In Valais in the Swiss Alps, an elaborate system of irrigation canals has existed for half a millennium. In the high-altitude Sacred Valley of the Incas, in Peru, the Quechua people have cultivated the richest diversity of potatoes anywhere on the planet since time immemorial. Since the time of Stephen the Great in the late 1400s, people in the Eastern Carpathians have managed their forests jointly through community-based institutions known as obștea, a tradition that has even survived fifty years of state dictatorship in the twentieth century. These examples demonstrate that commons are nothing if not enduring. Yet at the same time, they are highly vulnerable because nation-states claiming absolute territorial sovereignty, tend to see commons – with their focus on collective governance, use-value over exchange value, and indifference to political jurisdictions (e.g., bioregions, Internet communities) – as perplexing or threatening. For their part, global corporations commanding vast resources and legal privileges often seek to destroy commons because they are seen as an alternative regime for meeting needs and thus a threat to the hegemony of the market system.
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