My paper "All Roads Lead to Rome" is currently in the refereeing process for publication in the Mediterranean History Review (University of Tel Aviv). But as Dan of tdaxp points out, "The blogosphere is abuzz with empires...".
Dan and I recently discussed Chirol's concept of empire. The title of Chirol's essay -- "Why Empires are Inevitable and Positive" -- should make it pretty clear that I don't agree with his formulation. I suggest that "Why Empires Tend to Intensify and Alienate" is a more accurate title, but I've already written about that. Basically, Chirol states that there are two options, empire or anarchy, and that any intermediary stage is just the chaotic transition back and forth. If you accept his premise that you must pick either A or B, then his argument holds more water. My fundamental objection is that I think there is a valid third choice: rhizome.
Theorists of empire seem to enjoy making models for how the thing works--I'm certainly guilty of this. Chirol's model of empire is perhaps best described as a neo-con formulation of empire. He says that: "As a second generation empire, the United States has a responsibility to itself and the world to maintain peace by maintaining unparalleled military and economic might and not allowing these to wane." I prefer to look on empire--and anarchy and rhizome--as mere patterns, the self-organization of flows of energy involving humanity (or the absence thereof, as in anarchy). From this perspective, the critical features that differentiate patterns of human organization are the differing mechanisms of self-organization and intensification. A variety of mechanisms have been proposed--Wittfogel's "Hydraulic Empires", my suggestions of a "Connectivity Empire" based on the Roman Road system, etc. In my discussion with Dan, we entertained the notion that the currently emerging empire may also be a connectivity-based empire due to things like the Internet and the exponential increase in global information flows. My problem with this concept is that conventional wisdom states that the Internet is decentralized, almost rhizomatic. ARPANET was designed to withstand a nuclear attack, so therefore it was based on a rhizome model, not a hierarchal model. Or at least so goes conventional wisdom? In my suggested paradigm of "mechanisms of self-organization", the critical point in the modern empire of global information is the point at which the self-organizing patterns that serve as the foundation of this global information system "tip" from rhizome to hierarchy. Was "The Net" ever really based on rhizome? When and how will it change to a hierarchal model, and has it already? There is no doubt that a wide array of players are already attempting to make it more hierarchal--to create self-intensifying hierarchal institutions within this information system that they will then be able to harness for their own selfish purposes--whether this is corporations like Google attempting to harness surpluses of hierarchy towards the end of corporate profit, or entities like the US government using institutions like Echelon to harness the surpluses of hierarchy towards the end of information control. If we accept the premise (shaky at best) that the Internet really was once rhizome, and that other hierarchal structures are seeking to co-opt this framework, then what will be the face of this change?
This may be the principle battleground of the next Epochal Conflict (more on that soon...). I wrote recently about the unification of many global movements and ideologies around the concept of rhizome in "Rhizome Politics" (which will be included in the soon-to-be-published
"Politics To Go: A Handbook on Using Mobile Tech to Empower Just-in-Time Politics", from www.ipdi.org ). Rhizome will increasingly attempt to utilize a networked global information system towards its own propagation--and no doubt Hierarchy will contest this high ground.
After-the fact critique is easy for the armchair general. But in the fog of war, as events are moving in real time, it is often far more difficult to pick out this conceptual high ground, this "schwerpunkt", this "center of gravity". Is it possible that for the coming epochal conflict between hierarchy and rhizome the ability to draw the global information system towards one pattern or the other will be the elusive key to victory?