John Gall

How Systems Work And Especially How They Fail




During the ‘70’s, when Systems Theory was very much in the ascendancy, this booklet came out to remind people that large systems are prone to failure and that is no use to rely on bigger and bigger systems to solve bigger and bigger problems as they are, very likely, the product of those very systems.
Towards the end of that booklet, John Gall introduces the brilliant idea that, in order to avoid the concentration of power the best way is not the diffusion of power (as power has the habit to re-concentrate itself in the long run) but the diffusion of the targets of power, i.e. of the citizens of this world. To allow so he advocates the introduction of two new Freedoms:

- The Free Choice of Territory ( Distributional Freedom ).
- The Free Choice of Government ( Principle of Hegemonic Indeterminacy ).

These two freedoms show remarkable similarities with the idea of Panarchy. Considering that many other voices have put forward the idea of Aterritorialism and Free Choice of Government, it seems then that, whatever the name used (the Principle of Hegemonic Indeterminacy or Panarchy or Polyarchy) we are dealing with a recurring basic aspiration and it is time that those still indoctrinated by the territorial states take notice of it because it is something that is not going away; the alternative being the continuation of innumerable conflicts and clashes right up to full-blown so-called “civil” wars.



Students of General Systemantics will have apprehended by now that General Systemantics does not offer ready-made formulas for the solution of Systems-problems, even of such pressing problems as Warfare between Nations or Governmental Oppression. The Axioms are too fundamental for direct application to practical situations, and the intervening methodology has in any case not been worked out. At most, one may derive a clue to a method of approach whereby the Intrinsic Difficulty is specified as precisely as possible, so that daring and imaginative correctives may be tried. The risk of failure or even of catastrophe is very high, and the undertaking should be begun only where the present evil is very clear and the consequences of miscarriage are judged to be no more unbearable than a continuation of the original unsatisfactory situation.

With these reservations, we may permit ourselves a bit of harmless speculation on the Government System. Government Systems, acting in accordance with the Law of Growth, Tend to Expand and Encroach. In encroaching upon their own citizens, they produce Tyranny, and in encroaching on other Government Systems, they engage in Warfare. If one could correctly identify the Intrinsic Difficulty with the Government System, one might be able to curb or neutralize those two tendencies, to the benefit of the Mankind System.

What is the Intrinsic Difficulty with the Government System? Previous reformers, identifying the core problem as the concentration of power in a few hands, have attempted to improve things by diffusing that power. This works temporarily, but gradually (Systems Law of Gravity) the power becomes concentrated again.

A breakaway group of General Systemanticists, starting from the principle that it is very difficult to unscramble eggs, have proposed that the core problem is not the concentration of power but the concentration of governed in one place, where the government can get at them. They have proposed not the diffusion of power, but the diffusion of the targets of power - the citizens themselves.

They would achieve this by providing citizens with two new freedoms, in addition to the traditional Four Freedoms [*]. These two new freedoms, appropriately designed as the Fifth and Sixth Freedoms, are:

(5) Free Choice of Territory ( Distributional Freedom ).

(6) Free Choice of Government ( Principle of Hegemonic Indeterminacy ).

Under Free Choice of Territory, a citizen of any country is free to live in any part of the world he chooses. He remains a citizen of the government he prefers, to which he pays taxes and for whose officers he votes. However, as the term Free Choice of Government implies, he may at any time change his citizenship and his allegiance from his present government to another government that offers more attractive tax rates, better pensions, more interesting public officials, or simply an invigorating change of pace (Common courtesy would seem to require two weeks’ advance notice; the standard notice any employer would give an employee.)

With these two new Freedoms in effect, one would expect that after a short period of equilibration, citizens of any nation would be distributed amongst the citizens of all other nations - not necessarily at random, but sufficiently so for our purpose, which is to remove them effectively from the grip of their own government. A government can hardly put any large number of its own citizens in jail if it has to send halfway around the world for them, one by one, and persuade other governments of the justice of the proceedings. Raising armies would become administratively impossible. Furthermore, wars of any government against another would become impractical, since large numbers of the “enemy” would be distributed all over the world, including the territory of the home government.

The net result of the two new Freedoms would be to break up the Concentration of the Governed, to divide and distribute them throughout other governments, a principle which we shall call the Comminution of Hegemony. If practiced on a world-wide scale it could lead to revolutionary changes in the relationship of citizens to their governments, reversing the traditional polarity and making governments fearfully dependent upon the favor or even the whims of their citizenry rather than vice versa. In keeping with the revolutionary aspects of this proposal, we hereby broach the solemn question:


World Comminution: Threat or Promise?




[*] The Four Freedoms were formulated by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was President of the United States, on January 6, 1941. In an address also known as the Four Freedoms speech, FDR proposed four fundamental freedoms that human beings ought to enjoy, everywhere in the world:

1. Freedom of speech and expression

2. Freedom of religion

3. Freedom from want

4. Freedom from fear


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