§1.3 — The philosophy of secrecy fuses with definite practical realities. Bitcoin approaches the model of an ideal agora, at once commercially open and politically closed. It epitomizes the arena of ‘free trade’ in all its innovative radicality and (from the perspective of the left) social aggression. Bitcoin is closed by its intrinsic protection against discretionary modification, and opened by its commercial function. Implicit in the circulation of bitcoins – or any other medium of exchange – is a process of commercial synthesis, latching the crypto-currency system on to something beyond itself. Anybody transferring bitcoins out of their own account, and therefore necessarily into someone else’s, is presumably engaged in an exchange which – since it cannot be realistically imagined as economically tautological (directly swapping bitcoins for bitcoins) – has to swap bitcoins for an extraneous commercial object. Clearly, whatever is exchanged for bitcoins, is priced in bitcoins. When it operates as a currency, Bitcoin is a synthesizer. It cannot propagate without connecting itself to a wider world. The cryptic principle of openness projects a diagonal line.
§1.31 — Since the origins of modernity, a specter has been haunting the world – that of the autonomous industrial economy. This is the same emergent order that has acquired the name ‘capitalism’ in the abstract, tendential, or teleological sense of the word, and – still more importantly – in accordance with its usage as a designation for an always only partially-defined real individual, or terrestrial event. Its signature is a regenerative, or self-reinforcing, intensification of socio-economic disequilibrium, ‘governed’ – or, more strictly, made radically ungovernable – by a fundamental positive-feedback dynamic. ‘Capitalism’ then, as a singular (or ‘proper’) rather than generic (or typological) name, designates the sovereign self-escalation of an innovative entity, defined only by the practical relation of auto-promotion it establishes with – and through – itself. What it is, in itself, is more than itself. Growth is its essence. This is easily said, but – as an irreducible logical anomaly – it is far less easily understood. This does not, however, obstruct its being named. Fernand Braudel writes of “the passionate disputes the explosive word capitalism always arouses.”* Its would-be defenders, typically, are those least inclined to acknowledge its real (and thus autonomous) singularity. Business requires no such awkward admission. This, too, is a crypsis. By inevitable – if often awkward – irony, a species of ‘Marxism’ tends to be regenerated in any systematic promotion of Capital. Even were this not the case, those who consider themselves befriended by Capital would rarely be motivated to pronounce upon the fact.
§1.32 — According to the crudest – and perhaps also most plausible – account of Bitcoin’s inherent political philosophy, it implements a project of algorithmic governance that conforms to the deepest and most essential agenda of modernity, which is to say, of emergent capitalism, in its search for a definitive securitization of commerce against politics. It thus expresses – in contemporary techno-libertarian or crypto-anarchist guise – the primal impulse of liberalism (in its classical sense). As already noted implicitly, it is something most easily seen from outside.
§1.33 — When captured at its zenith of abstraction and technical rigor, the defining proposition of the left is that depoliticization is still politics (and more specifically, a politics). This is not a proposition that can be limited to theoretical clarification. It is a project, and even a prophecy. The anti-political will be re-absorbed into the political, according to this fundamental formula. The whole of ‘class war’ is contained within it. Its complement, on the side of capital, is an equally practical – and no less antagonistic – commitment to escape. The left thus recognizes its enemy, with striking realism, as an emergent – and intrinsically fractured – agent of social dissolidarity. A crucial asymmetry has to be immediately noted. The ‘struggle’ here is not even imaginably one-on-one. Capital is essentially capitals, at war among themselves. It advances only through disintegration. If – not at all unreasonably – the basic vector of capital is identified with a tendency to social abandonment, what it abandons most originally is itself.** That is why the left finds itself so commonly locked in a fight to defend what capital is from what it threatens to become. Bitcoin tells us – more clearly than any other innovation – what it is becoming next, by escaping transcendent governance in principle. Consistent “right wing-extremism”***, automated governance, and unflinching critical philosophy are inter-translatable without significant discrepancy. The crypto-current is a nightmare for the left (rigorously conceived).**** It is other things, but that is the main one. Philosophical phase-change doesn’t happen without a fight, least of all when attempting to route around one.
* Braudel, Civilization & Capitalism Volume I, p.25.
** Marx is not blind to any of this, although he tends to complacently bracket it as a self-destructive contradiction. The Communist Manifesto is especially stark in this regard. Continuous auto-liquidation of the establishment is modernity’s installed regulative idea. Recent history has only confirmed the insight. Capital revolutionizes harder, deeper, and faster than ‘the Revolution’. Its lack of attachment to itself exceeds anything the left has been able to consistently match. Capital’s scandalous immortality is derived solely from its inventiveness in ways to kill itself. There is no serious way in which it could die that is not more intensely effectuated as a functional innovation within itself.
Revolutionary capital proceeds through disintermediation. It bypasses what it marks for extinction. Morgen E. Peck reports on a conversation with Ethereum entrepreneur Joseph Lubin: “‘We will replace insurance companies. We will replace Wall Street,’ he told me. […] Then the list kept growing. Online movie distribution houses like Netflix and Hulu. Gaming platforms like Xbox and Sega Genesis. Messaging services like Twitter. Add to that retirement plans, currency exchanges, voting, intellectual-property managers, and trust-fund disbursers. According to Lubin, everything – really everything – we do on the Internet or via any kind of digital channel is about to undergo a radical change.”
*** The coinage comes from David Golumbia.
**** Bitcoin was invoked on Halloween (2008/10/31), in a research paper published under the cryptic name Satoshi Nakamoto. It had the time format of a horror story. This is not the place to follow the Gothic roads thus opened, however suggestive they initially appear. Most notable, at this point, are the shadow-undercurrents to questions about whether Bitcoin can ever die (or be stopped). Upon intense examination, neither possibility seems to be coherently thinkable.