I read with great interest an Opinion piece in today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal. It was called, ‘The Decline and Fall of Congress’, and was written by Mr. DeMuth, a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute. He was president of the American Enterprise Institute from 1986 to 2008. HIs article calls out “atomized politics”; the idea that politics has shifted away from a discussion of large scale group-based and people, into ever smaller segmentations, or networked affinity groups.
He highlights, for example, how the position for the House Speaker within the Republican Party is not a discussion by one caucus, but actually a hostage held in check now by fractious segments within the party. More interestingly Mr. DeMuth suggests that “atomized politics is entirely entrepreneurial on the supply side and issue specific on the demand side.” The interesting argument that politics is now motivated and structured this way is intriguing and seems to fit the current situation quite well – though it is unclear if the observation explains the behavior, or the behavior just happened and this explanation just describes it.
The narrative also seems to fit a more general dialog. The UK would never have imagined that Scotland would have voted for independence 50 years ago. It was probably not even a hot topic 20 years ago. Spain has its own separatist movement that is in the throes of atomization. Look at Eastern Europe – its map has been redrawn several times in the last three hundred years, only to be ripped apart in ever smaller chunks of people and political states. Ask yourself this: how does your peer group at work operate? Is it getting more granular in its organization or are networked affinity groups emerging?
So the idea seems to fit a more general pattern – but is it really new, or a new trend? I am currently reading about the failure of Congress to ratify the Versailles Treaty after World War One. It seems that there were several fractious segments, or affinity groups, that together held Congress hostage to what appears to have been a sympathetic country-wide support for the Treaty. This was back in the 1920’s – so perhaps the networked affinity group idea is not exactly new. If not new, it certainly seems to be more prominent in that such behavior is now more widespread and easily observed in many different places. It is an interesting model to consider when you think about the way our society and groups behave – and how you might want to “get on” within them.