John Locke and Thomas Hobbes were two renaissance philosophers with very different ideas about the social contract between the government and the people. I believe that today, the United States of America is a powerful realization of Thomas Hobbe’s ideas, while the network state, an emerging form of government pioneered by Balaji Srinivasan, is a realization of John Locke’s ideas. In this paper, I will explain Locke’s and Hobbes’s philosophies, comparing and contrasting them against each other and how the network state and nation-state, respectively, are more similar to their ideas.
John Locke, born in 1632 in England, believed that the social contract is a voluntary agreement between people to form a government. Thomas Hobbes, born in 1588 in England, believed that the social contract is an agreement between the people and the government (as a separate party), to surrender their rights in exchange for protection and order. Both of these ideas stem from their thoughts on the state of nature; Hobbes believed it was a state of war and chaos, while Locke believed it was a state of peace and equality.
Hobbes believed that power should be controlled by a single monarch or dictator, while Locke favored a more democratic approach, with power in the hands of the people. Hobbes seemed to believe that humans are naturally evil, and wanted to gain power for themselves. However, it is not in anyone’s best interest to be in a constant state of chaos. People naturally want to pursue peace, because it is mutually beneficial within a person’s lifetime.
While the Renaissance was a time of great innovation, people did not have the large, complex social networks that we have today. Additionally, they did not have highly distributed blockchains such as Ethereum and others (if there are any), that can serve as a unified trust layer, tying together all money and contracts. Network states are a new type of country, simply a group of connected people with a government.
There are three building blocks of government: the network (a large number of connected people), the nation (a group of people united by common descent, culture, or language), and the state (the governing body). To me, it seems like Hobbes and Locke both had different ideas about the state. Hobbes thought of it as an external centralized body of power that dictated the direction of the country, while Locke thought of the state, not as a government, but as a source of collective accountability, with the laws and systems decided by the people.
Locke stated that the government was a necessary evil because it was needed to hold people accountable to their laws and to respect their basic rights. However, Locke believed that if the government was not respecting people’s rights, then the people should have the right to overthrow it. In sharp contrast, Hobbes believed that the people had no right to overthrow their government, under any circumstances.
Network states align much more with Locke’s philosophy because people can leave and join them at any time. Instead of being held together by common descent, culture, or language, you can leave and join any network state at any point. This opens up many more freedoms for people around the world. Imagine if, when you disagreed with the direction of your government, you could join a network state with a group of highly aligned people pursuing the same ideals as you are.
This removes the 51% democracy, 49% dictatorship issue that we see in the United States today with the Democratic and Republican parties. Additionally, it gives people much more freedom to live in a highly aligned community where you don’t face the political friction that you would in any large, powerful nation-state today. Then, the best network states will gain the most, and the worst network states will gain the least. And if you don’t agree with the direction of your network state, or want to seek refuge somewhere else because your network state is abusing you, then you can join another or start their own.
Balaji Srinivasan is a serial tech entrepreneur and author of The Network State, a manifesto for starting your own network state. According to Balaji, a network state is “a highly aligned online community with a capacity for collective action that crowdfunds territory around the world and eventually gains diplomatic recognition from pre-existing states.” Not only is this direction I see the world going in, but I believe that it is also mutually beneficial for humans.
In my opinion, network states are a modern realization of many of Locke’s ideas. They are a social contract between the people and the government, which is formed by the community. They are optional to join. They are based on the state of nature as being a state of peace and equality. In conclusion, I believe that network states are a great path forward for humanity and are a practical way of achieving John Locke’s utopia.
Matthew Shea Matt is a graduate of Colgate University and is a former intern at the American Battlefield Trust. He currently works for National Geographic in Washington, D.C. “Hobbes, Locke, and the Social Contract.” American Battlefield Trust, 25 Mar. 2021, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/hobbes-locke-and-social-contract.
Srinivasan, Balaji. “Tweet.” Twitter.com, Twitter, 21 Aug. 2021, https://twitter.com/balajis/status/1429042257441607681?lang=en. Accessed 17 Jan. 2023.
“Thomas Hobbes.” Thomas Hobbes, the Social Compact, and the Founding Fathers, http://www.americassurvivalguide.com/thomas_hobbes.php.