Friday, April 30, 2010

Bobbitt’s “market state” . . . vis à vis TIMN

By happenstance, while working on Part 3 of TIMN’s implications for political philosophy and ideology, I’ve finally looked into Phillip Bobbitt’s concept of the “market state” and started reading about Phillip Blond’s concept of the “civic state” and Michel Bauwens’s concept of the “partner state”. I see they all relate to TIMN, meriting some separate discussion.

This post focuses on Bobbitt’s concept. And it’s become too long to add anything else. I intend to deal with the other concepts in a future post.

Bobbitt’s “market state” is appealing because it appears to slide into place in the TIMN progression, as a +M concept about what arises, evolution-wise, between the institutional state — the classic T+I nation-state — and what may lie ahead: a +N network state (or as I call it, the nexus state). The market state appears to fill a gap in thinking about how to conceptualize the evolution of the state in TIMN. Indeed, Bobbitt’s term is quite TIMNish in tone; alternative terms (see below) don’t fit as well. But to work with TIMN, Bobbitt’s concept needs considerable redefinition and adjustment.

An interesting (but tentative) finding is that Bobbitt’s “market state” is better viewed as the “late market state” arising a century or so after the “early market state” — an overwrought exaltation of the +M form in its late stages of maturity, on the eve of the rise of the network (+N) form.

What I’ve heard about and looked at

Bobbitt’s tome, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (2002), traces the historical evolution of the state in terms of five models — from “princely state” to “kingly state” to “territorial state” to “state-nation” up to the modern “nation state” — in order to identify the “market state” as the currently emerging and likely future paragon. And the analysis does so by emphasizing: first, the role of epochal wars in determining what model of state — what “constitutional order” — arises next; and second, the role of peace conferences in confirming that a system of such states spreads and gains sway. It’s a neat framework, easily displayed in nifty charts.

While I’ve still not read the book — a liability for this post? — over the years I’ve seen many references to its themes and been told they’re similar to my TIMN themes and to John Arquilla’s and my themes about information-age conflict. But I procrastinated about reading the book. Now, prompted by a recent summary and review by Clay Spinuzzi at his blog, I’ve turned to take a closer look by reading selectively: brief excerpts from the Foreword and several follow-up essays Bobbitt has posted online at his website; extra snippets I located online; a few book reviews Bobbitt lists (notably, Dennis Patterson’s “The New Leviathan,” and David Runciman’s “The Garden, the Park and the Meadow”); a long overview by Jay Ogilvy, “Notes on The Shield of Achilles,” that consists mostly of quotes from the book; and a few old blog posts about the book (e.g., by Thomas Barnett, John Robb, Mark Zafranski).

That’ll have to suffice for this post. And I sit braced to be told that I missed something significant Bobbitt said, including in a subsequent book I’ve not read but for an excerpt — his Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (2008) — where he expands on his notion of the market state.

[UPDATE — October 11, 2012: Here’s a good article that I missed at the time: “Phillip Bobbitt — The Thought Leader Interview,” in strategy + business (Spring 2004).]

Questionable definition and timeline of the market state

My concern is Bobbitt’s “market state” concept, starting with its definition and timeline. (Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations and page references from Bobbitt’s book are probably from Ogilvy’s document.)

I have yet to spot a full, single definition of the market state. But to judge from scattered elements, it is about states becoming shaped more by global market forces — by globalization — than by national forces of all kinds. It is also about governments redesigning themselves to rely on market-oriented measures: e.g., decentralization, deregulation, privatization, outsourcing, subcontracting. Moreover, Bobbitt claims that “the market state exists to maximize the opportunities enjoyed by all members of society” ( p. 229). It is “above all, a mechanism for enhancing opportunity, for creating something — possibilities — commensurate with our imagination” (p. 232). That purpose, in Bobbitt’s view, is its hallmark, making the market state philosophically and strategically distinct from earlier varieties of the state.

As to timeline, Bobbitt treats the market state as something quite new. He dates its appearance from 1989, and foresees that the “transition to the market-state is bound to last over a long period” (p. 233). At present, “the market-state has not fully emerged or been fully realized and accepted by any society” (p. 335). Indeed, he reiterates in an interview, “We are only just a few of years down the road to what will be a many decades long process, but you can already see signs of this happening.”

Yet, what seems mostly new to me in all of this is Bobbitt’s novel name for the phenomenon. In substance, it is not much different from what Richard Rosecrance earlier termed the “trading state” (1986) and the “virtual state” (1999). More to the point, I’d say, its emergence began in the early 1970s when “transnational interdependence” began to gain notice in writings about the rise of multinational corporations and other nonstate actors, the fusing of domestic and international matters, the globalization of commerce and communications, and hence the growth of new constraints on the traditions of sovereignty and territoriality. (See writings by a host of theorists back then, notably Robert Keohane, Joseph Nye, and James Rosenau).

Thus, it is inaccurate for Bobbitt to go on to argue, as he does in his next book, that developments like these “are outside the frame of reference of the popular theories of international relations that circulated at the end of the 20th century” (pp. 30-31). Many of the trends he emphasizes had been noticed for decades and took hold during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton presidencies in the 1980s-1990s. Even the individualist, opportunity-maximizing goal that Bobbitt stresses reflects the libertarianism that has coursed so strongly the past decade or two. And it is not at all clear that other market states elsewhere will be so libertarian — possibly quite the contrary.

In other words, insofar as the United States is concerned, Bobbitt’s concept is far more a reflection of the present than a portent of the future, and it’s been developing decades longer than his analysis conveys. It may be true that the nature of the market state is still unfolding in the United States, and that it has barely taken hold elsewhere around the world. But it may also turn out that the recent U.S. version proves more an exception than a rule, more ephemeral than enduring.

Thus, my TIMN angle is that, much as I’m impressed by Bobbitt’s coinage of “market state” as a term, it may turn out to say more about the American present than the world’s future, and it began to emerge decades earlier than he argues. The term does illuminate the exalted (overweening?) influence that global market forces exert over states these days. It also reflects the rising importance of outsourcing, subcontracting, and other market-oriented measures — sometimes called “government by market” (or acidly, “market-mimicking governance”) — as options for government policies and programs. That is useful and revelatory; it means the concept helps focus people’s perceptions on how powerful and pervasive market forces have become. But are we thereby opening our eyes to the beginning or the end of a long trend?

Let’s recall that the +M form began to spread centuries ago, and that its principles long ago filtered into and altered the nature of states, enabling the rise of increasingly open competitive political systems. That helps account for Europe’s evolution from the absolutist state to the liberal democratic (or parliamentary) state — in other words, from a state devoted to hierarchical (+I) doctrines, to a state whose electoral, party, and other structures also rested in part on market-like (+M) political principles.

From a TIMN perspective, then, the market state actually has a long history. It overlaps with the nation state and does not represent a departure from it as Bobbitt claims. Indeed, the world’s major liberal democracies —nation states all — have amounted to early market states for over a century. What Bobbitt has illuminated is the late market state — its overwrought aging, not its youthful rise.

If Bobbitt’s “market state” is better viewed as the “late market state” arising a century or so after the “early market state,” then its rise is occurring on the eve of the next major form: the network (+N). And that suggests a new proposition about TIMN dynamics. I’m not sure, but perhaps absolutism in the Middle Ages may be viewed not only as a pinnacle of the +I hierarchical form, but also as its overwrought exaltation, again on the eve of the rise of a next major form: in that era, the market (+M). Perhaps — and here’s the proposition (phrasing tentative) — the late aging of one form may interact with the germinal stirrings of the next in a way that leads existing regimes to overemphasize the aging form, partly to defend against the rise of the germinal form that those regimes are just beginning to detect.

Indeed, the details of Bobbitt’s analysis — the trends he stresses, the terms he uses — are often as much or more about the +N form than the +M form. He has confounded and conflated the market (+M) form with what is really new and next: the rise of the network (+N) form. A system of late market states is emerging, but so too are the outlines of what will in time supersede the market state: something akin to a network (or nexus) state.

That Bobbitt conflates the market and network forms is particularly evident in his analysis of al Qaeda. I turn to that near the end of this post. But first I have some other points lined up.

Varieties of market states — spectrum needs broadening

In Blond’s analysis, the nation state came in three varieties that contested for dominance across most of the 20th Century: communism, fascism, and parliamentarianism (or parliamentary democracy) — and parliamentarianism triumphed. Likewise, he claims, the rise of the market state will induce a new contest — even wars — among its own three varieties: the mercantile state, the entrepreneurial state, and the managerial state:
“The fundamental choice for every market-state is whether to be (1) a mercantile state, i.e., one that endeavors to improve its relative position vis-à-vis all other states by competitive means, or (2) an entrepreneurial state, one that attempts to improve its absolute position while mitigating the competitive values of the market through cooperative means, or (3) a managerial market-state, one that tries to maximize its position both absolutely and relatively by regional, formal means (trading blocs, etc.).” (p. 283)
Metaphorically, Bobbitt likens living in a system of entrepreneurial states (like the U.S., or China) to The Meadow, managerial states (like the E.U.) to The Park, and mercantile states (like Japan) to The Garden (pp. 721 ff.).

Of the three, he favors the spread of the entrepreneurial version. And he recognizes that nonstate actors may play decisive roles in determining which model prevails — even as he also doubts that business leaders will play their role properly in fostering the entrepreneurial model, the one they should like the best:
“I speculate that leadership for this move is likelier to come from the leaders of multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) than from leaders of the national security apparatus and the political establishment, but I concede that business leaders are generally not prepared for such a role today.” (p. 337)
Intriguing points. And I like his recognition of the increasing influence of NGOs and other nonstate actors. Yet, this is a rather benign threesome — too much so. In contrast, his prior threesome consisted of two totalitarian systems (communism and fascism) and one democratic system (parliamentarianism). From a TIMN perspective, those three reflected conflicting views about +M. Communism rejected +M, fascism accepted but suborned it, and democracy embraced it. And democracy’s +M qualities were what enabled it to defeat the other two.

In the future, all market states will be +M to one degree or another; and many may be kinds of democracies that correspond to Meadows, Parks, and Gardens. This should make for a better world. But let’s not discount dark possibilities that some market states may turn out to be so corporatist, controlling, stratified, greedy, and oppressive that they are more like Wilds, Wastelands, Jungles, or Hot Houses. Communism is surely defunct, but fascism — as in “friendly fascism” and “soft fascism” — still has potential. And a kind of quasi-totalitarian “surveillance state” may develop at the core of one or another market state. Not all — perhaps very few — market states will aim to enhance people’s possibilities as Bobbitt proposes. Some may resemble a “spectator state” more than a “participatory state” (to bandy about some other trendy terms).

In other words, from a TIMN perspective, the range of likely varieties is broader than Bobbitt’s threesome; it should be expanded to include more totalitarian as well as more democratic varieties. Furthermore, if liberal democracy’s +M factor explains why it won in the last epoch, and if the contests next time are going to be between late market states, TIMN suggests that the winners next time may be those states that have best figured out the network (+N) form — a form that Bobbitt’s account does not distinguish.

Many good points about state and society

The preceding criticisms aside, Bobbitt makes a lot of good points about the future of state and society. The following two quotations encapsulate them:

“The shift to the market-state does not mean that states simply fade away, however. If the acquisition of more territory is less important than before to garnering wealth, the luring of people and capital by the most attractive state policies is absolutely crucial. . . . The real shift is simply from public purposes to private purposes, from a state that takes its legitimacy by assuring the common welfare to one that instead relies on providing the broadest possible opportunity for the satisfaction of individual interests.” (p. 470)

“The market-state will live within three paradoxes: (1) it will require more centralized authority for government but all governments will be weaker; (2) there will be more public participation in government, but it will count for less, and thus the role of the citizen qua citizen will greatly diminish and the role of the citizen as spectator will increase; (3) the welfare state will have greatly retrenched, but infrastructure security, epidemiological surveillance, and environmental protection . . . will be promoted by the State as never before.” (p. 234)
In other words, the state will endure. It will even be stronger and more central in some respects, though weaker (or less controlling) in others. It will continue to depend on hierarchy. And it will deploy high-tech surveillance and security systems to keep watch. But it will also involve the formation of ad-hoc multi-agency and public-private teams to address many issues, and lead to a shift in emphasis from public to private purposes and instruments. Nonstate actors of all sorts will play increasingly influential roles, including to provide public goods. Meanwhile, states and societies will be challenged to cope with vast increases in global flows of all kinds.

My quibbles aside, I like such points. I make similar ones in a paper about cyberocracy. They’re often made by other theorists and futurists too. And such points help counter views that claim the state is a goner in the future; and they do so by clarifying ways in which the nature of the state will be altered. Also, while I initially had the impression that Bobbitt’s analysis was so focused on the state that it neglected the rising importance of nonstate actors, in fact he gives it good recognition, especially in follow-up writings. Thus, Bobbitt’s points are not all that new or innovative, but they track with and reinforce what I’ve come to regard as cutting-edge thinking about the future of the state.

Particularly pleasing and interesting is Bobbitt’s recognition of the market state’s inherent weakness. As Spinuzzi's review noticed better than others, Bobbitt does not purely advocate the development of the market state, for he cautions that:
“Whatever choice we make, we will have to find a way to compensate for the market-state’s inherent weaknesses — its lack of community, its extreme meritocracy, its essential materialism and indifference to heroism, spirituality, and tradition.” (p. 289)
He reiterates this concern during a speech where he talks about the three varieties of market states, noting that they all have a common downside:
“But I think they all have this in common for us today, that we need to develop those values and institutions that the market state does not develop: those of collaboration, of decency, of deference, of the protection of cultural communities. These are things that the market state just sweeps aside, and one of the points about drawing attention to the market state is not to become its advocate.”
This way, he begins to sound like a communitarian criticizing the libertarianism of recent decades. But he doesn’t move far in this direction. While he cautions against negative aspects of the market state, he still regards it as a mostly done deal. In it, people should expect lives rife with competition and conflict; they will have to choose and learn collaboration, if that’s what they prefer.

Yet, Bobbitt also detects that the capacity for collaboration — in particular, the development of collective goods — is crucial for states to perform well against their state and nonstate adversaries in the new epoch of conflict:
“Or can we learn to produce collective goods — like shared intelligence and shared surveillance information from shared nanosensors and shared missile and cyber defenses? Indeed, the production and distribution of collective goods — such as the coalition against international terrorism itself — may be the only way for the market-state to forestall peer competition and defeat international terrorism at the same time.” (p. 821)
A very good point. But from a TIMN perspective, it should be made into a point that is more about the network than the market form.

Flawed analysis of Al Qaeda as a virtual market state

Finally, my concerns extend to Bobbitt’s efforts to validate his market-state concept by claiming that today’s key adversary, the jihadi terrorist network associated with al Qaeda, resembles a virtual kind of market state.

Bobbitt is correct to insist that the rise of new types of states (and societies) leads to new epochs of conflict. TIMN has long implied the same (e.g., Ronfeldt, 1996, pp. 33-36). According to Bobbitt,
“ . . . Mindful of the past, we can expect a new epochal war in which a new form of the State — the market-state — asserts its primacy as the most effective constitutional means to deal with the consequences of the strategic innovations that won the Long War. To shape, if not permanently forestall, this war to come, the society of states must organize in ways that enable it to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to treat expeditionary interventions as opportunities for consensus-creating coalitions, and to share information as a means of defense against disguised attacks. By these means, the next epochal war can be converted into a series of interventions and crises, instead of a world-shattering cataclysm or a stultifying and repressive world order.” (p. 815)
In this new epoch, war will be more like crime, and nonstate adversaries will abound. And to affirm this view, Bobbitt focuses on al Qaeda, making good points that are often made by terrorism experts. But his main point is that al Qaeda fits his template, amounting to a malignant expression of a market state:
“The multinational mercenary terror network that Osama bin Laden and others have assembled is a malignant and mutated version of the market-state. . . . This network, of which Al Qaeda is only a part, greatly resembles a multinational corporation but that is simply to say that it is a market-state, made possible by advances in international telecommunications and transit, rapid computation, and weapons of mass destruction. Lacking contiguous territory, Al Qaeda is a kind of virtual state . . . .” (p. 820, italics in orig.)
Thus, given the functions and structures that al Qaeda and its affiliates have built up, “we are fighting a virtual state and not just a stateless gang” (p. 821). This enemy is not only virtual, but also multinational, multifunctional, nonterritorial, and networked. Thus we’re seeing the world’s first major war between a market state and a nonstate network acting like a market state.

And from a bit of additional reading, I see that Bobbitt elaborates on these points in his next book, Terror and Consent, where he views al Qaeda as “the emergence of a global terrorist network that in many respects more closely resembled the multinational corporation than it did a government.”
“Unlike the terrorist groups with which we are familiar, Al Qaeda does not mimic the nation-state. The IRA, ETA, the PLO all are organized as tiny parodies of the hierarchical, militarized, ideologized nation-state. This is hardly surprising as each is engaged in a struggle for national liberation. By contrast, the multinational mercenary terror network that Usama bin Laden and others have assembled is a new and mutated version of the market-state. It resembles the organizational structure of VISA or MasterCard, with their radical decentralization more than the usual national government . . .” (p. 30)
When Bobbitt addresses whether al Qaeda is more like a “market state terrorist group” or a “virtual market state”, he says it could be described either way:
“Is al Qaeda a market state terrorist group because it shares the structure of the market state and its practices while defining itself by its rejection of market state ideology, or is it a virtual market state that attempts to maximize the opportunities of its citizens — the faithful — by creating a global caliphate where they can find lifestyles denied them by human-rights-respecting states? Al Qaeda could be described either way, depending . . . (p.64)
This way, Bobbitt makes an insistent case for his market-state view of al Qaeda. And it is tantalizing to read, for it sounds so perceptive and innovative. It makes a kind of sense. Yet, from a TIMN perspective, it seems a flawed, even misleading view — in three respects in particular.

First, Bobbitt’s depiction of al Qaeda errs in exalting the market form, at the expense of barely recognizing the presence of the tribal, institutional, and network forms. I remain of the view that al Qaeda and its affiliates amount more to an information-age amalgam of the tribal and network forms. The tribal form plays a larger role than Bobbitt acknowledges. At the same time, his approach to analysis is so intent on emphasizing the market form that it does not leave a distinct place for the rise of the network form (at least not as I see it).

Second, the postulation that a “global caliphate” would correspond to a kind of market state makes little sense, unless one plays a definitional game. Al Qaeda and its cohorts do not, to my knowledge, want a new caliphate that would be much like a modern market state. It would be constructed mainly around old traditions associated with the tribal and hierarchical institutional forms, far more than the open market form. And if it could be organized as a virtual state without a territorial capital — a very unlikely scenario — then it would surely be more about the network than the market form.

Third, while Bobbitt's approach leads to many solid policy and strategy recommendations for governments engaged in combating terrorism — e.g., build coalitions, form ad-hoc teams, share information, deploy networked sensors — many of these recommendations pertain more to the rise of the network form than to the maturing of the market form (or revision of the hierarchical form). As I indicated earlier, Bobbitt’s analysis conflates the market and network forms.

Critical views at other security blogs

While wondering about all this, I wandered around a few forward-looking security blogs I like. My cursory check indicates that, despite a widespread enduring admiration for many of Bobbitt’s points, I am not alone in raising doubts about his market-state template and its application to terrorism.

As Zenpundit’s Mark Zafranski notes (in 2005), al Qaeda and its cohorts don’t have a futuristic market state in mind, but rather something quite different and ancient:
“It is quite clear . . . that the Islamists have an entirely different and comprehensive alternative social contract in mind — The Sharia-State — which when they control territory they refer to as an “Emirate” or as a “Caliphate” (the former exemplified by Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the latter entity encompassing the entire future territorial extent of the Ummah). . . . In other words, the fundamental preconditions for a market-state would be intolerable to a sharia-state making the latter a deadly 4GW rival of the former and not, as Bobbitt maintained, a variation.”
And according to Thomas Barnett (in 2008), Bobbitt’s terrorism analysis is more about the end of a trend in conflict, not the commencement of a new one:
“As I've said repeatedly, terrorism is, to me, what's left, not what's next — much less what's transcendent. . . . Thus I don't see the great need to totally revamp the political construct or risk defeat. . . . To me, the only grand strategy worth having today is a globalization-centric one, not a terror-centric one.”
Global Guerrillas’s John Robb emphasizes a different angle (in 2008), by noting that a market state, far from serving to defend against a new epoch of violence, may instead help foment it:
“It's very likely a market-state would reduce human worth to a mere economic value at the cost of the bonds that hold us together as a community. Perversely, this would serve to create the very violent groups that use terrorism to advance their own economic/social level, since no other values have any power to mitigate/dissuade an impulse to violence. In short, Bobbitt's market-state, a society legitimized by "choice" alone, is insufficiently credible as something we should a) help emerge and b) defend.”
Robb turns even more antithetical toward the market state (in 2009) after he detects a relationship between the recent economic mess and the rise of the American market state:
“NOTE: Philip Bobbitt got it wrong in his book, "The Shield of Achilles." The prosperous market-state he envisioned through constitutional reform isn't possible. The REAL market-state, the form of governance that that has truly embraced the global market system, is hollow. In effect, a state that doesn't place any barriers between itself and the global marketplace. As a result, the only real opportunities created by the emergence of the market-state are opportunities to steal extreme wealth.”
Meanwhile, as Red Team Journal’s John Sullivan and Adam Elkus warn (in 2009), criminal insurgencies are creating threats as severe as terrorism. And some exemplars, like those involving drug trafficking in Mexico, look and act like Bobbitt’s virtual market state:
“The global ebb and flow of illicit trade also produces a combination of the market states and virtual states, a kind of criminal empire where decentralized governance is an emergent process created by the interaction of feral cities, non-state organizations, and the global economy.”
Unlike the preceding bloggers, Sullivan and Elkus do not focus on Bobbitt; they make this remark in passing. Yet, it seems clear from their broader discussion that the structure and purpose of crime in Mexico may provide a better case of Bobbitt’s market-state notion than does al Qaeda. Yet, Sullivan and Elkus also seem to imply that the future belongs to which side — the Mexican government, or the crime syndicates — can best organize a network state.

Bobbitt’s award-winning book surely merits the many accolades it has received, especially for its historical materials. Yet, these bloggers are on the right track when it comes to wondering about the future. I agree with their criticisms; they are consistent with much that I’ve raised above. The late market state is an aging market-mad strain that may be more problematic than beneficial for the TIMN evolution of societies as a whole.


Matthew Deary said...


Your writing is wonderful and your ideas are expansive.

I am currently digesting your TIMN in 20 minutes video, with a feeling that, though you say Communism is dead, the network state will bring a real, reformed version of communism as an antidote to the late market state, where things other than money are valued and there is proper economic justice.

Please keep up your blog and writing - I think its very valuable.

David Ronfeldt said...

Many thanks. Welcome encouragement. Appreciated.

There is still much that can and should be done with TIMN. And I hope to get back to doing so. Right now, however, I am rather slowed-down, and also trying to focus on this blog's other theme (STA). When I do get back to TIMN, my priorities will probably be:

• Outline what a pictorial model and mathematics of TIMN may look like. Suggest developing an index about social evolution that can be applied to assessing specific societies.•

• Rail a bit about what is going on here at home, and to U.S. power and strategy abroad, from a TIMN perspective.

• Draft a quadriformist manifesto about the future. There are so many manifestos around these days. TIMN might as well have one too.