See linked pages: first part .
NOTE: This is a first draft. Comments and suggestions are welcome. Please use the response form at the end of the paper. Thanks.
13. The Evolving World System. The emerging world system will, I believe, differ radically from the system of modern states that has evolved during the last few centuries. It is tempting to think of it as a "post modern" system -- but I avoid this expression for two reasons. First, "post-modern" has acquired a tradition of analysis based on the rejection of modernity rather than projections of what may follow it -- it is more introspective than futuristic in orientation. But second, it is never enough to think about a future system in terms of an existing one. One can distinguish between the "pre-modern" and the "modern" because we know and can describe what has followed the various forms of traditional civilization.
No doubt, we can also sense that the modern era is reaching an end, but unless we can characterize what will come next, we cannot say much about it under the rubric of "post modern."Important efforts have, indeed, been made to think about the future world system and identify its most salient features. One of them rests on the vastly increased importance of information and the new technologies resulting from computerization and the INTERNET that have already transformed not only the way we handle information but the significance of knowledge as a source of power and wealth. However, I am not content to think of the post modern era as an age of information.
No doubt the Information Revolution, like the Industrial Revolution, will be a fundamental part of the new age. However, just as democratization and nation-building were linked with industrialization to constitute the modern era, so information will, I think, be connected with something else to constitute the fundamental global transformation that has, I believe, already started to occur. It results from modernization but goes beyond it. It makes dramatic use of the information revolution, but we need to ask what these uses will be. Who will benefit and who will suffer?
The basic outlines of such a future world system have already been suggested in the notes offered above. They indicate, for example, that open information will be increasingly important for state-sponsored projects, especially in the more democratic countries, to support education, economic development, environmental protection, and international cooperation to achieve more justice and security for the peoples of the world. But information can also be restricted and supplied only to those authorized to know.
No doubt, even the most democratic states suppress information for various reasons, relying on complex security measures, but the most massive effort to use information in a secret way will occur within the growing networks of sheltered industrialism: I expect the subvisible industrial estates (SIEs) in weak countries to be at the heart of this development process. Simply because these estates operate outside the law in countries unable to enforce relevant public policies on them, they have every reason to hide their operations. At the same time, they need all the data they can get in order to carry on their activities. The motives for secrecy extend not only to the host states where they operate, but to the enquiring eyes of journalists and researchers, and even to their own people -- including their employees, but perhaps even more to rival firms whose patent rights they may want to infringe. We may expect the most important spying activities of the future to involve rival corporations rather than rival states.
In order to talk about a world system that is inherently schizophrenic, divided within itself between a formal, open system of states increasingly engaged in efforts to enhance cooperation for the benefit of all their citizens, and an informal system of industrialists competing to enhance their profits and their capacity to accumulate wealth, we need to agree on some short expressions or terms that can facilitate our discourse. We cannot continuously repeat the rather complex description of the main features of this emerging system. Nor can we afford to be too specific about its main features, many of which will surely unfold during the coming decades. Let me suggest a couple of possibilities.
14. Neo-feudalism. In some ways the coming world system will have features that are familiar to us from our knowledge of what preceded modernity -- the feudal system of Western Europe. Although feudalism in various forms existed in many countries (cf. Coulborn), it acquired some specific features in Europe (and probably Japan, also) that paved the way for the rise of modernity. The formal aspect of feudalism evolved from the decay of an imperial bureacratic system, as life tenure in public office became extended to hereditary tenure, enabling sons to inherit the lands and posts that their parents held. The samurai of Japan, and the lords of European Feudalism, became the visible beneficiaries of this system, rooted in land ownership within a much larger system presided over by titular emperors. However, European feudalism was also dualistic insofar as a parallel hierarchic system, managed by bishops and monasteries, entrenched behind fortified walls in their burgs, typically at ports on rivers or seas, enabled a churchly authority to exist independently of the formal feudal hierarchy. Although nominally interdependent and synergic, in fact perpetual tension existed between these two systems -- it was profoundly dualistic.
Moreover, the network of armed burgs provided a safe haven for traders who could not secure power within the feudal system but were able to provide goods desired by feudal lords but otherwise not available to them. The increasing power of merchant communities protected by the burgs provided the basis for the gradual emergence of a bourgeoisie that laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution after it was able to enter partnerships with the sovereign rulers of post- Westphalian states. (Pirenne) The informal networks that gradually manifested themselves in the form of leagues of cities (Hanseatic) or powerful trading empires (Naples and Genoa) evolved in parallel with the feudal order. Taken together, they constituted the unique structure of European Feudalism, so different from feudalism in other regions of the world.
Just as this dualistic feudal system evolved into the modern state, so today's modern state system may evolve into a post modern reality that resembles this feudal order. If so, we might justifiably refer to it as "neo-feudal." One might elaborate the utility of this term by systematically identifying points of similarity and difference between the evolving post modern system and its pre modern exemplar. The role of feudal lords in the latter system will be replaced by the role of states in the former; the role of burgs in the latter system will be replaced by subvisible industrial estates in the former. The role of an ineffectual emperor in European feudalism may be replaced by the equally weak but prestigious post of UN Secretary General in the neo-feudal system that is evolving. No counterpart to the Pope can yet be found in the post modern scheme, but if the networks of SIEs solidify, they might well lead to the election of a world boss who can direct and lead the world's industrialist/financiers in their efforts to accumulate more and more wealth.
15. Meta-Prismatic. I created the "prismatic model" (citation) about forty years ago to help explain the paradoxes found in societies torn between domestic traditions and external influences. The metaphor of a prism links the white light of relatively pristine self-contained subsistence societies with the spectrum of colors that can symbolize complex industrialized and secularized societies. In the prism both, somehow, co-exist in mutually supportive ways. One mechanism designed to accomplish this paradox is a high degree of "formalism", a device which enables one to proclaim public and formal support for imported norms and practices while, informally, adhering to contradictory social standards and mores inherited from times immemorial. I suspect that the countries in which SIEs will thrive most robustly are precisely those which have mastered the prismatic blend.
The scenario of wide-spread growth of SIEs located in prismatic societies and the neo-feudal world system which might well result may be represented as "meta-prismatic", a term that would provoke fewer complaints than one possibly based on a misunderstanding of the true nature of European Feudalism. However, it can also be faulted by those who resist neologisms on the grounds that they reject the meaning assigned to "meta- prismatic" in this coinage. Nevertheless, let me stipulate my understanding of what "meta-prismatic" could come to mean.
The main difference between this extension and the original idea is that it embraces the whole world system, not just individual societies or countries lodged with this system. A meta-prismatic world would be highly formalistic in the same way that a prismatic society is: its formal structure would consist of a growing number of "independent" states whose sovereignty is recognized by organs of the world system, such as the United Nations. This system would contain not only the states, but a host of Inter Governmental Organizations and non-governmental non-profit IGOs. The attention of the mass media and academic scholarship would focus on this formalistic system as it struggled to cope with a growing multitude of increasingly urgent problems, including imaginary ones inherited from the "modern" age of inter-imperial wars and nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, under cover, a host of interlinked SIEs, supported by the massive accumulation of wealth that industrialization and the world's financial institutions and communication facilities put at their disposal. These global resources are highly mobile, non-local, environmentally insensitive, and they have no reason to pay workers more than they need to in order to procure their services. The estates themselves will survive if they are profitable and, at the same time, able to induce the weak governments where they are located to close their eyes and permit them to establish their own in-house codes of conduct.
Increasingly these estates will be able to mass-produce consumer goods, ranging from low to high technology items, that will be freely sold throughout an increasingly open free world market, generating enormous accumulations of wealth that will be hidden from public view -- this was also true of the feudal design in which the mansions and palaces of the rich simply could not be seen by the masses, but in a meta-prismatic era, more subtle means will be needed because of the growing curiosity and access to knowledge made possible by the new technologies of our "information age".
Meanwhile, the more democratic countries which were the incubators of industrialization will find themselve caught in traps from which they can scarcely extricate themselves. Their major industrial plants, already decimated, will continue to downsize. The hopes generated by some of them in the form of welfare measures supported by progressive taxation will increasingly be dashed. Under meta-prismatic conditions, wealthy people subjected to higher taxes will simply export their riches, often enough through various "laundries", to invest in the world's growing supply of SIEs. Seeking to retain this wealth at home, even democratic governments will feel compelled to reduce tax burdens on the rich. With less income and mounting poverty, generated by the loss of well-paying industrial jobs, levels of impoverishment could rise substantially while states find themselves helpless to respond.
As for the situation in the "less developed countries," my guess is that, although SIEs willing to respond to workers' needs could raise the economic level of their surroundings, they could well lose out in competition with rival estates that are willing to eploit their workers more unmercifully. A new kind of "Gresham's Law" will prevail in which "bad" estates destroy "good" estates -- those willing to pay higher wages and to safeguard the environment will lose out in competition with those who are less enlightened. If so, the estates will contribute to the deterioration rather than the improvement of conditions in their host countries. One result will be an increase in the number of social movements and revolutionary protests, especially by ethnic minorities able to mobilize enough followers to generate substantial revolts and, eventually, to create new states. If this happens, the world's formal system of states will be further weakened while the power of its informal system of SIEs will further increase.
16. Conclusion. The scenario outlined above is, no doubt, highly speculative, but I think it is sufficiently realistic to justify serious attention. If terms like "neo-feudalism" or "meta-prismatic" are unacceptable, better terms can no doubt be found: one possibility that occurs to me is that of a "dualistic world system". I have not recommended it because it could remind us too much of the notion of a bi-polar world system that prevailed during the Cold War era -- and that is far from what I have in mind. Although the United States is seen as the only remaining super-power, and some of its leaders still see themselves in the role of a global policeman, my guess is that this scenario will not work and, in fact, American power and prestige in the world will decline.
The notion of a hegemonic state will vanish because no state, in a neo-feudal (meta-prismatic) world, will be able to exercise the kind of power needed to manage a world system in which an informal network of subvisible industrial estates and the nexus of accumulated and largely secret resources which sustain and benefit these estates (and their owners) mushrooms into a globally dominant meta-system outside the domain of declining states. Other, even greater, dangers may lie ahead and some of them have been well discussed in the millenarian literature that talks about the prospects of a new age -- dark or light in character, but always quite different from the world we have known. This memo simply points to another possibility that, I think, needs to be considered.
See linked pages: first part .