The present historic epoch is one of transition from authoritarian institutions like states and corporations, to a society of self-organized networks and voluntary associations. As in any historic transition, second-order variables introduce high levels of turbulence to the process.
One such source of uncertainty is internal divisions within the authoritarian camp. That can only be expected. The very existence and function of authoritarian institutions is zero-sum in character. States are instruments of economic exploitation, through which ruling classes extract their wealth from producers. The wealth of parasitic corporations consists of rents on artificial property rights and artificial scarcities extracted from the consumer. It’s no wonder a gang of thieves might fall into quarreling internally as each attempts to put one over on the other.
On the other hand networks, non-capitalist markets, and other voluntary associations among free individuals have no reason for dissension because they’re predicated on positive-sum, cooperative relations among equals.
Among the instabilities of the authoritarian side is dissensions among states in the global system. We’ve seen this in recent years with states aiding (and frequently attempting to co-opt) dissident movements within competing states. Hence the American policy of encouraging the use of encrypted routers in Iran and China, and its limited support for the Arab Spring uprisings (except in Bahrain and the other conservative Gulf monarchies, of course).
Compared to the Arab Spring, the US had somewhat better luck co-opting the so-called “color revolutions” of the former USSR, using them as disposable tools for installing neoliberal regimes. In Egypt, in contrast, the Tahrir Square movement seems ill-disposed to settle down, accept the new military regime, and take orders from the World Bank and IMF. And the US is on the whole hostile to movements like those in Spain and Greece, because of their much stronger anti-neoliberal focus.
It’s a truism of geopolitics that the emergence of a single, overly strong power will be countered by the emergence of coalitions of smaller powers against it. One early sign of such a counter-tendency was the Shanhai Cooperation Organization, a loose security alliance between Russia, China and several former Soviet republics in Central Asia. We can expect such attempts to solidify and enlarge if the United States attacks Iran. Such an attack will have the same effect on the world system that Hitler’s aggression had on the European Allies.
Recently India announced it will pay for Iranian oil with gold rather than the US dollar. China is likely to do the same shortly.
The Empire is extremely vulnerable to mass, nonviolent — and coordinated — defections by the global South: Abandoning the dollar as reserve currency, repudiating foreign debt, withdrawing from “intellectual property” accords, and transforming themselves into free information havens, etc. And I think we’re very close to the tipping point at which a significant number of countries hit on this idea as a way of restraining the Empire’s power. Perhaps the attack on Iran will be what triggers it.
The most important question is whether the Empire will collapse. Will America retreat into managing its own affairs without trying to take the world down with it? The worst-case scenario is Washington fighting a world war against “failed states” and “terror states” engaged in what it calls “economic terrorism,” with hunter-killer drones operating in Iceland, Spain, Greece, Venezuela, and other states which either fall to networked uprisings or attempt to secede from the global corporate system.
Even in the latter event, though, we can expect the emerging free world to defeat the dying superpower in the end. Networks and other free associations run circles around authoritarian hierarchies. They’re more agile and react to situations more quickly. Because they are not divided among themselves by mutually exclusive interests, because they can trust each other, their local nodes and individual members are free to react to emergent situations on their own initiative and take up promising innovations from other nodes without having to follow endless bureaucratic rules and standard operating procedures in order to get permission to act.
A global superpower founded on the principles of information control and fear and distrust of its own people cannot long endure. We already saw one superpower so founded collapse from the weight of its own internal contradictions. I expect the second one to fall within our lifetimes. A house divided against itself cannot stand.