Marc Hochstein is the managing editor of CoinDesk.
The following article originally appeared in CoinDesk Weekly, a custom-curated newsletter delivered every Sunday exclusively to our subscribers.
“You have no sovereignty where we gather. We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one…”
The “we” John Perry Barlow referred to in his 1996 essay “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” was a then-emerging, global community of internet users. But you’d be hard pressed to find a subset of that community who took the ethos to heart more than the pioneers of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. For better or for worse.
Barlow, who died last week at the age of 70, was a towering figure among digital-rights advocates, an early champion of a permissionless internet – something users may take for granted today but was far from a guaranteed outcome in 1990, when he co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
A longtime lyricist for the Grateful Dead, Barlow envisioned cyberspace as “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth … where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular.”
While Barlow’s work focused on freedom of expression and privacy of communications, the principles he stood for arguably animate bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are designed to be censorship-resistant, anonymous and open to all comers.
For example, anyone with a working internet connection, no matter who or where they are, can download the basic software and use a bitcoin wallet to transfer value to anyone else who has one, no matter who or where they are. No middleman can veto the transaction. Likewise, anyone can contribute code to an open-source project; other members of the community will accept or reject their work according to merit, not status or credentials.
“In some ways, the best of bitcoin, and blockchain technology in general, adheres to that vision of personal freedom” that Barlow espoused, said Patrick Murck, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet &