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.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.