This isn’t really new, I just wanted to get my thoughts on this down.
Hezbollah, Anonymous, The Tea Party, the NRA, Occupy, al-Qaida, and Wikileaks, all have had significant influence without the much need for official state-backed power. Power is derived from common cause, support is (mostly) from sympathetic private citizens who are free to participate, often regardless of their location.
The deep internet (accessible only by Tor) hosts all of the things too distasteful or illegal for the web, including a very detailed drug market operating on bitcoins or Liberty Reserve.
With the rise of decentralized tools such as 3-D printing, bitcoins, drones, military contractors, definitely hacking, and even geoengineering, the need for state support is even less important. Small groups, even just a dozen motivated people can already wield enormous influence, which will only increase in the future. Large, centralized yet poorly interconnected systems (I’m thinking physical mail and analog control systems) might have been stable to small-time threats and controllable by states, but they are likely too inefficient to be built again.
The real question, as Bruce Schneier asks, is how society responds to this reversal of power structures. Some models have been constructed, and they are unstable to say the least. It seems like support of special interest groups will become almost mandatory as a preemptive defense. As the old curse goes, I believe we’ll all live through some “interesting times”.