Michel Bauwens: This is probably the best overview essay to understand the socio-political implications of blockchain designs.
Sarah Manski describes seven technological characteristics that are seed forms for different socio-technical systems and societies, which we will publish separately in a second installment. At the P2P Foundation we strongly believe in the necessity of a commons-centric society and a partner state. Sarah Manski describes how the increasing functional governance of a global technological commonwealth, could empower a global civil society which ‘engulfs’ the state functions and molds them to its service.
No Gods, No Masters, No Coders? The Future of Sovereignty in a Blockchain World. Law Critique (2018) 29:151–162
The building of the blockchain is predicted to harken the end of the contemporary sovereign order. Some go further to claim that as a powerful decentering technology, blockchain contests the continued functioning of world capitalism. Are such claims merited? In this paper we consider sovereignty and blockchain technology theoretically, posing possible futures for sovereignty in a blockchain world. These possibilities include various forms of individual, popular, technological, corporate, and techno-totalitarian state sovereignty. We identify seven structural tendencies of blockchain technology and give examples as to how these have manifested in the construction of new forms of sovereignty. We conclude that the future of sovereignty in a blockchain world will be articulated in the conjuncture of social struggle and technological agency and we call for a stronger alliance between technologists and democrats.”
Seven tendencies of blockchain technology and the structural qualities that produce them:
How strange, then, that one does not ﬁnd much democracy at all in synthetic worlds. Not a trace, in fact. Not a hint of a shadow of a trace. It’s not there. The typical governance model in synthetic worlds consists of isolated moments of oppressive tyranny embedded in widespread anarchy. (Castronova 2008, p. 207)
Technology can deliver more than one type of technological civilization. We have not yet exhausted its democratic potential. (Feenberg 2010, p. 29)
Earlier we stated that as a still young technology, blockchain oﬀers interpretive ﬂexibility. Yet as proposals become institutions, interpretation comes under the inﬂuence of structural forces. Structures possess within them powers that lean in some directions and not others. The structures of blockchain technology, we have found, tend more toward more distributed, democratized, and technologized sovereignties. Yet many of these same tendencies can be—and are being—channeled and recast both by corporate capital and states; actors that are well prepared and highly incentivized to take advantage. Corporations in particular have both a temporal advantage as early movers as well as the resources to hire technologists and rent state oﬃcials in attempts to both code and regulate the blockchain world of the near future. Against such advantages, we see little likelihood of eﬀective disaggregated resistance by libertarian proponents of individual sovereignty.
Popular sovereignty, on the other hand, may have a future. Cooperatives and democracy activists may ﬁnd themselves capable of overcoming their early structural disadvantages by building a coalition of technologies and broader publics. As we have repeatedly pointed out, much of the motivating ideology and daily practice of blockchain coders is idealistic, utopian, decentralist, and cooperative. Furthermore, many blockchain technologists became wealthy through early investments in cryptocurrencies and are thus free of the dictates of wage slavery. As the proximate constitutionalizers of the new blockchain world, technologists are in a potentially determinative position and their aﬃnities matter. Add in the strong desire for the kind of world society that cooperatives are programming into their blockchain applications that was articulated in the global democracy wave of 2008-2014, and we see that a rising of global popular sovereignty may not be so improbable after all.