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592 pages, Hardcover
First published October 1, 2017
Drawing on the best modern scholarship, this book seeks to rescue the history of networks from the clutches of the conspiracy theorists, and to show that historical change often can and should be understood in terms of precisely such network-based challenges to hierarchical orders.
Intergenerational inequity in public finance, hypertrophic growth of regulation, deterioration in the rule of law and corrosion of educational institutions – taken together these lead to a “great degeneration” of both economic performance and social cohesion. In short, the administrative state represents the last iteration of political hierarchy: a system that spews out rules, generates complexity, and undermines both prosperity and stability.
To an extent that disturbs libertarians on both left and right, the US government exerts control and practises surveillance over its citizens in ways that are functionally closer to contemporary China than to the America of the Founding Fathers.
The lesson in history is that trusting in networks to run the world is a recipe for anarchy...unless one wished to reap one revolutionary whirlwind after another, it is better to impose some sort of hierarchical order on the world and to give it some legitimacy.
Silicon Valley prefers to lie low, and not only for fear of earthquakes. Its horizontal architecture reflects the reality that it is the most important hub of the global network: the world’s town square.
On the other side of the United States, however – on New York City’s 5th Avenue – there looms a fifty-eight-storey building that represents an altogether different organizational tradition. And no one individual in the world has a bigger say in the choice between networked anarchy and world order than the absent owner of that dark tower.
But they became significant because their reputation went viral at a time when the political disruption precipitated by the Enlightenment – the achievement of a hugely influential network of intellectuals – was reaching its revolutionary culmination on both sides of the Atlantic.
Like anything that is very popular, Facebook has its detractors. ‘Facebook sells the attention of users to advertisers all over the world’, the journalist Jonathan Tepper wrote, shortly before deleting his account, ‘and Facebook knows almost everything about their lives, their families and their friends… It is also a platform built on exhibitionism and voyeurism, where users edit themselves to exhibit a more flattering side and they quietly spy on their friends…’ Far from increasing friendship, Tepper argued, it actually cheapens and displaces genuine friendship. Certainly, the economics of Facebook are a far cry from its utopian ideology. It has been likened to a sharecropping economy, ‘which provides the many with the tools for production, but concentrates the rewards into the hands of the few’. Put more crudely, on Facebook ‘the user is the product’.