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The End of Politics
The End of Politics
Every 500 years or so Western history seems to reach a turning point: the
founding of democracy (Athens, c. 500 B.C.), the death to Christ, the fall
of the Roman Empire and beginning of the Dark Ages (c. 500 A.D.), the
ascendancy of the Catholic Church and beginning to the Middle Ages (c. 1000
A.D.) and the Renaissance (c. 1500 A.D.).
These points of inflection are often evidenced by a dramatic raise in
corruption and lack of faith in institutions. At the start of the 16th
century few could have imagined a secular Europe. Though its rampant
decadence and debauchery was widely known, the Catholic Church permeated
almost every aspect of life and its economic tentacles denominated all
commerce. Yet by 1600 many city states had thrown off the ecclesiastical
yolk and Protestantism was born.
With the near constant stream of corruption revelations and the inability
of the political process within the nation-states to deal with important
social issues, it isn't hard to see the reflections in current events. Many
claim our nation has diverged very far from its founding roots and, through
expansive Supreme Court, Executive and Legislative Branch actions, the Feds
have laid claim to almost every facet of American life not specifically
nailed down in the Constitution (and many we thought were).
Two turning points were catalyzed by military technology (metal armor and
gunpowder) which dramatically altered the economic scale and payback for
violence. We may be nearing the end of another such military technology
cycle, which for the last 200 years favored those states which could muster
the largest economies for warfare. With the fall of the Soviet Union it is
obvious that democracies were able to extort more GNP through taxes than
the communist could through outright state ownership of property. However,
the cost of producing weapons of mass destruction (especially chemical and
biological) has fallen dramatically and is now within reach not only of
small nations but increasingly individuals. If one accepts that the
wielding of such power has been instrumental in shaping world politics then
the conclusion is almost inescapable that dominance by nation-states will
be on the wane.
The last turning point was also catalyzed by information technology: the
moveable type printing press, the first mass-production technology. By
1500 hundreds of European printing presses had churned out over 20 million
books. Early expectations were that the press would reinforce the use of
Latin and the Church, but most Europeans were monoglot and few authors
could compose satisfactory new Latin works. The rest, as they say, is
history. Many have compared the Internet with the press and it's not
unfair to characterize it as nothing short of an information revolution.
The victory of the Western democracies over their Communist opponents was a
political watershed. With no Soviet bogeyman to wave in front of voters,
and the need to maintain their self-importance, politicians have had to
reach into the bag for new villains. They have invoked the new Four
Horseman (terrorists, pornographers, money-launderers and drugs-dealers )
as a threat with which only they can effectively deal. Only they can't and
they know it. These issues are either outside their control, no matter
what restrictive laws they pass, or of their own making.
The Internet will play a key part in disintermediating governments and
markets. To escape heavy regulatory burdens, significant information-based
business, investments and individuals will become jurisdiction-less. With
their ability to regulate and tax Internet commerce and content denied a
major source of revenue will evaporate which be which cannot be replaced by
sales and property taxes. This will spell the end of mass wealth
redistribution and signal a massive global down-sizing of government.
As the power of the nation-states to dictate world affairs slips, look for
an eclipse of democracy and with it politics as we know it. Western
thought is so infused with politics that few can imagine society without.
Yet politics in the modern sense, the preoccupation with controlling and
rationalizing the power of the state, is mainly a modern invention. It
will end with the modern world just as the tangle of feudal duties and
obligations which engrossed the attentions of people in the Middle Ages
ended with the Middle Ages.