Increasingly Crowded Info Highway Pushing Libertarians Off To Shoulder
- [Considering the source of this article it's no surprise that the real
story was missed. The Internet has indeed been crucial in the growth of
libertarianism -- i.e., libertarian socialism -- as the protest movement
against corporate globalization attests. If the pro-capitalist
libertarian ideology has in fact diminished, it is probably because the
Internet has put libertarian socialism on the table and the capitalists
cannot compete with true libertarianism in the marketplace of ideas. As
more and more of the public learns about the crimes of capitalist
states, corporations, and international financial institutions, the
glossing over of these crimes as inherently "voluntary", and thus
unworthy of mention, by pro-capitalists has become untenable. -- DC]
Published: Wednesday, September 6, 2000
St. Paul/Minneapolis Pioneer Planet
Increasingly crowded information highway pushing
libertarians off to the shoulder
In real space these days, the clash of ideologies
sometimes seems muted. In cyberspace, it's only getting
fiercer. The lone-ranger programmers who pioneered the
Internet face an onslaught from suits, snoops and
millions of ordinary mouse potatoes who regard the Net
as some new kind of TV. As a result, the libertarianism
that used to dominate cyberpolitics is under assault.
A decade ago, libertarians believed their triumph was
inevitable. The Net would empower individuals at the
expense of government and corporate hierarchies. The
little guy could disseminate his views without a
publisher or distributor; the humble activist could
download reams of free data, and so debate government
officials on a newly equal footing.
Peter Huber, a celebrated cyberprophet, proclaimed the
inversion of George Orwell. Technology would not empower
Big Brother. Rather, it would subvert him.
This argument had a Marxian feel. Shifts in the technology
of production would force shifts in the superstructure of
ideology, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
In the revolutionary world to come, digital communes would
trump outdated national boundaries. The state would wither
away. The architecture of the Internet would evolve without
top-down direction. Nobody would own it.
Instead, programmers would produce and share the code of
cyberspace under rules resembling the Marxian dictum: From
each according to his abilities, to each according to his
None of this now seems inevitable. Nearly all the big Net-
connected stories of the past year have been about the assault
on that original libertarian vision. The flap over the FBI's
Carnivore software is about big government using the Net to
snoop on unsuspecting citizens. The dot-com buzz is about
entrepreneurs turning the Internet into a giant shopping mall.
The AOL-Time Warner merger is about a megacybercorporation
that wants to own the cable pipes on which the future Internet
will run. The Microsoft lawsuit features big government vs.
big business. In all these cases, libertarianism is irrelevant.
The one exception, arguably, has been the flap over Napster, a
software that created a sort of dot-commune for music. Anyone
who logs on to the Napster Web site can live by Lenin's rule:
You make your computerized music available for copying by other
visitors to the site and in exchange you get the chance to copy
everybody else's. No gatekeeper demands to know how much music
you contribute to the commune, and nobody meters what you take
away from it. Property rights have been suspended. As Napster's
boss told a congressional hearing last month, the site is ``a
return to the original information-sharing approach of the
The basic problem for libertarians is that cyberspace is getting
crowded. People can organize their affairs by informal consensus
when they live in villages; they need lawyers and cops when they
move to the city. Now that one in two American households has a
home Internet connection, the Net's scale is more than
metropolitan. It has crowds, commerce and inevitable conflict.
When the Internet was small, nobody minded that it was used to
violate intellectual property; now that it is vast, an army of
entertainment-industry lawyers has descended upon it. When the
Internet was small, it would not have occurred to Shawn
Fanning, Napster's teen-age founder, to guard the rights to
his software. But because it is vast, Fanning's entrepreneurial
uncle seized upon Napster's commercial potential and hired a
grown-up manager to build a company on it.
The libertarians have not given up. Within the urban landscape
of the Net there still lurk village-like communities. The open-
code movement, which develops software cooperatively and free
of charge, thrives on the energies of villagey hackers. Their
pride and joy, a free operating system called Linux, is said
to work better than Microsoft's standard-issue product.
The open coders argue that, in cyberspace, disparate hackers
can triumph over urban power centers: They will crack the
encryption that protects corporate Web sites; they will destroy
authoritarian order with anarchic viruses; they will devise
decoys to confuse Carnivore-type eavesdropping programs.
Perhaps, but the Powers That Be are equally determined.
Mallaby is a member of the Washington Post editorial page staff.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.
The Website of Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page:
"Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas
zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan-Kam
not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not;
Dharmakaya ceased; Tgenchang not become; Barnang
and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in
night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna),
-- The Book of Dzyan.