Writing a book is a commitment for reader and writer alike. So in the event you're deciding whether to make that commitment, here's a minimum description length-motivated summary of the key concepts behind the Network State. We'll do the one sentence, one paragraph, and one page versions. For the ten page version, read chapter one. And for the one hundred-plus-page version, read the whole thing.
A network state is a social network with a clear leader, an integrated cryptocurrency, a definite purpose, a sense of national consciousness, and a plan to crowdfund territory.
Technology has allowed us to start new companies, new communities, and new currencies. But can we use it to create new cities, or even new countries? The key concept is to go cloud first, land last — but not land never.
First, form a social network around a clear leader, a proven centralized mechanism for dispute resolution in a decentralized world. Since anyone can found a network state, just like anyone can found a tech company or cryptocurrency, the legitimacy of this leader comes from whether people have opted in to follow them.
Next, start doing meetups in the physical world, of increasing scale and duration, while simultaneously building an internal economy using cryptocurrency.
Eventually, begin crowdfunding apartments, houses, and even towns to bring digital citizens into the physical world within real co-living communities.
Finally, network these pieces together into a new kind of state: a network state, a digital archipelago with parts of territory distributed around the world.
As the population and economy of a network state grow comparable to that of a legacy state, it will gradually be able to attain diplomatic recognition from existing sovereigns — and ultimately the UN — just as Bitcoin has now become a bona-fide national currency.
We begin with premises. Technology, cryptocurrency, China, India, and Asia more generally are on the rise. America and the West writ broadly are in decline from an economic, military, demographic, and political standpoint. There are many exceptions to these broad trends — there are positive developments at the state and city level in the US, as well as in pockets of Europe, and the rise of innovation in bits has not yet fully unlocked innovation in atoms — but broadly speaking our future appears to be a centralized East and a decentralized West.
What should that decentralized West ultimately look like?
Not the current age of anarcho-tyranny, best exemplified by the city of San Francisco, wherein the anarchy of unpunished public stabbings is combined with the tyranny of unlimited parking tickets. That model may well be exported to much of the Anglosphere before it reaches its end-of-life, but fundamentally the state capacity of modern America is just too low to maintain said tyranny for long.
Nor should it be the coming age of crypto-anarchy. If and when BTC has replaced the USD as the global reserve currency, and the American federal government's writ holds as much value as its devalued currency — which is to say, none — Bitcoin citadels may well crop up in newly lawless regions, funded by the wealth of early holders. But there are many societal goods you can't easily buy — like a walk down the street in a high-trust community — and Mad Max isn't a desirable long-term outcome for anyone, even Bitcoin Maximalists.
Neither should our future be control by a still-intact Chinese superstate. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a durably stateless West would eventually prove a playground for foreign powers, who understand that the non-aggression principle has always been trumped by the aggression principle.
So if neither anarcho-tyranny, nor crypto-anarchy, nor Chinese control...then what? Instead we should start building towards crypto-civilization. A new world where anyone can be either country founder or crypto-citizen, and can switch between these paths at any time — much as you might choose to found a company or join one as an employee. Where it is possible to peacefully start new countries, to join them, to form alliances between them, to switch allegiances between them, and to balance decentralized competition with centralized cooperation.
The key enabling technology for this world is the concept of the network state, a country you can start from your computer, an archipelago of digitally-linked enclaves, a community aligned around cryptographic consensus, a city-state in the cloud, a body based on math rather than science, a group organized by geodesic over geographic distance, a polity that prizes exit above voice, a state that recruits like a startup, a territory one can acquire but not conquer, a nation built from the internet rather than disrupted by it.
And that is the subject of this book.