The Smart Social Contract

Neo-Feudal Techno-Communism. Part II of a Triptych.

The Smart Social Contract
Illustration for Thomas More’s Utopia, 1516.

In part I of this exploration I set out Professor Jan Zielonka’s thinking on Neo-feudalism and the EU: his idea that in order to construct a functioning polity, instead of trying to ape a Westphalian model of centralised statehood an increasingly heterogenous European Union would do well to draw on medieval Europe’s plurality of power-centres and fluctuating borders. What originally caught my eye about Zielonka’s book was that it reminded me of a kind of macro-level manifestation of the concept of Neo-Feudal Techno-Communism, as developed by paracademic political scientist and creator Dr Justin Murphy.

According to some strands of Accelerationist thought, the increasing fragmentation of social life due to the radical decentralising effects of social media will eventually become so extreme that nation states themselves will break apart. In their place, new, highly localised communities will emerge, each based around their own particular life-world. In response to this return of the Hobbesian war of all-against-all, Murphy nonetheless draws on the Deleuzian concept of Lines-of-Flight to identify a number of liberatory Exits amongst the ruins, with one such speculative society being based on the aforementioned notion of Neo-Feudal Techno-Communism; a politico-economic model which seeks to enlist radical egoism in the service of radical equality under the rubric of radical honesty and smart contracts.

Under Neo-Feudal Techno-Communism, each participant would sign a smart contract stating that everyone in the commune will produce and be looked after from each according to their ability, to each according to their need (the Communist element), but that the most productive members of the community whom provide the most goods to be shared amongst everyone else will be fulsomely praised and respected (the Neo-Feudal element). The aim of such an arrangement would be to ensure a social system in which the most productive and creative people in society feel so sufficiently appreciated by the mass of the population — true respect being one of the very few commodities that cannot be bought, since its purchase would undermine the very truth of its freely given status — that they therefore continue to produce on behalf of the average or less-well-off citizen. A society so constituted would be protected against sedition through the requirement of all its inhabitants to adorn themselves with wearable tech, which would monitor their conversations and interactions (the Techno element). This system would ensure that should the citizens begin to plot against each other — even at the level of the individual lie — then this would be detected by the wearable tech, the agreed smart social contract would be rendered void, and through blockchain technology the offending individual or plotters would be excluded from all community services and would have to leave. Likewise, should any individual wish to leave the community for whatever reason of their own free will then they are perfectly at liberty to do so.

Being familiar with Murphy’s work and now that of Zielonka’s, there seemed to be something going on here at the level of discourse; certain ideas coursing through the ether which were informing both Zielonka’s and Murphy’s theorising at the international and domestic levels. As Murphy himself has stated, there appear to be two contradictory yet complementary forces acting on society and politics in the modern age: one, a centripetal force accruing power to the increasingly centralised nation-state; two, a centrifugal tendency towards social fragmentation experienced by individuals. I felt that the Strategic-Relational Approach (SRA) — the theoretical underpinning of my PhD thesis — could be deployed here to try and tease out the ideational relationship between these two levels of analysis, which appeared to me to be imbued with the ideational discourses of Voice and Exit.

In order to attempt this, however, it is important to back up for a minute and give a general explain of the SRA itself; and it is to just such an explanation that the third and final part of the Triptych will turn.