This blog deals mainly with things that might happen in outer space. But what, in that plausible midfuture, might be happening back on Earth?
I presume here that post industrial civilization on Earth does not fail in any of the familiar ways, nor in novel ones. If it does, nothing much will be happening in space except the patient beeping of robotic systems executing the last instructions they received. (If they are sending instructions to each other that is its own story, but not one I'll deal with here.)
If humans can live in space with no support from Earth, we are almost by definition past the midfuture, even if the far future comes sooner than I expected.
Current fashion, and it is a reasonable one, is to see the world political order reverting to a familiar great power structure: something like China, India, the US, the EU, Russia, Brazil, more or less.
The traditional definition of a great power is one that can take on any other great power. As I've argued before, it is not clear how far post industrial powers can take each other on without taking each other out. And even midrank powers can arm themselves with deterrents that will give a great power reason to pause.
A more practical definition for this century may be that a great power is a country that can project significant military force abroad. This is frightfully expensive. Militia war and tribal war are cheap, but the kind of war great powers make has gone far to price itself out of the market. Forces are much smaller than a century ago, and while their ability to blow stuff up is far greater, it still means less to go around.
For reasons discussed in the ground warfare post and - at much greater length - the discussion thread that followed, I believe that while sheer destructive power favors the offensive, in modern conditions the ability to exercise control favors the defensive. Big, heavy aircraft - assault and transport types - will be at great risk over hostile terrain, while logistic support convoys will be at risk as soon as they start moving.
Over time these conditions should favor political decentralization. Midrank powers have less need of a great power patron. And in the extreme case a central authority can blow a rebel province off the map, but cannot expect to reconquer it and find it in any condition to pay taxes. (China's underlying problem with Taiwan.)
How far might decentralization proceed? I will suggest that the 'natural' political, social, and economic unit of the midfuture may be the city. In the Western political tradition this would be full circle: Western political thought from Socrates to Machiavelli developed in a context of city states.
The great cities of today are a thousand times larger, with metro area populations in the tens of millions instead of tens of thousands, but they still have an inherent structural unity that megacorps lack. They lend themselves to regional government, and their economies are large enough to support the elements of a modern defensive umbrella, including if needed a nuclear deterrent.
Cities might form leagues, as medieval German cities formed the Hanseatic League, but more for economic than security reasons, since the added security of a league is only modest. Global politics in such an environment might take a variety of forms, from coalitions of leagues to a limited world government, to a welter of jurisdictions so complex we might have trouble describing it.
So ... what might a world of city states be like?
Related Posts: Goodbye, Westphalia, and Futures of Power Politics: Tank Commander.
The image comes from this 3-D screen saver site.