Skip to content

Decentralization And Social Change

August 23, 2009

The Lioness’ Den has two interesting posts on how secession, anarchism, and other localism movements (ie, anything that moves us towards A Thousand Nations) will affect society.  What will a decentralized world look like, culturally and economically?  These are important questions, and it’s great to see someone grappling with them – especially since they are questions I often get asked, and the cultural aspect is one I must admit I haven’t thought deeply about.

In Decentralism for the Masses: The Big Sort and What It Reveals About Localism and Voluntary Segregation, she writes:

I’ve seen two major options so far for what a decentralized world might look like. Kevin Carson presents a model of decentralism of driven by necessity through eroding transportation and lack of mobility, characterized by small regional markets, localized production and high levels of economic autarky. By contrast, Keith Preston portrays a model of decentralism by choice along lines of interest and affinity, a panarchy of multiple systems in which social, political and cultural factors are motivating influences, and some degree of segregation and separatism are likely (though not necessarily universal).

Which is more likely to occur — and which would be more successful? According to Bill Bishop ‘s The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (2008), an experiment along these lines is already taking place. The United States is becoming progressively more differentiated into smaller units along political, social, economic and geographical lines. What do the data show?

So far, the process fits more into Preston’s model of decentralization by choice rather then necessity, enabled by mobility and based on personal preference rather than economic need. Although the two are interconnected, it is primarily sociocultural choice that drives economic reorganization. People are going to places with people they like and jobs they want, rather than adjusting themselves to local necessities.

That’s only the beginning, as she moves on to cover “The Psychology of Tribes and Neo-Tribes: How Free Is Galt’s Gulch?”, “Political Subcultures and Partisan Lifestyles”, and “Genetic Implications”.  She clearly gets the idea of a market for government, concluding:

A complete micronational-anarchist system would be quite different, with many more options and a more-market-like structure in which communities would compete for mobile resources like people, trade and investment, rather than centralized political influence. Thus, the Big Sort should be seen as only a very rough intimation of what true panarchy or anarcho-pluralism would be like.

Nonetheless, it is the road down which we are now moving. Whether it continues will depend on political, economic and environmental .factors, including whether energy shortages induce constraints on mobility (as Kevin Carson has argued.) If technology succeeds in keeping up with such changes, and if new political visions of anarchism, secessionism, and microanarchism take hold, the 21st century could witness the transition into a decentralized America.

The consequences of freedom of association need to be understoood as a set of trade-offs: large-scale diversity and local segregation, individual choice and group homogeneity, political autonomy and economic specialization . Unlike collectivist visions of utopia, it offers no guarantees; people sometimes become snared in their own choices.

Read the whole thing.

You may also want to check out: Does Decentralism Lead To Social Regression?, which begins:

There’s an assumption…that decentralized, organic communities will necessarily be socially conservative, much more so than communities in the same geographical areas under statism, and they will remain so permanently with no incentive to change. I do not see any reason to assume this. The fallacy arises from the fact that the only such small-scale, autonomous societies that we currently know of, with few exceptions, are from earlier stages of history: tribal, ancient and medieval. Therefore these simple societies serve as the image and model in terms of which we imagine decentralism. There is, however, no reason to assume that a shift to political and economic localism will necessarily require a regression toward more restrictive traditional mores, any more than it need require the abandonment of modern science and technology.


  1. August 24, 2009 4:31 pm

    “Tribal” enclaves may not be socially conservative, but they are likely to be “conservative” in the sense of being driven by orthodoxy and groupthink. Just look at academia for an example.

    • August 25, 2009 1:56 am

      Isn’t academia precisely the sort of scattered, diverse (in terms of nationality, at least), knowledge sharing community the average cosmopolitan anti-tribalist would dream of?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: