Coercion by itself is a dangerously narrow base of power. As Bismarck said, the one thing you can't do with bayonets is sit on them. States and other political entities – those of the past, and those of the future – depend on legitimacy, which transmutes the iron of naked power into the gold of authority.
I have speculated before on this blog about the different forms that power politics of the future might take from the familiar state system of the relatively recent past. But whatever the structures, they are unlikely to stand up very well unless they they can also transmute power into authority with something approaching the efficiency that states have achieved. For this reason – to grab a handy example from the bag – those futures dominated by megacorps, corporations writ mighty, face a basic challenge, or at any rate the megacorps do. If they are to survive in power very long they will need a lot of brand loyalty.
And the legitimacy problem does not just apply to general populations. Most immediately it applies to the human instruments of power. From Lawyers, Guns, and Money, via Kung Fu Monkey ('Your monkey's kung fu is not strong'), a thought provoking essay on how power is lost in the current era. Here's the nutshell passage: It deals with a late 20th century event, but the intended context is early 21st century, in fact immediately contemporary. Its implications for the broader future should be obvious.
Tank Commander is far more dangerous than Tank Man. Tank Man can simply be shot; most seem to believe that Tank Man was later executed, far out of sight of the international media. The regime survives if Tank Man dies, even if the death of Tank Man isn't the optimal outcome. The regime dies, however, if Tank Commander refuses to run over Tank Man. Eisenstein used the Odessa Steps to demonstrate the corruption of the Czarist regime, but the regime didn't die until the soldiers refused to shoot the demonstrators. The successor regime didn't die until Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in August 1991. While there's some mystery as to the fate of Tank Man, I don't doubt that the CCP found Tank Commander and put a bullet in the back of his head at the first opportunity.Read the whole essay. Discuss.
Related links: I discussed the Westphalian state system – AKA the universe of the 'Diplomacy' board – and its possible successors here and here, and applied it to a speculative scenario about Mars here.