Article: “The Militarization of Language: Cryptographic Politics and the War of All against All”

I have an article in the latest boundary 2 titled “The Militarization of Language: Cryptographic Politics and the War of All against All.” It is my most sustained attempt to locate and critique a political philosophy in the discourse of encryption advocates, a project I’ve addressed as well in pieces like “Code Is Not Speech” and “Tor, Technocracy, Democracy.” It’s a piece I haven’t before posted drafts of, in part because it includes a relatively strong critique of some of Jacob Appelbaum’s talks, especially his infamous 30c3 talk, “To Protect and Infect: The Militarization of the Internet (Part Two; in three acts).” The title of Applebaum’s talk was part of what motivated me to write this piece, as it appears as part of and was commissioned for a boundary 2 dossier called “The Militarization of Knowledge.”

Here’s the formal abstract:

The question of the militarization of language emerges from the politics surrounding cryptography, or the use of encryption in contemporary networked digital technology, and the intersection of encryption with the politics of language. Ultimately, cryptographic politics aims to embody at a foundational level a theory of language that some recent philosophers, including Charles Taylor and Philip Pettit, locate partly in the writings of Thomas Hobbes. As in Hobbes’s political theory, this theory of language is closely tied to the conception of political sovereignty as necessarily absolute and as the only available alternative to absolute sovereignty being a state of nature (or more accurately what Pettit 2008 calls a “second state of nature,” one in which language plays a key role). In that state of nature, the only possible political relation is what Hobbes calls a war of “all against all.” While Hobbes intended that image as a justification for the quasi-absolute power of the political sovereign, those who most vigorously pursue cryptographic politics appear bent on realizing it as a welcome sociopolitical goal. To reject that vision, we need to adopt a different picture of language and of sovereignty itself, a less individualistic picture that incorporates a more robust sense of shared and community responsibility and that entails serious questions about the political consequences of the cryptographic program.

boundary 2 cover

If you’d like a copy and do have institutional access, please use this official link to the article at boundary 2 at Duke University Press.

If you don’t have institutional access and would like a copy, please email me (dgolumbia-at-gmail-dot-com) or access a copy at

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