as I strongly suspect, the American nation-state is in a terminal
collapse, what is to become of its antiquated forms? Will they,
like the government under the Articles of Confederation, or the
Confederate States of America, simply disappear? Or will they, like
Ozymandias' empire, dissolve into the surrounding sands?
study of chaos reminds us of the difficulty in trying to predict
the course of complex systems, particularly those involving a nation
of some three-hundred million people. As I have written before,
the American political system is in a state of turbulence, from
which only one of two outcomes seems likely: either for it to reorganize
itself into a more orderly system, or to experience entropic collapse.
I see little likelihood of the present state system acknowledging
its causal connections to this turbulence and reforming itself.
To self-correct one's behavior requires a sense of resiliency, an
attitude inconsistent with the arrogance and hubris underlying the
American political system. No fundamental transformation can be
expected to arise from within Leviathan.
current social and political disharmony has been brought on by an
exaggerated commitment to the vertical structuring of society —
under the micromanaged direction of a central state authority. Thus,
one approach to reorganization might involve the decentralization
of political power back to the level of individual states. Under
this possibility, "America" might return to a system akin
to the "Articles of Confederation," a model that has served
Switzerland well for many years. The growing interest in political
secession may presage such a change.
possibility would be for a fundamental transformation to replace
the formal, vertically-structured, coercive political systems with
more informal, horizontally-networked systems grounded in voluntary
relationships among individuals and associations. It is conceivable
that this second condition might evolve, later, from the first confederation
something along these or similar lines occurs, however, I believe
that the American political system may well experience the same
fate as the Soviet Union, with a rapid descent into entropy. I suspect
the managers of the established order in this country sense the
same dynamics at work within; and that recent efforts to exponentially
increase government police and military powers reflect an intention
to shore up, by the most forceful means necessary, the collapsing
vertical structures that define the state. A healthy organism lives
in symbiosis with those around it, nourishing and being nourished
by one another. Such is not the case with the current state. Mutual
distrust characterizes the relationship of the state and the public
it pretends to serve. It is fear of the citizenry that causes state
functionaries to demand more power over it.
offer this as my best assessment of where American society stands
at the moment. My visions of the future are as subject to the uncertainties
attending complexity as anyone else's, and should be so considered.
I have no special knowledge or secret information that is not available
to anyone else who might take a focused look at events and pressures
in our world and try to anticipate where we are headed. One thing
does seem quite clear, however: the American society into which
you and I were born and have lived is no longer viable in its present
forms, and is in the process of major organizational change.
with lessons from the study of chaos and complexity, either the
collapse or major metamorphosis of the state will generate unpredictable
social forms and practices. I trust in the self-interest motivations
of most Americans to formulate organizational systems that will
serve their practical needs. In a rapidly changing world that no
longer tolerates the sluggishness of state systems that inhibit
creativity and productiveness, men and women will instinctively
find ways to profit from the removal of restraints.
experiences in the reading of history suggest that, even when major
changes occur, remnants from the past often survive, albeit in altered
forms. Thus, the English transformation to a parliamentary form
of government did not result in the destruction of the monarchy,
which has been retained — without genuine power — for the image
of historic continuity.
presume the same influences will accompany the decline and fall
of statism in America, as the conservative nature of people finds
expression in the preservation of governmental forms, even
as they are deprived of power. Washington, D.C., may be turned into
a new kind of tourist attraction — perhaps like the palace at Versailles,
the Tower of London, or the acropolis of Athens. Years ago in Madrid,
I watched a "sound and light" show, where bright lights
played upon the palace as episodes of Spanish history were broadcast
over loudspeakers. Perhaps the same spectacle will one day be performed
at the U.S. capitol to inform visitors of American political history
("and in those primitive times, members of Congress would gather
to deliberate what substances men and women could put into their
bodies, or to cheer as presidents entertained them with lies and
empty visions of national greatness").
roles of the various branches of government might even be maintained
— absent any coercive powers, of course — in a stateless world.
Congress, which has long been intent on imposing its opinions as
law, could continue this function as a nonbinding exercise. Unlike
previous civilizations — whose epistemological bases were grounded
in either divine revelation, reason, or empiricism — modern culture
has adopted opinion polling as the standard for truth. Congress
could perform this role in the future. "What was the best movie
of last year?" "Should doctors be allowed to pull the
plug on a brain-dead Uncle Willie?" "Does second-hand
smoke cause cancer?" "Who is the u2018number one' team in
college football?" Hearings could be held, floor debates conducted,
and congressional votes taken on these and many other questions
about which "inquiring minds want to know." But, of course,
such votes would have no more legally-binding significance than
do college coaches' polls, the Academy Awards, or the results of
questions asked by public opinion pollsters.
has already prepared itself to be an arbiter of trivial inquiries.
From rubber-stamping whatever police powers and tax revenues the
president wants; to abandoning its war powers to the whims of White
House occupants; to enacting administration-desired legislation
without waiting for it to be drafted, members of Congress have expressed
satisfaction with having a largely ceremonial role in Washington.
Mindful that the folklore of "separation of powers" requires
occasional compliance with the rituals of legislative deliberation,
Congress has periodically devoted its attention to such matters
of state as whether Bill Clinton should be impeached for lying about
his sexual conduct, or Terri Schiavo's life-support system should
be disconnected. As long as such isolated inquiries do not impede
the establishment's agenda, Congress is allowed — and content —
to play its token role, an attitude that will make it easy for members
of this body to segue into a new form of insignificance.
about the executive branch? The administrative agencies that have
insisted upon managing even the smallest details of human existence
may, stripped of coercive power, be relegated to purely advisory
functions. The Consumer Protection Agency might offer product recommendations
to consumers willing to consider its opinions. The Federal Communications
Commission could provide reviews or ratings of upcoming television
programs. You can see how this might play out in a stateless society.
what of the presidency? We might have saved ourselves centuries
of grief had we remembered the means by which our allegedly "primitive"
ancestors inhibited the development of political power. In his book,
Against the State, French anthropologist Pierre Clastres
observed that such societies loaded their tribal chief with so many
ceremonial duties as to deny him the time or inclination to pursue
power over his fellow tribesmen. Should the chief fail to satisfy
these ritualistic functions, he would lose face.
benefits could be recovered in a stateless society. Like the British
monarchy, the role of the president would become a purely ceremonial
one. The president could show up at shopping center openings to
cut the ribbon, or award the Congressional National Championship
trophy to whatever college football team Congress has selected,
or judge beauty contests, or be the Grand Marshal at various parades
around the country.
only role I could see for members of the judiciary in a stateless
world would be to become private arbitrators or mediators. By offering
their services in the marketplace — where men and women would be
free to accept or reject them — judges could get a realistic sense
of their value to others. They could then get back to the mindset
of earlier judges who spoke of "discovering" the customs
and usages of society that were the basis of the "common law"
system. Those who saw their roles as being to impose standards
of conduct upon an unwilling society, would probably find themselves
without a clientele.
who, in a stateless society, would pay for these ceremonial functions?
It is to be expected that there will be many who, cut loose from
the state's umbilical cord, will insist upon retaining the empty
forms of the state as a security blanket. Let these sad beings pay
for their continuing addictive dependencies. Organizations could
be set up to solicit donations from such men and women; or lotteries
could be used to provide such funds. Without any coercive power
to exercise, however, such donations are unlikely to be forthcoming
from the corporate-state interests that now flood the pipelines
is the course that will likely follow the collapse of our present
top-heavy, vertically-structured system? As a student of chaos and
complexity, I can assure you that I have no way of making a definitive
prediction. I have offered what is little more than personal speculation
as to possibilities. But if we are to avoid being crushed beneath
the fall of the ossified forms that are destroying human society,
each of us had best undertake the speculations that precede all