The Silk Road was a valuable counterbalance to government intrusion

Silk Road 2.0 is already set to launch.

Last week Ross William Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested for violation of US narcotics law. Ulbricht is founder of Silk Road a website dubbed "eBay for drugs". Silk Road, now closed, was accessible via Tor, a server system originally designed by the US Navy, that protects anonymity of the user "by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world".

The Tor download page also states its purpose to "defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security". It lists its users as families, journalists and state bodies all concerned about privacy and seeking unscrutinised web access.

Such libertarianism has, as you would expect, encouraged a market. Websites such as Silk Road have championed their statelessness on the "dark web" and made a market for substances and services that would be illegal and largely unavailable on the street. Drug varieties were catalogued and suppliers reviewed much like eBay. Dealers were anonymous and money was often held by an intermediary to ensure reputable and fair transactions. The currency was Bitcoins.

Ulbricht is alleged to have hired a hitman, via Silk Road, to take out a former employee who was attempting to blackmail him. Ulbricht himself is a physics graduate who champions liberty of the individual created by unrestricted markets and an absence of imposing and violent masters.

His LinkedIn account reveals: "I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind… I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force."

The power of free markets to improve the world remains at the centre of the Western liberal project. It is rightly seen as the vehicle to lift developing economies and bring about harmony and common interest in a diverse world. The role of states and governments in this process will be a subject of constant debate. The internet, as shown by the Arab Spring, has gone a long way to complementing processes typical of free markets. However with the advent of Wikileaks, cyber warfare, 3D printing and Bitcoins governments have a mandate to monitor and protect.

But Silk Road has its guardians too. It was credited by its creators and users as mitigating gangs and cartels, providing quality and going someway to breaking dependency cycles (by breaking people’s relationships with dealers on the street) – all objectives the unsuccessful state waged War on Drugs has put a premium on.

Those with the hard power couched in law courts, the Pentagon and GCHQ tread the razor’s edge of freedom. Real security stems from mutual interests (often embodied by healthy markets), not arbitrary censorship that makes enemies by miscomprehension.

Two key points will illuminate the road ahead: Following the closure of a website selling illegal drugs, Bitcoin fell 8.6 per cent, wiping approximately $130 million of its value, and Silk Road 2.0 is already set to launch.

Read more by Alex Matchett

This piece first appeared in Spear's Magazine

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Show Hide image

Let's talk about Daniel Hannan, Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler

The downside of Godwin's Law.

One of the enduring mysteries about Daniel Hannan is why he deletes so many of his tweets. The other is why, when he deletes so many, he leaves so many other absolutely clunkingly braindead observations on the internet for all to see. It's like he isn't ashamed of them. It's like he doesn't even know.

Anyway – one advantage of these lapses in Hannan's online hygiene is that it allows me to find out about particular highlights weeks after the event. So it was that Twitter user @eurosluggard tipped me off to this absolute gem from 31 January.

It's worth actually expanding every individual image there, just so we can really revel in the fact that Hannan chose to tweet so many lovely memes showing senior politicians as Nazis. (I'd embed the tweet, but I’m frightened the bugger would delete it.)

And, my personal favourite:

This is quite ludicrous enough in itself. That both the left, and online debate in general, are a bit quick to call people Nazis is not in dispute (Godwin coined his Law for a reason). That Daniel Hannan chose to highlight this by tweeting a picture showing the man who led his party for 11 years dressed as a Nazi is, nonetheless, objectively hilarious, and not in the way he presumably intended.

However – to really understand the full insanity of this tweet you have to scroll back a bit. Here's the tweet that kicked the whole thing off:

Which is some rather spectacular point-missing in action. Nobody, best I can tell, is talking about banning President Trump from the UK altogether (in stark contrast to his administration's policies, which genuinely would ban certain countries' citizens from the US). The argument was actually about whether he should get a full state visit with all the bells and whistles and posh dinners and the Queen.

Declining to lay out the red carpet for someone is not the same as preventing their visit altogether. This is the same sleight of hand that happens when the Brendan O’Neills of this world conflate "no platform-ing" with "the erosion of free speech". Nobody has so far offered me a $250,000 book deal, but sadly, I don't think this is because I am being deliberately censored.

Whether Hannan is being consciously duplicitous, or is merely a bit thick, is, as ever, an open question. At any rate, other Twitter users decided to point out that he was being a little bit cheeky.


And that's where we came in:

There's another sleight of hand here – another elision between two related, but distinct, concepts. Can you see it?

It's this: he's leapt from gerenic accusations of fascism to the specific one that Donald Trump is like Hitler. But Hitler wasn't the entirety of Nazism, which was in turn only one form of fascism. Something can be fascistic without necessarily looking anything like Naziism.

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. But some of his policies, and much of his rhetoric – the rallies, the demonisation of outsiders, the attacks on the media, the swing to protectionism, "Make America Great Again" – contain enough echoes of fascism to, at the very least, make "Is Donald Trump a facist?" a question worth discussing.

Consequently it’s being discussed, rather a lot, by the American media. Hannan’s tweet implies that it is only silly hysterical lefties that could possibly be concerned with such matters.

There's another elision at work in Hannan's tweet. Comparisons between Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler are quite obviously ridiculous. So are those involving Mitt Romney, and John McCain, and David Cameron: none of them was a fascist, or anything like.

Donald Trump, though, might be. By placing him in that company, Daniel Hannan is implying that he is just another centre-right politician, being unfairly demonised by the left. He isn't.

I don't believe for a moment he's done this deliberately: Daniel Hannan is many things, but a fascist he is not. But in his heartfelt belief that everything must be the fault of the left, he's ended up implying that all liberal criticism of Donald Trump as an extremist is illegitimate.

There is a real downside to the tendency for online political debate to leap to words like fascist, as expressed in Godwin's Law: it deprives us of the language to describe the rise to power of something that genuinely looks like right-wing extremism. But just because we often cry wolf, that doesn't mean there's never a wolf at the door.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.