walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Appeared in: Volume 9, Number 6
Published on: June 15, 2014
Political Economy & The State
The Twin Insurgency

The postmodern state is under siege from plutocrats and criminals who unknowingly compound each other’s insidiousness.

Nils Gilman is associate chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley.
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  • Maynard G. Krebs

    all i know is all this nonsense started when jfk was killed and it’s been all downhill since

  • Harry Alffa

    At the base of it all is the financial system – get a grip on that and get a grip on all of it.
    Start with linking banker taxes to unemployment level, and bank corporate tax to the cost to the state of unemployment benefit:

    Organised crime in the USA & UK would quickly become disorganised if an additional levy on banker income tax was added for every one thousand estimated drug addicts.

  • rheddles

    Is Nils related to Daniel Coit? Could nepotistic decay be the source of so much nonsense?

  • Fat_Man


  • Bruce

    The use of the term Libertarian is misleading. What the author is really talking about is cronyism where one crony has the ability to proceed as if we have a Libertarian free market economy while his competition is impeded by laws. The word psychopath also needed to appear in this analysis. Psychopathy is at the heart of many of our economic and social ills. But the psychopath is not as effective without the cronyism of government. Of course, there are psychopaths in government too.

  • MarqueG

    The analysis is so meta that you get the sense of drifting up, up, and away, high into the clouds, to the point that the clear surface features on the ground are no longer identifiable. Although the author at least names some “criminal insurgents” specifically, none of the libertarian plutocrats are identified, presumably because the author could only think of the Koch Brothers, famed billionaire libertarian philanthropists. Who are all these other libertarians plutocrats? The reader is invited to assume they exist in great numbers.

    Another abstraction whose presumed features are indistinguishable from its features seen up close is the gated community. One must assume, as the author appears to, that these are the anarcho-libertarian wonderlands where the denizens can ignore the state, government, taxes, regulations, you name it. If anything, these communities are subject to rather strict laws, generally are wealthy enough to afford the regulatory compliance costs, and — even more incongruous to the conjured image — have rigid sets of by-laws themselves dictating all aspects of lawn care and overall curbside appearance, down to what materials are permitted in the initial construction.

    One need not even bother quibbling with the idea that The State is and has been beaten into a compliant submission to the plutocrats, or into retreat by the criminals. Anyone interested might look at GDP or tax revenue comparisons between the supposed Golden Age up to 1971 and the period of The Fall from the 1990s. The trend is that The State its central self has taken over so much more of what used to be private and local, leaving the withered middle classes with less power, less money, and little input in government affairs.

  • Anthony

    The essay poses a problem: what socio-economic arrangements are developed societies to comprise in transforming 21st century globalized, technologized, and economic bifurcated countries. I sense that not insurgencies per se threatens the middle but systematized inattention and general misdirection (unperceptive or lacking in judgment) potentially harms and induces what essay intimates as anxiety among middle. “It should be observed that, except for disaffected, out-of-step critics, there is no widespread rejection on the American (read global) scene of the ascendant notion of success. Not only does a broad public uncritically accept steamy monetary success as a proper life goal but it feels any questioning of this goal to be un-American, possibly traitorous or at least subversive and surely cowardly. Who but a coward would shrink from entertaining the glorious contest of success? The “unsuccessful” are regarded with contempt or pity, often even by themselves. What we find, if we delve deeply enough, is a special value system at the root of it all.”

    I think essay and author alludes to special value system but fails to both call it out and analytically take it to task directly. Essay cites various strands for consideration as thoughtful writers continue to grapple with subject Piketty has focused attention.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I can’t speak for what is going on in other nations, but some of the reasons we are seeing “social bases of collective action crumble” (per the article’s last sentence) are the politics of anti-abortion, pro-guns, and false promises that tax cuts would create jobs. America’s church people were supposed to have more discernment than to get sucked in by the insurgency from above, but they didn’t and they don’t.

  • Kevin

    This is simply wrong about the plutocratic class. These people pay low taxes (“carried interest” exemptions, etc.) but are not withdrawing from the state but instead using the power of the state to subsidize themselves (“too big to fail” or “socialization of losses”) and to enforce intellectual property laws that favor their commercial ventures. They are far from being libertarians.

  • concerndcitizen

    The author has missed one key point. The difference between the oligarchy and the organized gangs of criminals is blurring. Both represent a state of lawlessness, one coming from within, the other from outside of society.

  • Michael

    I agree that “libertarianism” is an imprecise term to describe the plutocratic insurgency, but as opposed to some of the comments here it is clear that this insurgent plutocracy is not a figment of the author’s imagination and do exist in great numbers. In the US, according to the Economist, “16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%… control 11.2% of total wealth,” with an average net worth of $371 million. And while they might not subscribe in full to the “maker-taker” Randian mythology, there likewise do not appear to be a surge of PACs funded by plutocrats dedicated to raising the top marginal tax rate or generously funded think-tanks churning out policy papers arguing for the positive economic benefits accrued from taxpayer funded work programs for intellectually disabled citizens.

    There are, of course, geopolitical realities that fall outside of the essay’s framework. For instance, the engine of ISIS’s recruitment is fueled, in part, by its stated ambition to revive a re-imagined Islamic State from the ashes of Syria and Iraq’s immolated social fabric—and is now a model being rhetorically aped by criminal Islamist insurgents like Boko Haram. But there is much utility to proposing such a framework, as they are an initial step to fight back against these poisonous socioeconomic trends. Two strands of thought pop out for me from reading this:

    1) The essay insufficiently addresses how these insurgencies not only carve out economic zones of autonomy, but also seek to de-politicize the middle classes from collective action. The newly deregulated deluge of money into the U.S. political system post-Citizens United, and with it higher levels of capture of the political class is one way to do so. It signals to the middle and working classes that there is no way they can compete with the wealthy’s resources, and this money increases the social distance of U.S. politicians from middle-class and poorer communities as they come to resemble the plutocratic insurgency whose interests they are paid to protect (the median net worth of U.S. Congress is a $1 million dollars in 2012). For criminal insurgencies, violence, often spectacular in nature and widely broadcast via social media, is the answer to destroy collective action among the cowed middle classes who they claim to protect.

    2) The author is right to point out that these insurgencies, in somewhat Marxian fashion, sew instability in the very ecosystems they seek to preserve. But as inequality increases and the insurgencies expand, to what social movements and ideologies will the middle classes flock? For all the disruption that Web 2.0’s technologies have wreaked on book publishers and taxi unions, they have been a disappointment so far in confronting entrenched political power, whether it is a rapacious U.S. financial services industry, Russian oligarchy, or the Al-Assad regime. Indeed, social media tools, once thought to be budding “force multipliers” for collective action on behalf of social justice and against political oppression and economic corruption (witness the hype of social media surrounding the Arab Spring), are now better utilized by the criminal insurgents. Witness the ease in which Twitter and Facebook can facilitate the successful travel of the deranged and the marginalized a far-away town they have never heard of in order to blow themselves up on behalf of a struggle for which they often only the faintest shadows of comprehension.

  • Mal

    What bothers me a little bit is that the author considers “these twin” insurgencies as beings with a mind and goals. It should perhaps consider that they might be natural byproducts of previous systems. Instead of blaming them for eroding the social state, we might want to analyze what was wrong with the social state. Not with the idea of the social state (which is inherently good), but with the methods it was implemented. Happy New Year!

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