P2P Partner State Theory vs. TIMN Network Theory

David Ronfeldt has continued his exploration of the partner state concept, from the vantage point of his own network forms theory:

(excerpted without the sourced links)

“The P2P blog’s ideological orientation is to the Left of my own. For purposes of developing TIMN, I’d like to find an additional blog (or other material) that is equivalently to the Right. But so far, I haven’t. This may reflect the fact that hardly any theorists on the Right have grasped the potential long-term significance of the network form. More on that some other time. Right now, back to P2P theory and Bauwens’ partner-state concept.

Toward a new ideological spectrum: beyond today’s Left and Right

As noted above, Bauwens’ views lean decidedly Left. Most posts at his blog, whether by him or colleagues, reflect Marxist, anarchist, socialist, or Left libertarian ideas, to varying degrees. Moreover, other blogs that affiliate with his — there is a growing community of them — are mostly on the Left. Many are interested in promoting the promise of the commons, including under the rubric of a new ism — “commonism” (yes, spelled with two ‘o’s and no ‘u’) — whose very name harks back to an earlier Leftist ideology.

Yet Bauwens is no ordinary Leftist. His P2P theory is geared to revising the Left side of the ideological spectrum. At the same time, he is looking far beyond today’s Left and Right, for he thinks that P2P dynamics will remold the entire spectrum, appealing in different ways to the Lefts and Rights of the future. He mainly aims to create alliances across the Left, based on P2P principles. But he’s also open to alliances with actors on the Right who have begun to believe in P2P principles.

For example, P2P’s concept of “cooperative individualism” — a concept that expresses a shift from competition to cooperation, as mentioned in the part-1 post — is said to reflect values from both the Left and the Right:

“[T]his turn to the collective that the emergence of peer to peer represents does not in any way present a loss of individuality, even of individualism. Rather it ‘transcends and includes’ individualism and collectivism in a new unity, which I would like to call ‘cooperative individualism’.”

“Peer to peer theory . . . is in a unique position to marry the priority values of the Right, individual freedom, and the priority values of the Left, equality. In the peer to peer logic, one is the condition of the other, and cooperative individualism marries equipotentiality and freedom in a context of non-coercion.”

Moreover, unlike many traditional Leftist isms, P2P theory is not necessarily anti-hierarchy or anti-market. It raises objections to statism, capitalism, and neoliberalism. But it also calls for retaining a limited state and market system, albeit constrained by civil society and the commons sector. This too, in Bauwens’ view, may provide a basis for alliances across conservative and progressive lines:

“All this means that it is hard to pin down P2P within the old categories of left and right ideologies; it is a hybrid form with market-based and commons-based aspects.”

“Yes, we can build alliances around commonalities in the construction of a world centered around civil society, the commons, and peer to peer dynamics.”

In particular, Bauwens approves of the Catholic distributism that appears in Phillip Blond’s Red Toryism, presuming it can be molded in P2P directions and help result in one of Bauwens’ prime objectives — “a grand alliance of the commons”:

“What then, is the position of ‘P2P’ towards the Right. I have often stated that I believe peer to peer to be a dynamic of the Left, as it seeks further emancipation, while the Right generally seeks the continuation of existing social hierarchies. . . .

“Nevertheless, we can find conservative and liberal traditions which have a place for P2P and commons-oriented dynamics, and in my view it might be possible to unite people of different political backgrounds around concrete common priorities. Take as one example, Catholic Distributism, or the stress of the Red Toryism of Phillip Blond on civil society, mutualities and cooperatives. . . . Commons can therefore be made to work, and P2P dynamics be made to expand, without requiring any adherence to political principles proposed by the Left, as the people of the Right also often have a place for community, the commons, etc. More importantly, most people are not always consistently on one side in all their convictions, but often mash-up different preferences.

“If we ever want to achieve a political and social majority for a phase transition to a commons-based society, then we will need a very broad social alliance.”

Partly because of this openness toward new alliances across the ideological spectrum, Bauwens insists that P2P is “meliorist” rather than “utopian” in its political and practical implications:

“So why is the P2P approach not utopian. First of all, because we do not strive in any way for a vision of a perfect society. P2P is not about achieving a classless society say, or universal brotherhood. It’s about reversing the destruction of the biosphere by abandoning a system based on a fake notion of natural abundance, and of reversing the increasing trend of artificial scarcity that hampers human social innovation. . . . [O]ur approach is meliorist, improving where we can. Yes, we are also for a more radical change in the logic of society, around the commons as main institution and with a non-infinite-growth market as sub-system for the allocation of rival goods, but this can be achieved only by a time-dependent drive to maturity.”

Yet, let there be no doubt that P2P theory implies, and Bauwens is seeking, a revolutionary transformation. P2P is meant to become “an alternative and a successor to capitalism” as well as to the welfare and market state. Unlike some past ideologies on the Left — e.g., communism and socialism — P2P would not seek to impose a classless, stateless society or a totalitarian state. In a P2P-based society, a limited state and market system would still exist. But it’s a partner state, and what remains of the market system is guided by commonism more than by residues of capitalism.

“Peer to peer is therefore not a continuation of the socialist/communist tradition, but a re-elaboration of emancipatory practice and theory under new historical and social conditions.”

“Socialism has traditionally been focused on the state, and while the state has historically proven to be necessary to balance unbalanced market forces, it has not proven to be very successful as an autonomous mode of production. So any socialism that harks back to the failed statism of 20th century socialism, will also be a disaster in the waiting. P2P Theory offers a new expanded role for the state, not just as the arbiter of the market, or as paternalistic ‘welfare’ state, but as a Partner State, that directly empowers and enables civil society to be autonomously productive. This is indeed the strong claim of P2P Theory, i.e. that we now have a superior mode of commons-oriented peer production which surpasses both the statist and market modes. But peer production needs an infrastructure and support which needs to come from enlightened and democratic public authorities.”

This is all interesting and pertinent to TIMN. TIMN implies, similarly, that the rise of network forms of organization — be they +N or P2P — will lead to new ideologies and philosophies across the political spectrum, as well as to a new kind of state (1996, pp. 30-33). Bauwens has identified a way this may occur on the Left, and begun to specify the content. He also senses that the Right will surely be remolded as well. And although he is sketchy about the details, he sees prospects for building conceptual bridges to next-generation conservatives. He is not seeking to foster an upheaval that would be hostile toward an information-age, P2P-oriented Right.

Yet, I’d say it’s still far from clear how the Right may be affected and evolve as it grasps the rise of the network form. Thinkers on the Right have barely begun to look ahead in network-oriented terms. Bauwens and his colleagues are heartened (as am I) that conservatives increasingly criticize capitalism’s recent contortions — e.g., “the free market all too often turns out not to be a free market at all, but a corporatist racket for the few” (source). But, from what I’ve read so far, that still leaves thinkers on the Right far from wanting to see the rise of something similar to a partner state, or a commons sector, or a P2P-based society. Indeed, Bauwens doubts that the Right, even Red Toryism, would ever accept as strong a public sphere as P2P implies, and he is wary of the Right’s continuing incapacity to move away from policies that impoverish the poor and middle classes.

Even so, whether or not new political actors emerge on the Right who make common cause with P2P values, economic actors may still appear who ally with P2P endeavors based on mutual material interests. The future of P2P may depend somewhat on ideological innovations across the political spectrum, as discussed in this sub-section. But P2P may depend even more on business innovations that motivate “netarchical capitalists” to ally with P2P commoners, as discussed in the next sub-section. At least that’s what I gather Bauwens is arguing.

Transition and transformation: a new phase of social evolution

P2P theory is ultimately a theory of social evolution that depends — much like TIMN — on the rise of network forms of organization, in relation to the full set of major forms of organization that societies use. Bauwens’ full set emphasizes hierarchies, markets, and P2P networks, with an occasional nod to tribes as the earliest form. In TIMN, the tribal form receives fully equal emphasis, along with the other TIMN forms, as a constant, enduring factor, even in today’s most advanced societies. If I’ve written this two-part post adequately, those points should be evident by now and not require further elaboration here.

Moreover, in laying out how these forms of organization have affected past social evolution, Bauwens often focuses on two past phase transitions — the first involving feudalism, the second capitalism — in order to draw lessons for theorizing about the next major phase transition: to a P2P society. But I’m not going to elaborate on his historical analysis here either. For now, I’d rather make six quick points that bear more directly on his future prognoses about the partner state.

First: Bauwens is sure that a major transition and transformation is looming and that it is important to position oneself accordingly:

“The way I see it, we are going through a major cultural, political, economic transition; nothing less than a revolution and phase transition; the P2P Foundation wants to position itself as one of the trusted players that can offer guidance and learning in this transformation, on both individual and collective levels.”

“. . . At the P2P Foundation, we expect first a reformulation of capitalism, but we also expect, in about a generation, a fundamental phase transition towards a new form of society.” (source)

Second: Bauwens’ analysis, and his sense of positioning, entails a long calendar of phases that reflects his penchant for Kondratieff cycles (or waves):

“In my own writings on how and when I see the shift towards a P2P oriented society, I use a mostly historical reasoning, based on the Kondratieff cycles.

“Basically, given that 2008 is the Systemic Crisis (still unfolding through sovereign defaults), this can be given as the start of a new cycle, which, after a number of years of struggling with the previous crisis, leads to a new upcycle. I argue that this new upcycle of capitalism necessarily means a more intensive usage of the new P2P logics, and will therefore strengthen the P2P aspects of society, even as they are used/coopted by the present dominant forces in their own interest and for their own survival. This gives us roughly twenty-five–thirty years (2008 to 2033-2038) in which P2P can move from emerging social logic, to paritary [parity?] social logic, and hence, it could set the stage for a phase transition.”

Third: His scenarios about how this phase transition may unfold include a transgressive phase (for fielding social movements), a constructive phase (for building the commons), and then a political phase (for creating new institutions, like the partner state). More to the point, his scenarios split into a smooth “high road” and a rocky “low road” to a P2P future — with much depending on how capitalism adapts to P2P dynamics:

“Here we have to outline two possible subscenarios:

“1) the high road scenario, the development of a new globalism under peer production, preserving the best elements of industrial-capitalist civilization, and finding sustainable ways to maintain relatively high living standards;

“2) a low road scenario, in which the dislocation is of such depth, and of such duration, that the P2P phase transition can only occur in a context of intensive relocalization and breakdown of globality; . . . As a historical analogy, think the end of the Roman empire and the long time needed for the new feudal system to reach some stable point of take-off.” (source)

Fourth: While Bauwens’ theorizing about social evolution is generally quite conventional, it brings up a neat notion about phase transitions: that, across history, from ancient to modern times, when a new form of organization has arisen in the context of older, stronger forms — “embedded” amid them — it makes sense for “hybrids” to emerge during phase transitions. Such hybrids combine actors from an era’s “dominant mode” of organization with actors representing an era’s emerging mode, in ways that benefit all partners to the hybrid, but that may also help subvert the old order and generate the new one. For the looming phase transition, this crucial interim role will be played by “netarchical capitalists” — e.g., Google (?) — who are willing to work with P2P commoners. Thus, in this view, phase transitions depend not so much on struggles between elites and masses, as on innovative alliances between break-away segments from the old system and adaptive segments from the emergent one:

“The process is very similar to how slavery changed to feudalism, and feudalism to capitalism: by a mutual reconfiguration of both the elite and the producing classes. . . . [P]eer to peer develops as a germ form in the margins of the market, and is increasingly adopted, until it eventually achieves some kind of parity. At some point in time the old meta-system enters into crisis, and the already existing new subsystem becomes the new meta-system.”

“Some may see that parallel movement of the netarchical fraction of capital, as a negative development, but I believe it is precisely this which guarantees the further development of peer production. Rather than the Marxist prediction of a new class taking power and creating a new mode of production ex nihilo, which has never occurred in history, I believe that phase transitions occur precisely because both the producing and managing classes, at least fractions of them, move into the same direction of a successor mode.”

“The point is, while it originally appears to strengthen the capitalist totality, it at the same time creates post-capitalist logics, . . . . Commons-based peer production, the sharing platforms, and crowdsourcing are three main forms of this mutual adaptation.

“The paradox is that it both creates new forms of capitalism, and new forms of post-capitalism. It is both immanent and transcendent, and we have to resist any either/or logic but rather see them both occurring at once.”

Fifth: Against this background, Bauwens’ partner state is supposed to arise and settle into place as P2P takes hold; but whether the partner state will be a permanent or transitional feature of long-range social evolution is left up in the air. The time periods that he has in mind are so long — à la Kondratieff theory — that the partner state might exist for ages. Yet, a state may also ultimately become unnecessary and “wither away,” its functions superseded by P2P forces vested in the commons sector and civil society — à la Marxist theory:

“. . . The new Partner State becomes the guarantor of the new commons-based peer production, until that time as it can hypothetically ‘whither away’ as more and more of its functions are taken over by an increasingly egalitarian and autonomous civil society. But, we are not holding our breath that this process can take place in historically close times. However, we do believe that the necessary phase-transition is merely a few decades away, as the urgency of biospheric destruction and social dislocation does not permit the long-range survival of the present destructive social arrangements.” (source)

Sixth — and lastly: Despite Bauwens’ convictions about all the above, he believes that it will be a while, and require lots of effort, before P2P theory is widely accepted. For him, “P2P is nothing else than a premise of a new type of civilization that is not exclusively geared towards the profit motive.” P2P offers a “new and intentional moral vision”; and it “holds the potential for a major breakthrough in social evolution.” But he believes its realization is not an “inevitable evolutionary logic.” Thus he figures he has a large task ahead to educate, rally, and assemble others to move in this direction:

“What I have to convince the user is that
– 1) a particular type of human relational dynamic is growing very fast across the social fields, . . .
– 2) that it has a coherent logic that cannot be fully contained within the present ‘regime’ of society.
– 3) that it is not an utopia, but, as ‘an already existing social practice’, the seed of a likely major transformation to come.”

I’d say he’s doing quite well at it.

Wrap-up comments about the partner state and P2P theory

Well, that nearly does it for this effort to analyze Bauwens’ partner-state concept. I’m too out of steam to provide a summing up. My key points will have to remain scattered among the three posts for now. And I’ll end on a different note:

All this reading and writing has deepened my sense of the overlaps between TIMN and P2P theory. In a very general sense, some key similarities are:

Both emphasize the rise of new network forms of organization.
Both expect a new network-based sector to emerge from civil society.
Both involve the endurance of old forms: tribes, hierarchies, markets.
Both foresee a new kind of state.
Both imply the creation of new ideologies across the political spectrum.
Both amount to future-oriented theories of social evolution.

Yet there are also some significant differences, as follows:

P2P networks and +N networks are not identical concepts.
P2P emphasizes the commons sector; TIMN has neglected it, so far, and may imply a different kind of new sector instead.
P2P emphasizes hybrid forms of organization more than does TIMN.
P2P focuses on political economy far more than TIMN does, or will.
TIMN implies quite a different way to measure evolutionary status.

In my view, the similarities are more significant than the differences. And the differences are not irreconcilable or unmanageable. Both TIMN and P2P are works in progress, and they can learn from each other. More on that in a future post that will compare TIMN and P2P along the lines listed above, and that will raise some cautions and criticisms I’ve not mentioned yet.

Meanwhile, I keep looking for theorizing on the Right that overlaps well with TIMN. Phillip Blond’s overlaps somewhat, as discussed in a prior post. But his approach has no clear equivalent to the tribal form; and it doesn’t quite recognize the network form, despite the emphasis on expanding the roles and responsibilities of civil-society associations. So, I’ll keep an eye on his work — it’s very interesting — but it’s not quite what I’m looking for on and from the Right.”

I keep noticing that Frank Fukuyama’s work has had potential to go in TIMN directions. Thus I plan to turn to it before long. In my view, his early book about “the end of history” concerns the triumph of the triformist (T+I+M) paradigm. And his latest — The Origins of Political Order — appears to offer a marvelous analysis about the evolution from tribes to institutions (T+I). However, as I recall, his book on Trust shows his thinking is not in tune with +N (or P2P) ideas about the network form. He doesn’t come around to viewing it as a new organizational form now on the rise, but mostly adopts the academic SNA (social network analysis) view of networks as a trust-based social form that lies behind all organizational forms. That’s rather unfortunate, for it means that this leading thinker on the Right has not yet grasped the full significance of the network form and isn’t ready to accept that a quadriformist (T+I+M+N) phase lies ahead, giving history a new end. Nonetheless, I hope to turn next to analyzing his writings as a view from the Right, especially since they offer so much about the T+I+M phases.”

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