The Pirates of Enlightenment


On the Guardian’s liveblog of Julian Assange’s extradition plea on the 19th of June, they published a statement from the Pirate Party UK, along with an explanation stating that it was a “hard left” political group. Later, they updated the blog to say “libertarian” instead. I’m not sure which of these labels annoyed me more, but both exposed a failure to acknowledge a subtle change in politics – either on behalf of the Guardian, or on behalf of the Pirates themselves.

Traditional wisdom suggests that the political doctrines of any given age specify the manufacturing models available in the market. Capitalism and communism are seen as the political doctrines engaged in a struggle between individualism and socialism, and for some reason they both underpin an industrial model of production. A sense of history will grant the opposite: The industrial revolution, having amplified the productive capacity of mankind – at least in the West, at first – dislodged the craft production era’s manufacturing base and the political debates that came with it, which primarily revolved around the extents and limitations of monarchic power.

Looking at this understanding through the lens of modern post-industrial production, we can see that the information revolution is similarly dislodging individualism and socialism as core political ideologies. Left and right stop making sense in the networked age. The generation of people engaged in so-called ‘information politics’ come from an ideology which rejects individualism and socialism as opposites, but rather acknowledge that there is no society without individuals, and without a society, the individual is meaningless.

One might call these people individualist socialists, which to the politically astute brings to mind figures such as Peter Kropotkin and Benjamin Tucker – who argued that “the most perfect socialism is possible only on the condition of the most perfect individualism”. This would not be entirely wrong, but a pure traditional anarchist classification would be ignorant of the influences of more modern thinkers such as Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen and Yochai Benkler.

So what is a Pirate Party? It is not libertarian, nor hard left. Neither capitalist nor communist, it is an informationist, neo-enlightenment party. It is a party that demands that individual freedoms be respected throughout, but that individuals not be driven or directed by antisocial incentives. The Pirate Party is the political manifestation of the idea that people have a right to information, that governance should be conducted by the people themselves, and to the smallest extent necessary, that privacy and transparency be held up as high values, and that democracy not be sold short with cronyism and elitism.

Invoking enlightenment ideals may seem cheap, but the first enlightenment failed to bring its two core ideas to bear. The ideal of individual enlightenment was bastardized into what we now disgustedly refer to as the ‘education system’, an assembly line treatment of uncreative thoughts intended to mass-produce generations of workers suited to industrial monotony. The ideal of democracy was similarly bastardized, as representatives of representatives now go around representing each other, and not us, both nationally and internationally, in massive bureaucracies that neither the general public nor those within the systems have any real control over or ability to alter.

I’m not sure if the Guardian’s depiction of the Pirate Party is a misunderstanding of origins, a miscommunication of intent, or a misinterpretation of goals. It is entirely possible that those who populate the Pirate Party UK are predominantly uncreative children of the industrial era, seeking out unnuanced labels such as “libertarian” or “left”. It is a fact, philosophy aside, that most candidates on Pirate Party lists globally to date can be described as traditional leftists with little difficulty, while the vast majority of their voter base has been from the libertarian right. But this fact alone shows that the tides are turning.

Whatever the reason, I hope this little tirade serves to open up the discussion, both of whether post-chiral politics are ready to emerge, and if the Pirate Parties are harbingers of one of the ideologies, however inept we are at describing it still, whatever will its alternative look like? Are we ready for the second enlightenment?