[UPDATE — September 13, 2013: I’ve added an Appendix at the end. It was initially going to go at the end of Part 2, but in light of the way that next part is evolving, this Appendix fits better here.]
When working on TIMN, I browse mostly for new writings about what may happen to the +N network form as it unfolds in the future. Hence my recent four-part write-up (here) about Steven Johnson’s Future Perfect and its concept of peer progressivism.
It and similar writings express mainly Left-leaning views. So far I’ve found little to help me with understanding +N on the Right.
But a new book by two conservative libertarians — James Bennett and Michael Lotus, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – Why America’s Best Days are Yet to Come (2013) — is captivating for another reason: It offers a keen analysis of the importance of the nature of the family — the kernel of the tribal/T form — for understanding how and why the United States developed so well, so uniquely. In a sense, America 3.0 does for the tribal form what Future Perfect does for the network form: provide an illumination in line with TIMN.
Since the beginning, I have said that TIMN rests on the nature of the tribal (T) form, broadly defined, and how it develops in specific societies/cultures. In particular, differences at the tribal level may explain differences in, say, American and Chinese patterns of development. And I’ve attributed American “exceptionalism” to our culture’s emphasis on the nuclear family, in contrast to the extended family, clan, and tribal designs that prevail in most other societies.
Yet I’ve said all that only sketchily in scattered spots — see Appendix in Part 2. I’ve not provided much elaboration. This book by Bennett and Lotus provides a compelling elaboration, with intent and vigor, illuminating the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution in ways that, in my view, help validate and reinforce TIMN.
Since this post has grown longer than I intended, I’m breaking it into two parts. This Part 1 lays out the themes that interest me in America 3.0, mostly in its own terms and with minimal review comments by me. Part 2 will take a more pointed look at America 3.0 in terms of TIMN themes and principles.
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Insightful analysis of America’s evolution
America 3.0 is about America's evolution: from its deepest cultural origins in the Germanic tribes who populated England as the Anglo-Saxons, through the foundation of the agrarian frontier-oriented America shaped by the Constitution and Bill of Rights (America 1.0), to the industrialized centralized Big-Government Big-Business America of recent decades (America 2.0), and looking ahead to the future realization of a newly decentralized, voluntarist, anti-bureaucratic America that revives our society’s founding values and principles (America 3.0).
Throughout their narrative, Bennett and Lotus argue that “The continuous core of our distinct American culture is the American nuclear family.” (p. 26)
“A novel feature of this book is our identification of the defining cultural element that makes us different from the rest of the world. That element is the unique American style of family life that has an unbroken history going back at least a thousand years and possibly for fifteen centuries or more. A feature of our lives we take for granted has made us what we are, and has been the continuous thread linking each of the three “versions” of America.
“... Once our readers have this perspective, they will see that America's history and its future form a continuous pattern that is oriented toward freedom and prosperity. This innate strength will allow us to ride out the dissolution of America 2.0 successfully, and build a superior iteration in its place. The likely continuation of our ancient pattern is a source of hope and optimism to the authors of this book, and we hope our readers will come to agree with us.” (p. xx-xxi)This particular kind of family — technically, the Absolute Nuclear Family — is defined by its practices:
“(1) adult children choose their own spouses, (2) adult children leave their parents home to form a new, independent family in a new home, (3) the parents do not have a duty to leave their property to any child, and they may sell it during their lives or leave it by will to anyone they choose, (4) children have no duty to provide for their parents, and (5) extended families are weak and have no control over personal decisions.” (p. 52; also see pp. 27-28)In other words, it’s very different in design — as well as in its consequences and implications — compared to the extended–family, clan, and other tribal designs that prevail elsewhere.
Bennett and Lotus show at length (Chapter 2, pp. 29-45) that the nuclear family explains a lot about our distinctive culture and society:
“It has caused Americans to have a uniquely strong concept of each person as an individual self, with an identity that is not bound by family or tribal or social ties. … Our distinctive type [of] American nuclear family has made us what we are.” (p. 29)And “what we are” as a result is individualistic, liberty-loving, nonegalitarian (without being inegalitarian), competitive, enterprising, mobile, and voluntaristic. In addition, Americans tend to have middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and a preference for suburban lifestyles.
As the authors carefully note, these are generally positive traits, but they have both bright and dark sides, noticeable for example in the ways they make America a “high-risk, high-return culture” (p. 38) — much to the bane of some individuals. The traits also interact in interesting ways, such that Americans tend to be loners as individuals and families, but also joiners “who form an incomprehensibly dense network of voluntary associations” — much to the benefit of civil society (p. 39).
In sum, the American-style nuclear family is the major cause of “American exceptionalism” — the basis of our freedom and prosperity, our "amazing powers of assimilation” (p. 53), and our unique institutions:
“It was the deepest basis for the development of freedom and prosperity in England, and then in America. Further, the underlying Anglo-American family type was the foundation for all of the institutions, laws, and cultural practices that gave rise to our freedom and prosperity over the centuries.” (p. 52)The authors go on to show this for America 1.0 and 2.0 in detail. They also reiterate that Americans have long taken the nuclear family for granted. Yet, very different marriage and family practices are the norm in most societies around the world. And the difference is profoundly significant for the kinds of cultural, social, economic, and political evolution that ensue. Indeed, the pull of the nuclear model in the American context is so strong that it has a liberating effect on immigrants who come from societies that are organized around extended families and clans (p. 55) — an important point, since America is a land of immigrants from all over, not just from Anglo-Saxon nuclear-family cultures.
Optimism about transitioning from America 2.0 to America 3.0
Looking ahead, America 3.0 takes the position that “our future will be built on our existing family and cultural foundations.” (p. 48) At the same time, the authors recognize, all is not well: the nuclear family isn’t as widespread and vital as it used to be, for “we are in the midst of rapid and even chaotic change in family life in America.” The changes the authors list are:
“The liberation of women from backbreaking domestic work…, the move of many women out of the house and into the cash economy, the dissolution of traditional family life, the legality and widespread use of abortion, the sweeping impact of no-fault divorce, the effect of fragmented families on several generations of American children, the social acceptance of single motherhood, the appearance of a political and cultural movement demanding civil rights and marriage for gay people, and the rise of ubiquitous pornography on the Internet.” (p. 58; altered from orig. bulleted format)Yet, while the book goes on to provide detailed analysis about political and economic problems that afflict America 2.0 — from a conservative libertarian view — there is not much elaboration about how the rise of those problems is connected to the decline in family life. Nonetheless, the authors want to convey that there is a connection. This is evident, for example, in their interesting point (p. 210) that our education system has suffered — leading to a swollen public education sector — because of family structure changes in the 1960s and 1970s that left many families with absent fathers and working mothers, such that schools had to take on roles and responsibilities previously performed by healthy families.
The authors are not sanguine about restoring the nuclear family to its former vitality, and they do not explain much how the transition from America 2.0 to 3.0 may lead to resolving family-related policy issues. Even so, their view is that America 3.0 will turn out to be better aligned with traditional family values than is America 2.0. Indeed, they assert hopefully — a bit too abruptly for me — that
“the prospect of a reassertion or revival of family life along more traditional American lines, either generally or among self-selecting communities, cannot be ruled out in the decades ahead.” (p. 58)In a similar vein, the authors also lament a related decline in civil society under America 2.0 — and again they assert hopefully that a revival will occur with the advent of America 3.0:
“… civil society and voluntary associations have been in decline in America in recent decades. Part of the problem is that government at all levels has become a nanny-leviathan, squeezing out civil society. …
“Nonetheless, a revival of civil society appears to be in store. New technology, which allows people to connect in new ways, is likely to lead to a revival of civil society in new forms. We expect this process to continue and to evolve rapidly. What we now refer to as “social media” are only early and primitive versions of the civil society-enabling technology we will be seeing in the years ahead. Nonetheless it is too early to say exactly how, and how much, new technology will revive and strengthen civil society.” (p. 41)In my reading, their valuable themes about family life and civil society get too little attention in their discussions about the future, but the authors are quite clear about what should / will happen politically and economically with America 3.0. There will be a great movement toward decentralization and autonomy (pp. 206-207) — and for good reason:
“America’s culture, historically based on Absolute Nuclear Families, makes us naturally receptive to 3.0 decentralization.” (p. 206)
“A critically important reform for the transition to America 3.0 will be the decentralization of the economic and political systems of the country.” (p. 213)To get there, the authors envision dealing with our enormous fiscal / debt problems by means of “The Big Haircut” at the federal level (p. 189), plus “little haircuts” at state levels (p. 217). Beyond that, they propose an agenda for restructuring government roles and responsibilities on behalf of America 3.0: In particular, they recommend that the Right stop fighting to take over the federal government, and instead push for long-term structural decentralization away from Washington so that most decisions are moved to state and community levels (p. 219). They want the scope of the federal role reduced “to near the classical limited-state definition” (p. 230) — with social functions offloaded to state levels. Moreover, they call for a formation of “multistate compacts” to address some matters, along with a “division of large or conflicted states into several smaller states” (pp. 230-231). They also envision population shifts into “self-sorting” / “self-selecting communities” (p. 8, 17, 58). Quite a restructuring and redistribution.
Along the way, the authors suggest taking contentious socio-cultural issues off the agenda, so that the Left and the Right stop fighting over them so debilitatingly:
“What is needed is a social settlement: a general acceptance on the Right of a plank that takes social issues off the federal political agenda for at least two decades and puts an end to the Left’s ability to play on slippery slope fears. The way to do that is to promote a constitutional amendment that clearly places the main set of contentious social issues, including abortion, the definition of marriage, and in general the police powers of the state beyond the reach of the federal government and the court system entirely, leaving them squarely in the hands of state legislatures and voters.” (p. 221)As for foreign policy, the authors commend “an emerging phenomenon we call "Network Commonwealth," which is an alignment of nations … who share common ties that may include language, culture and common legal systems.” (p. 260) Above all, they’d like to see the “Anglosphere” take shape. And as the world coalesces into various “global networks of affinity” engaged in shifting coalitions (p. 265), America 3.0 would cease emphasizing democracy-promotion abroad, and “reorient its national strategy to a primary emphasis on maintaining the freedom of the global commons of air, sea, and space.” (p. 263) [UPDATE: For more about the Network Commonwealth and Anglosphere concepts, see Bennett’s 2007 paper here.]
One way or another, this entire agenda reflects the book’s theme about the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution. The authors do not always clearly specify how and why, but at least they steadfastly indicate as much.
TO BE CONTINUED BEFORE LONG
(A thankful h/t to Michael Lotus for sending me a copy of the book.)
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APPENDIX: Excerpts from TIMN writings that apply to this post
I noted in the main text above that TIMN has long claimed, much like America 3.0, that America’s exceptionally impressive evolution has rested, in large part, on the nuclear family and related attributes that define the T/tribal level in America’s case. This appendix is included so as to document that point, without cluttering my discussion of America 3.0 with self-referential quotes. In addition, the few briefings I did about TIMN during the late 1990s and early 2000s always included a slide or two that spoke to the enduring importance of the tribal (T) form and urged analysts to look out for its effects on other forms — but I see no good reason to include those slides here.
From my first paper on Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks: A Framework about Social Evolution (RAND, P-7967, 1996):
“But as I move to discuss that [T form] and later forms, the point should be kept in mind that tribe-like patterns, which once dominated the organization of societies, remain an essential basis of identity and solidarity as societies become more complex and add state, market, and other structures. This is true for societies as diverse as China, where extended family structures constantly affect all manner of political, economic, and other relations, and the United States, where an emphasis on the nuclear family and immigration from all areas of the world has resulted in an unusually loose social fabric, in which societal “kinship” often depends more on a sense of brotherhood than blood, as seen in fraternal associations.” (p. 5)
“In the United States and elsewhere, urban gangs like the “Bloods” and the “Crips” in the Los Angeles area represent in part a recurrence to clannish, combative brotherhoods by youths who lack strong nuclear family ties and do not see a future for themselves in the state, market, or other structures around them.” (p. 6)
“Yet, despite the uniqueness of each case, it appears that the four [TIMN] forms lie behind the evolution of all societies: East, West, North, and South. Western history is emphasized in this preliminary overview, but the framework appears to apply to non-Western societies too. For example, a comparative study might show that many major differences between societies within regions (e.g., between England and Italy) and across regions (e.g., between England and Japan) may be traced to variations in the nature of the tribal/clan form and its incarnations and repercussions in particular settings. As noted earlier, American “exceptionalism” owes in part to the relative weakness and diversity of its T-type bases (which may help explain American adaptability to the post-tribal forms).” (p. 22)
From my monograph on In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes—The First and Forever Form (RAND, WR-433-RPC, 2006):
“A people’s adaptability to the rise of a new form appears to depend largely on the local nature of the tribal form. It may have profound effects on what happens as the later forms get added. For example, the tribal form has unfolded differently in China and in America. Whereas the former has long revolved around extended family ties, clans, and dynasties, the latter has relied on the nuclear family, heavy immigration, and a fabric of fraternal organizations that provide quasi-kinship ties (e.g., from the open Rotary Club to the closed Ku Klux Klan). These differences at the tribal level have given unique shapes to each nation’s institutional and market forms, to their ideas about progress, and, now, to their adaptability to the rise of networked NGOs.” (p.5)
“ … The challenge is to show the tribal form’s endurance in complex modern societies. Basic places to look include
- at the family level—including in the nature and roles of the nuclear family, the extended family, clans, and other kith and kin in different societies
- at the associational level—including among formal and informal groups, affiliations, organizations, and other such entities that constitute the bulk of a society’s structures and processes beyond the family
- at the ideational level—including in ideas, values, norms, principles, and other such criteria about how people should relate to each other and how a society should treat its members.” (p. 55 — plus see all of pp. 54-60 for elaboration)
From my blog post providing an “Overview of social evolution (past, present, and future) in TIMN terms” (2009):
“A people’s adaptability to the rise of a new form appears to depend largely on the local nature of the tribal form. It may have profound effects on what happens as the later forms get added. For example, the tribal form has unfolded differently in China and in America. Whereas the former has long revolved around extended family ties, clans, and dynasties, the latter has relied on the nuclear family, heavy immigration, and a fabric of fraternal organizations that provide quasi-kinship ties (e.g., from the open Rotary Club to the closed Ku Klux Klan). These differences at the tribal level have given unique shapes to each nation’s institutional and market forms, to their ideas about progress, and, now, to their adaptability to the rise of networked NGOs.”
From my blog post about “Why the Republicans lost: excessive tribalism — a partial TIMN interpretation” (2012):
“TIMN implies recognizing cultural and historical variations among societies. Thus it would explain “American exceptionalism” by, among other matters, pointing to the unusual diversity of our nation’s population, along with our ability to accommodate all sorts of people — in other words, our capacity to dampen uncivil kinds of domestic (T) tribalism, partly so the other TIMN forms work better. During the presidential campaign, tribalists among the Republicans tried to claim the mantle of American exceptionalism. But as I recall, they mostly did so by stressing that American exceptionalism derived mainly from free enterprise and individual initiative (harking back to M-level priorities). Okay, sure, to some degree. But they ignored or misunderstood the historical tribal (T-level) characteristics that make our nation so unique and different from, say, Europe. Yet, perhaps it makes sense they have done so — tribalists have to be very careful about accommodating to ethnic, religious, and other kinds of T-level diversity, and allowing it to be an explanation for exceptionalism. They want their own tribe to be the explanation.”