Internet is the new Leviathan
In conclusion of the series about the disruption of Nation-States by the Internet
Note this article is the conclusion of a series of 13 articles about the disruption of Nation-States by the Internet that started a few months ago with this article.
This series represents the 1st chapter of my forthcoming book on the disruption of nation-states by the Internet.
Until recently, people had two great Leviathans they respected and/or feared: God (through the Church or its equivalent), and the State.
When the Leviathan was God/The Church
The Middle Ages were a period characterized by the fact that most people respected the Leviathan God more than the Leviathan State: a lord, or even a king, who was excommunicated instantly lost enormous power and influence over his subjects.
Lords and kings therefore avoided being excommunicated, and when they were, they usually acted quickly, in order to stop being so, often by performing acts of penance, which sometimes involved extreme acts of humiliation.
For example, Henry IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was excommunicated in 1076, and, given the risks this created for him - not least that his vassals would rebel - decided to do penance, and made an urgent journey in the dead of winter to the castle where the Pope had taken up residence, a long journey in itself.
This was not enough: the pope refused to see him, and ordered that he should not be allowed to enter.
Henri IV then waited outside the door, barefoot in the snow, and dressed in a simple woollen cloak like a monk and penitent, for three days and three nights. Only then did the Pope agree to receive him, and lift the excommunication.
When the Leviathan State began to take over
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Let's compare this situation with another that took place at a very different time, when the Catholic Church was already weakened by Protestantism and its mechanical ally, the printing press.
The English king Henry VIII was excommunicated in 1535 for the "illegal" (i.e. unauthorized by the pope) annulment of his 1st marriage, but this excommunication was quickly suspended, in the hope that the king would see reason (this already shows that the pope was far less sure of his power at the time).
Did the king respond by running to Rome to throw himself at the pope's feet and ask for sacred forgiveness?
Not really, no. In response, Henry VIII outright separated the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church, initiating the English Reformation, which became part of the broader movement of Protestantism in Europe, and appropriated all Church property in England.
The Pope issued a definitive excommunication in 1538, which Henry VIII ignored.
He was able to do this - whereas Henry IV had to humiliate himself 5 centuries earlier - because Leviathan Church had already become weaker than Leviathan State. Henry VIII could therefore rely on the latter to counter the former.
The modern age is characterized by the fact that the state is the most important Leviathan for people: everyone is free to practice whatever religion he or she likes, but it is demanded that it should not interfere with the smooth running of society - religious differences must fade into the background of citizenship and service to the state.
The emergence of a new Leviathan
Just as the printing press undermined the Church's power base, and gunpowder that of feudal power, so the Internet undermines the power base of nation-states, for all the reasons we've seen in this series :
The Internet gives millions of people the freedom to choose their physical location without (or with fewer) constraints linked to the necessary proximity to customers, suppliers, employers and so on.
This gives millions of people the freedom to choose the jurisdiction that suits them best, breaking a centuries-old monopoly.
This makes it more difficult for these states to collect taxes, the lifeblood of their economy, without which they cannot exist.
This diminishes their ability to deliver on the promises of social benefits and pensions that created much of their appeal and legitimacy in the 20th century.
The Internet also renders the Labor Code obsolete in cases where people from outside the company's country work as freelancers, whereas labor regulation is a prerogative that many nation-states have assigned themselves.
The Internet enables the multitude to coordinate at a global level, on a scale that renders public authorities impotent, in particular by removing the bottlenecks that are the targets that governments know how to reach.
Linked to encryption, the Internet makes a huge part of communications and documents exchanged beyond the reach of government ears.
Linked to cryptocurrencies, for the first time in history the Internet provides the ability to separate State and Currency on a global level.
And to create decentralized structures that are state agnostic by default, and have no particular physical location (DAOs).
Using the Internet in the right way makes it harder to identify people who wish to remain anonymous or pseudonymous, whether they are activists or criminals.
The Internet makes it difficult to enforce national laws, and attempts to block them often futile.
The Internet and the growing mobility afforded by modern means of transport mean that more and more individuals can choose their laws by physically moving themselves and/or their companies to the jurisdictions offering the best judicial package.
The Internet creates exacerbated tax competition, encouraging more and more countries to offer the best possible value for money, from small businesses to gigantic multinationals.
The Internet facilitates certain types of cross-border fraud that are very difficult for public authorities to defeat. In some cases, native Internet players or communities take over the fight against these criminals, and they are often more effective.
The Internet tends to create online communities organized around shared values, cross-border to the point where physical location is not a criterion in itself. More and more individuals feel more connected to these communities, and less to their nation of origin, which also undermines one of the foundations of nation-states.
While nation-states remain very powerful today, and often still win battles against the Internet, their power is eroding day by day, undermined little by little by the network of networks, which is seeing its power grow.
Just as, at the beginning of the Renaissance, more and more individuals swore allegiance to the Leviathan-State, partly so that it could protect them from the Leviathan-Church, today more and more individuals, anxious to free themselves from the shackles of the State, or simply wishing to taste a new and intoxicating geographical and jurisdictional freedom, are increasingly pledging their allegiance to Leviathan-Internet, knowing that it can partly protect them from the greedy hands of Leviathan-State.
It would be hard enough for nation-states to resist such a disruption, whatever the conditions, but it comes at precisely one of the worst moments in their history, as we shall see.
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The series on the disruption of nation-states by the Internet
This article is the conclusion of a series of 13 articles about the disruption of Nation-States by the Internet.
Here are all the articles of the series, which represents the 1st chapter of my forthcoming book :