Quote of the day—John Perry Barlow

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

John Perry Barlow
Davos, Switzerland
February 8, 1996
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
[H/T Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties, at The Center for Internet and Society. She gave an awesome talk at Defcon yesterday.

Compare the quote above to the reality of the Internet today. After 20 years in the pot the frog is well done.—Joe]


17 thoughts on “Quote of the day—John Perry Barlow

  1. The author has the invitees and inviters of cyberspace backwards. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites and other social media are the ones who own the cyber platforms that their users access.

    Much like the bar owner who leaves the door open to all passers by, but who will eject a sloppy drunk or angry rude boor, cyberspace is a welcoming place but one limited in use to those approved by the owners.

    If this offends you, make your own blog, social network or news aggregator, and enjoy.

    The frogs are well boiled, yes, but they weren’t forced into the pot, they were invited in, and knew they were there only until asked to leave.

  2. I was mostly referring to the use of the Internet by governments for surveillance. And anonymous speech on the Internet is difficult.

    • It’s difficult mostly because there are a lot of people out there who don’t get the distinction between liberty and freedom, or liberty and libertinage. My cousin who lived in Rome said that Romans were polite until they got behind the wheel of a car, which illustrates the power of anonymity to strip away the veneer of civility that is so thinly covering so many people.

  3. I recall reading this – or similar – when it made the rounds in the 90s. I also remember thinking the author had to be young and naive.

    nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear. Really? A computer’s attention span is just as long as its power cord. Cyberspace exists on the Internet which is run by regulated telecom utilities.

    Governments legislate and regulate so they can exercise control over the carriers. It would not be hard to force a nation’s carriers to block Twitter, FB or other platforms. Germany’s Merkel has shown governments can coerce service platforms like FB to change their policies to suit government censors. Soon enough you’ll need a government issued login-id to access anything at all.

  4. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. ” And how many examples each day do we see of governments exercising unjust powers?

    • Let’s take that a step farther.

      It is more often the case that governments derive their unjust powers from the consent of the governed.

      That’s the two wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Thus it is that democracy, being equated as it often is with liberty and justice, is a goddamned lie.

      Governments will automatically corrupt unless there are enough hearty individuals with the flame of liberty burning in their hearts to stop it.

      We could re-write the famous phrase then;
      Governments are held within their just powers only through the eternal vigilance and forceful action of a few righteous individuals.

      In other words, we’re fucked.

      We spend way too much time pretending we can “educate” the perpetrators, pointing out how they’re violating the constitution, reason, justice and the founding principles of liberty, showing how their programs are tearing down polite society. News flash; they know that already. It’s why they do it. It’s a feature, not a bug. They laugh at you.

      We’re in a multi-front war of predatory deception and brute force against humanity. It is the Authoritarian System against the otherwise free mind of Man. It’s that simple. Best we get it straight and stop pretending otherwise.

      Instead we’re pointing out to the criminal that, although we’re willing to allow that his pointing a gun in our face and demanding we put on handcuffs while he takes our belongings may very well be the result of good intentions, he might consider the possibility that what he’s doing is illegal and counterproductive. We’re fucking idiots. We deserve what we get.

      • I think Government slipped the collar with Marbury v Madison. Almost from the start.
        The Judges in Britain were considered to be lions under the throne, paid by the government and generally doing its bidding. It is no different today, here.

        • From what I’ve been able to read, politicians began trying to counter the restrictions of The Constitution almost before it was completely ratified.
          Marbury v Madison just being a more well known ‘event’.
          Sure seemed that no one on either side of that case put up all that much of a protest, but instead saw the potential political power those lifetime appointments had.

        • I’ve seen libertarian rants against Marbury. I’m not sure they hold together.
          It may be accurate that there is no explicit grant of review authority in the Constitution. But the argument in Marbury is that the Constitution says what laws are permitted, and from that it concludes that something not permitted is not a law. I find it hard to argue against that.
          Also, what’s the alternative? In Holland, the “constitution” explicitly says that no court shall consider the constitutionality of any law. In my view, that makes its constitution a dead letter. The constitution may say that politicians aren’t allowed to do various things or pass various laws, but what if they do? There is no recourse.
          Finally: it may be that occasionally the power to hold a law unconstitutional has been abused. But how often? I can’t think of many examples. Contrast that with the tens of thousands of patently unconstitutional laws that have been permitted to stand, and I would argue that Marbury has not been the gateway to judicial abuse it is sometimes claimed to be. If anything, it needs to be used orders of magnitude more often than it has been.

          • Marbury may not, in and of itself have been a problem. The problem was the politicization of the judiciary.
            It’s not that the court has, or hasn’t ruled enough laws unconstitutional, but has used the bench as a political anvil for the political activist’s hammer.
            That’s what we get for letting the courts devolve into political beasts.
            As Kevin Baker has written:
            As law professor Mike O’Shea put it:
            “So the Constitution says Roe, but it doesn’t say I have the right to keep a gun to defend my home, huh?”
            I guess you have to be a high-level intellectual to convince yourself that an enumerated right somehow isn’t a fundamental civil liberty.


            In 2005 George Will wrote:

            When (Senator Harry) Reid endorsed Scalia for chief justice, he said: “I disagree with many of the results that he arrives at, but his reason for arriving at those results are (sic) very hard to dispute.” There you have, starkly and ingenuously confessed, the judicial philosophy — if it can be dignified as such — of Reid and like-minded Democrats: Regardless of constitutional reasoning that can be annoyingly hard to refute, we care only about results. How many thoughtful Democrats will wish to take their stand where Reid has planted that flag?

            This is the debate the country has needed for several generations: Should the Constitution be treated as so plastic, so changeable that it enables justices to reach whatever social outcomes — “results” — they, like the result-oriented senators who confirm them, consider desirable? If so, in what sense does the Constitution still constitute the nation?

            The whole article being available

          • Ok, so the problem isn’t when a court holds an unconstitutional law unconstitutional. That clearly it its job. The problem is when they make stuff up out of whole cloth for the purpose of “supporting” a pre-selected conclusion. And the other problem is when they make up rules that are nowhere in the Constitution, such as the infamous “scrutiny” rules.

  5. The applications are one thing, but don’t forget the interconnect. That’s actually the important part, even though it’s essentially invisible. The Internet functions only because your traffic gets from your device to the site you’re using. If that is interfered with — as it is in totalitarian countries like China or Turkey — you neither have the ability to use existing services, nor (most likely) the ability to create your own in their place.
    The interconnect is the part that few people study because it’s so transparent, unless it breaks, which is exceedingly rare. But there’s some question about whether it could be subverted; the WSJ had an article about the vulnerabilities of BGP to false routes. That could be fixed, but I don’t know if that has happened yet. This sort of thing isn’t hypothetical; it happened about a decade ago, though in that case it was by mistake. A mistake in Pakistan took Hong Kong off the Internet for a couple of hours, or the other way around.

  6. An interesting manifesto. I’m reminded of a young child, proclaiming command over his domain (a room scattered with toys) to his parents.

  7. Actually, more than 95 percent of the internet is private property. It is not an act of nature growing itself any more than a house is when it’s being built. Love the sentiment though.

  8. Yep. “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind.” Maybe you like to claim you come from there, bucko… but your meat body still has to live somewhere, and as such you’re still very much subject to the old-fashioned governments you scorn.

  9. Open frontiers lead to homesteaders.

    These give rise to villages and towns.

    Local order is established.

    From there control is centralized, customs give way to laws and systems to enforce them, and finally these systems are populated by petty bureaucrats, narcissists, and thieves.

    Such is the way of all frontiers, be they natural or man made. A hundred years hence, people will be rolling their eyes at the supposed rush of freedom that accompanied the first Martian colonies.

    If we’re lucky, that is.

Comments are closed.