid in Kenya and not in Zaire, Zaire’s government will quickly lose most of its population.

Another less obvious but crucial corollary of such a redistributive policy is that once people know their estates will go to a non-profit organization, they will have fewer incentives to exploit and harm those who are not family members. All things being equal, no one has an incentive to pursue entrepreneurial plans that entail living in a polluted world in which people are badly treated over one that attends to the earth and its consequences for humans as well as other creatures. Of course all things are not equal because currently some people have the chance for significant material gain by exploiting the earth and its people, and we are induced to care for others only in the narrowest realm of one’s own family.

Implementing such reforms means that a family could continue to earn the average $200 per year in Vietnam, for instance, but still have clean water, basic nutrition guaranteed, health care and educational facilities. Providing these will hopefully tend toward improving their immediate circumstances and make possible basic changes necessary for raising the standard of living over the long-term, without forcing people to leave. If people have education and health services where they live, then a variety of preferred local habits of existence can be sustained without people needing to migrate within or across borders. Rather than the usual impact of globalization eroding local customs, such a process of transfers enables communities to avoid choosing between preserving their traditional economies and having access to basic education and health services. Still, it should not be a cause of alarm if population concentrations shift from their current allocations.

For reasons suggested above, it is unlikely that removal of impediments to migrate will lead to massive dislocations, but if this is a result, it will be a short-term consequence offset by a long-term equilibrium, no different than internal patterns of migration in large regions of Europe, United States, and India. If northern countries begin to be experienced as overcrowded and chaotic, people will stop moving there. Recent migrants will go elsewhere and those born in places they think too densely populated also will move, but that does not mean dire consequences for anyone.

Enhancing the possibility of migration by making education and health readily available to anyone who shows up has other potentially beneficent consequences that are not so obvious. Rogue dictatorships may still emerge, but absent the ability to force conscription or maintain a tax base—because the exit option is so easily pursued—such leaders would have far fewer resources for sustenance than under prevailing rules. Since most migration is due either to economic need or arises from civil wars and ethnic conflict, making the state more porous in its form will deprive leaders of the false security gained through governing captive populations, hence forcing them to be more responsive and yielding the ironic effect of making populations born in one place more likely to stay there than under our current institutions.

Finally, to the extent that corporate-states will seek to benefit their members by ensuring the collection of taxes, they will have at their disposal global accounting institutions—something impossible under conditions of the nation-state’s anxieties about sovereignty. Such mechanisms will make it possible for corporate-states to unite with each other and against tax cheats. While the institutions described above do not require a central world government, they do enable coordination of accounting mechanisms that are anathema to the sovereignty the nation-state entails.

3. Public Ownership of Land
There are numerous problems with private ownership of land, all stemming from the tension between the mortality of humans and the potential immortality of our planet.

Laws providing for the private ownership of land imply that its use is for the lifetime of its current occupants, without regard for future generations. Land is not just there for its present population, however, but our very existence as a species requires that it be held in trust for future ones. Laws making this clear would not only further conscientious collective stewardship of the environment, but also dematerialize our societies. Absent inheritance and rights to land, the relative price of homes would decrease and people would have fewer incentives to build ostentatious McMansions and engage in other forms of wasteful and environmentally harmful conspicuous consumption.

Allowing individual governments the prerogative to allocate land uses according to democratic decisions makes it clear that no person or private corporation can control the environment absent the consent of other citizens. This is a common practice in many countries already, and in effect for substantial portions of the U.S. under control of the U.S. Parks and Forestry Department, where farming, mining, residency and so forth area allowed within parameters determined by the government. Violation of conditions for land use entails the cessation of the rights to that land by the offending party. Such a provision would make it easier to enforce existing environmental regulations and would give people a firmer basis for experiencing their citizenship as consequential. Rather than a feeling of belong to a nation-state based on a belief in shared ancestry, citizenship in a corporate-state would provide a vivid sense of collective stewardship.

4. No Governmentally Sanctioned Kinship Rules
Ending the state’s sanction on marriage is crucial for eliminating the incentives leading to our current narrow range of community and commitments called on by dictators and presidents alike interested in war-mongering and other less obvious forms of violence that depend on distinguishing us from them. While making citizenship attendant on choice and not birth would weaken significantly the potential for nationalism—the French citizen would no longer be an ethnic creature but anyone who happened to choose French residence—as long as the state produces ties of family and provides for politically recognized ancestry, earlier stamps of ethnic identity will be reproduced. An ethnically French father makes one French, even if one’s own French citizenship does not. Absent the state’s involvement in marriage people could still publicly and legally proclaim their lifelong intentions for interdependence through secular or religious institutions of their choice, but not through the government. Contracts between a child’s mother and one or more parents can legally provide for parental rights and obligations to childhood maintenance without marriage.

Religion: A Coda
The above discussion refers largely to conflicts based on nationality and ethnicity. Palpable animosities throughout history, including the present moment, show fault lines along a different axis altogether: that of religion. Whereas nations inspire allegiance by promising continuity of oneself through the perpetuation of one’s kinship group in this world, religions play on hopes for what happens to us when we die, on our desire for a spiritual afterlife. The nation speaks to our vanity in wanting an immortal foot in this world through our children and their remembrance of us, while religions provide fantasies that we ourselves can in some fashion live on or again. While religion in its purest form rejects investments in the earthly family, religious groups often overlap with national ones, to wit the Israelites of the Hebrew bible, a “chosen people” who follow a particular God are also denoted through a genealogy leading back to Abraham. While of course the main route to a Jewish religious identity is birth, these rituals are initially granted to a national group. The Hebrew Bible refers to Israelites, not Jews.

These two appeals for members, in their purest forms, are different and may even be antagonistic, though in modernity religious conflicts are almost always between ethnic and national communities, not within them.

The above sketch is intended to provide perspective on current practices, and to initiate dialogue about alternatives. Though a few have ventured aspirations for global justice and world government, by and large the quietism on logical extrapolations from boilerplate Enlightenment precepts suggests embarrassment in voicing changes necessary to pursue a new horizon of equality and freedom. We see Agora as the new media version of Thomas More’s Utopia (1530). Written during the period of hereditary monarchies, this book is a fictional account of a democratic community without feudal privileges discovered by a seafaring adventurer. More uses the convention of documenting such a possibility as told to him by another to make his ideas especially vivid, a goal to which we subscribe in this medium. No one in the 12th century foresaw the joint-stock company or venture capitalism. Naysayers in the sphere of social change are the ones whom history has repeatedly defeated. With public officials of the North openly worried about dirty bombs in Times Square, a chemical attack in the London Underground, and the detonation of the nuclear reprocessing plant in La Hague, France—while those in the South suffer from a range of indigenous and colonial legacies ranging from starvation to slavery—radical change seems not just a good idea but an imperative.

For more information on the development of the game, please see:

Natalie Bookchin, Cynthia Madansky and Jacqueline Stevens (USA)
Natalie is an artist based in, Los Angeles, USA. Cythia is an artist, designer and filmmaker and resides in both the USA and Turkey. Jacqueline is a political theoretician and author who also resides in both the USA and Turkey.

project contact email:


The Average Citizen
The Average Citizen
Mans Wrånge


The Average Citizen
Mans Wrånge

Agora & AgoraX-

Natalie Bookchin, Cynthia Madansky & Jacqueline Stevens

Äre Zellen


Distributive Justice
Andreja Kulunčić

I am addressing you man to man
Dalibor Martinis