In a world of collective identity movements, Bitcoin is perhaps the clearest embodiment of the liberal ideal of individual sovereignty.
Natalie Smolenski is Senior Advisor at the Bitcoin Policy Institute and Executive Director of the Texas Bitcoin Foundation
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine took most of the world by surprise; it shouldn’t have. It is the logical and material result of a war of ideas that has been waged by a small group of Russian intellectuals and political leaders over the past decades – a war that the West has ignored at its peril. . Fortunately, Europe and America already have a response to this attack that is doing its work around the world: Bitcoin. It is in our interests to embrace the Bitcoin monetary network as a new social institution that instantiates liberal values in open source software.
For too long the West has ignored political theory – in fact, politics theology – behind Vladimir Putin’s particular brand of Russian nationalism. Putin subscribes to an ideology developed over the past decades by Aleksandr Dugin, a philosopher who argues that Russia’s collective identity must assert its supremacy on the world stage in the form of a Greater Russia, which in turn is to become the political center of a wider “Eurasian Union”. Dugin’s nationalism is completely opposed to what he calls the “Atlanticist” project of universal human rights, international law and technological progress. Dugin (and Putin) see NATO as a military embodiment of the Atlanticist project, the very existence of which is hostile to the interests of a united Eurasian Union under the banner of multipolar ethnic, linguistic and cultural conservatism.
Dugin is not the only ethnonationalist philosopher Putin relies on to direct state policy. He is also known to publicly quote and recommend reading Ivan Ilinthe early 20th century philosopher whom Putin had reburied in Russia in 2005. Ilyin predicted that the Soviet Union would eventually fall and he define a political project for the new Russian state. He dreamed of a day when Russia would show the world a fascism superior to the failed fascisms of Italy and Germany – a zero-party state characterized by the complete unity of the people with their dictator, with the absence of Rule of law redefined as a sign of the nation’s virtue and permanent historic innocence in the face of terrible enemies, including Europe and Ukraine.
More worryingly, this philosophy has an apocalyptic dimension: in recent days, Russian state media has bluntly declared that a “a peace that does not include Russia” (language that suggests NATO acquiescence to Russian demands) is a world not worth living in (apparently, for anyone). The veil of nuclear annihilation therefore hangs over any serious attempt to repel Putin’s imperial expansionism.
It goes without saying that this political eschatology is not the majority among Russians, who continue to be largely excluded from political participation. Yet, as marginal as this worldview is, it is held by people of extraordinary power who are reshaping the geopolitical order as we speak.
Perhaps his very extremism has made the Eurasian political project too easy for Western military analysts, academics and political theorists to ignore. More broadly, however, Europe and the United States became complacent about our own success: after the fall of the Soviet Union, we succumbed to the comforting myth that the world had reached”the end of the story“, which the Western ideals of free-market capitalism and liberal democracy had simply won over.
We see today that this is absolutely not the case. The rise of imperial ambitions in Russia and China makes it clear that capitalism does not need democracy. Moreover, pervasive state surveillance by Western governments and interventionist Western central banks have led the citizens of these countries to question how free our political discourse and markets really are. A growing number of elites in countries around the world are willing to follow a path of prosperity without freedom under the growing assumption that these two social goods are in contradiction.
Europeans and Americans from all walks of life must respond by revitalizing the fundamental ideas that are at the heart of European and American projects: the recognition of the individual as the fundamental unit of society, and the recognition of the state as subordinate and deriving its legitimacy of this company. Many of us are already engaged in this work of revitalization by doing what we do best: building supranational public infrastructures that enshrine these core political ideals as defaults. We create digital architectures to do the work of political protest.
In a world of collective identity movements, Bitcoin is perhaps the clearest embodiment of the liberal ideal of individual sovereignty. Bitcoin enshrines individual rights to ownership and agency at the protocol level, enabling the peer-to-peer transfer of value in much the same way the Internet has enabled the peer-to-peer transfer of information. It is no coincidence that Russia and China, among other countries, have engaged in massive efforts to substitute for the internet and suppress its emancipatory potential, and to ban or drastically reduce the use of bitcoin. However, the information is free. Similarly, the possession and transfer of value are intended to be free.
The Atlanticist civilizational project is not simply a Cold War-era military alliance and economic community. At best, it is an institutional reminder that the state serves society, not the other way around, and that individual rights – to property, to speech, to association – are essential to any society. flourishing. By elevating the individual, Bitcoin is essential infrastructure that helps humanity take the next giant leap in its progression toward shared prosperity based on freedom, not opposed to it. Bitcoin achieves this not through kinetic conflict like open warfare, but through the hardware power of leaderless open-source code and prescient incentive structures based on game theory.
Behind the murderous war in Ukraine hides a war of ideas that is collapsing along the lines of civilization. By embodying values that many European and American leaders forget, Bitcoin reminds us of who we are and contrasts the alternatives. But Bitcoin also goes a step further: it demonstrates that, when stripped of overt cultural content and political affiliation, individual freedom to exchange information and value is, in fact, a human universal. And this is what makes those who foment civilizational war against the West (including those on the far right and far left within the West itself) most uncomfortable: existence of human universals unrelated to the specificity of place or culture of origin. It is the great diplomatic task of this generation to help humanity find a common future that honors cultural and civilizational differences without rejecting the common humanity that makes those differences possible in the first place.
He’s a guest Message from Natalie Smolenski. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.
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