It’s fascinating witnessing the evolution of WikiLeaks from a “user-editable wiki site” to perhaps the greatest libertarian/anarchist challenge to the legitimacy of the State since the latter half of the 19th century. This transformation occurred when WikiLeaks effectively changed it’s editorial/publication model from “wiki” to one relying more on traditional media. The reasons for this “editorial policy change” were essentially two-fold:
(1) Leaked documents(Document-sourced Journalism), to have any impact, to gain any notice, required editorial context. The social wiki media platform was failing to provide this context. The Blogosphere was great at advancing/dissecting/spreading/mediating content that already had editorial context, but it was a poor resource for providing this type of context from a leaked document repository. In short, one could say, the blogopshere was great at “opinion journalism” but not so great at “investigative journalism.”
(2) The sheer volume of documents taxed the editorial capacity of the Assange WikiLeaks Team. Thus they turned to various traditional international journalistic organizations to provide the manpower and expertise to aid in editorially reviewing the documents. This in turn resulted in these organizations being the primary distributor of the “news” from the leaks, although one could still retrieve the documents, usually in a “rawer” form, from the WikiLeaks website.
The WikiLeaks “editorial policy change,” in combination with the fact the target of these leaks since the change has been the US Government, has resulted in the explosion of Wikileaks into the global socio-political conscious. From the perspective of the US Government, WikiLeaks is now seen as a threat to it’s legitimacy and it’s effective functioning. Sides are now being drawn up, with battle cries: “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are now the troops.” What this means is that this is the first serious war of the Political Class against the Political Economy of the Internet.
Last summer, I wrote a number of posts about WikiLeaks.
Contra Reason.com, Wikileaks is very much a Journalistic Organization
Michael Moynihan’s Continued Flawed Logic Concerning Wikileaks
Contra Center for a Stateless Society, Wikileaks cannot be easily replaced
No Fallacy of Composition
The underlying theme of those posts was that Wikileaks was type of Entrepreneurial New “New Journalism” model built over a political hack. There were two strains of criticism being directed: one was at elements of the Reason/Cato who are offended by any serious ideological challenge to the Status Quo; the other was directed at a strain of technological triumphalism within elements of the anarchist community(those who were discounting the political hack).
But now, however, the motivations of Assange and WikiLeaks have become pretty clear. There is no more need for speculation. We can piece it together from three sources. His recently discovered manifesto, The State as an Authoritarian Conspiracy, his particularly enlightening Forbes Interview, and his Guardian Live Chat Transcript.
WikiLeaks is a destroyer of political economy while being an enabler, a regulator, or a liberator, if you will, of market economy. You can call Assange a “transparency activist,” but it’s clear that he views political systems and market systems reacting very differently to transparency. Assange’s manifesto of The State as an Authoritarian Conspiracy certainly fits into the radical libertarian tradition. His identification as “market libertarian” in the American tradition would place him in the individualist tradition within libertarianism. His economic analysis of “free” speech in the Guardian:
The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.
would classify him more within the American left-libertarian tradition.
The Forbes interview indicates that Assange’s WikiLeaks activism is not really motivated by his hacker days, but rather by his experience as an ISP Entrepreneur in Australia. His refusal to bend to government/corporate/religious censorship pressure created a niche market for his company. There was a demand out there for censorship evasion, and that demand found his company. This was an entrepreneur opportunity. In this sense, you can see how WikiLeaks, as viewed by Assange, is an entrepreneurial venture meeting a demand for transparency. This is why I continue to laugh at elephant balls lickers like Michael Moynihan. He just doesn’t get it. He’s a journalist with zero document leak sources parroting the same “ho-hum” line of a litany of establishment journalists who likewise don’t have document leak sources about an organization who is quite effectively meeting an entrepreneurial demand for transparency. One should care about Michael Moynihan’s opinion of WikiLeaks about as much as one should care about Larry Ellison’s(read: Java) opinion about the Apple iPhone. You are not a player; who cares about who you think should be a player.
There is another line of criticism now coming from the political class and it’s apologists, now that they finally figured out what’s going on. Typical of this would be this recent article in the Economist. This basic train of thought is that the WikiLeaks political hack makes it unaccountable to democratic institutions. Another way it is expressed is that no one voted for Julian Assange. The basic rejoinder here is that someone did vote for the laws that protect Julian Assange in each instance. And, in terms of “liberal Democracies,” he’s actually not breaking any laws. The political hack is not so much cherry-picking laws from jurisdictions to create some sort of international tapestry of legal protection outside the jurisdiction of any one State, but rather more of a hack of playing competing legal jurisdictions off one another to protect itself from ex post legal interpretations or legal changes for prosecution by any one jurisdiction. This makes it more of a political hack than a legal hack.
The more advanced rejoinder to the Economist is that liberal institutionalism hasn’t solved the problem of Political Class accountability. If you are worried about the integrity of liberalism, I would start with an Ex-American President going around bragging about torture. If the devil’s greatest trick is thinking that voting brings accountability to liberalism, then consider Assange to be Shakespeare’s Falstaff to Dante’s Devine Comedy. The whole world bears witness to the unaccountability of political leaders and the political class while the establishment grapples with how to make an anarchist accountable to this same system. An entrepreneurial opportunity, indeed…