The Californian Ideology

“The Californian Ideology” is a 1995 essay by English media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron of theUniversity of Westminster. Barbrook describes it as a “critique of dotcom neoliberalism”.[1] In the essay, Barbrook and Cameron argue that the rise of networking technologies in Silicon Valley in the 1990s was linked to Americanneoliberalism and a paradoxical hybridization of beliefs from the political left and right in the form of hopefultechnological determinism.

The original essay was published in Mute magazine[2] in 1995 and later appeared on the nettime Internet mailing list for debate. A final version was published in Science as Culture in 1996. The critique has since been revised in several different versions and languages.[1]

Andrew Leonard of Salon called Barbrook & Cameron’s work “one of the most penetrating critiques of neo-conservative digital hypesterism yet published.”[3] Louis Rossetto, former editor and publisher of Wired magazine, called it an “anal retentive attachment to failed 19th century social and economic analysis”.




During the 1990s, members of the entrepreneurial class in the information technology industry in Silicon Valley vocally promoted an ideology that combined the ideas of Marshall McLuhan with elements of radical individualism,libertarianism, and neoliberal economics, using publications like Wiredmagazine to promulgate their ideas. This ideology mixed New Left and New Right beliefs together based on their shared interest in anti-statism, thecounterculture of the 1960s, and techno-utopianism.[5]

Proponents believed that in a post-industrial, post-capitalist, knowledge-based economy, the exploitation of information and knowledge would drive growth and wealth creation while diminishing the older power structures of the state in favor of connected individuals in virtual communities.[6]

Critics contend that the Californian Ideology has strengthened the power of corporations over the individual and has increased social stratification, and remains distinctly Americentric. Barbrook argues that members of the digerati who adhere to the Californian Ideology, embrace a form ofreactionary modernism. According to Barbrook, “American neo-liberalism seems to have successfully achieved the contradictory aims of reactionary modernism: economic progress and social immobility. Because the long-term goal of liberating everyone will never be reached, the short-term rule of the digerati can last forever.”[7]


According to Fred Turner, sociologist Thomas Streeter of the University of Vermont notes that the Californian Ideology appeared as part of a pattern of Romantic individualism with Stewart Brand as a key influence.[8]Adam Curtis connects the origins of the Californian Ideology to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand.[9]


While in general agreement with Barbrook & Cameron’s central thesis, David Hudson of Rewired takes issue with their portrayal of Wired magazine’s position as representative of every viewpoint in the industry. “What Barbrook is saying between the lines is that the people with their hands on the reins of power in all of the wired world…are guided by an utterly skewed philosophical construct.” Hudson maintains that there is not one, but a multitude of different ideologies at work.[10]

Andrew Leonard of Salon calls the essay “a lucid lambasting of right-wing libertarian digerati domination of the Internet” and “one of the most penetrating critiques of neo-conservative digital hypesterism yet published.” Leonard also notes the “vitriolic” response from Louis Rossetto, former editor and publisher of Wired magazine.[3]

Rossetto issued a rebuttal to the original version published in Mute magazine, calling it “a totally out-to-lunch excursion”, “a descent into the kind of completely stupid comments on race in America that only smug Europeans can even attempt”, an “utterly laughable Marxist/Fabian kneejerk that there is such a thing as the info-haves and have-nots”, an “anal retentive attachment to failed 19th century social and economic analysis” and finally, “a profound ignorance of economics”.[11]

Gary Kamiya, also of Salon, recognized the validity of the main points in the essay, but like Rossetto, Kamiya attacked Barbrook & Cameron’s “ludicrous academic-Marxist claim that high-tech libertarianism somehow represents a recrudescence of racism.”[12]

Architecture historian Kazys Varnelis of Columbia University found that in spite of the privatization advocated by the Californian Ideology, the economic growth of Silicon Valley and California were “made possible only due to exploitation of the immigrant poor and defense funding…government subsidies for corporations and exploitation of non-citizen poor: a model for future administrations.”[13]

In the 2011 documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Curtis concludes that the Californian Ideology failed to live up to its claims:

The original promise of the Californian Ideology, was that the computers would liberate us from all the old forms of political control, and we would become Randian heroes, in control of our own destiny. Instead, today, we feel the opposite—that we are helpless components in a global system—a system that is controlled by a rigid logic that we are powerless to challenge or to change.[9]

See also


  1. Barbrook 2007, Imaginary Futures: Other Works.
  2. Jump up^ The Californian Ideology, Barbrook, Cameron, 1995-09, Mute Vol 1 #3 CODE, ISSN 1356-7748, Mute, London,
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b Leonard, Andrew (1999-09-10), The Cybercommunist Manifesto,, retrieved2012-11-01
  4. Jump up^ Barbrook & Cameron, Revised SaC Version; Borsook 2000, p. 173
  5. Jump up^ Ouellet 2010; May 2002
  6. Jump up^ May 2002
  7. Jump up^ Barbrook 1999
  8. Jump up^ Turner 2006, p. 285
  9. ^ Jump up to:a b Curtis 2011
  10. Jump up^ Hudson 1996
  11. Jump up^ Rossetto 1996
  12. Jump up^ Kamiya 1997
  13. Jump up^ Varnelis 200


Further reading

External links



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