Cathedrals, Bazaars, and the Counterjihad

ICLA (CVF) ShieldGraham Dawson (who used to be known as “Archonix” in an earlier incarnation) is a long-time reader and commenter at Gates of Vienna. He and I see eye-to-eye on the concept of distributed networks and their necessity for the successful functioning of the global Counterjihad. A dispersed non-hierarchical structure is crucial to what we do, especially in Europe, where prominent “Islamophobes” are now routinely arrested and prosecuted.

Below is Graham’s essay on the topic. He uses the writings of Eric Raymond as his jumping-off point, and then proceeds to his own analysis of the importance of a “bazaar” model to the Counterjihad. He notes that recent events have evidenced the failure of the “cathedral” model when applied to organized resistance to Islamization.

On Networks: A Brief Essay
by Graham Dawson

Recent events have caused me to return to a subject that has been discussed at some length here and elsewhere within other parts of the Counterjihad movement.

The precise form of our movement has always been up in the air, with two competing models vying for supremacy. Taking a cue from Eric S Raymond’s essay, The Cathedral and The Bazaar, I have decided to create a brief outline of the respective features of these two models with an aim to demonstrating that one is simply superior to the other.

As with anything at Gates of Vienna, the content of this essay is free to use with attribution. To formalise this, I’m releasing it under a Creative Commons license, which can be found at the end of the essay.

Back to ESR’s essay; In The Cathedra and The Bazaar, Raymond describes two competing models of software production:

The Cathedral is characterised as a centralised, closed system that sets strict limits on when and how it will release product, building “cathedrals” of software that aren’t released until they’re considered “ready”, and which are generally closed to outside access in the meantime. Development occurs within cathedrals of hierarchy that place the most important people — the users of the software — at the very bottom and isolate them from the development process. At the same time the system also isolates development teams and developers from each other, preventing them from effectively analysing each other’s work, turning each piece of code into a miniature kingdom to which no other developers are welcome.

The Bazaar is described as an open system, in which lead developers may or may not exist; a system where any leader delegates as much as possible to as many as possible. The development of software in this model is open to just about anyone. In the bazaar, everyone has access, bringing many perspectives to a problem, and vetting and analysing the contribution of everyone else on an equal-trust basis. ESR uses the examples of the Linux kernel development, one of the largest and most successful open source software development projects in history, as well as other smaller projects that prospered once they adopted an open model, encapsulating the entire idea with what he calls Linus’s Law. “With many eyes on the code, all bugs are shallow”. That is, with a multitude of mutually cooperating developers, few problems are hard to ferret out, and it is likely that someone will have a solution to every problem that’s found.

So far, so computery, but what does this have to do with the Counterjihad movement?

The two models I mentioned as vying for supremacy within the movement map surprisingly well to the Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Previously, on Gates of Vienna, the Baron has outlined what he believes to be the most effective means to spread the Counterjihad message, as well as to coordinate responses and avoid the possibility of extremely dangerous, personality-engendered splits within the movement.

The Center for Vigilant FreedomBriefly, his idea was of many small groups working together, passing information quickly between each other, bringing a multitude of possible solutions and ideas to the group. No big “clearing houses”, no central personalities, no single points of failure. The idea is best embodied within the logo of the International Civil Liberties Alliance: a network of interconnected nodes with no central hub. A peer group, rather than a hierarchy, similar to ESR’s bazaar model, where the few “bigwigs” such as himself and Linus are required to show absolute humility and acknowledge the contributions of everyone else before their own if they wish their projects to succeed. The Linux Kernel would still be a backwater college project if Linus Torvalds had suffered an attack of ego and refused to give credit where it was due.

The last time this issue was discussed, we were in the middle of the Great Farce, faced daily with the inanity of Charles Johnson’s latest smears against imaginary nazis and bogeymen. Charles had set himself up as one of the Elect, a “leader” of the Counterjihad movement accompanied by a few other big name stars. As such, he became for a while the de facto arbiter of what was and was not the True Path, for want of a better phrase.

His behaviour demonstrated very effectively the failings of the Cathedral model, highlighting its largest flaw: the single point of failure. A Cathedral, with its stratified hierarchy and remote leaders, is only as effective as the man at the top. And the man at the top is vulnerable to many things, not least the benefits the position itself provides: fame, power, control — they quickly corrupt and isolate those top men, removing them from contact with their counterparts and making them vulnerable to an inflated sense of pride. Competition — that being anything that threatens to elevate others to the same level as the top men — is ruthlessly suppressed, as is anything that dissents from the ex cathedra pronouncements of those top men, for dissent threatens both their power and their prestige.

Such an organisation becomes self-destructive. It no longer serves the interest of its members (the “users” in ESR’s essay) but, instead, serves to maintain the ego of the leaders themselves and keep them in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, regardless of the consequences for its members in the long or even short term.

This vulnerability of the leadership is the largest danger of the Cathedral model. Once an organisation is arranged around a hierarchy, it becomes extremely vulnerable to decapitation — if a leader is arrested or otherwise removed, the now leaderless hierarchy will either lose direction and collapse, or be torn apart by a fight for control of the hierarchy. Even a relatively loose hierarchy is vulnerable to this effect. A hierarchy is also extremely vulnerable to a Gramscian “long march” through the ranks to eventually overtake and replace the leadership. Needless to say, the possibility of such usurpation by hostile elements can easily be discerned from the current political situation in most of the Western world.

The hierarchical model is, obviously, dangerous for a movement such as ours.

One of the accusations levelled in recent days has been that “bottom feeders” (Machiavellian bottom-feeders, no less!) are trying to bring down these top men in order to acquire more power within the Counterjihad. The parallel with Stalin’s denunciation of “wreckers”, enemies who were trying to bring down his perfect system just to get at him, is a good way to highlight why the current spat should be viewed as demonstrative of the conflict between the bazaar and the cathedral models within the Counterjihad. For statist socialism is perhaps the ultimate cathedral, a system where the centre controls the periphery in every single way, and where nobody can act without instructions from that same centre.

Yet the very nature of the bazaar makes such a claim of power-seeking laughable on its face. The bazaar has no organisational leaders to whom such power can be arrogated. The hierarchy is fighting nothing but reflections of itself.

In contrast, the nature of the cathedral is such that those bound within its mode of thought are usually incapable of seeing a bazaar — a distributed network — for what it is. Those used to cathedral thinking attempt to control networks from the centre, attempting to stamp their personal vision on the network and guide, or even just bully it into following their chosen path. Sooner or later they butt up against the fact that such a network cannot be controlled, although they may appear to have such control for a very long time as the network makes use of their abilities.

Eventually, the network demands humility or departure. The hierarchical thinkers will perceive this as an attempt by opponents to usurp their control of the network and they will attack anyone sufficiently prominent, often with extreme vigour and highly personal language, in order to neutralise the competitive threat. Purity tests and demands for increased loyalty follow. Claims of wide support are rallied, and external “threats” constructed, to provide a reason to retain the cathedral leader. At this stage, if it is healthy, the network routes around them, eventually isolating their hierarchy and leaving it to wither away to nothing.

As you may have guessed by now, I favour the distributed bazaar model over the centralised cathedral. Within the bazaar there are no single points of failure. There may be celebrity voices, famous faces and so forth, but their fame and celebrity is contingent upon their humility and acknowledgement of the work of others, to a degree far above and beyond that demonstrated by most “leaders” today.

What makes the bazaar a better alternative?

  • The Bazaar is locally responsive. As there is no central authority to be waited on, elements of the organisation can operate independently as local conditions require, without interrupting the activities of the organisation as a whole, yet its distributed nature still allows it to operate coherently on issues that affect the entire organisation. Imagine a school of fish reacting to a predator, and you may begin to see what I mean.
  • The Bazaar is robust. If any part of it fails, the rest of the organisation can route around the damaged part and fill in the gap. If the failed part is restored it can fit right back in without any interruption.
  • The Bazaar is creative and innovative. Ideas can be tried out by one element of the organisation without interrupting the overall operation. If they succeed, they can be quickly adopted; if they fail, no harm was done.
  • The Bazaar is greater than the sum of its parts. One voice at the head of an organisation may carry a lot of clout, but counts for little when a response is required in several places at once, or when that voice has to address an area outside its expertise. A distributed network can field a plethora of voices, respond in real time to a multitude of events, organise and collect information on a variety of apparently unrelated subjects and analyse it from every possible direction, before speaking with authority on any subject its members are well-versed in.

The bazaar — the distributed, centreless network of individuals with common cause — is, in short, the most effective means to disseminate information, define goal and fight against jihad and Islam.


In writing this essay I found myself at something of a loss for suitable references, which is why you can’t see any, apart from the essay by ESR that forms the foundation of my argument. There are no works that quite map onto what this essay has discussed; possibly works discussing guerrilla warfare, or something on network systems might come close, but complex networks in a sociological setting are a fairly new field, and, whilst I’ve read a little about it, it’s hard to point to any one piece of writing and say that is the definitive or a relevant work on the subject.

Most sociological and psychological study on the subject is extremely superficial and concerned primarily with “social networks”, as exemplified by sites such as Facebook, where interaction appears to be free (and is praised as such by those superficial studies), but is, in fact, extremely constricted and only allowed on the terms defined by the developers of the site. Such a corporate entity is thus a very good example of the cathedral, despite appearing at first glance to be a bazaar. Appearances can be very deceptive.

But this is threatening to turn into another essay, so I’ll have to end here.

Creative Commons Licence
On Networks by Graham Dawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

10 thoughts on “Cathedrals, Bazaars, and the Counterjihad

  1. Good idea Graham.

    The tone of your paper reminds me of the founders ideas of the USA in trying to construct an intentionally and permanently weak government with strong horizontal value. They didn’t go far enough, for example, they should have required millitias instead of suggesting them and they should have required hanging for traitors.

    Well since you can’t do that, I suggest you shore up your Bazaar against human tendencies way, way more than you think you need to. Cults of personality and extreme group ideas lay dormant and can spring into action at any time.

    Your idea has some built in resistance to that problem, but it’s going to need a creed, a pledge or a song stating support of each other, of the little groups and all their efforts, and containing the edicts and ethics that would make the Bazaar resistant to the dangerous personalities when they do appear.

  2. Reminds me of the Tea Party movement. There are various spokespeople, but anybody who tries to arrogate the leadership becomes subject to ridicule and will be ignored from then on.

  3. The problem with non-hierarchical models of group dynamics is that enforcement of purpose and principle is difficult or impossible. This is exemplified by libertarianism, which is no more capable of concerted, directed action than is anarchism. What principles define who does and who does not get to join “counter jihad”? If no one is allowed to state and enforce such principles, then how can Muslim zealots be stopped from joining? Lenin gloried in using “useful idiots”. Any effective force against Islam must have a unifying idea backed up by organizational teeth. Sure, ideas must be allowed to bubble up, but inappropriate bubbles must be popped by someone.

  4. Robert, you’re right to point that out. But a heirarchy will always come about in society – it’s virtually necessary for its function, as you so rightly point out. The trick is where the emphasis lies – the bazaar model requires great humility on the part of the leadership and emphasis on the contribution anyone can make, while the cathedral model emphasises far more the power and prestige of the leadership. Ironically, the Catholic Church is generally more aligned to the bazaar than the cathedral model (just look at Luke 22:24-30), notwithstanding its many human failings.

  5. I tend to agree with Robert.

    Dawson’s argument, I think, suffers a bit from the fallacy of extremes, Either/Or, a kind of variation on the Straw Man. Depicting any organization that is not “bazaar” as “rigid” and prone to the various serious flaws and dangers which Dawson itemizes is attempting to beg the question.

    Surely one can be organized and have a hierarchy of leadership without being Stalinistic.

    P.S.: Ironically, I would say that the sociological dynamics of Islam come closest to operating in a bazaar style — and look where it got them: they have no purpose in life but to infiltrate, infest, infect, invade and immolate. The West, on the other hand, has built a cathedral of a civilization; not without plenty of flaws — but nevertheless the best thing going in history. And the best of it has not succumbed necessarily to the deeper sins which some here think inherently pertains to authority of any kind.

    The bazaar style may be good for spreading and fighting like army ants, or rats, or vermin; but it will never build a civilization. And in fact, the bazaar CJ movement may be said to be parasitic upon non-bazaar structures in Western society surrounding it.

  6. Hesperado, as I said in the essay, appearances can be deceptive. Islam appears to operate on the bazaar principle, but it is more akin to a military organisation, and is in fact highly centralised. The hierarchy in this case it has partly replaced focus on a single leader with focus on a single, very heavily guarded place: Mecca. Other centres have tried to usurp that position in the past. Jerusalem once almost became the centre of Islam, for instance. And recall that any Islamic sect that attempts to replace Mecca or claims to follow a new prophet it is ruthlessly suppressed. mohammed can’t speak for himsef any more but his hierarchy speaks well enough for him.

    i never said a hierarchies are bad. I said all hierarchies are vulnerable to a range of issues an that vulnerability makes them dangerous to our movement.

    You see my issue is not with hierarchy in and of itself; my issue is with centralisation. Hierarchy tends to centralise as a natural consequence of its organisation and, as such, needs to be avoided as much as possible.

  7. Robert wrote:

    “What principles define who does and who does not get to join “counter jihad”? If no one is allowed to state and enforce such principles, then how can Muslim zealots be stopped from joining?”

    I have a hard time envisioning Muslims joining something called the counter-jihad, or Anti Islam Movement. My guess is that – especially in Europe – it is gonna be guerillia style battle when things really heat up in our cities. Anyone “shooting in the right direction” has then de facto joined the “counter-jihad”. To put it more bluntly if somewhat paradoxically: Islam will be an important defining factor to decide who joins the AIM.

    I agree with Graham, hierarchy makes vulnerable (if only for “leadership” struggles, along the lines of Atlas Shreks part II, III and IV), for actual battle in the field the network approach will be the way to go. In the phase preceding all out civil war it doesn’t even have to be limited to a direct anti-Islam approach only: any initiative (singing club, knitting society, post stamps exchange gatherings, medieval re-enactment circles, anything..) in our infected cities that has as a result that Westerners become less isolated from each other, will prove to be useful for building up our resistance levels in the near future.

    Kind regs from Amsterdam,

  8. A Cathedral can be useful, if there is good leadership at the top of it… For example, what would Christianity be without the “man at the top” – Jesus?

    Similarly, the Jihadis follow a Cathedral model – following the “supreme example” of Muhammad, as well as current earthly leaders such as bin Laden and jihadi imams. This has been effective in installing discipline, and orchestrating the moments of “when to strike”.

    In contrast – a “Christian bazaar”, of sorts, exists with the mass of different protestant Churches in the Western Hemisphere… with such a choice, which one to follow? And who’s to stop some of the churches going wayward, if there’s no common authority?

    In fact, one could argue that the subversive tendencies present in Western countries since the 1960s have as their objective a weakening of authority, and of any feeling of responsibility and obedience among the masses… precisely to weaken the state in which those masses reside.

    And for a failure of the “Bazaar” mentality -look no further than the mass of Trotskyite left-wing groups in the West – splintering into an even bigger mass of smaller groups, with no visible leader. Such a mixture of groups can then result in a large amount of time spent on explaining the merits of your particular group, as opposed to someone else’s (usually resulting in the “competing” group being labelled Fascist!)

    That said – a “Cathedral” needs to have a leader who can be respected – for example Jesus or Mohammed mentioned above. Other examples include Pope John Paul II or the Dalai Lama – wise, inspirational, leading by example, and commanding a wide respect among their followers…

    Does the Counterjihad have such leaders? Sure, it’s got great intellectuals like Robert Spencer, and determined, hard-working bloggers like Pam Geller. But are they enough to command near-universal respect to be our equivalent of Pope John Paul II? Not when they call other bloggers “bottom-feeders”, or snap at them for the smallest indiscretion. That indeed can be a sign of a “cult of personality”, instead of a genuinely-respected leader.

    For me, personally, such a leader could be Congressman Allen West. He has the capability to inspire, and to motivate people to follow his words… But as the essay above points out – what if a counterjihad leader is “decapitated”? Removed by character assassination (removing his respect), arrest or even physical action? For such a small group, it is indeed vulnerable to be reliant on such a small amount of leaders!

    Yet even if the Counterjihad operated on the basis of the Bazaar model, without any leaders, would we have no weak points? We would still be greatly reliant on one entity – the internet… And what would happen if the internet was “decapitated”, through a takeover of its main players (eg Facebook, Google), a China-style censorship, or an effort to locate internet users, leading to counterjihadis being sent to “re-education camps”?

    At the moment, this scenario seems far-fetched. But such events have happened before, and could happen again. Which is why IMO it’s most-important to transmit information through word-of-mouth, and get the message out there, so that it gets powerful, before the forces wanting to silence us can catch-up with us… a “bazaar” model practiced, physically, by every one of us!

  9. Without going into sordid detail, permit me to say how delightful it is to see a well-lettered, fellow long-time participant at Gates of Vienna turn his pen towards illuminating the counter-jihad. Congratulations, Graham Dawson, I am thrilled to see you make your debut. Any observations of mine will be made in a following comment.

  10. You Knew–

    The point re ‘failures’ of the Founders to build in those things may have been unavoidable. Those were 13 very ornery, very at-odds states in a shaky federation. They had to firm up *something* within a short timeframe…in the horrific heat of a Philadelphia summer.

    I think they went as far as they dared take it. Every single state had to be on board or the whole thing was DOA.

    However, part of the problem of modernity is we’ve become lazy — lazy thinkers, lazy do-ers. It’s just so much easier to “let government do it & isn’t that what we pay our taxes for & besides there’s a World Cup to watch & I’m already stressed for time…etc.”

    That’s why a goodly amount of the Tea Party ppl are folks whose children are grown and gone. They have the time to invest and it’s a way to structure *something*, *anything* that gives them a scrap of hope that what they’re leaving behind for their grandchildren might possibly be less toxic if they prepare now.

    1389 is right about the TEA party. Everyone in it has one basic principle:


    A bazaar arrangement is mostly local. The natl stuff doesn’t engage ppl much. Who is running in their district does, though.

    Thus, if the TEA party isn’t strong in one place, that makes no essential difference to organizers in the next district. While it’s nice to have the company, it’s not essential to the process.

    And if these groups network & one group turns out to be poisoning the well, then other groups cauterize. Kind of like a starfish, or a Communist cell…

    For the Counterjihad movement, the bottom line is the defeat of Sharia law in all its guises. That poses thousands of possibilities for action and it is action better done by locals.

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