The Californian Ideology

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"The Californian Ideology" is a 1995 essay by English media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron of the University 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 American neoliberalism and a paradoxical hybridization of beliefs from the political left and right in the form of hopeful technological 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]


"This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley...the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies."

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron[4]

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 Wired magazine to promulgate their ideas. This ideology mixed New Left and New Right beliefs together based on their shared interest in anti-statism, the counterculture 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 of reactionary 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's rebuttal, also published in Mute, criticized it as showing "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[edit]


  1. ^ a b Barbrook 2007, Imaginary Futures: Other Works.
  2. ^ The Californian Ideology, Barbrook, Cameron, 1995-09, Mute Vol 1 #3 CODE, ISSN 1356-7748, Mute, London,
  3. ^ a b Leonard, Andrew (1999-09-10), "The Cybercommunist Manifesto",, retrieved 2012-11-01
  4. ^ Barbrook & Cameron, Revised SaC Version; Borsook 2000, p. 173
  5. ^ Ouellet 2010; May 2002
  6. ^ May 2002
  7. ^ Barbrook 1999
  8. ^ Turner 2006, p. 285
  9. ^ a b Curtis 2011
  10. ^ Hudson 1996
  11. ^ Rossetto, Louis (1996), Response to the Californian Ideology, archived from the original on 1997-06-14{{citation}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  12. ^ Kamiya 1997
  13. ^ Varnelis 2009


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]