From the nation-state, via the market state, to the rhizomatic state?

the Nation-State actors of globalization do not realize that rhizome terrorism is not fighting the policies of particular states, but that the source of conflict is the fundamental incompatibility of rhizome with the hierarchal nature of both globalization and the state.

The above quote is from an essay by Jeff Vail, together with John Robb one of our favourite p2p security experts, The New Map: terrorism and the decline of the nation-state in the post-cartesian world

It is a very good intro to the transformation of state forms and the difficulties of both the nation state and the neoliberal market state.

I do have some general remarks though, that make the approach insufficient in my own understanding of the topic.

1) does it make sense to counterpose so radically the distributed and hierarchical formats? For example, Manuel De Landa insists that meshworks and hierarchies always mix. I also miss the in my mind clear distinction between centralization (hierarchy), decentralisation (division of power in competing groups and institutions) and distribution (bottom up dynamics of free agents). If this is true, then we have to start formulating the issue in a different way, as in: which form of state or hierarchy is beneficial for peer to peer dynamics

2) Jeff’s text seems to focus exclusively on what I would call the dark side of peer to peer, i.e. primary social groups, often authoritarian in character, who use peer to peer tactics and formats to win a struggle and organize themselves, but within a reactionary mindset. They exist and exert a powerful pressure, but what about the effect of positive social practices and forms of organization, who mix peer to peer formats with a peer to peer intent? Surely the resulting state form of both groups and endeavours would be sensible different?

3) by doing this, it then focuses on state forms such as those of the hezbollah, al qaeda, etc… which are of course real and influential, but give a format to the rhizomatic state that may not at all be acceptable to the social forces that I’m observing. So I feel this other aspect is insufficiently theorized. I have formulated, following Cosmo Orsi’s lead, the concept of the Partner State to indicate the state form that would supersede the market state, and not follow its collapse, as indicated by the examples cited by Jeff Vail.

However, I have not read Jeff’s major works such as a Theory of Power in which he may have addressed this. The essay is also dated from 2006, so Jeff may have an evolved understanding of the issues discussed as well.

Without further ado, an introduction to this important essay.

Here are excerpts from Jeff Vail, which do not substitute for reading the whole and very insightfull essay.

1. The Crisis of the Nation-State

The steady decrease of the Nation-State’s ability to provide for the welfare of its nation serves to decrease the bond between nation and state, lowering the barriers to entry of alternate, overlapping affinity networks. This results in either the reversion of marginalized populations to their primary loyalties, the adoption by that population of supra-national loyalties, or both.

Primary loyalties, the small scale, local or ethnic affinity networks that emerge in times of chaos, are particularly effective at fomenting the breakdown of national cohesion.

The continual, hierarchical intensification of the process of globalization is steadily fueling the worldwide emergence of competing networks of primary loyalties which are co-spatial and contemporaneous to the national foundations of the Nation-State. These include networks based on religious identity, economic caste, micro-cultural affiliation, and geographic locality.

Because these networks rarely coincide spatially with Nation-State borders, their very existence contradicts the Cartesian notion of the constitutional nature of modern Nation-States.

Increasingly these networks of primary loyalties are blending—not behind a single ideological or political platform, but behind a unifying, non-hierarchal organizational principle: rhizome. For now this organizational principle is most visibly embodied by the phenomena of international terrorism.

The rise in international terrorism is perhaps the final straw that, when combined with the influences of multiculturalism and globalization, destroys the legitimacy of the Nation-State.

The Nation-State system is predicated upon the twin principles of sovereignty: a domestic monopoly on the use of violence, and a singular focus for inter-state violence. Terrorism invalidates both claims.

Exacerbated by reactionary ideologies and the expanding economic inequality brought by globalization, terrorism undermines the state’s role of security provider.

Additionally, as independent international actors, both terrorist organizations and multinational corporations represent their own interests, unconstrained by either a Cartesian notion of Nation-State borders or the prevailing interests of a national constituency. Terrorism represents the merger of the military force of the state and the overlapping, non-Cartesian geography of non-state networks. In a world freed of the rigid boundaries of the Nation-State system, and with the substantial, overlapping web of affiliation and connectivity created by emerging, global terrorist organizations, the stage is set for a defining conflict that will replace the last vestiges of the Nation-State with the New Map.”

2. The Market State

Fueled by the breakdown of Cartesian order, the spread of multiculturalism, and technological advancements in communication and transportation, the hierarchal process of globalization is forcing the Nation-State to evolve or die. Those states that are evolving to maintain viability are gradually taking the form of the Market-State, an awkward and unfinished formulation where powerful market interests exert their influence on the state to leverage the remnant allegiances of national populations to the benefit of their selfish interests.

While the Market-State is theoretically organized to maximize opportunity and total wealth, its failure to account for median wealth and to support expected social safety nets such as pensions and health care serves ultimately to polarize the Earth’s population. In the end, while the Market-State may theoretically maximize wealth, it also maximizes disparity between an increasingly rich and powerful few with the increasingly impoverished masses. Ultimately, this “disparity and economic desperation is the fuel that supports the reactionary flame of terrorism.” In the face of this growing disparity created by the emerging Market-State, a rhizome countermovement is emerging.”

3. The emergence of rhizomatic opposition

At present, the phenomena of international terrorism is the most publicly visible example of this rhizome opposition. The watershed innovation of today’s terrorism is not its military efficacy, however, but its use of rhizome structure to confront the hierarchical establishment.

The global community is gradually becoming aware of this structural novelty, but they fail to perceive it as a larger, structural transition. As Foreign Policy Editor Moisés Naím keenly observed, there is an increasing tendency for non-state power structures to:

move away from fixed hierarchies and toward decentralized networks; away from controlling leaders and toward multiple, loosely linked, dispersed agents and cells; away from rigid lines of control and exchange and toward constantly shifting transactions as opportunities dictate. It is a mutation that [governments] barely recognized and could not, in any case, hope to emulate.

In short, the watershed innovation of the New Map is the rise of this organizational principle of rhizome, fueled by the changing pathways of a globalizing world, to present a direct challenge, not merely to the existing Nation-State structure, but to the very principle of hierarchal organization that underwrites today’s concept of global order. It is this fundamental, structural nature of conflict within the New Map that is so grossly overlooked by today’s theorists and policy makers. In order to truly understand the crisis of the New Map, in order to create effective policy within this novel structural context, an examination of the polar structural patterns of hierarchy and rhizome is necessary.

Rhizome, the opposing constitutional system of networks of independent but interacting nodes, is the animating principle behind terrorism, emerging illicit trade networks, and the more benign economic processes of localization and self-sufficiency that stand in opposition to globalization.

The interaction of hierarchy and rhizome inherently generates conflict as hierarchy’s attempts to create economic dependency through economies of place and scale are mutually exclusive of rhizome’s tendency to devolve economic structures towards localized independence and parity. In a world largely stuck in the mindset of the Nation-State and oblivious to the emerging conflict of hierarchy versus rhizome, terrorism is the vanguard of a rhizome movement that sits on the cusp of a dawning, non-Cartesian reality. It is what Antonio Negri has called a “diagonal” that opposes hierarchy by confronting its weaknesses, rather than direct confrontation with its strengths. Rhizome is out of phase with hierarchy while simultaneously occupying the same point in history, the same territory on the Cartesian plane. Rhizome is an emergent phenomenon, analogous to the emergent intelligence of the human brain, presenting radically different, and often superior, information processing capability when compared to the machine intelligence of hierarchy.”

4. Conclusions

On the most fundamental level, the challenges of the New Map must be met with policy that embraces rhizome. Reducing the dominance of hierarchical organization within our world economic and political system and working to affect a smooth transition to a more decentralized, networked world will result in a world with less disparity and a lower capacity for conflict.

Within the New Map there are two choices. Existing Nation-States can embrace hierarchy, and transition to the market-state model, as envisioned by constitutional law professor Phillip Bobbitt, or they can embrace rhizome and embark upon the same spirit of bold adventure and constitutional invention that created America over two centuries ago. Those that embrace hierarchy will increasingly face the emergent, rhizome forces of those who must, by definition, reside at the base of hierarchy’s pyramid—“terrorists” and “freedom fighters” alike.

Those states that choose to transition to rhizome, however, might finally escape this structural violence of hierarchy.

The New Map is a problem that requires a structural solution—that of rhizome.

Advocates of the perpetuation of hierarchy and the Market-State system will surely continue to suggest legal solutions that merely address structural symptoms such as terrorism. It is my opinion that they will meet with the same failure as past attempts to deny the reality of the evolving global structure.

In light of the emerging reality of the New Map, it would be more prudent to employ the law as a tool to embrace rhizome, to affect a smooth transition to a world that has, on the ground, already begun moving beyond the Nation-State. The embrace of rhizome is not a policy that must be affected by expeditionary militaries or in far-off lands. It is a policy that must be affected in the heart of Western powers—in their state-sponsored systems of wealth creation and distribution. These systems are currently founded upon the hierarchal mode of ownership, and are the engine of structural disparity.”

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