I've recently slammed Thomas PM Barnett over his over his glib obsession with "locking in an alliance with China at today's rates." When he thinks, he sometimes only thinks in an act utilitarian fashion. However, he does think about interesting topics and often brings them to life in both his weblog and his journal; Rule Set Reset.
In one article in February's Edition, "Rules, Rule Sets and Social Systems," author Mark Safranski posits a theory of how civilizations stipulate rules and maintain order. He described four classes of rule sets that can be charted on two sets of axis to form a Cartesian Plain.
One a first axis, he describes rules as explicit or implicit. Explicit rules are written down and technical in nature. They are the stuff of law books and are enforced by referees, police officers or regulators of some sort. They give rise to The Guardians that Plato was afraid needed guarding themselves.
Implicit rules are less tangible and require a certain savvy and soul to intuit. They are traditions, customs and "the vibe" you sense around you. They get enforced by everyone, to a certain degree. You won't get ticketed for breaking one of these, but if no one wants to be around you, even your friends, then you've probably jumped outside these sometimes subtle social norms.
On another axis he lays out rules as either strong or weak. Strong rule sets hammer violators with a bad consequence that occurs with high probability. The expected value of any transgression small or large is substantially reduced. Weak rule sets either issue a slap on the wrist or punish in an unpredictable fashion.
This analysis allows Safranski to classify societal rules as being Totalitarian (Strong, Explicit), Individualistic (Weak, Explicit), Communal (Strong, Implicit) or Anarchic (Weak, Implicit). This makes for a convenient shorthand for dividing up the world's societies. You have the Core (Explicit, well-defined rule systems) and the Gap (Implicit, unclear rule systems). Or, if an analyst prefers, there are the Repressed (Strong, harsh rule systems) or the Free (Weak, laid back rule systems).
In my opinion, niether split really gives you an accurate taxonomy of what is really out there today. A third axis, possibly hinted at by Safranski when he described "buy -in", could and should be Compliance. This would vary between voluntary (most people generally accept these rules, punitive enforcement is not frequently needed to keep the populace in line), and Coerced (most people disobey, the second the authorities take a walk and only frequent, brutal punishments keep it going).
This would further subdivide Safransky's categories into a more accurate picture of what types of rule sets exist.
- Totalitarian Rule Sets would become
a) Authoritarian (Strong, Explicit, Voluntary; e.g. Canon Law of The Roman Catholic Church) - a large number of people except being told exactly how things will work.
b) Tyrannical (Strong Explicit, Coerced; e.g. Modern China, Saudi Arabia) - a large number of people are held against their will.
- Individualistic rule sets would become either
a) Libertarian (Weak, Explicit, Voluntary; e.g. The Modern US in many respects) - People are willing to accept a limited amount of authority and a larger amount of personnal responsibility.
b) Powerless (Weak, Explicit, Coerced; e.g. Fuedalism in 14th Century France) - This is the best of several poor choices. It doesn't work, no one likes it, other alternatives just don't exist accept for anarchy.
- Communal Rule Sets would bifurcate into
a) Mutual (Strong, Implicit, Voluntary; e.g. Social norms and cultural traditions) - People are generally in agreement over "how things work".
b) Unavoidable (Strong, Implicit, Coerced; e.g. the caste structure in most societies, taboos) - Something that no one really likes, but that has to be worked out. People accept these unwritten rules, often against their wills, in service of a higher good.)
- Anarchy would not bifurcate accept that possibly, if a Voluntary anarchy existed, it would last until people grew tired of it's deleterious effects.
By ignoring the will of the people to comply with a rule set, the author ignores a vital component in judging the vitality of a given rule set. If we ignore the coersive element rampant in many modern dictatorships, then Neville Chamberlain definitely should have "locked in Hitler at 1936 rates."