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The New Anarchists

There’s something too meta about reading the headline “UK Judge Allows Tweets From Assange Court Hearing” as a tweet. There’s also something frustrating about it — the sense that those who seek to do the most harm via technology are making us all use their currency. The AP reports, “Free-speech advocates are welcoming a judge’s decision.” Somehow the only “free-speech advocates” who come to mind here are Julian Assange and the rest of the cyber-anarchists now screaming about censorship. With Juan Williams losing his job for stating an opinion, and Mike Bloomberg telling Americans they should be ashamed of themselves for doing the same, is courtroom tweeting really where today’s front-line free-speech fight is?

The Assange fan club is steadily reframing the Internet technology question as one of freedom of expression, not global security, right to privacy, or rule of law. Those who applaud legal decisions allowing for freer flows of information are, at the same time, via cyber-attack, attempting to undo the foundations on which such decisions rest.

The Internet is too thoroughly transnational to make cyber-warfare a viable means of country-on-country attack. China, our biggest perceived cyber-threat, is too intertwined with the American market-state to launch anything but a self-defeating cyber-war on the U.S. A choreographed attack on the American public and private sectors would send Chinese investments plummeting. So cyber-warfare is most perfectly suited to those who are now attacking — the anarchists. They’re bent on dissolving the glue of the interconnected world.

In his book Terror And Consent, Philip Bobbitt rather brilliantly details how every type of state produces its own brand of terrorism. “In each era,” writes Bobbitt, “terrorism derives its ideology in reaction to the raison d’être of the dominant constitutional order; at the same time negating and rejecting that form’s unique ideology but mimicking the form’s structural characteristics.” So today’s cyber-anarchists seek to negate the individual opportunities furnished by the interconnected market-state while using the very machinery of that order to bring it down.

Up until a few weeks ago, one could have read a novel like G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908, and wonder at the ridiculous fuss over the anarchists conspiring on every page. Anarchism, as a genuine force to be reckoned with, has largely come to seem absurd to us. How did that happen? According to Bobbitt, “Anarchism was not defeated. Rather it simply faded away with the imperial state nations that were its targets when this constitutional order, shattered by the First World War, was progressively replaced by nation states.” For the new kind of state, a new kind of terrorism arose. Where turn-of-the-century anarchists sought to kill imperial leaders, nation-state terrorists targeted a nation’s people.

But now anarchism, particularly of the cyber variety, seems to have found a perfect fit once again.  While greater interconnectivity among countries, corporations, and individuals means greater and more easily exploited opportunities for good, it also creates new vulnerabilities. One mouse click can now shut down countless parts of a connected system. Moreover, a cyber-terrorist network can collect many more nodes also by virtue of a mouse click. The WikiLeaks ally Anonymous, for example, has developed a program to allow would-be hackers to join the cyber-war by clicking on a button, rather than having to download anything cumbersome and traceable. So perhaps it’s not that cyber-anarchists are making us use their currency. It’s that they have successfully co-opted the technological means by which today’s constitutional order manages to survive. They’ve perverted our technology. Let’s not allow them to do the same with our legal framework.


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