Activism

Next Year in Digital Jerusalem

Technology has helped entrepreneurs launch new companies and currencies. Will it help them start a new nation?

August 8, 2022

Economy, finance, and budgets
Technology and Innovation

The Network State: How to Start a Country, by Balaji Srinivasan (self-published, 474 pp., $9.99)

Israel started with a pamphlet. In 1896, the Viennese journalist and playwright Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat—in English, The Jewish State—in which he proposed the formation of the state of Israel. This new nation-state would protect Jews who were in despair from unremitting anti-Semitism, but who, rather than sticking around to fight persecution, had instead decided it was time to leave. Rather than hope for better days, Herzl urged European Jews to depart to a new nation of their own.

For centuries, European intellectuals had obsessed over what they called “The Jewish Question.” Wherever Jews lived in Europe, anti-Semitism limited their prospects and inflicted hardships. Debates raged across the continent over whether Jews should be sent to another country or assimilated.

Herzl’s pamphlet didn’t convince many that this new state was possible or even desirable, but about a year later, he organized the first Zionist Congress, gathering the supporters of his quixotic movement. All 208 of them. Eighteen centuries of abuse without much reform had been enough, he thought. Only a new state could serve as a refuge for the Jewish nation. Half a century after the Zionist Congress first met, Israel was born. Founded in 1948, that sovereign state arrived too late to stop the worst, though it is now a prosperous country of 9 million.

Today, conventional wisdom says that the creation of a new state is either ridiculous or impossible. No cause or community, the consensus holds, has a moral case for such an outlandish idea. But a new book by Balaji Srinivasan, The Network State, argues that a frontier is reopening and that, due to advances in technology, we are about to see the number of new sovereign entities multiply. Srinivasan, of course, is not without his detractors. But as with Herzl’s pamphlet, The Network State is a provocation, an assault, an outcry, a handbook, and a gospel that cannot be ignored.

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