Saturday, October 3, 2009

TIMN: some implications for thinking about political philosophy and ideology (1st of 3 parts)

[UPDATE — October 10, 2009: I've amended Part I a bit, by editing a few words, adding a new paragraph to end the subsection on democracy, and another new paragraph after the material about anarchism and libertarianism.]

TIMN implies that it may be a good idea for Americans to start becoming quadriformists, perhaps progressive ecumenical neo-limitarian quadriformists, who are looking ahead to the age of networks. Better that than falling for today’s monoformist and biformist blowhards who rant against government and for the market, while trying to tribalize people so that they turn more divisively partisan than ever.

But if those are to become punch-lines of this post, there are other points that should be made first — above all, this one: The key isms and ocracies that are scattered across the history of political evolution all amount to expressions of one or more of the TIMN forms. And that will be the case far into the future as well. Figure out TIMN and you can figure out the past, present, and future of political philosophy and ideology.

* * * * *

Part I. Looking back: TIMN’s applicability across political systems and ideologies

In my understanding, TIMN is not an ideological framework. It may contain some centrist precepts; but it is not inherently leftist or rightist, at least not in today’s terms. Yet, TIMN can be used to analyze — to dissect, categorize, even to pass judgement on — most (all?) major political philosophies and ideologies across the ages.

All political systems and ideologies fit somewhere in the TIMN framework. The shapes that societies have taken, such as monarchies, empires, and nation-states, and the isms and ocracies that leaders have created — e.g., feudalism, absolutism, nationalism, mercantilism, capitalism, fascism, and socialism, as well as theocracy, aristocracy, and democracy — can all be reduced to particular configurations of, approaches to, or variations on the bright and dark sides of the TIMN forms. They are the paradigmatic nuclear forms, not the isms or ocracies built around them.

Toward a TIMN analysis of capitalism: As examples of how TIMN illuminates key differences among history’s isms and ocracies, consider mercantilism and capitalism: Mercantilism means efforts by government (+I) authorities to control commercial (+M) actors. In contrast, capitalism means that the +I and +M realms operate apart, with the latter often outweighing the former. In TIMN, mercantilism arose centuries ago as a transitional phase in the evolution of biform (T+I) into triform (T+I+M) societies. In contrast, capitalism developed as an achievement of full-fledged triform systems that idealized free, fair, open economic exchanges and gave rise to liberal democracies with competitive political party systems.

TIMN also offers a way to distinguish among the positive and negative varieties of capitalism: A capitalism that conforms to proper (Smithian?) market principles — not to mention a capitalism that also yields a thriving middle class and reinforces democratic politics — is different from and more desirable than a capitalism distorted by tribal or hierarchical forces. Such distortions may occur where enterprises are fraught with (T-type) cronyism or suborned to (+I) statism, or where the market (+M) realm is rigged to favor monopolistic corporations and oligarchic elites, or to allow unbridled speculation, profiteering, and an excessive concentration of wealth.

This is why I sometimes say that TIMN is pro-market but not necessarily pro-capitalist; for capitalist practices may turn out to contradict the best of +M (not to mention T, I, or N) principles.

Toward a TIMN analysis of democracy: Democracy is often viewed as a marvelous modern achievement, along with capitalism. And that is indeed true for liberal democracy, which characterizes triform (T+I+M) societies as a result of the infusion of the market form and its principles into and alongside the hierarchical institutional form in the political realm.

But TIMN suggests thinking more broadly about the evolution of democracy, and leads to noting that this particular ocracy is not just a unique end-state of late modernity. Each of the four TIMN forms is associated with a different kind of democratic tendency:

In tribal (T) systems, moments of direct democracy appear in tribal councils, clan gatherings, and similar assemblies where anybody and everybody who is invited can speak up. However, once a decision is made, strict conformity is normally expected; minority rights and dissenting opinions lack legitimacy. Ancient Athenian assemblies, Pashtun jirgas, and old American town-hall meetings represent examples, to varying degrees.

In hierarchical institutional (I) systems, top-down command is the norm. Yet, many hierarchies accommodate limited, bottom-up inputs and quasi-democratic deliberations, for example by inviting open discussions in controlled settings, or allowing elections of pre-approved candidates to some tiers in a pyramid, within doctrinal confines. Medieval England’s Council of State and the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals seem to reflect this (or do they reflect the old tribal-council dynamic too?). In modern eras, even Leninism claimed to allow a “democratic centralism” within a single-party state. Today, the idea of “consultative dictatorship” remains appealing in parts of world where elites continue to reject liberal democracy.

Triform societies where market (+M) principles have altered the nature of the (+I) state provide the archetypes of liberal democracy. As Charles Lindblom observed (1977, p. 116): “Not all market-oriented systems are democratic, but every democratic system is also a market-oriented system.” Hallmarks of the spread of +M principles into government include competitive political parties and elected legislatures. TIMN’s implication is not so much that liberal democracy per se makes a nation stronger; it’s that once a level of complexity is reached, a nation cannot turn stronger without turning liberal-democratic. China, as a newly triform system that today is more a consultative dictatorship than a democracy, will eventually become a major test of this proposition.

According to TIMN, the rise of the network (+I) form will lead to new kinds of democracy (not to mention autocracy). And they’ll be radically different from the legislature-centric designs that define today’s liberal democracies. Indeed, lots of speculation has already occured about what such new, more participatory democracies may look like in the future. I may elaborate on that in section III of this post. But for the moment, I note it only to keep making the point, on TIMN’s behalf, that democracy has threads in all the forms.

Thus, democracy is not solely an expression of just one modern configuration of TIMN. All the forms can be applied in more democratic, or more autocratic, ways. And whether a society turns more democratic, or less, depends on what’s happening with all the forms and their potentials in that society. This may have cautionary implications for foreign-policy strategists who think other countries can and should be pressured to become liberal democracies (but, to maintain this post’s focus on philosophy and ideology, I must leave the strategy implications of TIMN for a possible future post).

Toward a TIMN analysis of extreme ideologies: As further examples, note that both the great modern totalitarianisms — communism and fascism — emphasized hierarchy and imposed powerful, centralized (+I) states, but were otherwise distinctive. Soviet communism sought to subdue local ethnic (T) sentiments in favor of internationalism, and to eliminate private (+M) businesses. In contrast, European fascism stoked ethno-nationalism (T) and fostered strong but subordinate (+M) capitalist enterprises. That’s why fascism represents a more modern (nearly +M) system than communism, and why it is an error to conflate communism and fascism.

More to the point, extreme ideologies normally exalt one TIMN form above the others; they do not seek balanced combinations. Consider anarchism, for example: Anarchists may crave individual freedom and extol direct action against tyranny, but they do not want a world rived by endless chaos. Instead, classic anarchism contains a yearning for tribe-like ways of life, free of statist hierarchies and capitalist markets. Anarchists espouse respect for individualism and community, for voluntary association and mutual aid. They believe that kin-like sentiments suffice to motivate self-organization. They favor consensus decision-making, communal sharing, and cooperative work. They desire a primitive kind of democracy: anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist, free of bosses and based on local councils. This intent to live simply and autonomously, in harmony with nature, harks back to hunter-gatherer and agrarian models, early in the TIMN progression. Thus, in many respects, anarchism is essentially a monoform neo-tribal (T-type) ideology.

In comparison, libertarianism exalts free-market, mini-government principles for the sake of personal liberty to a degree that makes it into a nearly monoform ideology too, but of a decidedly +M orientation. Thus, as often noted, left-wing anarchism and right-wing libertarianism have much in common, but they each idealize a different TIMN form, while disdaining the same (+I) form.

This is not to say that anarchism or libertarianism is strictly monoformist. The adherents of each have plenty to say, pro and con, about all the TIMN forms, and about how society is being served or corrupted by beliefs and practices associated with each form. But dedicated anarchists and libertarians process their views mainly through their preferred form — for anarchists the T form, for libertarians the M form — and inevitably return to emphasizing it in philosophical/ideological ways that, overall, remain nearly monoformist. At least that’s what I keep seeing and hearing.

Recap and segue: These examples show that TIMN, spare as it is, provides a way to parse — to deconstruct and compare, even to praise or criticize — the isms and ocracies that have played prominent roles in political and evolutionary theory. That’s my limited objective for this part of this post. I hope I’ve met it, even though there are other significant isms and ocracies that I haven’t even mentioned so far, such as clientelism, corporatism, pluralism, plutocracy, and meritocracy — and oh yes, liberalism and conservatism. But I’m sure that they too can be subjected to TIMN analysis.

* * * * *


Part II. Looking around: Can TIMN help assess what seems to be ideologically amiss with liberalism and conservatism in the United States? Have both moved too far from being soundly triformist? Is one of them turning too tribalist (even monoformist) for its own and the country’s good? And what about a current policy issue — healthcare — that has liberals and conservatives all riled up, at odds over whether to go for a public (+I) or private (+M) option? Does TIMN imply developing the so-far least favored (+N?) option: networked non-profit cooperatives? I’m still working on this part, and I’ll post a separate announcement when it’s ready to be inserted here. Maybe next week.

Part III. Looking ahead: What’s next – way out there? Commonism? Neo-limitarianism? Cyberocracy? Any hope for quadriformism? I’m still working on this part too, though some of it was drafted years ago. I’ll post a separate announcement when it’s available here.


[UPDATE — MARCH 26, 2014:  For a belated update on the status and content of Part III, which I never finished, see this 2014 post here.] 

No comments: