11A119 The War on Liberty by Jim Davies, 5/31/2011    

In his opening address at the E-G8 in Paris at the end of May, French President Sarkozy told a gathering of Internet industry leaders that, "The universe you represent is not a parallel universe. Nobody should forget that governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and anarchy." The threat implied in his words and the menacing way he delivered them was unmistakable. This was not a friendly conference in which ideas and opinions were explored among equals; this was government at its most raw. As I watched the clip on TV, my right arm began to twitch. It begged to be allowed to rise 45 degrees and straighten, to the sound of the phrase Sieg, heil! - though if I'd been present and if it had, I expect I'd have been bundled off to jail by a squad of Sarkozy's flics. There could hardly be a more clear demonstration that government and Internet are irreconcilable, that power and freedom are polar opposites.

Like most big government lies, there is a kernel of truth in Sarkozy's intimidation. If you and I trade using the Net as our means of communication, our promises to each other are properly binding; just because we use electrons instead of ink and paper does not absolve us from contractual obligations. This is well understood; nobody who has bought or sold on eBay is unaware of it. In fact, the feedback system on that site is a very commendable attempt to provide instant reputations, on a wordwide scale, such as can hardly have been available since the decline of the village. In a free society the establishment - or loss - of a good reputation will be the primary, self-interested motive for ethical conduct. Similarly, when we use the Net to write about someone, we are resposnsible for what is said, just as if the words were formed as sound waves in air, or as marks on paper. The two universes unquestionably overlap.

The breathtaking falsehood in Sarkosy's assertion is that "governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies." Not only are they not "legitimate", they aren't "representative" at all; such "legitimacy" as they claim is based solely on their own declarations and laws and so is totally circular. As noted in this ZGBlog from last November, nobody can delegate powers he does not possess, and so the whole theory by which democracy is supposed to endow politicians with special powers is a lie from top to bottom. Further, even if Pols were to act only with powers that were possessed and therefore capable of being delegated, there is no possible way to represent all the people in any community of two or more; because, of course, opinions and aims differ and conflict. One size can never fit all. So governments are not "the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people" - they aren't such representatives at all. They are just monstrous, incredibly dangerous depositories of arbitrary power, period.

Against that power, a mere decade and a half ago the Internet appeared as a medium that government did not control, and as we know it flourishes as such today, and that lack of control is precisely what so worries Sarkozy and his fellow fascists. Over time, governments have regained control of newspapers, which are in any case "top-down" disseminators of news and opinion; a few write, many read. Same with radio, which governments corralled rather quickly after it began; here by licensing frequencies (a wholly needless control) and more commonly abroad, by actually operating the channels (such as the BBC.) So also with TV, quickly after it emerged. But the Net, for the first time, makes anyone a low-cost publisher, and it has governments worried and angry, and that's its primary virtue. For the first time, governments cannot control what people read and think.

Sarkozy was right: an uncontrolled Internet will indeed lead to anarchy. He wanted his audience to hear that word in its "chaos" sense, but of course I'm using it in its correct, literal sense: the "absence of a ruler." So they will bust a gut to bring it under control, and as we saw this year in North Africa, they have some limited ability to do so. The government in China employs thousands to censor it, 24/7. I fear that Sarkozy's malediction is just the opening shot in a renewed government war on free speech, and that other governments will emulate the Chinese and increasingly control what humans can say to each other. For that reason the key to ending the government era is designed not to depend on continuing free Internet access; the distribution of that school of liberty is by friend to friend, on CDs or other low-cost storage devices. The Net was extraordinarily valuable to set it going, but its explosive growth will take continue to take place whether Internet speech is throttled or not.

So, sorry, Sarko: you and your arrogant ilk have already lost. The horse has bolted, your goose is cooked, your time is over, les jeux son faits.

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