I’ve recently been following Tony Curzon-Price’s essay The Liberty of the Networked (and part 2 and part 3) published over at the excellent openDemocracy.net to coincide in with The Convention on Modern Liberty to be held in London and across the UK on February 28th. Tony’s paper considers the social role of technology with regards to political thought and activity, comparing the liberty of the Ancients with the liberty of the Moderns to discover the liberty of the Networked.

With regard to TCPs use of  Nozic’s Anarchy, State, Utopia to interrogate the hyper-individualised networked society I had this to say (emphasis added):

Amongst the libertarian Nozick’s many failures in Anarchy, State, Utopia is his failure to properly deal with conflict between his ahistorical individuals. It is the abstraction of the individual and the social order in Nozick’s work dislocates individuals from themselves, from the choices they make and the communities they form that is the source of conflict. What the neo-Kantian Nozick fails to recognise in demanding the priority of individual rights over the common good is that this “can only exist in a certain type of society with specific institutions and that it is a consequence of the democratic revolution.” (Chantelle Mouffe, 2005, The Return of the Political, p.65) That is to say that neo-Kantian liberals fail to recognise the historicity of liberalism, for some reason missing the very context of the emergence of liberal political theory from the struggle against arbitrary and absolute authority.

So what then of politics in our liberal age? Do we really have to choose between the liberty of the Ancients and the liberty of the Moderns? No. We do not have to accept a false dichotomy between individual liberty and rights, i.e. the choice of the neo-Kantians, or between civic activity and a strong political community. As Mouffe argues “Our choice is not only one between an aggregate of individuals without a common public concern and a pre-modern community organized around a single substantive idea of the common good. To envisage the modern democratic political community outside of this dichotomy is the crucial challenge” (ibid).

The project of the networked liberal is then to defend extend and deepen the liberty of the networked and to democratically build meaningful institutions to articulate and resolve conflict.

The problematic of what sort of institutions - through which claims, of rights or otherwise, can be articulated and conflict mediated - would work in a networked society is often underthorised at the expense of an over-emphasis on the negative spectres of Orwell, Kafka and other writers on totalitarian politics. I’m not trying to play down the dangers to our socio-political relationships, threatened by the database state or the surveillance state. I’m simply more interested in the challenge from Mouffe (2005) to find meaningful frameworks beyond the institutions of modern liberal democracy. These are themes continued in Dean, Anderson and Lovink (2006) ‘Reformatting Politics’; a collection of papers on the notion of post-democracy, information technology and global civil society.

I’m going to post again on this topic with regard to the current fluttering around ideas of new localism in the UKs political settlement as the themes of liberty, democracy and the nature of politics in network society remain open and contested: hackable. Investigating the positive possibilities rather than imagining dark nightmares is my contribution to the Convention and to civil society.