Nation states have enormous power, which can be projected outwardly and exercised within. We can bomb targets on the other side of the world; the NSA can find out whom you call when for how long.
It’s also become clear that nation-states are also deeply vulnerable. The most sophisticated technologies of power could not prevent 9/11 or the Paris attacks; firepower couldn’t subdue Iraq or stop the civil war in Syria. We can’t entirely control who moves with the crowds of refugee and migrants across the globe. How many successful ISIS attacks does it take before people start losing confidence in the state’s power to protect them?
Some are already taking things into their own hands. Vets are guarding the Texas-Mexico border. The Gambino family boasts that the mafia is better able to protect Americans than the FBI, Homeland Security, or other agencies. Giovanni Gambino told NBC News: “The world is dangerous today, but people living in New York neighborhoods with Sicilian connections should feel safe. We make sure our friends and families are protected from extremists and terrorists, especially the brutal, psychopathic organization that calls itself the Islamic State.”
Feudalism was a protection system. With Roman authority breaking down, with invading barbarian tribes, the powerless and less powerful attached themselves to the wealthy who could still command some troops. In exchange for a lord’s protection and support, a vassal vowed to fight and serve.
It seems apocalyptic in the extreme to entertain these thoughts. But Romans didn’t think it could happen to them either. Many tried to live lives of defiant normalcy. But eventually Rome gave way to a “non-state” system of protection and order.
Will we be facing a choice between ISIS and the Sicilian mob? Is this what’s ahead? Are we facing a feudal future?