Philosopher Peter Ludlow at Northwestern University has invited me to make available this expository essay of his based on a reading of Assange's writings: Download The Philosophy of Julian Assange
An excerpt follows:
I’ve organized my summary of his position into three parts. First, I’ll look at his view of what conspiracies are and how they are formed. Second, I’ll examine his views about why conspiracies are necessarily harmful. Third, I’ll turn to his reason for thinking that leaks are optimal weapons for the dismantling of conspiracies.
1.0 What are Conspiracies?
One of the core goals of Assange’s project is to dismantle what he calls “conspiracies.” I use scare quotes here because he doesn’t mean ‘conspiracy’ in the usual sense of people sitting around in a room plotting some crime or deception. As I understand Assange’s view it is entirely possible that there could be a conspiracy in which no person in the conspiracy was aware that they were part of the conspiracy. How is this possible?
I’ll get into details in a bit, but first I think the basic idea of a conspiracy with unwitting agents can be illustrated in a simple way. Suppose that you have some information that is valuable – say some inside information about the financial state of a corporation. If you immediately make that information public without acting on it, it is worth nothing to you. On the other hand, if you keep it to yourself you may not fully profit from the information. Ideally, you would like to seek out someone that you could trade the information with, and who you could be sure would keep the information close so that it remained valuable. Let’s say that I have similar information and that we trade it. You may trade with other friends and I may do likewise. In each case we have simply traded information for our own benefit, but we have also built a little network of information traders who, hopefully, are keeping the information relatively close and are giving us something equally valuable in kind. We may not know the scope of the network and we may not even realize we are part of a network, but we are, and this network constitutes a conspiracy as Assange understands it. No one sat down and agreed to form a network of inside information traders – the network has simply naturally emerged from our local individual bargains. We can say that the network is an emergent property of these bargains.
Emergent conspiracies like this needn’t be restricted to the business world. Suppose that I am a reporter. I would like to have some hot news to report. You agree to give me the inside information, but you do so with the understanding that you and your network friends will act on your information before you give it to me and it becomes worthless when published. I get my scoop, and you get to control the conditions under which the information is made public. I, as reporter, am now unknowingly part of the conspiracy. I am participating in the conspiracy by respecting the secrets that the network wishes to keep, and releasing the secrets (and sometimes misinformation) only when it is in the interest of the network to do so. I have become a part of the network, and hence part of the conspiracy.
The network need not start out as a conspiracy. Suppose we have an organization (say the US State Department) and some of our communications lead to embarrassment or political blowback. Naturally, we want to avoid such unpleasantries, so we begin to communicate in secret. Assange puts the point this way:
"Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial." [“Conspiracy as Governance,” Dec. 3, 2006, p. 3 – available at http://web.archive.org/web/20071020051936/http://iq.org/conspiracies.pdf]
We can illustrate with a recent example. Suppose that the leader of an Arab country wants the United States to take strong action against Iran. If the Arab leader’s people knew he took such a position there would be strong political blowback and resistance (and possible political risk for him), hence he conducts his discussions with the United States in secret. He has become part of a conspiracy.
These three illustrations all show the central feature of what Assange takes to be a conspiracy – secrecy and exchange of information within a closed network. In the next section I will address why Assange thinks these closed networks are problematic, but for now it is important to stress that this is conspiracy in the sense of the original etymology of ‘conspire’ – as in “breathe with” or “breathe together”. The individuals are acting in concert, whether by plan or not, and the secrecy ensures that the benefits of the network accrue to those inside the network and not outside it.
Read the rest of Professor Ludlow's analysis here: Download The Philosophy of Julian Assange