Took a bit of a risk with this, but it was fun to write. Hope it does provide some useful frameworks for thinking about our present situation.______________
Last weekend, upon the recommendation of a very smart friend, I read Carroll Quigley's (a legendary professor at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service) 1961 book, "The Evolution of Civilizations." It is a hidden gem of a history book, chock full of useful models he derives through the application of the scientific method and aggressive analysis/synthesis (which makes it very unusual). Happily, I found this prescient para near the end of the book:
All I can say is WOW. This was written at the height of the cold war, nearly 50 years ago, and he could still envision the end game of Western Civilization.*
The hope of the future does not rest, as commonly believed, in winning the people of the "buffer fringe" to one superpower or the other, but rather in the invention of new weapons and tactics that will be so cheap to obtain and so easy to use that they will increase the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare so greatly that the employment of our present weapons of mass destruction will become futile, and on this basis there can be a revival of democracy and of political decentralization in all three parts of our present world. This possible development in political and military matters, would, of course, require the development of decentralized economic techniques such as would arise if sunlight became the chief energy source for production and the advancement of science made it possible to manufacture any desired substance by molecular rearrangement....
Quigley's models for how civilizations function are also very useful. One model breaks a civilization's culture into six categories (there could be more, but these are useful): Intellectual, Social, Economic, Political, Military, and Religious. These categories develop at their own pace, and often (depending on the civilization), get out of synch (some are advanced and others very rudimentary). In Western culture (don't think of this as related to any specific nation-state, but rather Western Civilization as a whole), Quigley maintained that the Intellectual, Economic, and Military cultural factors predominate. The sophistication of political culture less developed. Social and Religious cultural development is rudimentary.
These levels of cultural development play a roll in how a civilization advances through Quigley's model (very similar to Toynbee and other historians) for a civilization's development. These are: 1) Mixture, 2) Gestation, 3) Expansion, 4) Age of Conflict, 5) Universal Empire, 6) Decay, and 7) Invasion. His analysis confirmed that all civilizations progress on this path, with an occasional jump from stage 4 (conflict) to 6 (decay). At the time the book was being written, our current level of development was 4, an Age of Conflict (the Cold War) and he was unsure about the final outcome.
What falls out of Quigley's models is something totally unexpected. Universal Empire has arrived for Western Civilization (stage 5), but in a form unique in history. Due to relative weakness of our political, social and religious cultural development, economics took control and vaulted to dominance. Economics alone led the drive to Universal Empire (everyone has adopted financial capitalism, from China to Russia), and it is now firmly in control, while the other elements of Western culture wither.
Instruments of Advancement vs. Institutions
Another of Quigley's insights is a description of how cultural elements advance through the use of social organizations that improve their function. Organizations that radically improve the level of cultural development in their target area are termed instruments. They do what they are supposed/designed to do and little else. Over time, since these organizations are run by human beings, they become institutions. They take on a life of their own, protect themselves and serve their own interests more than they advance the cultural need they were designed to advance/solve. They become ineffective and ultimately damage the entire culture if they aren't radically reformed or replaced by a new instrument.
The shift from instrument to institution is ultimately why the Political and Military aspects of Western Culture stagnated. For example, take military development. Due to institutionalization, it stagnated. It is bloated, inflexible, bureaucratized, still focused on interstate conflict, and relatively ineffective/inefficient vs. even ragtag foes. Worse, it is still tied to a single nation-state (the US), which ultimately, due to this sole source vulnerability will be its downfall: global financial capitalism will soon starve it of financial support (along with its Political cousin). A likely replacement for this failed institution on a global level will be private military forces. This new instrument, which is in line with the needs of global financial capitalism, will sprout like a weed as the US military starves to death over the next decade.
The shift to institutionalism is also a good predictor of our future. Financial capitalism, the owner of Western Civilization's Universal Empire is an institution. It has taken on a life of its own at the global level and is no longer an instrument of cultural advancement for Western Civilization. It will advance its interests at the expense of everything else. From outright fraud (the Shadow Banking system) to rentier lawfare (the proliferation of intellectual property protection to usury), financial capitalism will enrich itself mightily while the world stagnates endlessly.
Quigley suggests that there are three potential outcomes from an institution that has gone bad.
- You can attempt to radically reform it. The institution either accepts this reform and improves - or - the institution
- fights the reform attempt. The recent global crisis and it's pitiful aftermath is a good indicator that financial capitalism will fight reform tooth and nail, and they will win.
- The only other option is to build something new that routes around the institution (in this case global financial capitalism). However, that's going to be very difficult given that it is now runs a Universal Empire and the power it can bring to bear to protect its interests is nearly limitless.
Hope this helps. I think it provides some useful thinking to why we should build new instruments for economic, social, religious, political, and intellectual advancement. The new network proposed here, in combination with resilient communities, provides a good start across all of these areas. Maybe we should call this network Freedom in a nod to Daniel Suarez (without financial capitalism's addition of a TM to the title).
* Maybe open source warfare and systems disruption is that method of warfare. I'm currently trying to build the second part.