The Separation of Nation & State

The Network Nation & A Network of Nations

David A. Johnston
5 min readSep 25, 2022


Imagined the Signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in the Future by Mid Journey

Reading the Network State by Balaji S. Srinivasan shortly after its publication was inspiring. He captured many of the trends and thoughts that have been floating around the crypto community for years and put them into a clear narrative and most importantly gave a name to something that many of us have been striving to describe for a while.

In a few words here, I’d like in the spirit of open source to build on his thoughts and propose a few ways to further the goals that he outlines.

The Network Nation

First, on the term “Network State” I understand well his reasoning for describing it this way. The analogy of City State, to Nation State, to Network State is clever and easy to understand. However I’d propose the word “State” has a lot of baggage as commonly understood to be a “monopoly on force and the courts”. That might not be best suited to describe the voluntary / opt in / opt out governance he describes us moving toward.

In fact I’d argue that the “State” is as an institution of power has co-opted Nations, much the way it historically co-opted religion before the United States formally separated church and state. In fact it was 233 years ago today in 1789 that the US Congress proposed the States ratify the First Amendment and thereby place religion outside the power of the State. This was the culmination of hundreds of years of conflict between European nations on the subject of freedom of religion, recognized in a limited way in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and much more broadly later in the US founding documents.

Similarly the State has often co-opted the issuance of money with it corrupt, unaccountable & ever devaluing fiat currency. Only with the recent advent of Bitcoin did people regain the power to choose the monetary policy of the money they use and thus begin the process of separating Money and State.

For these reasons I’d humbly propose that “Network Nation” is a better descriptor for what we are seeking. Nation being a good word for a group of people with a common culture, history, values and identity. Now Nations without the need for a violence based State, can expand globally via open source public blockchain networks.

A Network of Nations

The second area I think that needs more discussion is the concept of how these Network Nations will recognize each other. While the book describes the more distant goal of legacy Nation States recognizing Network Nations, there isn’t as much discussion of how the Network Nations will recognize each other.

I’d point out that historically it wasn’t by appeals to the Pope to recognize Calvinists or Lutherans as having the freedom to choose their own religion that their goal was achieved. Rather it was the Nation States recognizing each other and also the rights of the people within their boarders in the Treaty of Westphalia that created a new framework and began the separation of Church and State. In fact the Holy See at the time described the Treaty as “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time”. I expect Nation States will feel the same about Network Nations for a long time to come because it doesn’t fit within their frame work.

Imagined the Signing of the Treaty of Westphalia by Mid Journey

Here the power of network effects is important to highlight. The Treaty of Westphalia created an especially powerful network effect through mutual recognition of its members. Their framework spread across the world and over 300 years converted (often violently) virtually every other society & civilization into first a Nation State and eventually recognized them as members of the international Nation State club. Culminating post World War Two with the United Nations and the move toward decolonization and recognition of the rest of the world’s Nation States.

Thus it is critical to think through what a New Westphalian moment looks like for Network Nations. How do members of the Bitcoin Nation or the Ethereum Nation recognize each other, trade with each other, describe their common values and unlock increased network effects by creating a Network of Nations?

Below I’ve put down a few values that I think are fundamental.

A Crypto Bill of Rights / Criteria To Recognize a Network Nation

In my paper defining Decentralized Applications in 2013 I set out four basic principals for how we ought to define decentralized applications and public blockchains more broadly. Open source, peer to peer, blockchain based, and tokenized. This can also serve as a basis for and be expanded upon to form the fundamental principles and rights we ought to demand of the Network Nations we choose to place our value, trust and usage in.

Fundamental Requirements To Recognize a Network Nation.

1. Open Source: The software code under pinning the Network Nation must be freely reviewable, editable & copyable by all.

2. Peer to Peer: A system which allows for direct connection by all and is free of centralized intermediaries in all their functions.

3. Public Blockchain Based: A distributed public immutable ledger / system of record for interactions of the Network Nation members. This can be used as proof that a Network Nation is following its own rules and offers a high level of transparency in the system.

4. Tokenized Ownership: Setting forth the means of rewarding participants & stake holders in the Network Nation.

5. Permissionless: No one should be required to ask an authority to use the public features of the Network Nation.

6. Freedom of Speech: No one should have their use of the application blocked or otherwise censored when using a Network Nation.

7. Privacy Preserving: No one should have to expose their private information to use a Network Nation.

8. Freedom of Exit: No one should be forced to continue running software or otherwise participate in a Network Nation if they choose to leave or join another Network Nation.

9. Self Sovereign Identity: All users have the power to generate their own identities and their consent is required to use those credentials.

10. Freedom of Association: Members of a Network Nation must be free to practice free association between themselves.

Final Thoughts

One item you may see is “missing” from this list is anything to do with voting or governance. I for one believe that the least governance is often the best governance. So rather than prescribe a specific governance model it seems wise to have a free and open market place where each Network Nation experiments with governance models or no governance as it sees fit. Given the freedom to join and exit members hold the ultimate veto by running the software and maintain the power to vote with their feet in every Network Nation.

Thanks to Erik Voorhees and John Pigott for brainstorming some of this content.



David A. Johnston

Technologist, Voluntarist, Future Martian Settler, & Evangelist for Decentralization.