The metaphor offered here to supplant those already described [i.e. the ‘body politic’ and ‘ship of state’] is one which pictures political society as an archipelago: an area of sea containing many small islands. The islands in question, here, are different communities or. better still, jurisdictions, operating in a sea of mutual toleration. Political society — and in particular, the good political society — is best understood not as a single body, or an ideal realm of the just, or a ship piloted by a skilful seaman, or even as a single island rightly ordered. It should be understood, instead, as something altogether less clearly bounded, marked by movement within those bounds, and movement across fuzzy boundaries.
The good society, it is argued in this book, is best understood as an archipelago of societies; and because the principles which best describe such a form of human community are the principles of liberalism, the good society is properly described as a liberal archipelago.
The liberal archipelago is a society of societies which is neither the creation nor the object of control of any single authority. It is a society in which authorities function under laws which are themselves beyond the reach of any singular power.