Decentralization and the Left

In Brave New War, John Robb details how nation-states are becoming “hollowed out”, with their resources, money and energy being diverted into unwinnable conflicts and turmoil. He sees nation-states becoming vastly more decentralized as they are forced to adapt to cope with open source warfare attacks, transnational gangs, as well as the vast and unstoppable spread of technology and ideas by the Internet. To cope and thrive in a decentralized world, you need to become decentralized yourself.

There’s another decentralization of power happening too and that’s in electrical power generation. Global warming is forcing a switch to renewable sources, and that will mean a multitude of smaller generating sites using a variety of methods; solar, geothermal, wave, whatever. If a township (or Wal-Mart) is generating all their power renewably, they then become way less beholden to a central government.

So where does this leave the Left? Much of the political philosophy of the Left, whether it be liberal or socialist, posits a strong central government that can mandate and enforce control over the markets. In a decentralized world, much of that state power will be eroded. So, if you’re communist you presumably want a government that controls and manages the economy. But that can’t happen in a decentralized world.

Nor will such a world lead to increased predatory capitalism, because much of the power of the ruling class comes from their collusion with and power over the central government. If the power of the central government slips so will their power. Controlling one central entity is far easier than controlling a multitude of smaller ones.

This hollowing out doesn’t just happen in capitalist countries either. China is having severe problems managing their country. Worker revolts are on the rise, the pollution in some cities is beyond toxic, corruption is rampant. Their elite class used to completely control the economy, and it’s obvious that they no longer do. (That this at least nominally communist government now has a ruling class is a subject for another post.)

The US government response to Hurricane Katrina and the recent Kansas tornadoes definitively shows that this hollowed out government can no longer help its own citizens. That racism was certainly part of the lack of response to Katrina, it certainly wasn’t a factor in Kansas, which is overwhelmingly White. The sad truth is, the US government is so bogged down with foreign wars that it is unable to assist its own citizens in need.

So what will the response of the Left be to a newly decentralized world? We need to start thinking about it now.


  1. I’m trying to figure out whether this world sounds more libertarian or anarchist.

    Note that the problem of pollution would be aggravated in your proposed world under whatever secenario you play out.

  2. Interesting… I’d say more traditional conservative. Welcome to my world! Do not forget, however, that in nature as in politics there are two forces at work: evolution, which works toward centralization of resources, and entropy, which works against it. When a political government fails, it does not dissolve into isolated, friendly communities. Rather, more often than not, it dissolves into collections of communities run by the most powerful– the warlords. You can see this not only in Somalia, but ancient Greece (the Ptolemies) and Rome (the various kingdoms and petty empires).

    I’d agree with Joe, however, that as government control over capitalism fails, the ability to steer the market toward ideal goals is also lost. The result of such a dissolution not only approaches social anarchism, but economic anarchism as well.

  3. Robb posits that the state becomes hollowed out but does not collapse because it benefits all the players that it does not. They need a semi-structure to function under.

    He also thinks that increasingly that what used to be the functions of governments will be done by large businesses and private military corporations.

    A decentralized, networked world could also end up being mostly peaceful as everyone realizes they all need to be nodes on the grid. Or not.

  4. Wheels coming off implies momentum, momentum implies a statisically measurable ability to anticipate where the wheels will go (everything is physics). Hence, , and Bioregionalism.

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