I was reading The Atlantic last night and came across this gem from Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential political philosopher. Speaking of American political and military might, he said something that sounded eerily like a description of the open-source software movement:
Our empire was developed almost overnight. At the beginning of the World War we were still in debt to the world....We wiped out our debt and put the world in our debt...in little more than a decade....
We are a business people who know nothing about the intricacies of politics, especially international politics, and in the flush of youthful pride we make no calculations of the reactions to our attitudes in the minds of others.
Our lack of imagination is increased by the fact that we have come into our position of authority too suddenly to adjust ourselves to its responsibilities and that we are geographically too isolated from the world to come into intimate contact with the thought of others. It was only yesterday that we were a youthful nation, conscious of making an adventure in democratic government which the older nations did not quite approve, and we still imagine that it is our virtue rather than our power which the older nations envy.
That last sentence, in particular, resounds with the echo of the open-source idea. It is, I believe, one of the biggest conflicts between the open-source and proprietary software worlds. Namely, many within the open-source world believe the proprietary world admires open-source "virtue," when really the envy is focused almost wholly on open source's increasing power.
Just like the United States, which Niebuhr describes as an "awkward imperialist," so, too, is the open-source world coming to grips with its newfound power and influence. Perhaps we (and certainly I) can make open-source adoption by proprietary companies a little easier by not force-feeding the ethical side of open source to them. Are we such dreamers to put the world to rights? Isn't the code good enough?
However, having said that, isn't this open-source "religion"/passion one big thing that drives its creators, if not its users? This seems to be just about efficiency of code?. Would open source - or 'Yankee imperialism,' for that matter - be quite as potent if we neutered it to make it