Techno-Leviathan

Writing in E-International Relations, Brett Scott raises Left critique of the blockchain revolution to a stimulating level of theoretical sophistication. His central argument is important: Blockchain cryptosystems are the technological realization of the “dystopian, conservative” impulse — first crystallized by Thomas Hobbes — to establish a politically-immunized sovereignty. This social model, previously subverted by the fallible humanity of leaders, is finally becoming attainable as algorithmic government, Scott’s Techno-Leviathan.

Conservative libertarians hold tight to the belief that, if only hard property rights and clear contracting rules are put in place, optimal systems spontaneously emerge. They are not actually that far from Hobbes in this regard, but their irritation with Hobbes’ vision is that it relies on politicians who, being actual people, do not act like a detached contractual Sovereign should, but rather attempt to meddle, make things better, or steal. Don’t decentralised blockchains offer the ultimate prospect of protected property rights with clear rules, but without the political interference?

Scott navigates the Ideological Turing Test well enough to become a landmark reference in future discussions. His opponents will no doubt in many cases concede (as this blog does) that the ‘dystopia’ he describes, while portrayed in ominous and mournful tones, captures the attachments — and dis-attachments — of zealous blockchain promoters remarkably well.

Scott clearly thinks political trust is a social good that can be re-built or recovered (perhaps by restarting democracy). Even if this is so, the time remaining for the salvage operation is running out fast.

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