For States, Small Is Beautiful

There are several reasons why we’re not nationals, but they all ultimately reduce to the ephemeral nature of the state. Unlike heritage, lineage, biology, and locali voluntary associations, states come and go. Just like the traveling circus, they’re here today, gone tomorrow.ii

Take, for example, the rocky coastal town of Opatija on the Adriatic Sea: once inhabited by the Liburnians, it was eventually taken over by the Romans, then the Ostrogoths, then the Byzantines, then the Austro-Hungariansiii then “Yugoslavia,” and is today considered part of something called “Croatia.” Yet, give or take, the people there are still very much the people that have always been there. Calling them anything other than what they are is, as they say, “short termin’.”iv

As we’ve seen quite vividly in the past few hundred years, complexity is on the up and up. Everything from war to communication to travel is faster and more complex than ever before. This is definitely a trend – one that nation states cannot avoid – and one that disproportionately affects larger and more centralized states.v

youtubetard:vi more complexity is the nature of all things in the long term. So the rise of many many many micro states is very likely. People see Liechtenstein’svii success.
mircea_popescu: this is actually a solid point, as unexpected and tenuous as it may seem. from a macro perspective the average state size is so heavily upper bound and so set to drastically decline…

The reason the Ancient Egyptian Empires lasted for thousands of years was because 1) they were rigidly hierarchical,viii and 2) technological development wasn’t broadly accessible. Between then and now, the intervening millennia have seen untold sums of Empires, nations, and other such governments toy with alternatives to these two points, generally trying to make good things more accessible. This has been an unmitigated disaster because it quite ignored the inability of good things to be anything other than exclusive, as if erasing that line from the definition of “good things” made it so.ix

Today, of course, in the emerging era of the Bitcoin Empire, it’s a familiar story – we have Bitcoin and we have PGP – two technological developments that are nowhere near broadly accessible and are therefore naturally geared towards hierarchical organizations. And yet, they’re also geared towards smaller fiat states because they so completely break the monopoly on lines of communication and means of taxation.

The big, bad, lumbering nation state now has its feet stuck in the mud, trapped in place by a metastatic bureaucracy and with nowhere to go but down, down, down. The smaller, nimbler states, like Liechtenstein, will survive and thrive while the larger and more centralized beasts, like the USA and the EU, will dissolve into their ancient constituencies.x

Small is adaptable. Small is the future.

And we’ll live to see.

___ ___ ___

  1. The Internet, of course, allows for an expansion of the definition of “local” unlike anything the world has ever seen. []
  2. Doesn’t national politics seem like a bit of a circus to you? []
  3. Emperor Franz Joseph I summered there, greatly preferring the milder clime. []
  4. Borrowing against tomorrow to enjoy today? You’re short termin’, man. []
  5. China may try to crack down on WeChat, but to what end? []
  6. From IRC. []
  7. The Principality of Liechtenstein is nestled between Austria and Switzerland and covers an area of 160 sq km (or 1/4 of what the ancient city of Babylon is purported by Herotodus to have measured), has a population of 35,000 and boasts the higher per capita GDP on the planet. []
  8. Can you imagine a democratically elected President mirroring the actions of Egyptian King Rhampsinitus in so rewarding talent when he saw it? 

    1. When Proteus died, Rhampsinitus, the priests informed me, succeeded to the throne. His monuments were the western gateway of the temple of Vulcan, and the two statues which stand in front of this gateway, called by the Egyptians, the one Summer, the other Winter, each twenty-five cubits in height. The statue of Summer, which is the northernmost of the two, is worshipped by the natives, and has offerings made to it; that of Winter, which stands towards the south, is treated in exactly the contrary way. King Rhampsinitus was possessed, they said, of great riches in silver- indeed to such an amount, that none of the princes, his successors, surpassed or even equalled his wealth. For the better custody of this money, he proposed to build a vast chamber of hewn stone, one side of which was to form a part of the outer wall of his palace. The builder, therefore, having designs upon the treasures, contrived, as he was making the building, to insert in this wall a stone, which could easily be removed from its place by two men, or even by one. So the chamber was finished, and the king’s money stored away in it. Time passed, and the builder fell sick, when finding his end approaching, he called for his two sons, and related
    to them the contrivance he had made in the king’s treasure-chamber, telling them it was for their sakes he had done it, that so they might always live in affluence. Then he gave them clear directions concerning the mode of removing the stone, and communicated the measurements, bidding them carefully keep the secret, whereby they would be Comptrollers of the Royal Exchequer so long as they lived. Then the father died, and the sons were not slow in setting to work: they went by night to the palace, found the stone in the wall of the building, and having removed it with ease, plundered the treasury of a round sum.

    2. When the king next paid a visit to the apartment, he was astonished to see that the money was sunk in some of the vessels wherein it was stored away. Whom to accuse, however, he knew not, as the seals were all perfect, and the fastenings of the room secure. Still each time that he repeated his visits, he found that more money was gone. The thieves in truth never stopped, but plundered the treasury ever more and more. At last the king determined to have some traps made, and set near the vessels which contained his wealth. This was done, and when the thieves came, as usual, to the treasure-chamber, and one of them entering through the aperture, made straight for the jars, suddenly he found himself caught in one of the traps. Perceiving that he was lost, he instantly called his brother and telling him what had happened, entreated him to enter as quickly as possible and cut off his head, that when his body should be discovered it might not be recognised, which would have the effect of bringing ruin upon both. The other thief thought the advice good, and was persuaded to follow it then, fitting the stone into its place, he went home, taking with him his brother’s head.

    3. When day dawned, the king came into the room, and marvelled greatly to see the body of the thief in the trap without a head, while the building was still whole, and neither entrance nor exit was to be seen anywhere. In this perplexity he commanded the body of the dead man to be hung up outside the palace wall, and set a guard to watch it, with orders that if any persons were seen weeping or lamenting near the place, they should be seized and brought before him. When the mother heard of this exposure of the corpse of her son, she took it sorely to heart, and spoke to her surviving child, bidding him devise some plan or other to get back the body, and threatening, that if he did not exert himself, she would go herself to the king, and denounce him as the robber.

    4. The son said all he could to persuade her to let the matter rest, but in vain; she still continued to trouble him, until at last he yielded to her importunity, and contrived as follows:- Filling some skins with wine, he loaded them on donkeys, which he drove before him till he came to the place where the guards were watching the dead body, when pulling two or three of the skins towards him, he untied some of the necks which dangled by the asses’ sides. The wine poured freely out, whereupon he began to beat his head, and shout with all his might, seeming not to know which of the donkeys he should turn to first. When the guards saw the wine running, delighted to profit by the occasion, they rushed one and all into the road, each with some vessel or other, and caught the liquor as it was spilling. The driver pretended anger, and loaded them with abuse; whereon they did their best to pacify him, until at last he appeared to soften, and recover his good humour, drove his asses aside out of the road, and set to work to rearrange their burthens; meanwhile, as he talked and chatted with the guards, one of them began to rally him, and make him laugh, whereupon he gave them one of the skins as a gift. They now made up their minds to sit down and have a drinking-bout where they were, so they begged him to remain and drink with them. Then
    the man let himself be persuaded, and stayed. As the drinking went on, they grew very friendly together, so presently he gave them another skin, upon which they drank so copiously that they were all overcome with the liquor, and growing drowsy lay down, and fell asleep on the
    spot. The thief waited till it was the dead of the night, and then took down the body of his brother; after which, in mockery, he shaved off the right side of all the soldiers’ beards, and so left them. Laying his brother’s body upon the asses, he carried it home to his mother, having thus accomplished the thing that she had required of him.

    5. When it came to the king’s ears that the thief’s body was stolen away, he was sorely vexed. Wishing, therefore, whatever it might cost, to catch the man who had contrived the trick, he had recourse (the priests said) to an expedient, which I can scarcely credit. He sent
    his own daughter to the common stews, with orders to admit all comers, but to require every man to tell her what was the cleverest and wickedest thing he had done in the whole course of his life. If any one in reply told her the story of the thief, she was to lay hold of him and not allow him to get away. The daughter did as her father willed, whereon the thief, who was well aware of the king’s motive, felt a desire
    to outdo him in craft and cunning. Accordingly he contrived the following plan:- He procured the corpse of a man lately dead, and cutting of one of the arms at the shoulder, put it under his dress, and so went to the king’s daughter. When she put the question to him as she had done to all the rest, he replied that the wickedest thing he had ever done was cutting off the head of his brother when he was caught in a trap in the king’s treasury, and the cleverest was making the guards drunk and carrying off the body. As he spoke, the princess caught at him, but the thief took advantage of the darkness to hold out to her the hand of the corpse. Imagining it to be his own hand, she seized and held it fast; while the thief, leaving it in her grasp, made his escape by the door.

    6. The king, when word was brought him of this fresh success, amazed at the sagacity and boldness of the man, sent messengers to all the towns in his dominions to proclaim a free pardon for the thief, and to promise him a rich reward, if he came and made himself known. The thief took the king at his word, and came boldly into his presence; whereupon Rhampsinitus, greatly admiring him, and looking on him as the most knowing of men, gave him his daughter in marriage. “The Egyptians,”he said, “excelled all the rest of the world in wisdom, and this man excelled all other Egyptians.”

    via Herotodus, The Histories, Book II.

    which also calls to mind another IRC nugget:

    mircea_popescu: inasmuch as there’s a public treasury somewhere, there’s going to be a troop of people forcing it open. wherever you house it, washington or akron, they’ll take a bus. they’ll swim if they have to. []

  9. Do you still think selling Bitcoin is a good idea? []
  10. But perhaps not before the larger states become predictably totalitarian as they grasp at the tendrils of their fading power. But then again, who knows? Maybe history won’t rhyme this time. Haha who are we kidding… []

20 thoughts on “For States, Small Is Beautiful

  1. The shaving part is a little rich tho.

    What I mean is that the story may very well be more of a didactic counterfactual for the consumption of Arab college students centuries later.

    • Pete Dushenski says:

      Undoubtedly. It’s damn near impossible for the modern mind to imagine such a benevolent scenario playing out where Pharaoh doesn’t hang the thief up to dry.

      Still a fantastic story.

  2. […] translating the works of others means something. And seeing as how I’ve been talking about PGP a bit lately, and seeing as how Mr. Bortzmeyer is so fucking important that he (even occasionally) […]

  3. […] represents an existential threat to the mere notion, much less the continued operation, of the nation state, it should come as no surprise that the toppiest of top-down nation state on the planet wants to […]

  4. […] probably won’t anytime soon. This won’t stop Putin, intent on maintaining a large nation state in the midst of Computer Times, from distancing himself from the nouveaux riches diktats of the […]

  5. […] Large nation states are broadly speaking impotent, broke, and nowhere near as powerful as you might fear,vi but they aren’t entirely powerless either, and there’s considerable difference between them.vii So if, instead of swallowing your jools, you intend on protecting your Bitcoins in your noggin, what should you be preparing yourself for? What sort of evil lurks in the hearts of men? […]

  6. […] is to say that, even while decaying global nation states continue to encroach on private freedoms,ii the price of “undifferentiated labour,” if […]

  7. […] missing dogs and knife fights at bars, and there’s global news, like… this. No wonder small is the future for states. […]

  8. zacorbett says:

    Heh. I remember this conversation in the IRC. I think more people since this post have jumped on the idea that the future holds smaller states and that complexity is the inevitable nature of things.

  9. […] say you’re at the Post Office or some other office of the far-too-large state, waiting in line like you would at any other such office. Now, into the room enters a rather old […]

  10. […] the 21st century’s trump card and already on track to divide and redraw the world into ever-smaller nuggets. On the shoulders of the worldwide web, this information superhighway in the clouds upon which you […]

  11. […] represents an existential threat to the mere notion, much less the continued operation, of the nation state, it should come as no surprise that the toppiest of top-down examples extant would wants to keep a […]

  12. […] Second World War ? How do you suppose it is that we’re nearing ever-closer to decentralised city states ? Hm ? […]

  13. […] in which social mobility is spoken of as fantastically as unicorns farting rainbows and where the state is so small that I can fit it in my pocket. That’s what I want. This dream, of course, […]

  14. […] these things. It’s perhaps no surprise then that the future for successful states is small, beautiful, and militant : these things go hand-in-hand with one another. […]

  15. […] fundamental construct – that of NIYLiii – is entirely and without exception why the nation state as a secular fiction is so monumentally limited and so grossly incompetent in praxis, not to […]

  16. […] So for as long as the Union’s a thing, and even thereafter, the laws of thermodynamics being immutable as they are and the ultimate dissolution of the Union as inevitable as goose migration, states of […]

  17. […] you should well know by now, scale fucks up most everything. […]

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