Updated November 24, 2019

In a report for RAND, David Ronfeldt posits that 3 forms of political organization have evolved over the course of history, now joined by one more:

  1. Tribe — Lineage-based political organization. Hacks our natural evolutionary drive to protect our kin by fictionally extending kinship through extremely long chains.
  2. Institution — Impersonal hierarchies. Army, church, nation-state, corporation. Organized on the basis of a shared belief.
  3. Market — Competitive exchange. Organized on the basis of an exchangeable token.
  4. Networks — The internet. Twitter. Wikipedia. Organized via digital networks (mostly).

Notes on TIMN from Design Unbound:

In TIMN one societal form does not replace another. Instead they build on eachother, allowing society to solve problems that other sectors have not done well enough at — in fact, problems that other sectors may have created.


New modes of conflict and cooperation emerge with each evolutionary shift.

Where does this network shift fit in Donella Meadows's leverage points framework? It affects 4 of the highest-leverage points:

  • #5 The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information). In a network, everyone can reach everyone.
  • #4 The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure._ Networks represent a fundamental shift in the way our social systems self-organize.
  • #3 The goals of the system. Every system has its own tilt, subtly shaping the goals of participants.
  • #2 The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises. If the formation of institutions shifted the social imaginary away from kinship and toward universalism — first in post-axial religion, then later in the democratic social imaginary — then perhaps we could expect networks to produce a similar shift in metanarrative?

These forms of political organization mirror the forms identified in Francis Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order.

David Ronfeldt has a blog.