Rise of the Dutch Republics

How the Peloponnesian War, the Dutch East India Company, and a Russian fruit peddler predict the greatest ventures of the 21st century

Spring 2024, West Texas. 

“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them if it’s against the rules.” 

I stand in front of a trucker about to load five hundred pounds of gunpowder and half a million primers into an 18-wheeler. His faithful, corpulent wife leans out of the open passenger window to observe. She patiently waits for her man to take care of business so they can keep their plans. 

The driver seems to have no personal investment in the fact that the combination of gunpowder, primers, and a violent catalyst would scatter him to atoms. The truck has never blown up. It has never turned into a biblical fireball post-collision with a mom-van on I-35. 

He is friendly, good-natured, and probably right––the truck will probably not explode. You would know if you were towing all the components for a bomb, wouldn’t you? Of course, as would I. 

Yet, almost everyone expects something dramatic to happen in the US over the next decade, but no one knows exactly what. Let’s take a stab at naming some of the ingredients in the truck and how they can combine to create the largest private enterprises in over 300 years. 

“[Thucydides] was above all a man of action, an elected official, a captain, a traveler, and a pragmatic individual, a successful combatant again warrior and disease alike, hard bitten and intimate with both privilege and disgrace, a man who suffered with and outlived most of the greatest men of his age.” 

Summer 431 B.C. Platea, Greece. 

The Corinthians stand before the assembly in Sparta. Their message: you do not want war with Athens. 

“The Athenians are addicted to innovation, their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution… … they were born into the world to take no rest and give none to others. Such is Athens, your antagonist.”

The Athenians are wholly dedicated, relentless risk-takers with total dominance of the Delian League.  At the inception of the Delian League, rather than requiring ships from all the member cities, Athens offered to take on the logistical burden of providing a centralized military. Athens built the manufacturing and infrastructure, member cities contributed payments rather than men. Over the years, Athens built an enormous military that ensured peace. 

For years, the Athenians governed the Delian league without serious conflict. When hundreds of city states are independent, there are constant flare-ups and competition. When one city becomes exponentially more powerful, they enforce stability. Hegemony brings peace. 

Present day, the United States is Athens. Since World War II we’ve collected tribute from all our allies––at first in the form of war debt repayments, later, by controlling and inflating the global reserve currency. The US takes tribute from the world, in exchange, we maintain an expensive military large enough to deter major first world conflicts. 

Now American hegemony is being tested. Russia has invaded Ukraine despite warnings, China openly threatens to take Taiwan, and Iranian missiles are striking the iron dome of Israel. 

The United States military is a collection of enormous deterrent-based weapons. Beautiful artifacts of 20th century warfare. Meanwhile, men in Ukraine are stringing nets across trenches to defend against racing drones. $4,000 drones are countered by $2 million missiles. A new tech stack is needed for the next fight––one that could even the odds in a previously hegemonic environment. 

When hegemony is broken, conflict returns. At worst, the strong take what they can and the weak suffer what they must. At best, innovation returns. When there is no dominant power to ensure peace, there is also no bureaucracy to ensure stagnation. No global hall monitor. The same environment that produced Sparta and Athens––one of iteration and competition––is allowed to flourish.

Hegemony brings peace, competition brings innovation. 

If America slips from total hegemon to standard first power, we’ll see a much more dynamic global environment. Ideally, the US will rise to the challenge and become more competitive as well. Decentralized currency means small network states can operate with a globally valid currency––no confederate dollars. Startup founders are now using LLMs to run companies with 2 people instead of 20. The same may be true of countries.

Athens held total hegemony for 67 years. The United States has enjoyed the same for 79 years. Now a challenge to American hegemony paired with advances in tech set the stage for the rise of smaller, agile nation states and organizations to compete. 

Ingredient #1: Cracking American hegemony creates fluid global power dynamics and competition.

Fall 1904, Berlin

Max Weber begins to notice. The German professor realizes that a specific group of people have created the largest companies of all time. They’ve accrued disproportionate wealth, effectively inventing capitalism as a concept. That group of people: Reformed Christians. 

Weber saw that a new ethic had developed in the protestant Reformation––a rebellion against bureaucratic authority and a return to scripture and wisdom––to base reality itself. 

The secular man can believe in himself as far as his abilities or self-delusion allow. The Christian man knows his limitations but recognizes that God can bless his endeavors beyond his capacity. He is free to pursue the great tasks irrespective of the crowd. Working to God’s glory is his telos, he does not need to be a priest to build the kingdom. All work is good work. 

The protestant ethic created a culture of extreme business building–the reformed Dutch and Englishmen produced the most valuable companies in the history of the world. The Dutch East India Company had a market cap of $8.2 trillion in today’s dollars––more than Apple, Microsoft, and Google combined. The company kept a standing army and fought pitched battles against world powers including the Chinese Ming Dynasty. They rose to the level of a nation state in terms of reach, operating power, and capital. If you had invested one million dollars in the Dutch East India Company at its inception, you would have grown your stake to $126 billion at its peak. 

For many years the US enjoyed the fruits of a faithful christian ethic. It’s the environment that created the Warren Buffets and Charlie Mungers of American business. In recent years, the ideological climate has been opposed to that ethic in almost every way. Truth is not truth, she’s are he’s, lines are blurred to the point of gibberish and globalist interests strain to usher us into a new Babel. 

Now the pendulum is swinging back. We’re feeling the pain of evil ideologies––the gender self-mutilation, the redditor identity-of-choice resentment, the word-policing. The spiritual bankruptcy of the West has become harshly self-evident. People are hungry for ground truth. 

From Silicon Valley to Washington DC there is talk of “vibe shifts” and “rival”. Santiago Pliego writes about the signs of this shift in past months in his excellent “Vibe Shift”. Pastor Douglas Wilson has propounded the possibility of such a revival for many years. In a recent conversation with Shawn Ryan, Tucker Carlson said, “I don’t have too many great insights but the one thing I felt very strongly a couple years ago was that there is some form of religious revival coming.”

Lord willing, an American reawakening is underway. If the nation returns to the protestant ethic en masse, there is a predictable and proverbial economic result. 

Ingredient #2: A return to base-reality and the protestant work ethic. 

INSTRUCTIONS: COOK LOW AND SLOW FOR 20 YEARS: The rise of true venture-scale enterprises.

Winter 1910

Sam Zemurray stands on the docks of New Orleans––tomorrow, he will install a new government in the country of Honduras. 

Zemurray, a.k.a The Russian, The Banana Man, or El Amigo, came to the States at age 14, penniless. As a teenager, he bought overripe bananas from the New Orleans docks and sold them at railway stops for pennies. By 21, he was a millionaire in today’s dollars. At age 33, he is installing friendly governments in central American nations to facilitate his fruit trade. 

The coupe is successful. Zemurray supplies guns, men, and a plan––installing Manuel Bonella as the new president of Honduras with generous provisions for his fruit trade. In the dynamic, turn-of-the-century days of steel, oil, and trade, Zemurray’s company became an international kingmaker in under 20 years. 

In a fluid global environment, private enterprises rise to nation-state levels of influence at a rapid rate. With a judicious (or jealous) centralized government, these enterprises are broken up as they reach critical mass. Not so in a non-hegemonic environment. Zemurry’s tale or the VOC seem like stories of a distant past, but they are only a few hundred years removed––a reality of the world that we have temporarily forgotten. 

Consider Elon Musk’s role in the Russo-Ukrainian war. In 2022, the Ukranians launched a drone submarine attack against the Russian-held Sevastopol. Their mission: to sink the Russian fleet at harbor. Before the attack, Elon Musk withheld Starlink coverage for the subs––nixing a significant strategic offensive in a war between two major station states. 

In this case, you have a private citizen making executive decisions in a war funded by billions of US dollars. As a founder managing an unparalleled piece of global infrastructure––Musk has both capacity and moral responsibility to make decisions on how it is used in these events. In an environment of accelerated tech development and cracking American hegemony, these situations will become common. 

Post-hegemony, nation states get ambitious about their own development. Like the Dutch Republic of the 1700s, smaller countries can once again have outsized impact in an open world full of new innovations and free of a global top-down bureaucracy. 

Infrastructure, private military contracting, energy––these are all functions that a small nation states will rationally outsource during a rise from third world to first––much like El Salvado’s adoption of bitcoin as a national currency and Ukraine’s dependence on Starlink for their war efforts. 

The companies that supply core infrastructure to these nation states or network states will be both historically profitable and rise to state-level power themselves through the creation of these services.

The enterprises outfitting the states and nations in our new competitive global environment will be the Dutch East India Companies of the 21st century. Some companies of a Dutch East India Company scale will particularize into small nation-states themselves. This is a classic progression––God blesses Abraham’s herds, he hired more men. Local kings capture his nephew, he takes his 318 hired men, fights a pitched battle and wins. People and resources multiply into a defined state. You have a natural progression from an economic engine, to private military strength, to nation-statehood. 

“The problem of utopia is that it can only be approached across a sea of blood, and you never arrive.” ― Peter Hitchens

I realize that a world of robust private enterprises is no one’s idea of utopia. (Maybe that’s why it’s killed so few people.) The coming ventures will have plenty of opportunity for moral failure. They will also have enormous upside for Singapore-style countries and their people––all those building new, first-world micro-countries. Billions of dollars sent from couches and computer screens have failed to help high-chaos countries abroad, perhaps dedicated teams competing to provide the best infrastructure and security will. 

Americans have become lazy. We’ve said, like Chesteron’s fool, “let us have the pleasure of conquerors without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.” Lord willing, we’ll be saved from our national guilt, repent, get lean, and get back out on the field. 

We’ve enjoyed the fruits of hegemony for a long time. Now, again, we have the chance to earn it.

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Josh Clemans

Josh Clemans moves people and capital at New Founding, supporting companies that embody the Protestant ethic.

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