David Ronfeldt’s continued investigations of governance and state forms

“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.”

Because of the heavy travel schedule last spring, I hardly have had to time to follow my favorite blogs, and to my great shame I did not update my readings of David Ronfeldt’s blog.

He has not been sitting still, so here is a review of not too miss blog items:

1) David is continuing his investigations into the continuation of tribal forms:

* A propos the definition of tribes

* Tribes vis a vis other governance forms

2) David is starting to review recent state theories, 1) Bobbitt’s Market State; 2) Blond’s Civic State and 3) planned but not written yet, a discussion of my own concept of a Partner State (inspired by Cosma Orsi’s Political Economy of Reciprocity)

“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.”

A few excerpts to give you a taste of David’s approach:

2.1. David Ronfeldt’s critique of the Market State concept:

“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.”

Here is “Red Tory” Phillip Blond’s critique of the market state (he himself advocates a civic state)

2.2 Phillip Blond critique’s of the market state

“We know what is right and what is wrong with the market state. Clearly the market is a more effective and efficient mechanism for the distribution of many resources than the state. Evidently if one can enter the market place and if one has something to trade – the market creates wealth, prosperity and independence. Finally there is the manifest good of liberty and unless this has an economic reality – one would exist under the permanent subjugation of the state, or the private cartel. 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. Under the dispensation of the market state, private replaced public monopoly and market entry was effectively and progressively denied to newcomers. The majority of Britons having being denied entry to the market lost any access to investment capital. Thus the ability to transform one’s life or situation steadily declined as wealth flowed upwards rather than downwards and a new oligarchical class, asset rich and leverage keen, assumed market freedom was synonymous with their complete ascendancy. Market fundamentalism abandoned the fundamentals of markets. Prudent Chancellors promised no more boom and bust, the state sanctioned monopoly capitalism and sat happy on the tax receipts of unrestrained global gambling. As Labour stoked the engine of inequality – it abandoned the rest of the economy for the receipts of city speculation and the re-distributive power of welfarism . Thus the market and the welfare state merged into one as they both colluded in a system whose bankruptcy is now ongoing and self-evident.

The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures. The real merit of the current conservative renaissance has in some way escaped notice. Those on the now bankrupt left argue that the new Toryism is but a cover for Thatcherism Mark II, while those on the bankrupt right secretly agree and seem to want nothing more than a return to monopoly capitalism and the dominance of their kind of people.

Modern conservatism rejects both dispensations as it seeks to replace the welfare and the market state with the Civic State.”

David Ronfeldt then looks at Blond’s advocacy of a civic state:

2.3 David Ronfeldt on the civic state:

“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.

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.

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.”

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