Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scenarios for the “Afghanistan 2050" roundtable at Chicagoboyz blog: tribes versus networks

Yes, this blog and I are still active, trying to get back on track, after our potential lapsed for months due to my slowing down awhile. My interim apologies to individuals whom I’d told to expect a new post on one topic or another. I still plan to do those posts, as my reading and writing get back up to speed.

Meanwhile, an invitation came my way — thanks to Mark Safranski and Michael Lotus — to join in an online roundtable about “Afghanistan 2050” at the Chicagoboyz blog. The instructions said to suppose we are in the year 2050, looking back, and submit a paragraph for a future history that would purport to analyze outcomes and consequences.

I treated this as an opportunity to disseminate points relating to TIMN. This post gathers my three posts there into one. Readers who want to see what other contributors posted should visit the Chicagoboyz archive for “Afghanistan 2050” here.

* * *

Feeling restricted by the one-paragraph instruction, and not having correctly read or remembered that we could add explanatory material if we so desired, I jammed my TIMN points into the following jargony scenario, posted on August 13:

Here’s my one-paragraph contribution to your roundtable speculations about the view from 2050, as requested [split into six for easier reading here].
“Because of the way U.S. forces pulled back in the Teens and wars ensued in the 20s and 30s, debates continue as to whether we won or lost over there. Yet, what matters more for this quadriform theory of social evolution is the following:

The persistent grip of the tribal form of organization — and thus local resistance to allowing the institutional (statist) and market forms to take hold properly — explains what unfolded in the region and why so little could be changed. At least we finally stemmed the jihadis efforts to spread their monoform religious tribalism elsewhere.

But we’ve done less well at our deeper challenge here at home and abroad: adapting to the wrenching rise of the newest of the four forms — the information-age network form. Though we are decades into it, our leaders are still so prone to emphasizing established state and market factors — a legacy of our society’s triformist phases — that they still haven’t allowed the new form to express its key strength: letting a commons-based “social sector” emerge, so that we develop a truly quadriform society.

Yes, it’s happening in fits and starts, and we got past the debasing of our polity by revanchist retro-tribal movements on our Right and Left. Yet, it’s disheartening that America’s efforts to use the network form in combination with the other three forms has led not so much to a revitalization of our democratic and entrepreneurial potentials, as to the consolidation of a hyper-surveilling cybercratic security state.

This has kept our homeland guardedly open and safe since our pull-backs decades ago — a valid strategic trade-off, since neither Mahdista Momentum nor Xyber-Op LiberTAZ infiltrated to damage more in the 30s and 40s than Al Qaeda used to. But this twist in America’s evolution has knotted-up our ability to compete and cooperate with partners near and far.

Indeed, China’s hybrid triform system is now in a stronger strategic position than any of the world’s few national efforts to create quadriform systems that function powerfully. Even so, time is on evolution’s side; it’s normal for the rise of a major new form of organization to take several generations to mature.”
[Purportedly based on “Tribes, Institutions, Markets, and Networks: A Theory of Social Evolution — Past, Present, and Future” (rev. ed., 2050).]
Since my post was admittedly tendentious, I directed readers to visit here for clarification about TIMN.

* * *

I thought that would be my sole contribution. But a follow-up scenario occurred to me a week later. And since Chicagoboyz once held an online roundtable on John Boyd, I mixed in a few terms that were meant to reflect Boyd and his thinking, though more as a tease than a sign of expertise on my part.

Here’s an epilogue/postscript to my initial (August 13) post for this roundtable [now split into separate paragraphs]:
The dozen BOIDS — small ultra-quiet stealthy long-range aerial DIY drones designed to swarm against an adversary’s OODA loops — idled in range of the target, undetected, waiting for a signal that the first stone was being cast. Ten of the drones were piloted remotely by individuals who had paid large sums to train and participate in what they were about to do: stone the stoners. The other two were for tactical topsight and command (TTC, the new C4ISR) and were operated by a unit of HubrisNemesis, the secretive ethicalist netfirm whose lineage included Sea Shepherd.* This unit and a few of the attack pilots were aboard a ship in the Indian Ocean; most of the pilots were in other locations, even at home in North America, Europe, and South Asia.

While each had his/her own motivation for joining in, they all shared disgust and despair at how, once again, a great religion was being subjected to a vain tribalism. Public stoning rarely occurred anymore, and international efforts had been made for months to halt this instance. But dark local forces had prevailed, and the stoning was supposed to proceed a few minutes from now in the sun-baked arena — with no outside media or foreign observers present.

HubrisNemesis and the BOIDistas hoped that Operation StoneCold would save the condemned trio’s life. But even if that proved a false hope, at least their operation would generate video for global viewing of the ugly event’s proponents being routed as the BOIDS “stoned” them from above for the next hour or so. But unlike the people at the event, the BOIDistas would not launch real stones aimed to maim and kill; no, their weaponry was mainly metaphorical, even nonviolent, but still powerful enough to frighten and disperse a crowd — e.g., plastic meshes filled with choice liquids, gases, and powders.  And if the surprise attack could be sustained long enough, nearby police and military would show up and cancel the event. And then the ripple effects would start to unfold. . . .
* See here for a fine post about Sea Shepherd and its implications [by Peter Hodge, “‘Whale war’ — a new form of conflict?” at his blog The Strategist on 07/01/10].
In my post I forgot to mention that the BOIDS might also emit sonics that could startle, stun, and scatter the unknowing. For example — and as an entertaining enlightening aside — I’d recommend the wailing howls from the 1994 Ferrari Formula 1 racecar, the 412T1, with its 3.5 liter V12 engine at song. It’s audible at YouTube in a brief clip here, and a longer one here. This, the most magnificent song ever from a racecar, is surely the sound of angels raising hell in order to raze it.

* * *

Again I thought I was done. But then it occurred to me that I might use a new post to broach an idea I had several years ago but have hesitated to write up:

Here is another speculative scenario for the Afghanistan 2050 roundtable. It reflects themes in my August 13 post and is not inconsistent with my August 22 post:
The Black-Flag Wars of the 20s and 30s were so fraught with religious strife and devastation that by the 40s many people in the region were ready for new ways to look at the world. That’s one reason why the New Theory of Prophecy (NTP) and the movement that formed around it, the New Word Network (NWN), suddenly spread faster there than anywhere before.

NTP rested on a reaction in the Teens that too many people from too many religions, mostly in the Middle East, were claiming to act in God’s name, as His chosen people. NTP reaffirmed that Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad were God’s prophets. What it rethought was why they all appeared in the Middle East, when God could have placed them anywhere in the world.

NTP hypothesized that if God had sent a prophet elsewhere, his Word might not have spread into the Middle East in due time, because its peoples were so extraordinarily tribal. Yet, this area was a crucial crossroads of world civilizations. Wiser, then, to put a prophet there, and have the Word spread out to the rest of the world. But with the first prophet, only his own tribe got the Word; it didn’t spread beyond them. With the second, the Word spread far outside, but not much more within the Middle East. With the third, the Word spread across the Middle East and farther around the world. But then, once again, too many people turned to claim they’d been chosen by this version of the Word and its prophet; they reverted to being extremely tribal, in ways that disparaged not only other peoples but even the first two prophets.

Against this background, NTP counseled all believers against taking God’s name in vain and claiming to be His singularly chosen people, while NWN developed a noöpolitik* strategy to ameliorate the tribalization of religion. To its credit, NWN helped undermine the appeal of Al Qaeda’s narrative in North America and Europe, and motivate the accords between Israel and Palestine in the Teens. But for the next two decades, conditions in South Asia fell prey to the millenarian Black Flag Momentum (BFM) and its belief that a new prophet was imminent.

BFM’s leaders disdained NWN and twisted the NTP to claim it meant a new prophet was bound to arise, this time for them. They’ve been wrong, and done wrong, for a quarter century — like past millenarian movements that provoked apocalyptic violence and always ended up losing. Now, conditions are finally too disastrous for even BFM and its allies to rationalize. NWN is fast gaining adherents in the region, helping people recover and reorganize. Rumors are still circulating about an imminent new prophet, but lately of one quite unlike what BFM and others had predicted — and that too is calming the region.

[Excerpt from Dawgo Skatts, “Chronicles of the New Word Network,” draft (last revised 02/30/50). Accepted for inclusion in NoöSpherica Quarterly (probably the Spring 2050 special issue on trends in religion). Still being edited for sensitivity.]
* For clarification of this information-strategy concept, see here.
That last link goes to David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, “The promise of noöpolitik,” First Monday, vol. 12, no. 8 (August 2007).  For a fuller statement, see the original RAND monograph (1999).

A commenter raised a concern that “chosen people” usually refers to Jews.  I tried to clarify the thinking behind my scenario as follows:
“Interesting point about the term ‘chosen people.’  As a sort of lapsed Protestant, and not well-read on religion, I’ve lost a sense it is so strongly associated with Judaism.  I have long regarded it as a term that may crop up in many religious contexts.  Quickly checking, I see Wikipedia has an entry for the term that emphasizes your point, yet adds examples from other religions, including ones I didn’t know about.  When I first came up with the idea, I was mostly reacting to the beliefs and behaviors of Islamist terrorists, as well as sectarian and cult leaders of other faiths.  Perhaps substituting another term — select? anointed? ordained? special? sent? commanded? — would be advisable.

By the way, the scenario is not meant to imply that any notion of feeling chosen is bad.  To give a literary example, consider differences between Don Quixote and Captain Ahab:  Both believe they are on a special spiritual mission; but only the latter is seized with rallying his crew to wreak vengeance in a vainglorious streak of extreme tribalism.  In a sense, my scenario implies that the Don Quixotes prevail over the Captain Ahabs of the world.”  

* * *

That’s all for now.  If there are additional developments, say from a wrap-up discussion about the entire roundtable, I’ll update here.

UPDATE — September 16, 2010: The “Afghanistan 2050” roundtable at Chicagoboyz came to an end on 9/11 with a summary wrap-up post by the main organizer, Lexington Green. In addition to highlighting selected posts (including my own, I was pleased to see), he explained that
“I initiated this effort because I wanted to think-through the current effort in Afghanistan and I was spinning my wheels. I was seeing all kinds of immediately relevant granularity and not much big-picture thinking. For example, within days of announcing it Gen. McChrystal resigned, an event that dominated the headlines for a few days, but is unlikely to even be a footnote in four decades. For me, personally, the RT [roundtable] was a success. I enjoyed the posts, all of which were good, and some of which were excellent. I believe the whole is superior to the sum of its parts. The RT has given me a better idea of the big picture, and I see that others are thinking along similar lines. I hope the rest of our participants and readers also found it valuable or interesting.

“I printed out the RT posts with comments, and re-read the whole thing. It was 107 pages, the scale of a moderately sized book. We had 24 posts by 20 contributors.”

Not bad. In addition, an excerpt led off a “Recommended Reading” post by Mark Zafranski at his Zenpundit blog.

If there is additional discussion, it will probably occur at those two blogs. I do not cotton to the conservative libertarianism that permeates them — I’m becoming too much of a quadriformist for that — but they remain among my favorites for diverse, lively, future-oriented discussions about national security trends.

- - -

Note:  Ever since posting about PhilipBlond’s ideas two posts back, this blog — and that post above all — has become a target of spam comments and spurious backlinks, mostly in Chinese, perhaps because the spammers are on automatic search for words like his last name.  So, for the time being, I’ve altered the blog’s settings to disallow backlinks, hide past ones, and require comment moderation. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blond’s “civic state” . . . vis à vis TIMN

[UPDATE — October 13, 2012: ResPublica published another pertinent study last year — "Civic Limits: How much more involved can people get?" (.pdf) — that is interesting partly because it finally mentions the network form.]

[UPDATE — December 24, 2011: ResPublica’s new publication — ResPublica A-Z: Celebrating two years of ResPublica — is well worth a read. It barely mentions Blond’s concept of the “civic state” — the focus of this post — but it shows that his think-tank remains intent on developing a new conservative ideology that combines principles from, yet goes beyond, today’s Right and Left. Thus the document advocates “an associative society” for the common good that is strong on “reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity” as well as civic responsibility and public accountability. ResPublica’s economic ideas remain pro-market, opposed to unrestricted or uncompetitive capitalism, in favor of a “social economy” and “moralized market” — indeed, a “participative economy where assets are distributed to the many and not hoarded by the few.” Sounds good to me.]

[UPDATE — October 15, 2011: Add Phillip Blond’s latest article to the ones I discuss below. Those earlier ones were upbeat about the prospects for Red Toryism. But this latest reflects deep pessimism about the new government.
“The “big society” was the Tories’ chance to remake a broken society and economy. The opportunity was missed. Now, unless Cameron tackles the excesses of those at the top, he will be betraying those at the bottom. . . . That we are governed by compromise, oscillation and U-turn is not merely a fact of coalition politics. At a deeper level, it is an expression of what Gramsci would have called "hegemonic crisis", in which reality is no longer captured by conventional ideas and orthodox policies.” (source)
Blond also laments that Red Toryism had been “reduced to a caricature of volunteering and philanthropy” when it’s really about “new associative models that blend private and public capital in social enterprises” to the benefit of people at local levels.]

As previously noted, while looking at Bobbitt’s “market state” concept, I also happened to look at Phillip Blond’s “civic state” and Michel Bauwens’ “partner state” concepts. A prior post focused on Bobbitt. This one is on Blond. I’d meant for it to be about Bauwens as well, but it’s become so long that I’ll spread the posts out.  (I initially figured on covering all three in a single post — woeful me, with apologies to any readers.)

Why group these three — now two

Why these three in serial posts? Bobbitt, because it was time I read-up on his work. Blond, because he announces his vision by rejecting the market state depicted by Bobbitt. Bauwens, because he not only criticizes the market state but also nods at Blond’s ideas, while aiming to peer beyond and apart from them.

Yet, while Blond’s and Bauwens’ points intersect in their criticisms of the Bobbittian market state, I’m fitting their writings side-by-side for other reasons as well.

One is ideological: they are coming from and going in different directions — Blond to the Right, Bauwens to the Left. And what makes this interesting for TIMN is that they end up in roughly similar places with rather parallel views about the future:
  • Both recognize that the state will remain a crucial institution.
  • Both want state and society to become less market-oriented.
  • Both aim to revitalize the roles of community and civil society.
  • Both propose new organizational approaches to civic association that reflect +N — Blond for public services, Bauwens for the commons.
That last point is crucial.  Their ideas about the future of the state pertain to the +I component of TIMN.  But they also engage new ideas for civil-society associations.  That serves my search for how a network (+N) sector may materialize — a primary reason for discussing them here.

Indeed, Blond and Bauwens seem headed in quadriformist directions — ecumenical, neo-limitarian ones at that, which suits my TIMN preferences. They want to break away from aging triformist models, and see possibilities for doing so. Thus both are evolutionary optimists, to a degree — and I like that, for it tracks with TIMN’s long-term outlook.

In contrast, collapsitarians and dystopians across the ideological spectrum argue that many states and other big hierarchies are goners, markets have become too ruinous, and thus the future belongs to whoever can best cluster together around tribal and network modalities. I want to dig into these pessimistic views from a TIMN perspective sometime too, but for now that’s a secondary interest.

So far, I’ve looked mainly for ideas about the future of the state that come from scholarly circles. Blond and Bauwens do not lack academic or other credentials, but their orientations are far more philosophical and ideological, deliberately political, even theological and spiritual, than I normally see in searching for future speculations that bear on TIMN. This too makes them interesting to review together, as a change of pace.

Each in his own way, Blond and Bauwens seek to surmount old distinctions about state vs. market, public vs. private, and Left vs. Right.  Their views are not exactly representative of new philosophizing about the state on the Right or the Left, but I sense that they are indicative.  (And if anyone has other writers to suggest, please do so in a comment or an email.)   

Increasing relevance of Blond’s and Bauwens’ writings

Blond and Bauwens are not as prominent as Bobbitt. His books, despite criticisms, still have currency all these years later. Yet, the ideas that Blond and Bauwens represent have gained currency, this past year in particular, though neither has the name-recognition that Bobbitt has achieved.

Blond’s Red-Tory ideas have lately attained a bit of notoriety in Britain (and the United States). And their influence may grow now that his Conservative Party has won office and the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, has vowed to promote “big society, small government” ideas that are Blondian. But even if Blond’s efforts prove a passing flash, they still cast a revealing light for TIMN.

Bauwens’ writings are less well-known, except in activist circles interested in trends in peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. But in those circles — which, like Bauwens himself, identify mainly with the Left, often reside more in Europe and Asia than America, and operate through the blogosphere more than formal print — his work keeps gaining audience. And his focus is on what I view as cutting edge ideas and possibilities — the rise of P2P networks, the growth of the commons. (Besides, Bauwens likes TIMN.)

Caution about source materials

In reviewing Bobbitt’s analyses, I had lots of writings to go on, even without perusing his book. That’s not the case with Blond and Bauwens.

For Blond, I rely on a handful of recent articles and speeches, other material at his ResPublica website, plus commentary by a few other analysts and reviewers. Blond has just published a new book — Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It (2010) — but I’ve not seen it, and I’ll just have to presume it reflects the writings I have seen.

For Bauwens, I have much less to go on. He does prolific posting at his P2P Foundation blog. But little is about the partner-state concept , and what there is amounts more to preliminary than final thinking. I supplement it with related postings by some of his associates and other analysts, but this additional material is sparser and less diverse than for Bobbitt or Blond.

Blond looks ahead to the “civic state”

In 2009, Phillip Blond declared that an “epoch-changing moment” had arrived for British politics and the nature of the state:
“1979 brought an end to the welfare state, 2009 will see an end to the market state and the next election will, with the election of a conservative government, usher in the birth of the civic state.” (source)
And what Blond has in mind for the civic state involves a radical reform of Britain’s economy and society as well:
“There are three dimensions to this new order: a civil state, a moralised market and an associative society.” (source)
Blond’s concept appeals for several TIMN reasons. It purports to supersede both the welfare state and the market state in the near future. It aims to make conservatism progressive, by moving away from libertarianism toward communitarianism (i.e., more T, less M). It calls for a better balance among state, market, and civil-society actors — balance being a crucial criterion for TIMN. And while the details of Blond’s layout aren’t quite +N, his emphasis on invigorating old and new kinds of community associations has a +N quality (though he doesn’t speak of the network form per se, at least not in what I’ve read).

 --  Vigorous critique of Britain’s past and present condition

I’m interested mainly in how Blond views the future, not the past and the present.  So I’ll note only briefly his critique of Britain’s current situation:  Accordingly, the welfare state and the market state have both had awful effects. They’ve led to excessive statism and individualism, to corrosive public monopolies and private cartels, and to the undermining of community associations that represent civil society. Liberalism has been the cause of this, far more than conservatism.

To impart a sense of Blond’s style and substance, here are some choice quotes, one or two apiece from the five article-length writings I’ve read, on which this post is based.  

From his article on “The Rise of the Red Tories” (2009):
“[T]his crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the “market state” and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last 30 years.”

“Look at the society we have become: we are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry. The intermediary structures of a civilised life have been eliminated, and with them the Burkean ideal of a civic, religious, political or social middle, as the state and the market accrue power at the expense of ordinary people.”
From his article on “The Civil State” (2009):
“Yet we also know what is wrong with the market state — too often it replaces a public monopoly with a private cartel. In the name of breaking up the state too little attempt was applied to breaking up the market. . . . Market fundamentalism abandoned the fundamentals of markets.”

“Only markets located in and shaped by a moral architecture are sustainable, as Adam Smith understood.”
From his speech on “The Future of Conservatism”(2009/2010):
“[W]hat the working class thought would save and secure became something that gradually and over time eventually helped to destroy them. Why? Because the state, instead of supporting society, abolished it. The welfare state nationalised society because it replaced mutual communities with passive fragmented individuals whose most sustaining relationship was not with his or her neighbour or his or her community but with a distant and determining centre.”
From his article on “The Shattered Society” (2010):
“The loss of our culture is best understood as the disappearance of civil society. Only two powers remain: the state and the market. We no longer have, in any effective independent way, local government, churches, trade unions, cooperative societies, or civic organizations that operate on the basis of more than single issues.”

“Collectivism and individualism are but two sides of the same devalued and degraded currency. And this has been the history of recent modernity — an oscillation between the state and the individual that gradually erodes civil association, which is in reality the only check on the extremes of either. . . . Contemporary libertarian individualism and statist collectivism created each other and are locked in a fatal embrace that destroys the civic middle and the life and economy of the associative citizen.”
 From his report on “The Ownership State” (2010): 
“Market versus statist thinking is a crude false dichotomy, based on an ideologically gloomy vision of human nature which has led both sectors into today’s cul-de-sac — a nightmare treadmill where every problem thrown up by a dysfunctional system can only be addressed by prescribing larger doses of the treatment that got us into the mess in the first place.”
In my view of TIMN, this amounts to a salient diagnosis.  For it detects imbalances among state, market, and civil-society forces, and seeks to restore a sense of limits and to correct the interplay among the TIMN forms.

Yet, I’m wary of Blond’s wily penchant to blame liberalism for all the ills he detects — e.g., when he claims that “A vision of the good life cannot come from liberal principles.  Unlimited liberalism produces atomised relativism and state absolutism.” (source)  In his view, absolute personal liberty requires an almighty state to police society and protect individual rights, in efforts that end up favoring the rich and harming the poor.  But I leave to others the challenge of reiterating (e.g., here) or refuting (e.g., here and here) this part of his diagnosis.  I’d rather focus on his future vision. 

 --  Promising (but sketchy) vision of the civic state

As to what’s next, Blond is quite sketchy about the civic state. But it’s clear he means a decentralized, distributist state of limited scope. Indeed, he also calls it the civil state, the associative state, the mutualized state, and the ownership state.

According to Blond, the civic state will restore people’s participation in “the common good” by re-enabling “the associative drive” that liberalism stifled. Thus it will be a state that “privileges the associative above the alienated, the responsible over the self-serving and . . . the communal over the individual.” It will express a “radical communitarian civic conservatism” — his “red Toryism” concept — that can “inveigh with equal vigour against public monopolies of state and giant cartels of the market”.

This is not just high-sounding rhetoric, for he makes clear the direction he wants the state to go in:
“In the political realm, we have to admit that democracy doesn’t work particularly well, mainly because it’s hugely centralized and substantially captured by vested interests. We need to turn it upside-down — a doctrine of radical democratic subsidiarity that would allow local associations both to select and vote for their own candidates. We can’t do that in the current political settlement. It’s too locked; there are too many vested interests. But if, like budgetary capture, we had a democratic capture, we could send democracy back to the streets. If we could ally that political economy with actual democracy, we could really have bottom-up associations and render the central state increasingly superfluous.” (source; my italics)
“The new civil state would restore what the welfare state has destroyed — human association. This new civil state will turn itself over to its citizens; it will foster the power of association and allow its citizens to take it over rather as it had originally taken over them. . . . So conceived the monolithic state could gradually be broken down into an associative state where citizens took over and ran their own services . . . .” (source; my italics)
Thus, Blond proposes that the “public sector should be broken up — not privatized out” — and many of its services transferred to civil-society actors apart from the existing public and private sectors.  That appears to be his main point about the civic state; it is mainly "a facilitator” in this associative scheme. The state is still a parliamentary democracy atop a party system; but its bureaucracy is smaller, and its orientation to the economy and civil society has been redefined and restructured.

He links this to ideas for a “re-moralized market” — a “whole new model of social capitalism” based on a “civic economy” — that would benefit small and medium businesses and be less fraught by government bureaucracies and corporate cartels. However, I’m going to skip over that, and head into what’s far more significant for my sense of TIMN: Blond’s proposals for new kinds of civil-society associations.

 --  Inspired ideas for civil-society association

Blond’s vision is about creating the civic state. But to make that feasible, his vision is even more about re-energizing civil society — so much so that local civil associations get to assume functions long performed by the state:
“Finally, the real recovery has to come in civil society itself. Society should be what rules, what regulates, what is sovereign. Both the state and the market must be subservient to renewed civil association. This requires a restoration of social conservatism that recognizes the claim of the common good over the free agency of the individual. “

“This is the essence of the Western liberal tradition: the rise of association — a state that isn’t dictated by the oligopolies of the market and the central government. The task of a radical conservative politics is to recover this: the middle life of civil society. Villages should run villages, cities cities, and neighborhoods their own streets and parks.” (source)
Blond’s intellectual anchor for thinking this way is Edmund Burke’s notion of “the little platoon” — in TIMN, a proto-tribal/clan (T) formation:
“It was Edmund Burke who famously spoke of conservative radicalism being founded on the little platoons of family and civic association. “To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” This is the true spirit of [David] Cameroonian conservatism and, taken seriously, it represents a break with the monopoly logic of the market state.” (source)
In Blond’s view, fostering such “little platoons” will transcend the unhealthy oscillation between individualism and collectivism:
“Association is outside both state and market, and yet it makes the proper functioning of both possible. Association expresses both individuality and community. Association marks the politics of the future: it is the way we will deliver our state, and it is the way we will free our market.” (source)
The proving ground for this part of Blond’s vision is a new way to provide public services, as spelled out in The Ownership State (2010).  Here are choice passages from that document:
“A new approach is needed. This report argues that real improvement depends on harnessing two powerful forces: the insight and dedication of frontline workers, and the engagement and involvement of citizens and communities.”

“We propose a new model of public sector delivery, in which services are provided by social enterprises led by frontline workers and owned by them and the communities they serve.”

“This power would allow the formation, under specific conditions, of new employee and community-owned ‘civil companies’ that would deliver the services previously monopolised by the state. Central to this power would be the obligation to ensure that full budgetary delegation of all the supporting services goes along with new responsibility. The new civil company would be structured as a social enterprise, with the scope and flexibility to allow a number of different governance structures in the light of local conditions. Such structures include community interest companies with an asset lock that prevents external transfer of the resources of the new organisation, or alternatively a similar level of social reassurance could be provided by a partnership trust along the lines of the John Lewis model.”

“Governed neither by the public state or the private market, this new civil association would localise responsibility, direct agency and promote ethos. It would do this by spreading the ownership of publicly funded provision, revolutionising public service delivery for the benefit of all.”

“What is needed is a system that will give the public, as individuals and as client groups, a literal stake in their service providers. The state must enable new associations of service-users, community members, voluntary contributors and existing social organisations to take ownership of their services, as partners with direct influence over providers.”

“That means producing something that can work on the small scale so that its universal applicability delivers gains to the widest possible magnitude. Our aspiration should be ‘mass micro’ — innovation that when repeated across the public sector can yield a macro-gain.”
That’s quite an agenda. It envisages the rise of a “social economy” based on a “new localism”. And it’s loaded with lingo about public service businesses, social businesses, social enterprises, civil companies, and civic companies. I’m not exactly sure what such terms mean, but the aim is clear: a bottom-up system for “citizen groups to take over government budgets and run them for themselves” (source). Blond favors worker buy-outs, employee-owned coops, and local investment trusts, where employees and other locals get to share in ownership, and profit is not the key purpose. His emphasis is on the delivery of public services, but he also proposes reforms to banking. It’s all very much about mutualism and distributism, in conservative senses.

What Blond lays out is consistent with what I think TIMN may imply for the future: a more delimited but also stronger kind of state (a “nexus state”), along with the rise of a new networked social sector. What’s missing from Blond’s vision is a connection to the network (+N) form. The Ownership State (2010) mentions that the “baseline requirements” for his proposals include “open systems” in which “hierarchies give way to networks” (p. 11). It also recommends “a flatter management structure in the public sector” . . . “where peer-to-peer motivation builds ethos and expertise and replaces vertical sanction” (p. 34). But so far these points are made only in passing; they deserve elaboration.

(Sidenote: Blond is not the only British leader thinking in new ways about civil society. Similar ideas appear in the Carnegie-sponsored Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society (2010) and related documents.)

A few critical reviews that try to raise doubts

I’ve looked for reviews, pro and con, of Blond’s writings, and as could be expected, the reviews are quite diverse. Many are preoccupied with where to fit him in the ideological spectrum. A common criticism is that he offers little more than a rehash of old conservative ideas — a nostalgic “Arcadian” dream about reviving small-town and village life, as laid out decades ago by G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and their Catholic Distributist League. And Blond’s “Red Tory” moniker has even prompted a counter from the moderate Left: “Blue Socialism” — meaning “socialism with a Burkean tinge” (source). [UPDATE — August 18, 2012: Another contrast is provided by the term “Blue Labour,” which receives an interesting discussion in the post by David Bollier here.]

Okay. But what about Blond’s proposals for the future? In this regard, I’m struck by three criticisms, all presumably leftist, that pertain to TIMN.

The first, from Jonathan Raban’s disparaging review of Blond’s new book, is that his proposals mean dumping public services on the emerging social or third sector, to no avail:
“Stripped of its obscurantist rhetoric and foggy sermonising, Red Tory issues a moral licence to government to free itself from the expensive business of dispensing social services and to dump them on the ‘third sector’ of charities, voluntary organisations, non-profits and the like.” (source)
That might have been partly true in the past, but not necessarily the future. If TIMN is on the right track, the third/social sector is where many services will end up, for the better. Raban hasn’t grasped the potential significance of the rise of the network form for this.

The second, from a critic in P2P circles, claims that Blond’s conservatism cannot be peer-to-peer. Accordingly, his notion of community remains quite hierarchical and vertical, and the kind of state that would unfold under his vision could end up being “neototalitarian”. (source)

I’m not sure what that means, or how far to go in questioning it. But for now, I’d note that, in order for TIMN to hold up, all major political ideologies, including conservatism, will adapt to network forms and learn to use them, including P2P varieties. Surely conservatism cannot be defined a priori as being anti-P2P.

A third criticism that piqued my attention, this one from a different critic in P2P circles, is that the market would creep back into the civic associations via privatization (source).

That too is an interesting point. And it may be a risk for a while — but only until the network form gains enough strength to overcome the gravitational pull of established states-and-markets forces.

Interim wrap-up comment apropos TIMN

This post was once supposed to be about five pages long, not the wearying fifteen it’s become. So I’m ending by just quoting a passage from when I first began to speculate about TIMN (1996, p. 31):
“In the looming age of networks — assuming civil society is strengthened as the framework forecasts, or that a new network-based realm emerges from it — a new model of the state will emerge that may be relatively leaner, yet draws new strength from enhanced abilities to act in concert with civil-society actors. . . . It is not clear what actors may comprise a network-based sector or realm, but the TIMN framework implies that many will be non-profit, socially-minded NGOs. As noted earlier, some activities currently associated with the public or private sectors are already being redesigned into multiorganizational networks — notably in the areas of health, education, and welfare — and these seem likely candidates to migrate into the new realm.”

That passage reveals why Blond’s ideas immediately struck a chord — and Bauwens’ ideas too. Blond’s proposals for a civic state and an associational sector move a long way in the TIMN directions implied by that quote, even though he does not (yet?) relate matters much to the rise of the network form.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Smoke and mirrors in mindfields along the U.S.-Mexico border

This post means veering onto a side-track. But the news out of Arizona, riled-up reactions here in California, and talks I heard broadcast from a conference on U.S-Mexico relations at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington prompt me to trot out an old bit of analysis and try it out again:

* * *

Try to figure out who is complaining about what here: “There are too many of them. They are taking jobs and opportunities away from us. They are distorting our economy, straining our infrastructure. They remit most of their earnings back to their own homeland, instead of keeping money here. They live in enclaves. We should not have to depend on them. We can do it by ourselves.”

“They” are Mexican immigrants, right? Nope; not exactly.

Try again, after hearing more complaints: “Their influx is tantamount to an invasion. It violates our sovereignty, jeopardizes our security. It’s bad for our national dignity and identity. It contaminates our culture. It breeds corruption even crime. It limits our independence and autonomy. We’ve lost control of our borders. There ought to be a law.”

What can it be, if not Mexican immigration?

Actually, it’s how U.S. investors and marketers were viewed in Mexico not long ago, especially during the mid 20th century. Curiously, the criticisms Americans still have about Mexican immigration are virtually identical — in point by point parallels — to the criticisms that Mexicans used to have about American corporate investment in Mexico.

Positive views exist as well, often backed by research. Accordingly, U.S. investment — or Mexican immigration — has created new jobs, businesses, and markets, to the benefit of both nations’ economies. It’s been a necessary factor of production. The receiving country’s economy would suffer setbacks without it, as would the sending country’s.

But whenever a xenophobic kind of nationalism — a demonizing, polarizing kind of tribalism — takes hold, it becomes difficult to claim that the benefits exceed the costs in either issue area, in either country, even though professional research shows otherwise. Mexican criticisms of U.S. investment were often heated in the 1970s-1980s, before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect in 1994. American criticisms of Mexican immigration are newly aflame today, notably in Arizona.

In brief, a reverse mirroring has often cut across nationalist mindsets in the two countries. Many Americans have thought that Mexican immigration is mostly bad for the United States, but U.S. investment is surely good for Mexico. Many Mexicans have thought the reverse: U.S. investment has bad effects in Mexico, but Mexican immigration mostly benefits the United States. What a twist.

It is understandable that large stocks and flows of any kind from any nation make people uneasy, leading to nationalistic reactions. This is so whether the issues involve poor Mexican workers or rich American corporations — or, as in Canada, intellectual properties like American films and TV shows.

It is also true that comparing mindsets this way cannot, by itself, lead to specific measures for resolving problems in an issue area. But a good look at this reverse mirroring does imply some principles:
  • First, acknowledge the twist in logics: If we are so sure of our complaints about Mexican immigration, then shouldn’t we see some truth in Mexican complaints about American investment?
  • Develop a mutual logic: The two flows may be equally good or bad for both countries. As our socio-economic interconnections deepen, harmonized views will be needed about both (all?) kinds of stocks and flows, in both Mexico and the United States.
  • Try to be guided by a strategic moral precept: Don’t do to Mexican immigrants here what you wouldn’t want Mexico to do to American investors and marketers there. And vice-versa for Mexico. In other words, be neighborly, not narcissistic — behave in terms of “Do unto others . . .” instead of “Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .”
With this in mind, and taking cues from past experiences — like the 1986 U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and Mexico’s analogous 1973 Law to Promote Mexican Investment and Regulate Foreign Investment (LIME) — a few simple policy principles seem to make sense because they suit both issue areas:
  • Emphasize regulation over restriction. Focus on legalization, not criminalization. Prioritize the kinds of immigrants (or investors) that are best for one’s country; limit other kinds. Do improve licensing, increase inspections, sanction violators, combat smuggling, and tighten border controls. But don’t provoke labor (or capital) flight.
  • Develop “guest” programs. We’ve done that before with Mexican workers. Mexico has had an equivalent in the system of U.S. and other foreign-owned assembly plants (maquiladoras) along its border with our country. A by-gone Mexican law allowing U.S investment if it had Mexican partners who owned 51% treated the 49% U.S. portion as a kind of houseguest.
  • Avoid unilateral moves that incite a backlash from the other side. For immigration, this means no mass deportations, economic boycotts, or border-long walls. In this vein, it is also wrong for Mexican workers up here to tout Mexican flags at public demonstrations, presuming they would not want to see U.S. businessmen brandishing American flags in Mexico.
Aren’t these the kinds of pragmatic measures that a bilateral logic implies (trilateral, if Canada is included)? Wouldn’t mutual thinking like this be preferable to unilateralism?

I’d still like to think so. But conditions have changed since I tried suggesting this conceptual optic for strategizing many years ago (see sources below).

One change is that the two issue areas don’t actively mirror each other as they used to. U.S. investment is no longer a hot-button issue in Mexico. Mexicans have accommodated to it; the stocks and flows aren’t thought to be growing at alarming, disproportionate rates anymore. Not so, Mexican immigration up here; it remains a polarizing hot-button issue, especially since our nation’s economic downturn has aroused a nativist populism.

Another change is that security concerns now trump socio-economic issues more than ever. Drugs flowing North and weapons South have become the new “mirrors” — Americans fret about the former but not the latter, and vice-versa for Mexicans. Meanwhile, high levels of crime, corruption, and violence in Mexico — indeed, on both sides of the border — make it difficult to presume getting far with an optic like I’ve proposed above.

Nonetheless, some variant of my optic may yet come back into play. U.S.-Mexico relations are in need of a “reset” (Jorge Castañeda’s term) across a broad range of issues. Better yet might be a “strategic partnership” that fosters “North American competitivenes” — to use terms I keep hearing more often. (I even have a name to suggest that should resonate on both sides of the border: Plan Dos Aguilas / “The Two Eagles Plan”.) Adjusting our mirrors could play a useful role in helping us see ahead more clearly in these directions, together.

- - - - -


Mexican Immigration, U.S. Investment, and U.S.-Mexican Relations (1990)

U.S. Immigration Policy and Global Interdependence (1982)

Also see my previous blogposts on Mexico (e.g., here).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bobbitt’s “market state” . . . vis à vis TIMN

By happenstance, while working on Part 3 of TIMN’s implications for political philosophy and ideology, I’ve finally looked into Phillip Bobbitt’s concept of the “market state” and started reading about Phillip Blond’s concept of the “civic state” and Michel Bauwens’s concept of the “partner state”. I see they all relate to TIMN, meriting some separate discussion.

This post focuses on Bobbitt’s concept. And it’s become too long to add anything else. I intend to deal with the other concepts in a future post.

Bobbitt’s “market state” is appealing because it appears to slide into place in the TIMN progression, as a +M concept about what arises, evolution-wise, between the institutional state — the classic T+I nation-state — and what may lie ahead: a +N network state (or as I call it, the nexus state). The market state appears to fill a gap in thinking about how to conceptualize the evolution of the state in TIMN. Indeed, Bobbitt’s term is quite TIMNish in tone; alternative terms (see below) don’t fit as well. But to work with TIMN, Bobbitt’s concept needs considerable redefinition and adjustment.

An interesting (but tentative) finding is that Bobbitt’s “market state” is better viewed as the “late market state” arising a century or so after the “early market state” — an overwrought exaltation of the +M form in its late stages of maturity, on the eve of the rise of the network (+N) form.

What I’ve heard about and looked at

Bobbitt’s tome, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (2002), traces the historical evolution of the state in terms of five models — from “princely state” to “kingly state” to “territorial state” to “state-nation” up to the modern “nation state” — in order to identify the “market state” as the currently emerging and likely future paragon. And the analysis does so by emphasizing: first, the role of epochal wars in determining what model of state — what “constitutional order” — arises next; and second, the role of peace conferences in confirming that a system of such states spreads and gains sway. It’s a neat framework, easily displayed in nifty charts.

While I’ve still not read the book — a liability for this post? — over the years I’ve seen many references to its themes and been told they’re similar to my TIMN themes and to John Arquilla’s and my themes about information-age conflict. But I procrastinated about reading the book. Now, prompted by a recent summary and review by Clay Spinuzzi at his blog, I’ve turned to take a closer look by reading selectively: brief excerpts from the Foreword and several follow-up essays Bobbitt has posted online at his website; extra snippets I located online; a few book reviews Bobbitt lists (notably, Dennis Patterson’s “The New Leviathan,” and David Runciman’s “The Garden, the Park and the Meadow”); a long overview by Jay Ogilvy, “Notes on The Shield of Achilles,” that consists mostly of quotes from the book; and a few old blog posts about the book (e.g., by Thomas Barnett, John Robb, Mark Zafranski).

That’ll have to suffice for this post. And I sit braced to be told that I missed something significant Bobbitt said, including in a subsequent book I’ve not read but for an excerpt — his Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (2008) — where he expands on his notion of the market state.

[UPDATE — October 11, 2012: Here’s a good article that I missed at the time: “Phillip Bobbitt — The Thought Leader Interview,” in strategy + business (Spring 2004).]

Questionable definition and timeline of the market state

My concern is Bobbitt’s “market state” concept, starting with its definition and timeline. (Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations and page references from Bobbitt’s book are probably from Ogilvy’s document.)

I have yet to spot a full, single definition of the market state. But to judge from scattered elements, it is about states becoming shaped more by global market forces — by globalization — than by national forces of all kinds. It is also about governments redesigning themselves to rely on market-oriented measures: e.g., decentralization, deregulation, privatization, outsourcing, subcontracting. Moreover, Bobbitt claims that “the market state exists to maximize the opportunities enjoyed by all members of society” ( p. 229). It is “above all, a mechanism for enhancing opportunity, for creating something — possibilities — commensurate with our imagination” (p. 232). That purpose, in Bobbitt’s view, is its hallmark, making the market state philosophically and strategically distinct from earlier varieties of the state.

As to timeline, Bobbitt treats the market state as something quite new. He dates its appearance from 1989, and foresees that the “transition to the market-state is bound to last over a long period” (p. 233). At present, “the market-state has not fully emerged or been fully realized and accepted by any society” (p. 335). Indeed, he reiterates in an interview, “We are only just a few of years down the road to what will be a many decades long process, but you can already see signs of this happening.”

Yet, what seems mostly new to me in all of this is Bobbitt’s novel name for the phenomenon. In substance, it is not much different from what Richard Rosecrance earlier termed the “trading state” (1986) and the “virtual state” (1999). More to the point, I’d say, its emergence began in the early 1970s when “transnational interdependence” began to gain notice in writings about the rise of multinational corporations and other nonstate actors, the fusing of domestic and international matters, the globalization of commerce and communications, and hence the growth of new constraints on the traditions of sovereignty and territoriality. (See writings by a host of theorists back then, notably Robert Keohane, Joseph Nye, and James Rosenau).

Thus, it is inaccurate for Bobbitt to go on to argue, as he does in his next book, that developments like these “are outside the frame of reference of the popular theories of international relations that circulated at the end of the 20th century” (pp. 30-31). Many of the trends he emphasizes had been noticed for decades and took hold during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton presidencies in the 1980s-1990s. Even the individualist, opportunity-maximizing goal that Bobbitt stresses reflects the libertarianism that has coursed so strongly the past decade or two. And it is not at all clear that other market states elsewhere will be so libertarian — possibly quite the contrary.

In other words, insofar as the United States is concerned, Bobbitt’s concept is far more a reflection of the present than a portent of the future, and it’s been developing decades longer than his analysis conveys. It may be true that the nature of the market state is still unfolding in the United States, and that it has barely taken hold elsewhere around the world. But it may also turn out that the recent U.S. version proves more an exception than a rule, more ephemeral than enduring.

Thus, my TIMN angle is that, much as I’m impressed by Bobbitt’s coinage of “market state” as a term, it may turn out to say more about the American present than the world’s future, and it began to emerge decades earlier than he argues. The term does illuminate the exalted (overweening?) influence that global market forces exert over states these days. It also reflects the rising importance of outsourcing, subcontracting, and other market-oriented measures — sometimes called “government by market” (or acidly, “market-mimicking governance”) — as options for government policies and programs. That is useful and revelatory; it means the concept helps focus people’s perceptions on how powerful and pervasive market forces have become. But are we thereby opening our eyes to the beginning or the end of a long trend?

Let’s recall that the +M form began to spread centuries ago, and that its principles long ago filtered into and altered the nature of states, enabling the rise of increasingly open competitive political systems. That helps account for Europe’s evolution from the absolutist state to the liberal democratic (or parliamentary) state — in other words, from a state devoted to hierarchical (+I) doctrines, to a state whose electoral, party, and other structures also rested in part on market-like (+M) political principles.

From a TIMN perspective, then, the market state actually has a long history. It overlaps with the nation state and does not represent a departure from it as Bobbitt claims. Indeed, the world’s major liberal democracies —nation states all — have amounted to early market states for over a century. What Bobbitt has illuminated is the late market state — its overwrought aging, not its youthful rise.

If Bobbitt’s “market state” is better viewed as the “late market state” arising a century or so after the “early market state,” then its rise is occurring on the eve of the next major form: the network (+N). And that suggests a new proposition about TIMN dynamics. I’m not sure, but perhaps absolutism in the Middle Ages may be viewed not only as a pinnacle of the +I hierarchical form, but also as its overwrought exaltation, again on the eve of the rise of a next major form: in that era, the market (+M). Perhaps — and here’s the proposition (phrasing tentative) — the late aging of one form may interact with the germinal stirrings of the next in a way that leads existing regimes to overemphasize the aging form, partly to defend against the rise of the germinal form that those regimes are just beginning to detect.

Indeed, the details of Bobbitt’s analysis — the trends he stresses, the terms he uses — are often as much or more about the +N form than the +M form. He has confounded and conflated the market (+M) form with what is really new and next: the rise of the network (+N) form. A system of late market states is emerging, but so too are the outlines of what will in time supersede the market state: something akin to a network (or nexus) state.

That Bobbitt conflates the market and network forms is particularly evident in his analysis of al Qaeda. I turn to that near the end of this post. But first I have some other points lined up.

Varieties of market states — spectrum needs broadening

In Blond’s analysis, the nation state came in three varieties that contested for dominance across most of the 20th Century: communism, fascism, and parliamentarianism (or parliamentary democracy) — and parliamentarianism triumphed. Likewise, he claims, the rise of the market state will induce a new contest — even wars — among its own three varieties: the mercantile state, the entrepreneurial state, and the managerial state:
“The fundamental choice for every market-state is whether to be (1) a mercantile state, i.e., one that endeavors to improve its relative position vis-à-vis all other states by competitive means, or (2) an entrepreneurial state, one that attempts to improve its absolute position while mitigating the competitive values of the market through cooperative means, or (3) a managerial market-state, one that tries to maximize its position both absolutely and relatively by regional, formal means (trading blocs, etc.).” (p. 283)
Metaphorically, Bobbitt likens living in a system of entrepreneurial states (like the U.S., or China) to The Meadow, managerial states (like the E.U.) to The Park, and mercantile states (like Japan) to The Garden (pp. 721 ff.).

Of the three, he favors the spread of the entrepreneurial version. And he recognizes that nonstate actors may play decisive roles in determining which model prevails — even as he also doubts that business leaders will play their role properly in fostering the entrepreneurial model, the one they should like the best:
“I speculate that leadership for this move is likelier to come from the leaders of multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) than from leaders of the national security apparatus and the political establishment, but I concede that business leaders are generally not prepared for such a role today.” (p. 337)
Intriguing points. And I like his recognition of the increasing influence of NGOs and other nonstate actors. Yet, this is a rather benign threesome — too much so. In contrast, his prior threesome consisted of two totalitarian systems (communism and fascism) and one democratic system (parliamentarianism). From a TIMN perspective, those three reflected conflicting views about +M. Communism rejected +M, fascism accepted but suborned it, and democracy embraced it. And democracy’s +M qualities were what enabled it to defeat the other two.

In the future, all market states will be +M to one degree or another; and many may be kinds of democracies that correspond to Meadows, Parks, and Gardens. This should make for a better world. But let’s not discount dark possibilities that some market states may turn out to be so corporatist, controlling, stratified, greedy, and oppressive that they are more like Wilds, Wastelands, Jungles, or Hot Houses. Communism is surely defunct, but fascism — as in “friendly fascism” and “soft fascism” — still has potential. And a kind of quasi-totalitarian “surveillance state” may develop at the core of one or another market state. Not all — perhaps very few — market states will aim to enhance people’s possibilities as Bobbitt proposes. Some may resemble a “spectator state” more than a “participatory state” (to bandy about some other trendy terms).

In other words, from a TIMN perspective, the range of likely varieties is broader than Bobbitt’s threesome; it should be expanded to include more totalitarian as well as more democratic varieties. Furthermore, if liberal democracy’s +M factor explains why it won in the last epoch, and if the contests next time are going to be between late market states, TIMN suggests that the winners next time may be those states that have best figured out the network (+N) form — a form that Bobbitt’s account does not distinguish.

Many good points about state and society

The preceding criticisms aside, Bobbitt makes a lot of good points about the future of state and society. The following two quotations encapsulate them:

“The shift to the market-state does not mean that states simply fade away, however. If the acquisition of more territory is less important than before to garnering wealth, the luring of people and capital by the most attractive state policies is absolutely crucial. . . . The real shift is simply from public purposes to private purposes, from a state that takes its legitimacy by assuring the common welfare to one that instead relies on providing the broadest possible opportunity for the satisfaction of individual interests.” (p. 470)

“The market-state will live within three paradoxes: (1) it will require more centralized authority for government but all governments will be weaker; (2) there will be more public participation in government, but it will count for less, and thus the role of the citizen qua citizen will greatly diminish and the role of the citizen as spectator will increase; (3) the welfare state will have greatly retrenched, but infrastructure security, epidemiological surveillance, and environmental protection . . . will be promoted by the State as never before.” (p. 234)
In other words, the state will endure. It will even be stronger and more central in some respects, though weaker (or less controlling) in others. It will continue to depend on hierarchy. And it will deploy high-tech surveillance and security systems to keep watch. But it will also involve the formation of ad-hoc multi-agency and public-private teams to address many issues, and lead to a shift in emphasis from public to private purposes and instruments. Nonstate actors of all sorts will play increasingly influential roles, including to provide public goods. Meanwhile, states and societies will be challenged to cope with vast increases in global flows of all kinds.

My quibbles aside, I like such points. I make similar ones in a paper about cyberocracy. They’re often made by other theorists and futurists too. And such points help counter views that claim the state is a goner in the future; and they do so by clarifying ways in which the nature of the state will be altered. Also, while I initially had the impression that Bobbitt’s analysis was so focused on the state that it neglected the rising importance of nonstate actors, in fact he gives it good recognition, especially in follow-up writings. Thus, Bobbitt’s points are not all that new or innovative, but they track with and reinforce what I’ve come to regard as cutting-edge thinking about the future of the state.

Particularly pleasing and interesting is Bobbitt’s recognition of the market state’s inherent weakness. As Spinuzzi's review noticed better than others, Bobbitt does not purely advocate the development of the market state, for he cautions that:
“Whatever choice we make, we will have to find a way to compensate for the market-state’s inherent weaknesses — its lack of community, its extreme meritocracy, its essential materialism and indifference to heroism, spirituality, and tradition.” (p. 289)
He reiterates this concern during a speech where he talks about the three varieties of market states, noting that they all have a common downside:
“But I think they all have this in common for us today, that we need to develop those values and institutions that the market state does not develop: those of collaboration, of decency, of deference, of the protection of cultural communities. These are things that the market state just sweeps aside, and one of the points about drawing attention to the market state is not to become its advocate.”
This way, he begins to sound like a communitarian criticizing the libertarianism of recent decades. But he doesn’t move far in this direction. While he cautions against negative aspects of the market state, he still regards it as a mostly done deal. In it, people should expect lives rife with competition and conflict; they will have to choose and learn collaboration, if that’s what they prefer.

Yet, Bobbitt also detects that the capacity for collaboration — in particular, the development of collective goods — is crucial for states to perform well against their state and nonstate adversaries in the new epoch of conflict:
“Or can we learn to produce collective goods — like shared intelligence and shared surveillance information from shared nanosensors and shared missile and cyber defenses? Indeed, the production and distribution of collective goods — such as the coalition against international terrorism itself — may be the only way for the market-state to forestall peer competition and defeat international terrorism at the same time.” (p. 821)
A very good point. But from a TIMN perspective, it should be made into a point that is more about the network than the market form.

Flawed analysis of Al Qaeda as a virtual market state

Finally, my concerns extend to Bobbitt’s efforts to validate his market-state concept by claiming that today’s key adversary, the jihadi terrorist network associated with al Qaeda, resembles a virtual kind of market state.

Bobbitt is correct to insist that the rise of new types of states (and societies) leads to new epochs of conflict. TIMN has long implied the same (e.g., Ronfeldt, 1996, pp. 33-36). According to Bobbitt,
“ . . . Mindful of the past, we can expect a new epochal war in which a new form of the State — the market-state — asserts its primacy as the most effective constitutional means to deal with the consequences of the strategic innovations that won the Long War. To shape, if not permanently forestall, this war to come, the society of states must organize in ways that enable it to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to treat expeditionary interventions as opportunities for consensus-creating coalitions, and to share information as a means of defense against disguised attacks. By these means, the next epochal war can be converted into a series of interventions and crises, instead of a world-shattering cataclysm or a stultifying and repressive world order.” (p. 815)
In this new epoch, war will be more like crime, and nonstate adversaries will abound. And to affirm this view, Bobbitt focuses on al Qaeda, making good points that are often made by terrorism experts. But his main point is that al Qaeda fits his template, amounting to a malignant expression of a market state:
“The multinational mercenary terror network that Osama bin Laden and others have assembled is a malignant and mutated version of the market-state. . . . This network, of which Al Qaeda is only a part, greatly resembles a multinational corporation but that is simply to say that it is a market-state, made possible by advances in international telecommunications and transit, rapid computation, and weapons of mass destruction. Lacking contiguous territory, Al Qaeda is a kind of virtual state . . . .” (p. 820, italics in orig.)
Thus, given the functions and structures that al Qaeda and its affiliates have built up, “we are fighting a virtual state and not just a stateless gang” (p. 821). This enemy is not only virtual, but also multinational, multifunctional, nonterritorial, and networked. Thus we’re seeing the world’s first major war between a market state and a nonstate network acting like a market state.

And from a bit of additional reading, I see that Bobbitt elaborates on these points in his next book, Terror and Consent, where he views al Qaeda as “the emergence of a global terrorist network that in many respects more closely resembled the multinational corporation than it did a government.”
“Unlike the terrorist groups with which we are familiar, Al Qaeda does not mimic the nation-state. The IRA, ETA, the PLO all are organized as tiny parodies of the hierarchical, militarized, ideologized nation-state. This is hardly surprising as each is engaged in a struggle for national liberation. By contrast, the multinational mercenary terror network that Usama bin Laden and others have assembled is a new and mutated version of the market-state. It resembles the organizational structure of VISA or MasterCard, with their radical decentralization more than the usual national government . . .” (p. 30)
When Bobbitt addresses whether al Qaeda is more like a “market state terrorist group” or a “virtual market state”, he says it could be described either way:
“Is al Qaeda a market state terrorist group because it shares the structure of the market state and its practices while defining itself by its rejection of market state ideology, or is it a virtual market state that attempts to maximize the opportunities of its citizens — the faithful — by creating a global caliphate where they can find lifestyles denied them by human-rights-respecting states? Al Qaeda could be described either way, depending . . . (p.64)
This way, Bobbitt makes an insistent case for his market-state view of al Qaeda. And it is tantalizing to read, for it sounds so perceptive and innovative. It makes a kind of sense. Yet, from a TIMN perspective, it seems a flawed, even misleading view — in three respects in particular.

First, Bobbitt’s depiction of al Qaeda errs in exalting the market form, at the expense of barely recognizing the presence of the tribal, institutional, and network forms. I remain of the view that al Qaeda and its affiliates amount more to an information-age amalgam of the tribal and network forms. The tribal form plays a larger role than Bobbitt acknowledges. At the same time, his approach to analysis is so intent on emphasizing the market form that it does not leave a distinct place for the rise of the network form (at least not as I see it).

Second, the postulation that a “global caliphate” would correspond to a kind of market state makes little sense, unless one plays a definitional game. Al Qaeda and its cohorts do not, to my knowledge, want a new caliphate that would be much like a modern market state. It would be constructed mainly around old traditions associated with the tribal and hierarchical institutional forms, far more than the open market form. And if it could be organized as a virtual state without a territorial capital — a very unlikely scenario — then it would surely be more about the network than the market form.

Third, while Bobbitt's approach leads to many solid policy and strategy recommendations for governments engaged in combating terrorism — e.g., build coalitions, form ad-hoc teams, share information, deploy networked sensors — many of these recommendations pertain more to the rise of the network form than to the maturing of the market form (or revision of the hierarchical form). As I indicated earlier, Bobbitt’s analysis conflates the market and network forms.

Critical views at other security blogs

While wondering about all this, I wandered around a few forward-looking security blogs I like. My cursory check indicates that, despite a widespread enduring admiration for many of Bobbitt’s points, I am not alone in raising doubts about his market-state template and its application to terrorism.

As Zenpundit’s Mark Zafranski notes (in 2005), al Qaeda and its cohorts don’t have a futuristic market state in mind, but rather something quite different and ancient:
“It is quite clear . . . that the Islamists have an entirely different and comprehensive alternative social contract in mind — The Sharia-State — which when they control territory they refer to as an “Emirate” or as a “Caliphate” (the former exemplified by Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the latter entity encompassing the entire future territorial extent of the Ummah). . . . In other words, the fundamental preconditions for a market-state would be intolerable to a sharia-state making the latter a deadly 4GW rival of the former and not, as Bobbitt maintained, a variation.”
And according to Thomas Barnett (in 2008), Bobbitt’s terrorism analysis is more about the end of a trend in conflict, not the commencement of a new one:
“As I've said repeatedly, terrorism is, to me, what's left, not what's next — much less what's transcendent. . . . Thus I don't see the great need to totally revamp the political construct or risk defeat. . . . To me, the only grand strategy worth having today is a globalization-centric one, not a terror-centric one.”
Global Guerrillas’s John Robb emphasizes a different angle (in 2008), by noting that a market state, far from serving to defend against a new epoch of violence, may instead help foment it:
“It's very likely a market-state would reduce human worth to a mere economic value at the cost of the bonds that hold us together as a community. Perversely, this would serve to create the very violent groups that use terrorism to advance their own economic/social level, since no other values have any power to mitigate/dissuade an impulse to violence. In short, Bobbitt's market-state, a society legitimized by "choice" alone, is insufficiently credible as something we should a) help emerge and b) defend.”
Robb turns even more antithetical toward the market state (in 2009) after he detects a relationship between the recent economic mess and the rise of the American market state:
“NOTE: Philip Bobbitt got it wrong in his book, "The Shield of Achilles." The prosperous market-state he envisioned through constitutional reform isn't possible. The REAL market-state, the form of governance that that has truly embraced the global market system, is hollow. In effect, a state that doesn't place any barriers between itself and the global marketplace. As a result, the only real opportunities created by the emergence of the market-state are opportunities to steal extreme wealth.”
Meanwhile, as Red Team Journal’s John Sullivan and Adam Elkus warn (in 2009), criminal insurgencies are creating threats as severe as terrorism. And some exemplars, like those involving drug trafficking in Mexico, look and act like Bobbitt’s virtual market state:
“The global ebb and flow of illicit trade also produces a combination of the market states and virtual states, a kind of criminal empire where decentralized governance is an emergent process created by the interaction of feral cities, non-state organizations, and the global economy.”
Unlike the preceding bloggers, Sullivan and Elkus do not focus on Bobbitt; they make this remark in passing. Yet, it seems clear from their broader discussion that the structure and purpose of crime in Mexico may provide a better case of Bobbitt’s market-state notion than does al Qaeda. Yet, Sullivan and Elkus also seem to imply that the future belongs to which side — the Mexican government, or the crime syndicates — can best organize a network state.

Bobbitt’s award-winning book surely merits the many accolades it has received, especially for its historical materials. Yet, these bloggers are on the right track when it comes to wondering about the future. I agree with their criticisms; they are consistent with much that I’ve raised above. The late market state is an aging market-mad strain that may be more problematic than beneficial for the TIMN evolution of societies as a whole.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Incidentals (5th of 5): a leftover storyline ending in fascism (via TIMN)

What’s left for this scrapbook of incidental comments are three items that I couldn’t fit easily into the preceding posts, and that weren’t well composed anyway. But I include them, for they contain TIMN-related points about organizational trends among our adversaries.

Besides, I finally spotted a storyline for linking the three: To begin, states fail because their tribal/clan bases have failed. Next, criminal and terrorist enterprises spread amid state failure by operating like networked franchises. Finally, a new authoritarian state emerges that aims to amalgamate rather than separate the TIMN forms and their realms. It’s just a scenario — by now, a rather conventional one — but it serves to combine the pieces of this post. And its trajectory culminates with an abiding concern of mine: the resurgence of fascism.

* * *

Whenever I see the annual “failed states index” published by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, I wonder anew what such indexes might look like for failed tribes, failed markets, and failed networks. So, when Drew Conway’s Zero Intelligence Agents blog carried a post about “Building a Better Failed State Index” in July 2009, I speculated a bit that failed states are often tantamount to failed tribes (and/or clans):
Thus my question is: To what extent is a failed-states index a failed-tribes index? By which I mostly mean these kinds of possibilities: That a particular clan (or clan-like group) has gained exclusive control and is milking the state in criminal fashion. Or that clannish infighting among elites weakens a state beyond repair.

Of the indicators, the ones that most pertain to tribal/clan-like behavior are scattered, as follows:
  • One is social: I-3. Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia.
  • One is economic: I-5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines (but only the part that pertains to “Rise of communal nationalism based on real or perceived group inequalities”).
  • Three are political: I-7. Criminalization and/or Delegitimization of the State; I-10. Security Apparatus Operates as a "State Within a State"; I-11. Rise of Factionalized Elites.
Quite a scattering. And it reflects fact that the design of the index is geared to the standard view that state failure is a function of social, economic, and political factors . . .

Still, I’d like to see something different (though it’s beyond me to spell it out here and now): State failure as a function of the extent to which the tribal-clan form goes “wrong” in a society. Somalia, for an obvious example. (Not to mention that this form appears to be going wrong in areas of American society these days.)

I’m not implying that all tribal/clan behavior is indicative of state failure. Not at all. For example, nationalism can be positive for state success. So can deals for divvying up patronage and other spoils. Mexico did this quite well for decades.
Meanwhile it has become increasingly evident that where states fail because their tribal/clan bases have failed, new cavities may appear for criminal and terrorist organizations to take hold and expand their operations.

* * *

As a result of past interests, I keep an eye on how Al Qaeda — a slick exploiter of failed states and tribes — is being analyzed, especially its organization. Thus a post at the al Sahwa blog by Josh McLaughlin on “Al Qaeda: Franchise or Conglomerate?” in January 2010 attracted my attention:
As I recall, the franchise and conglomerate “business models” about Al Qaeda have been around sporadically for over five years. The franchise model was gaining sway in the mid 2000s. The conglomerate model emerged earlier (though I’ve misplaced a post-9/11 analysis that rendered Al Qaeda to look like one); but soon afterwards this model looked too corporate, too formally structured, to be accurate. As you notice, it may be more applicable today.

Most analysts and strategists, myself included, have preferred network models that were not so drawn from the business world. Even so, as I tried to point out back then (in 2005/updated 2007, p. 35), “while al-Qaeda may look amorphous, the deeper reality may be that it is polymorphous, deliberately shifting its shape and style to suit changing circumstances, including the addition of new, semiautonomous affiliates to the broader network.”

My own urging was, and still is, that Al Qaeda and its affiliates represent an innovative blend mainly of tribal and network forms of organization (pp. 45-46): “In short, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have formed a hybrid of the tribal and network designs — a tribalized network or networked tribe, so to speak, that includes bits of hierarchy and marketlike dynamics as well. The tribal paradigm has a striking advantage over the network, hierarchy, and other organizational paradigms. The latter models point to organizational design first, and then to matters of leadership, doctrine, and strategy. But they have nothing clearly embedded in them about religion. As voiced in terrorism discussions, they are secular paradigms; religion is grafted on, as a separate matter. In contrast, the tribal paradigm is inherently fraught with dynamics that turn into religious matters, such as altruism toward kin, delineations between “us” and “them,” and codes of revenge. And that is another valuable reason to include the tribal paradigm in analyses of al-Qaeda and other terrorist movements.”

From this perspective, the term “confederation” may be currently as relevant as “conglomerate” since the former term often applies as to tribe-like actors that prefer loosely structured alliances. If Al Qaeda becomes stronger, the hierarchical form and its business and governance models are likely to gain sway.

Source: Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates: A Global Tribe Waging Segmental Warfare
McLaughlin made it clear in a detailed follow-up post that he was determined to lay out the conglomerate model as a sensible way to analyze aspects of Al Qaeda’s relations with its affiliates. I remained cautionary, partly as follows:
. . . For the moment, I’ll leave my notions about tribes and confederations to the side and observe the following:

It is surely worthwhile to ask what kinds of business models may help analysts and strategists understand AQ et al. If answering such a question is limited to looking at franchises and conglomerates as the most relevant models, then trends may indeed be evolving in the direction you emphasize. AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], acc to the depiction you point to, has/had more formal structure than I’m used to seeing.

Yet, doesn't the notion of a conglomerate fit Iran’s IRGC a lot better than AQ and affiliates? If so, those are two hugely different entities. Perhaps a conglomerate is AQ’s aspiration, even for the core of a caliphate. At least I’d wonder about that. But AQ’s conglomerate aspects seem only nascent today. . . .

Even so, the literature on business models includes more than franchises and conglomerates. While I’m not very familiar with this literature, it now identifies a lot of innovative new designs that are viewed as “networks” and that don’t quite fit franchise, much less conglomerate, or other standard corporate models. The larger networks (in Silicon Valley? in northern Italy?) have firms that act as key hubs, and the overall network is multi-hub. Individual firms may be structured formally, not unlike the hierarchical AQI design you noted. But the network as a whole is not like that — it is not centrally planned and commanded, though there may be efforts at a kind of centralized coordination and communication. Similar networks are also emerging among activist civil-society NGOS as well. Wouldn’t this kind of business model be more apt for thinking about AQ et al.?
In publishing his analysis, McLaughlin explained that “my aim is to supplant ‘franchise’ with ‘conglomerate’ as the most representative business model for the relationship between AQ and its affiliate groups.” To his credit, he offers a loose concept of a conglomerate, in which the component entities, though subordinate, remain quite autonomous, choose their own leaders, and act on their own initiative.

Even so, I remain more attuned to the frequent depictions of Al Qaeda as a “network of franchises.” In this regard, a recent write-up by James Roberts makes appropriate points: “These events show that Al Qaeda franchisees are operating without need of direction from the corporate headquarters. Al Qaeda today is a flat, dispersed, multi-celled structure which executes on ‘commander’s intent’ not waiting for orders from above. Actors self radicalize, seek out and connect with inspirational figures like Al Aulaqi in Yemen, and execute plots independent of commands from senior leaders. This paper proposes a change in our approach. It argues that Al Qaeda is conducting an ‘outsurgency’ — similar to, but different from — an insurgency.”

Yet, Al Qaeda et al. may still turn out to be a shape shifter — adaptively polymorphous. Analysts should not get too attached to any particular model drawn from business literatures. And there is still the issue of what Al Qaeda would like to morph into, in the unlikely event it ever gains enough sway to found a new caliphate — its avowed future goal.

* * *

Along the way, in October 2009 I had a stray thought about the caliphate concept and decided to raise it at Zenpundit, in the comments section of a post about something more general that I can’t locate anymore:
I keep re-learning what a massive operation the IRGC is — tantamount to what Jane Jacobs termed a “monstrous moral hybrid” perhaps. The IRGC/IRG starts as an effort to consolidate various paramilitary forces following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Now it has its own ground, naval, air, and special forces. More interestingly, it has expanded economically, and acquired assets to become a multi-billions enterprise, including public construction projects, and even dentistry and travel. It can shut out private business competition, for it can easily underbid and then overrun, while also using recruits and conscripts as labor. In sum, it represents a hybrid of tribal, hierarchical, and market principles, if not network ones too.

Now, that supports the usual way of looking at this: just a gigantic hybrid operating inside a state, almost as a semi-autonomous state within a state. And that’s not uncommon in many countries. The Chinese and Cuban militaries are heavily involved in economic enterprises too. And in parallel fashion, this is a growing trend among criminal enterprises as well, like the Zetas mentioned in your reading recommendations above.

But then I had this stray thought: The IRGC is not so much a state within a state, as a caliphate within a state. I am not well-informed about how to define and think about caliphates. But the little I know leads me to think this might be a thought worth further consideration and analysis. Esp. if the IRGC could be considered as a model for an emerging Shia caliphate, and one that is way ahead of radical Sunni aspirations.

So: an emerging caliphate within a state. Any comment?
Safranski generously singled out my comment for a new post on “Pondering the Pasdaran” in October 2009. It soon became clear that I was rather ignorant about the nature of caliphates in Islamic history. But I rebounded:
. . . Much as I’ve tried to be informed about differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, my mind hadn’t grasped that Caliphates pertain almost entirely to Sunnis, Imamates to Shias, and that Shias are not particularly interested in having a Caliphate — though my main source (the Wikipedia entry on “Caliphate”) indicates exceptions (e.g., the Fatimid dynasty). So, much as I liked the turn of phrase — “a caliphate within a state” — today I see it’s evidently inadvisable to apply it to the IRGC.

. . . [But] I still wonder that something more is going on than is captured by the notion of a “state within a state” and related concepts. . . . A look at a RAND report from early this year — The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (RAND, MG-821, 2009) — adds to understanding its economic reach, as a kind of conglomerate. This report compares the IRGC mainly to the case in China. Also, I’ve now spotted that the IRGC has expanded lately into energy and telecommunications.

What a hybrid amalgam!? The RAND report and other sources regard it mostly as just another complicated, expansive institution enmeshed in domestic factional politics, not to mention crime and corruption. And this results in a fairly conventional range of possible future scenarios. Yet, because of my TIMN efforts, I remain struck by the IRGC’s odd fusion of tribal, institutional, market, and network designs, and wonder more about unconventional scenarios.

My understanding of TIMN says that this kind of hybrid is dysfunctional over time. But it works for certain kinds of digressions from the mainstream of social evolution, and particularly for fascism, esp. if fascist tendencies are infused with millenarian tendencies like those we’ve discussed here at your blog previously (e.g., posts on Mahdism).
Trends in Iran and elsewhere, notably Venezuela, indicate that fascism’s allure is growing again around the world (though under other names). I’ve posted about this before, and I hope to do more. A good resource for getting back up to speed on the topic and its angles is the History News Network’s “HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism,” for which Zenpundit provides a handy index here.

* * * Wrap-Up Remarks * * *

That’s all for these incidental musings from the past six or so months. Yet, since I see this blog still has some readers, I’ll add a few personal remarks before ending this series.

When I began assembling these incidentals, I guessed the folder held about 10-15 pages of material, which I’d spread over 3 or 4 posts. All done now, my computer says the total is nearly 45 pages; and I’ve distributed them across 5 posts. Much more than I’d expected. And that’s after trimming some comments, and not including various blurts left at other blogs I like. So, in a sense I've been more productive than I thought, but also more disorganized.

These incidental activities elsewhere have enabled me to refresh existing contacts, make interesting new ones, disseminate aspects of TIMN and STA, and just test out thoughts in passing as I roamed the blogosphere. I've enjoyed it. Yet, all in all, I have not found this to be a particularly productive endeavor for the development of either TIMN or STA. It's been too fragmentary. Less commenting elsewhere and more focused reading and writing via my own blog seems advisable.

As I’ve said before, my near-term goal for this blog is to enable me to post materials that have been sitting on my computer here at home for years about STA and TIMN matters. And now that the blog has existed for a year, the near-term goal also includes posting whatever new I come up with, in addition to processing the backlog that’s still in my computer.

Posting renders a sensation of quasi-publication — of being productive, making progress, remaining on track, in contact. Indeed, I decided to try blogging as an outlet after running into unusual resistance to publishing my updated draft on cyberocracy* in 2008 — a paper that involved many months of new work on my part (as well as by co-author Danielle Varda). Recently retired, I thus began to fret that I might be entering a long period of reading and writing about STA and TIMN in frustrating isolation, with unpublished drafts accumulating here at home. I could get through that, but it seemed a better idea to try blogging bits and pieces. And so far, it’s working pretty well.

I also have a long-term goal for the blog: a progressive accumulation over several years of what I know about the STA and TIMN frameworks. If this is accompanied by achieving formal publications elsewhere, all the better. If not, at least I will have stored enough in this repository to help others continue thinking about STA and TIMN. Maybe they (you?) can do a better job eventually. I remain convinced of the theoretical and practical potentials of these two sets of ideas.


*This paper remains posted at A welcome development is that the update sections are appearing as a chapter in Irving Louis Horowitz (Editor), Culture and Civilization: Beyond Positivism and Historicism (2010).