Neotechnocratism, Noble Lies, and the Emergence of Network States: A Revolution in New Governance?
Updated: May 29
Executive Summary: This article discusses the influence of neoconservatism on the US-led invasion of Iraq, the role of "noble lies" in maintaining social order, and the emergence of network states as a result of growing libertarian techno-optimism. Neoconservatism, with its focus on American exceptionalism and interventionist foreign policy, significantly shaped the decision-making process of the Bush administration. The concept of "noble lies" highlights the ethical dilemmas in using deception for the greater good, such as maintaining social order during crises. Meanwhile, disillusionment with traditional governance has driven the rise of network states, which prioritize decentralization, individual autonomy, and technology as means to create better, more efficient systems. However, critics argue that relying solely on technology is not a solution for complex societal problems and can lead to its own set of challenges.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, Paul Poast has raised a pertinent issue. While it is true that George W. Bush, or Bush-43, sought advice from a host of individuals, including the the neoconservatives or neocon, the decision to invade ultimately rested with him alone. Therefore, understanding the leader and his decision-making process is crucial, especially in this case where Bush himself was the key decision-maker. Poast further notes that the 9/11 attacks left the United States in a state of anxiety, which was reflected in Bush's speeches. In his September 20th address, Bush saw the US as "called" to a greater mission of bringing justice to the world. He viewed this time period as an opportunity to address all of the enemies of the US, which he saw as "enemies of freedom" worldwide. Essentially, it was time to confront the "rogue states" that did not subscribe to the international order.
John Mearsheimer, in his writings on international relations, suggests that we cannot fully trust states as their behavior can change over time. In international affairs, states must ultimately rely on themselves for security and survival due to the anarchic nature of the international system. This self-reliance often results in states pursuing their own interests, which can lead to shifting alliances and strategic posturing. Iraq and Saddam Hussein, by facing the invasion from the USA, acknowledged this theory with their own lives.
The Neoconservatives' agenda was the driving force behind the decision-making of Bush-43. In their publication, "Rebuilding America's Defense," published in September 2000 by The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), they stressed the need to respond with decisive force in the event of a major theater war in Europe, the Persian Gulf or East Asia. This, according to Phillip Hammond, was a blueprint for American domination of the world under the guise of a war on terror.
The PNAC's approach was primarily inspired by the "total war" strategy deployed during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 by Bush-41. It was rooted in an open letter to Clinton in 1998 that urged him to articulate the aim of removing Saddam's regime from power. The letter stated, "In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council."
President George W. Bush addresses Thai troops at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday Oct. 19, 2003. President Bush publicly announced the designation of Thailand as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) on that day.: Source.
The PNAC's paper viewed the operation as an efficient and perfect founding instrument of "Pax Americana." It underscores the need for the United States to retain sufficient capabilities to bring wars to a satisfactory conclusion, including the possibility of a decisive victory that results in long-term political or regime change.
Neoconservatism, a political ideology and movement that emerged in the U.S. during the late 1960s and early 1970s, has had significant influence on American foreign policy. Its key tenets include a strong belief in American exceptionalism, a preference for interventionist foreign policy, and a focus on promoting democracy and Western values worldwide. Neoconservatives prioritize national security and advocate for strong defense spending to protect against potential threats, often emphasizing the importance of pre-emptive action to prevent threats from materializing.
Critics of neoconservatism argue that its focus on military solutions can lead to aggressive and destabilizing foreign policies. Others claim that diplomacy and development efforts may be more effective in promoting democracy and stability. Notable neoconservative figures include Irving Kristol, often considered the "godfather" of neoconservatism, and his son William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle. In 2022, a Gallup survey revealed that a mere 16% of U.S. citizens held a primarily or highly positive view of the war compared with a survey in 2002 by Pew that 73% of Americans favored military action in Iraq
Neocon, Straussian and Nobel Lie
The relationship between neoconservatism and Straussianism is a complex one. Leo Strauss, a German-American political philosopher, is often associated with the development of neoconservative thought, though his ideas do not entirely align with neoconservatism. Still, some key principles of Straussianism have been adopted by prominent neoconservatives, and the two ideologies have influenced each other to some extent.
Strauss emphasized the importance of classical political philosophy, believing that a return to the ideas of ancient Greek thinkers like Plato and Aristotle would help preserve and restore the core values of Western society. Some key Straussian ideas, such as esotericism, the noble lie, hierarchy and natural inequality, and moral clarity, have been adopted or adapted by some neoconservatives. These ideas resonate with neoconservative thought, particularly with regards to justifying certain foreign policy actions and promoting democracy and Western values.
It is important to note that not all neoconservatives subscribe to Straussian thought, and the two ideologies are not synonymous. Still, the influence of Strauss can be seen in the writings and ideas of some key neoconservative figures, such as Irving Kristol, Allan Bloom, and Paul Wolfowitz. The relationship between neoconservatism and Straussianism is a fascinating one, highlighting the interplay between political philosophy and ideology in shaping policy and political action.
Noble Lie, Narrative Control and The Dilemma
The challenge lies in Plato's theory of "noble lies," which he extensively discusses in his renowned work "Republic" and briefly mentions in the seventh letter while explaining his teaching methodology. Plato refrains from disclosing the full extent of his philosophical beliefs to students who lack a natural inclination towards philosophy, as he fears that the truth might mislead them. "Noble lies" in Plato's view are not malevolent deceptions but a tool to uphold social order and promote the greater good. Plato believes that certain falsehoods, such as the divine creation of humans and the appointment of rulers by divine authority, are necessary to legitimize rulers and prevent dissent and rebellion. Plato stresses the importance of discerning when to reveal the truth and when to use "noble lies" to preserve social order, considering it a necessary evil justified in the pursuit of the greater good.
Apart from the pre-emptive strike and the "export of democracy" to build a world friendly to the US, the US's identification of Iraq as possessing weapons of mass terror may be seen as a noble lie, if not an approach directly to raw data to reach to a conclusion bypassing intelligence bureau, as well as the recent intention to induce narrative control in the Covid-19 vaccine administration program which has been exposed recently in the twitter file. This dilemma has been debated in the context of Plato's concept of "noble lies," famously discussed in his work "Republic" and briefly mentioned in the seventh letter, where he explains his teaching methodology. He states that he never revealed the full extent of his philosophical beliefs to students who were not naturally inclined towards philosophy, fearing they might be led astray by the truth.
In an extreme case where a country faces bioterror via a synthetic pathogen, the concept of noble lies becomes particularly relevant as the government grapples with controlling narratives, addressing disinformation, and maintaining public order during a major crisis, such as a bioweapon attack or a pandemic. The situation may revolve around a government's efforts to manage the crisis, using noble lies as a means of preventing panic and preserving social stability while combating disinformation and conspiracy theories that lead to public unrest and civil disobedience. Following various characters, such as a government official, a journalist, a scientist, and a citizen caught in the chaos, the scenario requires exploring ethical dilemmas as they navigate the line between using noble lies to preserve public safety and upholding democratic values of transparency and truth.
In extreme cases, such as bioterrorism, the government faces a dilemma between two unfavorable choices. To protect the lives of most citizens, the government may opt to enforce vaccine administration but may need to implement a "noble lie" through "narrative control." This approach would involve not disclosing every potential vaccine side effect to prevent a trust deficit fueled by anti-vaxxer attacks. This strategy has been minimally observed in Asia-Pacific states, where there is less rule of law and accountability. In these regions, people may be more accepting of strict measures such as lockdowns, social distancing, and state-administered vaccination programs. However, this approach may backfire if citizens feel that the stringent measures are no longer relevant, as observed in the protests against China's zero-Covid policy in late the previous year. See source code of this Graphviz chart at GitHub.
Given the emphasis on individual rights and freedoms in Western countries with stronger rule of law and accountability, according to Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order, how can governments balance the need to protect public health in the face of a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic with the preservation of these rights? Are there lessons to be learned from countries in the Asia Pacific region, where stronger government intervention in public health matters is often more readily accepted? Moreover, how can we ensure that our political systems and governance structures are resilient enough to manage future public health crises effectively, without compromising our values and principles?
The government may resort to extreme measures like forced vaccination, censorship, or martial law, further blurring the line between noble lies and deception. Ultimately, this scenario could serve as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the importance of accurate information, open dialogue, and protecting individual freedom in a crisis while also questioning the potential justifications and consequences of employing noble lies. Such a narrative fosters conversation and reflection on the complexities and responsibilities of living in a democratic society.
Whither The Noble Lie?
John Mearsheimer, an American political scientist and international relations scholar, asserts in his book "Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics" that states lie for various reasons. These include inter-state lies for strategic advantages, fearmongering to rally domestic support, national mythmaking to bolster national pride, covering up failures to avoid blame, strategic cover to protect sensitive information, and liberal lies to advance democratic values. Mearsheimer argues that lying is an inevitable part of international politics due to the anarchic nature of the international system and states' self-interest.
Although lying can be detrimental, Mearsheimer contends that it is not always so, as it can sometimes serve the greater good or advance important national interests. The complexities of international politics and state relations necessitate a nuanced understanding of the reasons behind state lies and their implications.
Ultimate Libertarian Solution, the Network State
Libertarian techno-optimism, fueled by growing distrust in traditional governance and disillusionment with the anarchic nature of the international system, has led to the emergence of the "network state" concept. This alternative model is built on modern technologies like cryptocurrencies, AI, and NFTs, seeking to bypass the conventional governance structures based on public administration. Network states tends to prioritize decentralization, individual autonomy, and free markets. Libertarians generally believe that centralized government systems are inefficient, prone to corruption, and restrict personal liberties. They argue that technology can enable self-governance and empower individuals to make their own choices without the need for state intervention.
The Network State: Source
Rapid technological advancements, such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies, have enabled the creation of alternative governance structures like network states. These decentralized organizations and systems can operate independently of traditional state control, making the idea of network states more feasible and attractive. Additionally, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, network states offer a model that resonates with those valuing global cooperation and collaboration, transcending geographical boundaries and facilitating international cooperation as an alternative to the competitive, self-interested nature of traditional state systems.
The rise of cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and decentralized organizations has fueled this optimism, as these technologies promise to democratize access to financial systems, reduce the power of central authorities, and enable peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries. The collapse of banks, particularly during the 2008 financial crisis, has reinforced the skepticism of traditional governance among techno-libertarians. This event exposed the flaws in the centralized financial system, including the risk of systemic failures, the influence of powerful institutions, and the potential for moral hazard.
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As a result, the financial crisis intensified the search for alternative governance and financial structures, leading to the development and adoption of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The underlying premise of these technologies is that they can function without the need for centralized control, thereby reducing the power and influence of traditional institutions, such as banks and governments.
However, this techno-optimism has also faced criticism. Detractors argue that relying solely on technology to solve complex societal problems is overly simplistic and naive. They contend that technology can also exacerbate inequalities, facilitate criminal activities, and contribute to environmental degradation. Furthermore, the lack of regulation and oversight in decentralized systems can lead to fraud, market manipulation, and other issues.
In summary, libertarian techno-optimism is skeptical of traditional governance and public administration due to its preference for decentralization, individual autonomy, and the belief that technology can create better, more efficient systems. The collapse of banks and the 2008 financial crisis have reinforced these views, as they exposed the flaws of centralized systems and the need for alternatives. However, critics caution that relying solely on technology is not a panacea for society's challenges and can create its own set of problems.