As riots and protests have been progressively, and in an accelerating way, occurring in many countries, starting with France in 2005, as public deficits have become structural and entrenched, made more acute by the financial and economic crisis triggered in 2007 by the sub-primes, it became increasingly clear that something was happening at the very heart of our societies. The political systems in which we live are under stress and changes are in the making.
The end of the modern nation-state?
Those very real events reflect a concern that has been underlined and debated in social sciences, notably international relations theory and political science for a long while, and most often expressed as the impending demise of the modern nation-state and related system. Already in 1977, Hedley Bull in his masterful The Anarchical Society was, among other, testing various hypotheses related to possible future evolutions of political systems. Meanwhile, most foresight products underline the end of the modern nation-state without investigating it. Furthermore, the strength or fragility of the state generates a lot of interest as a growing fragility could lead to civil war, state collapse and generalized warfare. The state is this political entity that is so difficult to define precisely and universally, and yet that we immediately recognize when we deal with it or when it is not there anymore. It is Hobbes’ Leviathan, and, without it, “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The type of state that is prevalent nowadays is described as modern (the modern state), centralized and rational. It is linked to the nation (the nation-state). The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia marks the birth of the modern state system.
As we, human beings, all live under one form or another of state, as it is the guarantor of security writ large, from the protection of foreign enemies to domestic peace to the foundation for material and immaterial security, as fragile states could mean strife and death, we are all primarily concerned by its potential disappearance or by foreseen changes in its form. We must be able to envision its plausible futures.
The question is absolutely crucial because from the answer will depend how we shall deal with all other issues facing us, from climate change to geopolitics through food and energy security among others.
The Chronicles of Everstate: foreseeing the future(s) of the modern nation-state
As Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) is the best analytical method to envision changes and imagine possible futures, it was high time to apply SF&W to this debated and complex issue:
What will be the future of the modern nation-state this ideal-type form of polity into which most of us live nowadays, for the next twenty years?
Developing a specific foresight analytical methodology and an adequate product
The overall project evolved relatively slowly as I also wanted to use the future of the state as a case study to develop and test a foresight methodology that would be built on existing tools and overcome some existing methodological difficulties. This method had to be specifically adapted to national security issues and to incorporate science findings. Meanwhile, I also had to find a way to make it as simple of use as possible, yet without simplifying it to the point that it would lead to erroneous results. Finally, the methodology had to be testable and replicable.
Furthermore, as foresight and warning does exist only in as much as it is delivered, I had to identify who were the customers or clients for the final product, and imagine the best form the product needed to take for those customers. With time, it became increasingly obvious that those clients and users were the contemporary rulers, i.e. the nation and the citizens as well as the civil servants working for the state apparatus that supports the ruler, as explained in detail in concept and philosophy behind Red (team) Analysis.
In terms of method on the one hand, and product delivery, on the other, I soon faced a few major challenges: if the method itself was relatively simple, it could look otherwise if not explained properly, and thus lead to adverse reactions and rejection. Meanwhile, the product itself, the scenarios, stories or narratives, as they evolved, became soon too long to be conveyed through a conventional medium, apart from a book, which would mean a very long delay before publication. Last but not least, events started unfolding at an accelerated pace showing the pertinence of the foresight experiment, but also putting a supplementary time pressure on the whole project.
The Chronicles of Everstate, as will be published here, are an answer to those various concerns. Regularly, every two weeks, Red (team) Analysis will now post a new part of the Chronicles of Everstate, the fictional state created to imagine and tell the story of potential futures for our – very real – states or countries. The new post will be displayed on the home page, then will be accessible, as all posts through the menu (some categories of the menu are currently empty but will be populated with posts as times goes by).
The first post will explain precisely the rationale behind the Chronicles of Everstate, why Everstate, and how to use the concept. As it will be relatively short, the next post will be published the week after. It will open a series of posts that are methodological in focus, dwelling more in-depth into technical intricacies, somehow the nuts and bolts of the methodology, always using the future(s) of the state as example. Then, we shall finally start telling the Chronicles of Everstate; all other posts being at the same time a didactic practical application of the methodology and the development of the various scenarios for the future. In the course of the story, each scenario will be stress-tested against the same set of pressures and events.
Blog post, active reading and struggling against the persistence of beliefs
The regular publication under blog post format and thus the possibility for users and readers to interact is a specific feature that I wished to introduce in the project. Indeed, as human beings we are all prey to many cognitive biases, and it is one of the many challenges of SF&W to try to mitigate them. Among those biases, the persistence of beliefs and erroneous information may be one of SF&W’s chief enemies (Anderson, Pepper & Ross, 1980). Anderson, Pepper & Ross suggest two ways to overcome this persistence of beliefs: “Would such perseverance effects be eliminated or attenuated, for example, if subjects could be led, after debriefing, to consider explicitly the explanations that might be offered to support a contention in opposition to their initial beliefs? Alternatively, could subjects be “innoculated” against perseverance effects if they had been asked, at the outset of the study, to list all of the possible reasons they could imagine that might have produced either a positive or a negative relationship between the two variables being studied (cf. Slovic & Fischhoff, 1977)?“
Building upon those two ideas, it is crucial to include within the foresight product itself an element that create and prompt active reflection. Futurists, when they develop future scenarios for businesses underline the necessity to engage decision-makers during the analytical process, through brainstorming for example, for the same reason.
However, with strategic foresight and warning for national security, it is hardly possible to use the same device. Policy-makers have tight agendas and little time available for participating in analytical processes. Furthermore, models, as we shall see soon, are too complex to allow for such an approach. To try doing it would be similar to ask users to learn programming and then participate in software development before to use a word processor. Finally, addressing also citizens forbids small groups brainstorming at analytic level for the sake of speed, cost and efficiency. Meanwhile, the fact that most people never interact, including over the world wide web, had to be considered
Something else had to be imagined, which is experimented here: to give clients – fundamentally readers – the possibility to interact directly with the product itself – but at their will and without letting the project depend upon those interactions – through:
- active reading made possible by the way the method works and the narrative is developed (as will be seen with the next posts);
- the format of accumulated blog posts that will allow, with time, navigating at will among various parts of the stories and thus develop other scenarios, according to the specific needs of users.
Finally, the blog posts/website format also aims at preserving the experimental, flexible and evolving character of the Chronicles of Everstate that has become one of the features of the project and could very well be a necessary characteristic of a Strategic Foresight and Warning analysis adapted to our contemporary world.
Welcome to the Chronicles of Everstate!
Anderson, Craig A., Mark R. Lepper, and Lee Ross. “Perseverance of Social Theories: The Role of Explanation in the Persistence of Discredited Information.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1980, Vol. 39, No.6, 1037-1049.
Bull, Hedley, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. London: MacMillan, 1977.