Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously predicted that the state would wither away after the working class seized power, although we saw in real life that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” created a stronger and stronger state. That’s because Marx and Engels saw the state existing simply to regulate class conflict. Since class conflict was going to be gone — with the “working class” clearly in charge — there would be no state. That was a fantasy at the time.
I keep talking lately about a post-statist world, and it’s time to be a little more specific about what that means. Am I predicting that all governments are suddenly going to cease existing? No, that’s not it. To make my point clear, I’m going to compare it to another controversial assertion that’s been made lately.
Nearly three months ago — following up on something he’d been talking about for nearly a year — Apple CEO Steve Jobs asserted that the computer industry has entered what he called the “post-PC era.” Outraged commentators screamed that he was crazy — because the PC was still the dominant computing device in the market. A few others got it. Eventually, I think everybody will understand what he was talking about.
A “post-PC era” doesn’t mean we suddenly don’t have PCs anymore. It simply means that the rules of the game have changed and that the things that used to win aren’t going to win anymore. Seriously, read the Engadget piece I linked to a minute ago, because Josh Topolsky analyzed it very, very clearly. He gets it.
In the same way, the “post-statist era” doesn’t mean we’re finished with the state. It means that something else is arising that’s eventually going to take its place. At first, it’s just going to be an isolated free city or two. It might be something existing as a “charter city” of some sort within another country’s borders. It might be an island that goes off on a completely different model. It might be a floating platform somewhere in the ocean that declares itself independent. It’s hard to say how it’s going to happen. The one thing we can be sure of is that the traditional nation-state isn’t going to know how to deal with it.
Over time, as some of the new models start working and the old statist systems start falling apart more and more — from eating their own most productive citizens — more places are going to copy the successful models. We’re going to see a flowering of creativity about governance that the world has never seen.
It’s not going to happen immediately. It’s not going to happen everywhere at once. But change is coming. We’ve entered a post-statist era — or we’re on the verge of it. Those of us who “get it” now have to do the difficult work of planning the new alternatives and building them. It’s a very, very exciting future.