Hyperpolarity, Wikipedia and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

So what's the connection between Wikepedia, the nationalization of the Bolivian gas industry, the rise of Pentecostalism and the successful Iraqi insurgency?

According to Moises Naim, writing in this morning's Financial Times, these are all little guys "calling the shots." Naim, the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, argues that the old Cold War world has been replaced by a "hyperpolar world" in which "many large, powerful actors co-exist with myriad smaller power (not all of which are nation-states) that greatly limit the dominance of any single nation or institution."

Thus, according to Naim, Bolivia can get away with breaking its gas contract with Royal Dutch Shell. Thus, a "ragtag" militia in Iraq can stand up to the world's greatest military power. Thus, Pentecostal Christians in Latin America successfully compete with the Vatican. Thus, Wikipedia (founded in 2001) can take on the Encylopedia Britannica (founded in 1768) and, in five years, become 12 times larger.

There is a little bit of a David sentiment in Naim, who argues that this new world "opens many new attractive opportunities for the little guy." But he acknowledges that hyperpolarity comes at the expense of "stability." The key words in this new world are volatility and fractiousness -- manifest in both contemporary Iraq and in Silicon Valley.

Naim develops his theory more fully in his 2005 book Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy. Naim's vision of hyperpolar chaos is consistent with John Rapley's ideas about the emergence of a new Middle Ages. Writing in the June issue of Foreign Affairs, Rapley argues that what is happening now is the fragmentation of the traditional nation-state into an international strata of economic elites coexisting, at the local level, with gangs of street thugs.

What is particularly interesting about Naim's thinking is the increasingly interconnectedness of technology, politics and culture. In one sense, Naim suggests that Thomas Friedman is correct. The world really is becoming flatter and flatter. But this flatness is creating a new medieval-style volatility and fractiousness rather than Friedman's globalist utopia. So expect many more Wikipedias and Abu Musab al-Zarqawis rather than Indian economic miracles. For conservatives, the future might be very dark indeed.