As I began making sense of the broader philosophical and legal implications of blockchains, my initial instinct was to reach out to Alain Supiot at the Collège de France. In addition to writing many interesting books on the philosophical and anthropological foundations of law, Supiot has recently explored the impact that cybernetic thinking and computer technologies have had on what he calls “governing by numbers.” An interview with Alain is already in the works; both of us have important pieces in the upcoming issues of New Left Review – my own directly engages with his work – so perhaps we’ll chat after they are out.
In the meantime, Alain pointed me to the work of Katrin Becker, who has published some remarkable scholarship at the intersection of law, literature, and culture. Even a brief engagement with Becker’s texts reveals the vast breadth of the theoretical and intellectual resources that she draws upon, from Kafka to Lacan. It was, thus, very interesting to see how she has recently taken an interest in the world of blockchains (a big piece in Le Monde signaled that new interest to the wider public). Unlike most of the legal scholarship on the blockchain that comes from the Anglo-Saxon context and draws on Law & Economics and Cyberlaw, Becker’s work builds off a distinctly French tradition, her main references being Alain Supiot himself, Pierre Musso, and Pierre Legendre.
Katrin was kind enough to share some of her yet unpublished articles, which I’ve enjoyed reading in preparation for this interview. Our conversation touches upon the broader philosophical and ideological implications of blockchains for how we think about law, democracy, the role of the state, the privatization of various legal systems, and the necessity to offer a counter-project of some kind.
Throughout, we also take our conversation as an opportunity to introduce the broader public to the ideas of Supiot, Legendre, and especially Musso, whose work (sadly, still not translated in English) on “industrial religion” – and the usurpation of our imaginary by the ideas drawn from corporate management – is particularly worth reading today, when everyone is so excited about DAOs.
You might also want to check our Background Reading List on Privatization of Law, before or after reading this interview.
~ Evgeny Morozov
Keywords: Lex cryptographia, industrial religion, blockchain, social imaginary, third party
Before we get to the substance of your critique of lex cryptographia, as it circulates in the realm of law, perhaps we can start with some broader reflection on what would happen if we fail to see through the most dubious aspects of this ideology. What kind of future awaits us if we don’t heed your warnings? Are we talking Orwell’s 1984 or Kafka’s The Castle – I know you’ve written quite a bit on Kafka – or something else entirely? What is the worst-case scenario for democracy and politics in general?
There are various dystopian future scenarios that could be sketched without much imaginative effort if one thinks of the possibilities that a combination of blockchain technology and the Internet of Things brings about – especially in view of the use cases that already exist, such as the scanning of the iris for payment; the programming of a drone via smart contract, which can, once its trajectory is launched, no longer be stopped; or the linking of opening doors, car engines, or weapons to an identity assessment procedure running via the blockchain. There are various science fiction books outlining such scenarios – which suddenly seem much less unrealistic in light of these recent innovations.
I think particularly problematic at present is the belief in the neutrality and “truth” of a blockchain. For this belief blocks out not only the technology’s ideological underside, which is quite explicitly dedicated to right-wing, market liberal, or libertarian values (c.f. David Golumbia); but also, the structures of reintermediation which are already emerging. I think the main risk lies in the possibility that someone manages to make use of this technology and its powerful control and steering mechanisms for other purposes than the common good – and that the traditional constitutional and democratic institutions will no longer have effective means to counter such an incident, given that, with the growing mistrust towards them, which is deepened by technologies like the blockchain, they are increasingly losing their validity and legitimacy.
If you mention Kafka, instead of The Castle, it’s rather The Penal Colony that comes to my mind when I think of the connection of blockchain, IoT in the context of law – more specifically the execution machine that writes, or rather stabs, a law into our skin that we don’t understand or cannot even read.
Perhaps, another Big Picture question before we get to the specifics: throughout your work, you point out the importance of understanding technologies and institutions not just in terms of what they do and how they do it but also in terms of how they shape our social imagination. Why is this aspect of imagination so important, especially as we think of democratic politics? And do you find that the blockchain is exercising a particularly disconcerting influence on our imagination right now?
The social imaginary – and here a distinction must be made from the concept of imagination, which refers rather to the mental capacity of the individual – is central to the formation of a community: a group of people who happen to share a territory only becomes a cohesive society once they agree on a corpus of ideas, values and ideals, when they create common narratives, myths and images which constitute their identity. This social imaginary is laid down in the institutional system which then regulates coexistence accordingly. A democracy is characterized by the fact that it ensures a continuous coordination between the institutionally staged and implemented values, ideals, etc. and the values, ideals, etc. of its citizens. It constantly readjusts the institutions’ orientation to changing imaginaries among its citizens, whilst avoiding that a single person incarnates the voice of truth, i.e. whilst keeping the “place of power” empty (Claude Lefort).
On the one hand, technological innovations spring from the social imaginary; on the other hand, they are the driving force for the emergence of new visions and ideals. The original purpose of blockchain technology, too, is clearly intertwined with the ideals, and values of the social imaginary that underlies our current institutional logic, for which Supiot coined the term governance by numbers. But beyond that – and here I am talking about the original idea, i.e. about the structure of open blockchains – it actually does exert a disconcerting influence, insofar as it promises to free the subject as far as possible from the constraints of institutional structures, of its territorial attachment, and to integrate it into a system of blockchain-based, decentralized, and virtual “truth that's more reliable than any truth we've ever seen” (Vigna/Casey): As a self-sovereign subject, it’s supposed to be able to select or program those legal systems and governmental services that it considers the most beneficial; to become citizen of a decentralized borderless voluntary nation; and to enjoy better justice via decentralized justice systems. Without going into the details of the (un)feasibility and democratic pitfalls of these promises, these ideas suggest that a connection to the institutional structure we are born into or move into is no longer necessary; that, much like our territorially bound and corporeal dimension, the institutional structures are burdensome heteronomous constraints that need to be overcome. However: these elements are exactly what forms the basis of our democracies, which is precisely about coming to terms with the contingency of our corporeal existence and our territorial coexistence, about the need to find a compromise between my vision of the world and those of my neighbours.
You offer a very erudite and elaborate critique of the fundamental assumptions built into what you call “blockchain ideology” with its celebration of smart contracts and its delegation of enforcement to algorithms. You draw on three big thinkers – not very well known outside France, alas: Pierre Legendre, Pierre Musso, and Alain Supiot. Without understanding their rather complex thought, it could be a bit challenging to also grasp the full strength of your critique. So let’s try to make sense of their writings, if we can. Let’s start with Pierre Legendre, who is both a psychoanalyst and a legal scholar. What is it that you borrow from him and his (partly Lacanian) psychoanalytic heritage and why is it important to think about anthropological dogmas?
In his dogmatic anthropology, Legendre makes clear that every society is based on certain dogmatic beliefs that are not questioned and that shape our institutions and how we see the world and ourselves. According to him, the structure of Western dogma originated in the fusion of Christianity and Roman law in the Middle Ages which led to the paradoxical combination of the irrational Christian myth of the incarnation of God in man, and of a highly rational and efficient legal system, promulgated by a “legislator God.” Ever since, the Occidental dogmas are occupied by rational yet irrational paradigms, whose most recent version Legendre identifies as today’s trinity “techno-science-economy,” which, despite its profound rationalist nature, is at the same time the object of irrational myths and beliefs.
The most relevant part of his theory for my work is his way of explaining the relation between subject and institution by interweaving psychoanalytic and legal concepts. He applies Lacan's mirror paradigm, according to which the identification of the I with the image in the mirror must be authenticated by the parental third party, to any other normative structure. Thus, he argues that normativity is always a triangular constellation. Any dual normative relation needs a third entity that authenticates it, and that veils the contingency that in fact underlies it. In order to grant legitimacy to its institutions and law, in order to keep the place of power empty, every (democratic) culture creates and aesthetically stages a metaphysical entity – like, e.g., God, the People, the State – in the name of which its earthly representatives and institutions provide the answers to the answerable questions of the ultimate “Why?” or “Where from?”. And it is in its name that law is administered, and that the citizens constitute their institutionalized identity.
While working with Legendre's theory, however, I have always been driven by the question of whether our relationship to the institutional system is in fact a deterministic one, or to what extent the individual has the possibility to participate in shaping this entity, the so-called great Third. And here my views diverge from those of Legendre, as I believe that one can very well act in an emancipatory way and influence it. (For example, through the power of literature as I have argued in my book “Between Norm and Chaos” or the article “Expérience juridique.”)
Perhaps we can move on to Pierre Musso now, who has written some wonderful books on the history of technology, including, most recently, about the persistence of what he calls “industrial religion” even in our hyper-modern times. Why do you think Musso’s thought is relevant today, especially for understanding the digital economy? I was always struck by his argument that our imagination is increasingly shaped not by political institutions but by the enterprise, and I’m wondering whether innovations like DAO are just another step in that direction, but this time with the blockchain shaping much of our imaginary.
Musso has an impressive ability of dissecting the genealogical lineage within the ideological basis of new technologies. In doing so, he reveals the extent to which, since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, we have found ourselves in an era of a growing “technical determinism,” in which technology is increasingly fetishized: Every new technology is supposed to change the whole society.
According to him, following the evolution of technology, and in particular the advent of the computer, our institutional logic has progressively moved away from state institutions and towards the corporate organization. Meaning it is driven by principles of management, by criteria of efficiency, etc. In our current era, the era of cyber-management, this logic is increasingly oriented towards realizing the dream of an automated steering of society. However, he insists that the idea to have machines steer our society is illusory insofar as technology is and necessarily remains bound to the imaginary: it conveys fictions, narratives, utopias, but it cannot enter the realm of the symbolic, i.e. it is incapable of institutionalizing, of giving life and society a reason for existence, of providing answers as to “why” – in short: of fulfilling that function which, according to Legendre, the great Third fulfills.
This insight is highly relevant with regard to the blockchain, which attempts to do exactly this: to offer a technological alternative to institutions, and to ultimately have the capacity to institute. In this sense, the DAO seems indeed to finally fulfill the cybernetic dream of a posthuman economy, but the crucial question is whether we’re in fact dealing with institutions here. And I agree with Musso that this is, for the time being, not the case. (See the question below about lex cryptographia and the three types of emancipation.)
Finally, we can tackle Alain Supiot, who has drawn on Legendre in his own work on Homo Juridicus as well as new ways of “governance by numbers.” In what way does Supiot carry Legendre’s work forward?
In my opinion, Alain Supiot is a very fine spirited and critical observer of what is going on in our times with regard to all questions related to law. He is profoundly influenced by Legendre's thinking. But while Legendre dedicates his work to the big picture of cultural anthropological correlations, with his writing being often perceived as opaque and too abstract, Supiot manages to formulate a similar body of thought in a more accessible way. His works are dealing with transformations in specific areas of law, particularly in the area of labor and social law, but also with transformations of law as such – and he thus reminds us in a cautionary way of what constitutes law in the true sense, namely social justice, solidarity, and the dignity of the human being.
The work “Governance by Numbers” is of central significance with regard to recent technological innovations, because here, Supiot does not only deal with the market's growing influence on law. He also points to the exclusion of myth, aesthetics, and narratives from the field of law and its resulting transformation into a negotiable, calculable, and personalizable commodity – one that is no longer oriented according to criteria of justice, but according to criteria of efficiency. His observation is therefore highly relevant with regard to blockchains, which ultimately try to bring this tendency to perfection: by creating a law that is individually negotiable and adaptable, freed from any societal constraints, and profoundly entangled in the logic of neoliberal economics.
Perhaps, we can now tie all three of these thinkers together and have you articulate the main lines of your own critique of the blockchain ideology. What struck me in particular when reading your articles are three arguments: one about the promise to eliminate the "third party" while actually possibly replacing it with another intermediary, perhaps less visible and explicit.
The central promise of the blockchain is to disintermediate, i.e. to replace the human and corruptible third parties by a neutral and unbiased, because consensual, transparent and calculable technology. In doing so it is meant to ensure neutrality, a "truer truth," a "fairer justice." First of all, this promise clearly applies only to open blockchains, because permissioned blockchains necessarily have governance and thus centralized structures.
But also in the context of open blockchains, we need to ask whether there is a possible and hidden reintermediation. Here, the religiously imbued veneration of their founders or “earthly representatives” as central leadership figures comes to mind. Secondly, the technical competencies and financial resources that are needed in lots of blockchain contexts clearly allow for a bundling of power among those who know what they are doing and who have the financial means to do it. Having mentioned this, the consensual basis that is so praised should therefore be taken with a grain of salt: given the computer power or financial means that are needed for the proof-of-work and the proof-of-stake procedures, these instruments for consensus building, at a second glance, turn out to be less democratic and more meritocratic, plutocratic, or oligarchic.
I would like to ask about the anti-representational nature of lex cryptographia and about the three types of emancipation that the blockchain offers to traditional law. I hope we can tackle each of them in turn.
The two other arguments are essentially linked with each other: It is due to the three types of emancipation initiated by blockchain law – namely the abstraction from territory, the human body, and language – that lex cryptographia turns out to be an anti-representational law. Let me explain.
Being constituted by smart-contracts, which are negotiated individually and on a case-by-case basis, and executed automatically, lex cryptographia operates entirely detached from national jurisdictions and its enforcing institutions. Secondly, in blockchain contexts we’re dealing with the idea of a virtual subjectivity, freed from all institutional constraints. With regard to its legal activities, the subject obtains the power to define, individually and on a case-by-case basis, the rules of its existence. It can operate globally, through legal structures that are legitimized through peer-to-peer processes. In that sense, the subject is conceived of as not only being detached from the heteronymic sovereignty of state and law, but eventually also from the heteronomy of its own body. And finally – and here I’d like to refer to the book Justice Digitale by Jean Lassègue and Antoine Garapon, who point out the following in a very clear and helpful way – within the context of blockchain law, natural language has been abolished as a “carrier of law.” In its automized if-then structure, the algorithm of the blockchain converges word and thing, and thus eliminates the room for interpretation.
The exclusion of these three elements, which are basically the core of representation, is the essential condition for the blockchain to deliver on its promise of unfalsifiable decentralized automation. But by eliminating the irrational, unreasonable, and contingent dimension that defines corporeal human and social life, and that calls for interpretation, compromise, and assessment in the name of justice, it acts as "robotic law," ultimately a system of programming.
This becomes all the more problematic as the Internet of Things gains in importance. Because this way lex cryptographia increasingly has the capacity to leave its virtual scope and to extend into areas of material presence. And so we are suddenly dealing with two presences linked to two different legal orders, in other words: the body of the subject, excluded from lex cryptographia, is increasingly confronted with objects that belong to another legal order than that of the rule of law – a programmed, automatic, robotized law. And here again the dystopia and the suddenly no longer so fantastical science fiction come to mind.
You point out that the third parties traditionally serve an important function of imparting “a priori models” to individuals, this way socializing them into a democratic and public culture. Could you explain why this is important? To play devil’s advocate for a second, why can’t the blockchain do the same but with “a priori models” that would be heavily biased towards neoliberalism and financialization?
A democracy can only function if the subjects feel represented by the values, ideas, ideals staged and enacted by its institutions. The term a priori models is drawn from a text by Antoinette Rouvroy on big data and the Homo Juridicus, and in my opinion these are the visions on which a society has agreed, that the individual is born into, and that she can ideally participate in shaping as a critical citizen in a democracy.
Blockchains are, as you say, shaped by the ideals of neoliberalism and financialization. But if we want to consider this technology as the basis for a societal structure, we firstly need to realize that there is usually a strongly individualistic ideal at work here: the idea is to give the individual a tool with which she can individually program and choose her own legal and governmental structures. Basically, we are dealing with a priori models that can be understood as empty shells that the individual shall be able to fill herself.
Secondly, we need to understand that a blockchain can only keep its promise of unforgeability, neutrality, etc., if – once programmed – it acts without the possibility of (unforeseen) intervention from the outside world. And that means that it must exclude everything that cannot be programmed, that belongs to the realm of representation and interpretation – and thus, ultimately all those elements that form the basis for democracy and the rule of law. As long as this is the case, and as long as no bridge is built to the world of representation in which the question of meaning can alone be answered, the blockchain can, in my opinion, not serve as a basis for democratic structures.
In one of your most recent articles, you pick up on the longing for de-territorialization that could be observed in many of the blockchain whitepapers, especially those related to the so-called “self-sovereign identity.” What do you think this longing is a sign of? And what consequences would it have for the ability of political institutions to perform their function as “third parties”?
I think here we see to what extent blockchain is intertwined with the social imaginary that underlies the ideology of "governance by numbers": the vision of a world based purely on the truth delivered by calculation and algorithms, in which one is no longer bound by territorial or physical constraints. Moreover, this can certainly be linked to the dominant ideology in Silicon Valley, which strives for detachment from the state and central banks.
Of course, the idea of creating a “self-sovereign identity” also implies the desire to free oneself from the data-greedy companies, to gain control over one's data, which is definitely a positive side of this technology and should be encouraged. However, the implied striving for a deterritorialization of law, of personalized government structures, etc., needs to be viewed much more critically. For ultimately, this implies the eroding of democracy. As I said before, democratic institutions derive their legitimacy from the fact that the values and ideals they represent correspond with the values and ideals of the majority of their citizens, and from the resulting belief of these very citizens in their legitimacy. If it is possible to design and program my own institutions, laws, administrative services, etc. from my home desk, to find an unchallenged ideological home in a cloud community of my own choosing, then it is no longer necessary that I confront myself with conflicting truths and values. Then there is no need to grapple with the ideals and ideas represented by those institutions outside my door, whose function is obsolete for me, whose actions, punishments, etc. are then possibly perceived as illegitimate violence. In other words, by offering an alternative and allegedly better organization of individual or social life, blockchain technology aggravates the growing mistrust towards democratic institutions and thus undermines their ability to act as legitimate actors.
At this point, we should, perhaps, introduce some examples. You have recently done something of a case-study of Kleros, an important blockchain-based project that promises to set up “decentralized courts.” It has received quite a bit of money from public and European institutions. Could you explain what it promises to do and what in its operational and philosophical principles do you find problematic?
The decentralized arbitration service named Kleros promises to accelerate and improve the process of legal decision making by offering a “fast, transparent and affordable justice for all.” This is meant to be achieved by handing over certain matters of justice to a decentralized entity, instead of turning to corruptible and fallible individuals, i.e. judges. The modus operandi of this decentralized arbitration service is essentially based on a combination of crypto-economic principles and game theory.
And this is exactly where we need to listen up: On the one hand we are dealing with a profound financialization of the law. You become a juror by wagering certain stakes in Pinakion, the cryptocurrency of Kleros, and you’re incentivized to make the “right” decision by the prospect of winning money: If you choose the right answer, your stake is increased. Moreover, the “right” decision is ultimately the choice of the majority of jurors, which rightly leads Schmitz/Rule to speak of “mob justice.” Justice is thus – like everything else in blockchain ideology – conceived as calculable and detached from the corporeal, the territorial, the imaginary dimension of human life, in which its ultimately undefinable core normally comes into being.
On the other hand, the promises of fairer and unbiased justice should also be taken with a grain of salt: Firstly, the neutral and random – and thus fair – selection of jurors turns out to be somewhat less neutral given the fact that not only technical knowledge, but also a certain degree of financial means are required to serve as a juror. Secondly, the anonymity of jurors and parties that is referred to as one of the main reasons for the platform’s fairness equally implies that at the same time, all those details will be hidden that are usually taken into account for justice considerations, such as economic constraints, or unforeseeably changing financial or social conditions.
I don't want to purely demonize these platforms, because they certainly have good aspects, and especially with regard to states with corrupt legal systems, they can offer a good alternative of dispute resolution. But from a rule of law perspective, it seems essential that some criteria or control mechanisms are established – like criteria for the selection of jurors, a definition of what is a conflict, i.e. of the moment when to refer the smart contract to Kleros, or a classification of cases that are suitable or not for this application. Next to a careful critical analysis, developing these kinds of criteria is the goal of a project I’m leading together with Jean Lassègue at the EHESS in Paris – and that I will work on as a fellow at Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin starting in January.
Some of the early proponents of the smart contracts – you cite Nick Szabo in your articles – compared the ideal algorithmic “third party” to a God. What do you make of such proliferation of religious metaphors in this space? Is this somehow connected with Pierre Musso’s work on the industrial religion?
It definitely relates to Pierre Musso’s work. In various texts, he addresses the extent to which the techno-imaginary is increasingly accompanied by ideas of the sacred, the divine, immortality. Following Balandier, he thus speaks of “techno-messianism.” In this sense, it doesn’t surprise that in the context of blockchain technology, which is meant to initiate the next technological revolution, we are encountering a vocabulary strongly imbued with religious concepts. On a more superficial level, this can be explained by the financial goals of cryptocurrencies as well as the need to attract users. But at the same time, it relates to the status that its “disciples” ascribe to the blockchain: Staged as a “truth machine” with its godlike (because human-independent) control, steering, and punitive or reward functions, it is meant to serve as a source of meaning, a normative order, and the instrument for the execution of the latter. Speaking about law: the blockchain code is meant to serve as legal basis, law, and its enforcement authority. In this sense, the blockchain actually goes beyond previous technological innovations – at least that is the idea – by converging the traditional triad of a founding belief, a normative order based on it, and mediating institutions into one: the blockchain code.
Do you think there’s reception to the kind of critique that you but also Alain Supiot have been advancing in France in the legal academy and practice? It seems that the majority of papers on the blockchain in the Anglo-Saxon world is written by those working in Law & Economics or Cyberlaw strands of the legal academy; there’s very little patience for the kind of careful analysis of law & literature or law & culture that you offer. Do you think that concerns over the potentially anti-democratic consequences of the blockchain might help build this case with the general public, if not with the specialized legal communities?
That’s my hope. There is definitely a real need for a public debate on blockchains – given that they are starting to permeate more and more domains of our society, while lots of people still haven’t even heard about the technology or don’t know what it means or implies.
However, I currently see a growing effort to raise a critical awareness within the broader public with regard to the anti-democratic risks and implications of legal tech. In France and beyond, Jean Lassègue and Antoine Garapon are doing a great job with their books and lectures on Digital Justice. And there are books, platforms, NGOs, and individual persons, like you yourself, that are using their international reputation to contribute to this awareness. But so far, the focus is mainly lying on algorithms and artificial intelligence, while blockchain remains trapped in structures of either hype or ignorance. And I think this urgently needs to be changed – and I think you're right in that the existing anti-democratic risks of blockchains are a good starting point here, because that usually makes people sit up and take notice. Stirring public interest in blockchain and its implications is an effort that we need to address with joint forces. So far, I’ve been trying, in a rather limited scope, to work towards this awareness, by discussing this technology with my students, or by publishing texts in media for the broader public. And I’m currently involved in a promising project by the artist Kader Attia, who is the commissioner of Berlin’s biennial 2022. His aim is to create, during the biennial, a space for knowledge-sharing by bringing together art and thought, and to use this space to raise general awareness for the most urgent questions of our time, among them the risks of legal technologies such as blockchains.
Finally, I’m curious if you see any role for digital technologies in improving the work of existing “third parties.” That’s one frustration that I occasionally have with the work of Alain Supiot; yes, there are all sorts of problems related to “governing by numbers,” but it’s not obvious how, by basing our analysis in the notion of the “anthropological dogma” or the “third party,” we can arrive at some kind of a framework for understanding how digital technologies could make democratic legal culture more – rather than less – democratic.
I actually share your frustration, even though I am prone to succumbing to a very pessimistic view myself. But I think it is urgently necessary to focus on how things can and need to improve… because blockchain technology is here to stay, and there are undeniable positive sides with regard to transparency, data protection, standardization of validation procedures, etc. But for digital technologies to make democratic legal culture more democratic, we need to move away from the impression that an automated, algorithmically regulated society is necessarily the better and fairer one.
And I think that Legendre’s, Supiot’s, and Musso’s approaches do give us the theoretical means for seeing this more clearly, and for developing ideas of how to overcome certain democratic deficiencies of these technologies. Not only do they help us see that technology is never neutral, and that we can and should therefore always question their functionalities and purposes. But we also understand that there is no way around the question of the third party.
The success of blockchain relies on the fact that it can function as a hermetically sealed, programmed, and automated system, which has no connection to the outside world, at least beyond predictable cases. Based on exactly this feature, it attempts to function as a neutral, unforgeable third party. However, it is ultimately – precisely because of this disconnection to the outside world – stripped of all the properties that usually characterize the great Third. For the values and dogmas fundamental to a democratic legal culture, such as solidarity, justice, and dignity, emerge from (shared) presence and corporeality, from the realm of the irrational and unplannable. And here lies at the same time the blockchain’s weak point: For in those cases in which it succeeds in actually cutting the connection to the outside world, which it does within the framework of programs limited in time and content, its structure in fact remains a purely technical, binary one; and the law it establishes remains a robotized program that has nothing to do with what we traditionally understand as law. However, in general, such a rupture is illusory: because in about all areas of its implementation, there is the need to feed information into the blockchain or to make programming decisions whose selection or orientation necessarily imply a political dimension. Therefore, as long as blockchain technology doesn’t provide a democratically organized connection to the outside world, we’re dealing with a loophole that can easily be exploited by non-democratic forces.
By implementing such a “democratic bridge,” however, blockchain would give up its core features and turn into an instrument complementary to law. And yet, in my opinion, this is the only way that it could actually contribute to making democratic legal culture more democratic. There are already some projects that go in this direction, such as crowd law or liquid democracy, which attempt to design a more participatory legal and political order. And I currently find the example of blockchain-based commons highly interesting, though here, too, the feasibility and actual democratic nature of it depends again on the extent to which it manages to remain rooted in the physical, material, corporeal world.
Katrin Becker is Research Associate at the University of Luxembourg and Associated Member at Georg Simmel Center, at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France. She studied law, German, and Romance languages and literature at the Universities of Trier, Bonn (Germany), and Paris-Sorbonne (France) and completed her PhD in Luxembourg and Paris in 2015. Her research focuses on the relationship between the subject, law, and the institutional system; and on the impact of new technologies (blockchain) on traditional notions of subjectivity, institution, and law. Katrin's site.