As a politically neutral concept, polyarchy refers to the situation of global political governance without a dominant structure of cooperation and conflict characteristic of the current global society, in which nation-states, subnational groups, and transnational special interest and communities are all vying for the support and loyalty of individuals and conflicts need to be resolved primarily on the basis of ad hoc bargaining among combinations of those groups that vary from issue to issue. In the polyarchic system, world politics is no longer essentially "international" politics, where who gets what, when and how is determined on the basis of bargaining and fighting among the nation-states; rather, the international system is now seen as one of subsystems of a larger and more complex field of relationships.

However, Polyarchy has evolved also into an activist concept to refer to the rule by the many and in this sense serves as a philosophical alternative to "liberal democracy." The assumption is that genuine unity is an impossible ideal and that rule by the many may be accomplished through multiple elites representing distinct communities in a polity. Polyarchists believe that conflict is best met with dialogue rather than with resort to the arbitrary coercive power of superior authority.