One of the most fascinating theories from Phillip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent, and one which pervades the entirety of the book, is that the West is in the early stages of a transition in the basis for the legitimacy of the liberal-democratic constitutional order. Bobbitt argues that we are witnessing the beginnings of a shift from the nation-state — which seeks to secure and improve the enshrined values of the nation, or ‘the people,’ as a whole, usually through coercion — to what Bobbitt chooses to call the ‘market-state,’ which will seek to secure and expand the (primarily economic) choices available to the individual. As the importance of national identity decreases, the lines between the various liberal states will blur, and so will the political fault-lines. ‘Market-states’ will increasingly rely on international cooperation between them in order to secure the possibility of this political order — especially in regard to common global threats that threaten individual choice, whether it is terrorism, natural disasters, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The relationship between the individual and the state, then, will be more like that of a shareholder to a corporation than a member of a unique people with a unique history to centralized representative authorities.
I suspect he is right. Yet, despite its emphasis on individual choice, the ‘market-state’ will not be libertarian in nature (nor does Bobbitt suggest anything to this effect). Democratic man cries out for freedom, meaning: choices — including the means to pursue those choices. It is not enough that the people are permitted to do something — they also want the means by which they can take part in the activities of their choice. Americans increasingly find the heavy hand of direct government intervention inappropriate. ‘Social engineering’ beyond light ‘nudging‘ is out of fashion. The same forces that have weakened the foundations of the modern welfare state are those that grant social license to sexual minorities, religious minorities, drug users, participants in the counterculture, and other varieties of fun decadent identities and choices. The market-state will promise to make it possible for nearly all individuals to more-or-less determine the course of their own lives, and will, little by little, abandon the nation-state’s mission to shape newborns into good Americans, good Englishmen, good Germans, etc.
My personal prediction: the ‘postmodern,’ ‘market-state’ version of the welfare state will need to be more-or-less totally revamped — especially as technology all but guarantees that income inequality will continue to grow — replacing conditional cash transfers (food stamps, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, etc.) with a federally-guaranteed universal basic minimum income, generous vouchers for education and health care, and so forth.
Considered as a whole, the constitutional order will have evolved to deal with new threats to its legitimacy — such as terrorism and income inequality. No one will be able to object to the state on the basis that the political order is depriving them of basic necessities and protections, and individuals will not reasonably have anyone but themselves to blame for the abuse or misuse of the benefits afforded to them by the state.