The Political Theology of Crypto

“All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”

-Carl Schmitt, Political Theology

Crypto is a religion insofar that statism is also a religion. 

Both rely on a belief and faith of their respective systems to actualize the value of their laws in a meaningful way. Within contemporary legal systems, the value of law is actualized through people who are invested with the authority of law, and the ability to enforce the law with direct legal violence — for better or worse. Within crypto systems, the rules are enforced by the code alone — there is no subjective character about it, nor any violence that needs to be applied. 

What allows for the operation of both of these systems is the ‘oath’ that has been taken to consecrate the laws of each system. In legal systems, man is bonded to the law through his oath and obligation to it; within cryptosystems, it is the private key that bonds the code to the outcome. 

Each system must enforce the rules of their systems accordingly to actualize the value of their system of law, or the system must have the possibility of exceptions to any rules; in which case all contemporary law proves its ‘situational’ nature. As Schmitt says, “For the legal system to make sense a normal situation must exist, and he who is sovereign definitely decides whether this normal situation actually exist.” 

Contemporary systems of legal power comprises of the oaths of men, who can break their oaths as easily as they are stated. The authority of any and all men has the same weight and power as temporal is their nature; and so it must be the same for the laws of such men. Men have proven over millennia that they cannot keep their word to the law, and thus shows the very base corruption of any system of law created by the oaths of men and enforcement via violence. With the infinite ‘exceptions’ men of power may always make for themselves, and how anyone can be deprived of the law through the label of ‘enemy’, we see the abyss in which all law will fail before its actualization. 

The oaths of machines are something fundamentally and distinctly different from that of men. Machines cannot lie. They are semantically incapable of it: it is impossible. 

Due to the very nature and being of what their language/code is and how it must express itself, the machines have their entire existence as a form of communication at stake and enmeshed in the code/language itself. 

For the reason that, “the oath can function as a sacrament of power insofar as it is first of all the sacraments of language” it becomes messianic tool of the economic ontology within a digital globalized capitalist society. There is no methodology of sovereign exception within code; the oaths of machines towards their semantic obligations must be fulfilled because they are entirely enmeshed with the communication itself. There is no possibility of an exception within the code because the law of code is not interpreted, but compiled. The code operates under a binary methodology of truth-as-its-being and nothing else. This creates a totally new strategy of ‘law’, as there is no longer the need for enforcement of any kind, or the violence that must go with it. 

By the nature of what code is, there is no room for any kind of exception. 

The reason that such a beautiful and imperious system like Bitcoin can exist is because of the way that the private key functions within cryptographic systems as a fundamental and inviolable sacrosanct of power. The private key consummates a form of power that assures, proves, and protects its privacy with no exceptions beyond the math which creates it. This is not for our unwillingness to violate such systems, but because of the total imperium of mathematics to which such systems are beholden.

No human or machine has any power to move the mathematics that animates cryptography beyond its limits. The ontological form of the ‘language’ of cryptosystems are direct truth-bearing statements using cryptography as their lex. Each and every bitcoin transaction is a statement of truth regarding the production and social ownership of the coins. The only way that it is possible for coins to be exchanged is through the exposure of the private key, and nothing else.

It is from the inviolability of the mathematics which animates cryptography that a new form of economic, social, and political power has been created: cryptosovereignty. By rendering the violent physical force of the state legal machine and other barbaric adversaries useless in the digital space, crypto creates a kind of value that is totally and completely outside of the control of any and all states through a liturgy of math which renders the physical world repugnant. Bitcoin is the creation of a new kind of socio-political digital-economic commonwealth which is the resounding and messianic answer to the question: quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Exception of the State

To take Carl Schmitt’s dictum from the beginning of this essay, we can invert it in the same way that Walter Benjamin does in his Critique of Violence for another perspective to be offered: 

“Just as in all spheres God opposes myth, mythical violence is confronted by the divine. And the latter constitutes its antithesis in all respects. If mythical violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythical violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.”

Walter Benjamin, Critique of Violence

To see a uniquely different path towards a real form of common-wealth and law through cryptographic systems which banishes the forces of violence from having bearing on the systems. To exchange the power of violence to enforce the law, for the power truth to bare the law, is to commit the most revolutionary act that has even been done. For without the power of violence to have bearing on the system of wealth, a radical new form of economic power is birthed into the world, with the resounding thunder of, “Fiat justitia, ne pereat mundus.

Through a total and radical incapacity to use violence as an enforcement mechanism of cryptosystems through protecting people’s privacy directly through cryptographic protocols; cryptocurrencies completely banish the state apparatus and violent force from the monetary systems of cryptocurrencies. Crypto absconds from the law, the state, and all their various forms of violence that must consummate all law by blinding such legal systems from the outset–anonymizing and homogenizing all actors within the system to protect everyone’s identity from the outset. This allows for a truly common form of wealth to be created where all actors within the system are equals, and no person has any sort of special power over the system–all participants are truly equal.

The power-knowledge of what crypto truly is decrypts an immanent and ancient form of power that unites magic, religion, and law into a single language once again. Crypto unlocks an ancient form of political theology which uses the power of truth to ensure that the ‘laws’ of the system cannot be broken. As I have stated before, this allows for anyone to invert the Hobbesian dictum of sovereign power from “Auctoritas, non veritas facit legem” (Authority, not truth makes legitimacy)


“Veritas, non auctoritas facit legem.” (Truth, not authority makes legitimacy)

Through the absolute glory of the power of truth, and the total demand of the math which consummates such a form of power proves itself continuously with its unbreakability and the absolute value it has to protect one’s wealth from any law, violence, or other. By the virtue of truth, and our capacity to recognizing the value of a system of economic exchange in which the state cannot capture, or violently destroy; we understand the true power and political theology of such a system.

Through giving our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor over to this new form of common-wealth that is beyond the temporal power of any state laws or government to destroy or steal from us; we create, together, a new form of value and wealth that has the potential to change everything.

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. Our understanding of what crypto is, why it was invented, and how it protects us through the knowledge it imparts has us arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. It is now clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against technological fascism will thereby improve. 

Erik is a crypto-anarchist, iconoclast, and thinker that has been working in the bitcoin ecosystem since 2012. His primary concerns are the intersections of political, economic, and social theory as they relate to bitcoin specifically and crypto generally.