Julian Assange: conspiracy as governance

June 28, 2011

This Saturday (2 July) will see Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of whistleblower website WikiLeaks, take part in a Frontline Club "in conversation" event alongside Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and award-winning investigative journalist Amy Goodman.

As part of the build up to the event, which will focus on the ethics and philosophy behind WIkiLeaks, Frontline Club will this week be posting a series of blogs including extracts from essays written by both Assange and Žižek .

Today we are pleased to be posting an edited extract of Assange’s 2006 essay, Conspiracy as Governance. The essay gives an insight in to Assange’s thinking around the time that he founded WikiLeaks alongside others late the same year.

In it, he outlines the problem of authoritarian conspiracies and explains how technology may be able to help create a more humane form of governance…

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Conspiracy as Governance

By Julian Assange

To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.

We must understand the key generative structure of bad governance.

We must develop a way of thinking about this structure that is strong enough to carry us through the mire of competing political moralities and into a position of clarity.

Most importantly, we must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling and effective action to replace the structures that lead to bad governance with something better.

Conspiracy as governance in authoritarian regimes

Where details are known as to the inner workings of authoritarian regimes, we see conspiratorial interactions among the political elite, not merely for preferment or favour within the regime, but as the primary planning methodology behind maintaining or strengthening authoritarian power.

Authoritarian regimes create forces which oppose them by pushing against a people’s will to truth, love and self-realisation. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce further resistance. Hence such schemes are concealed by successful authoritarian powers until resistance is futile or outweighed by the efficiencies of naked power. This collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population, is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

Thus it happens in matters of state; for knowing afar off (which it is only given a prudent man to do) the evils that are brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow until everyone can recognise them, there is no longer any remedy to be found.

(The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli [1469-1527])

Traditional vs. modern conspiracies

Traditional attacks on conspiratorial power groupings, such as assassination, cut many high weight links. The act of assassination — the targeting of visible individuals — is the result of mental inclinations honed for the pre-literate societies in which our species evolved.

Literacy and the communications revolution have empowered conspirators with new means to conspire, increasing the speed of accuracy of the their interactions and thereby the maximum size a conspiracy may achieve before it breaks down.

Conspirators who have this technology are able to out conspire conspirators without it. For the same costs they are able to achieve a higher total conspiratorial power. That is why they adopt it.

For example, remembering Lord Halifax’s words, let us consider two closely balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings, the US Democratic and Republican parties.

Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence — let alone the computer systems which manage their subscribes, donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns?

They would immediately fall into an organisational stupor and lose to the other.

An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces

When we look at an authoritarian conspiracy as a whole, we see a system of interacting organs, a beast with arteries and veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed until it falls, stupefied; unable to sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its environment.

Later we will see how new technology and insights into the psychological motivations of conspirators can give us practical methods for preventing or reducing important communication between authoritarian conspirators, foment strong resistance to authoritarian planning and create powerful incentives for more humane forms of governance.

Reproduced with permission of the author.

The essay, which is in two parts, can be read in full here.

Julian Assange in conversation with Slavoj Žižek, moderated by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, will take place on 2 July at the Troxy In East London. More information and tickets for the event can be found here.