Anonymous and the Social Contract

When, in February 2017, a hacker associated with the internet activist group Anonymous launched a cyber attack on the “dark web”, few people complained. After all, the dark web is dark for a reason – it’s the murky, largely untraceable area of the internet that supplies everything from fake passports to child pornography.


Not all of Anonymous’s “victims” are so universally loathed. Here are just a few of their many targets:

  • government agencies of the U.S., Israel, Tunisia, Uganda, and others;
  • the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant;
  • copyright protection agencies;
  • the Westboro Baptist Church;
  • and corporations such as PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and Sony.

They have also publicly supported WikiLeaks and the Occupy movement.

Granted, Anonymous has no centralised command and is more like a brand than an organised group with a coherent ideology, but the above list is still so diverse as to be baffling if you’re seeking to determine the group’s raison d’etre.

The American government, for all its faults, is some way off that of Uganda where, aided by the stateanti-gay sentiment is growing rather than receding. The Westboro Baptist Church has been targeted by Anonymous presumably for its vulgar, highly public campaigns against homosexuality, yet Anonymous’s activists also target Israel – the only place in the Middle East where it is truly safe to be gay.

The group’s cyber attacks on ISIS are less divisive from a western point of view, and while most will agree the Islamic State is barbarous in many respects there is something deeply illiberal about Anonymous attacking a burgeoning state simply because they have philosophical disagreements with it. As for the attacks on financial corporations, well, they are predictable, but the point of the attacks is still rather opaque. Destroy the credit card corporations and humanity will just have to start again and build new ones.

Anonymous’s support of Wikileaks suggests anarchist leanings – the anarchism of the right rather than that of the left. Their support for Occupy really tells us nothing, except that they sided with the little guy over the banking industry, but most Occupy members would probably favour expansion of the state apparatus given the choice.

When Anonymous makes decisions to attack organisations, governments, religious groups and corporations it is breaking the law. That is bad enough. But even more nefarious is that it does so without any ideological consistency.

hobbes-leviathanThomas Hobbes famously believed that the natural way of things for humanity is a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” life. He said that in the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms – including the freedom to plunder, rape, and murder, etc. To avoid this, he wrote, “free men contract with each other to establish political community through a social contract in which they all gain security in return for subjecting themselves to an absolute Sovereign, one man or an assembly of men”.

It is easy to cheerlead for Anonymous when they target groups we ourselves find reprehensible. However, we should be careful not to exchange law and order for populist vigilantism. Hobbes’s philosophy was clearly shaped by his experiences of the Thirty Years War, the horrors of which we can’t even begin to imagine. But the long period of peace we now enjoy in Europe is due in no small part to the Social Contract. We should not need to be reminded of its importance.



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