Bitcoin is often described as being apolitical. It means that Bitcoin does not care about the political stance of its users. But how apolitical is Bitcoin itself? And does it perhaps require better semantics?
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Bitcoin is many things. Bitcoin as a currency is divisible, fungible, easily transportable, durable, verifiable, scarce, universally accepted, and easily securable. Bitcoin as a network is stateless, decentralized, censorship-resistant, permissionless, non-discriminatory, trustless, pseudonymous, open source, and is based on consensus and incentive mechanisms, as well as verification and computation (I may have even forgotten many other properties). But is Bitcoin truly apolitical, as often claimed?
Definition of political
It is often claimed that Bitcoin is apolitical. But what does that exactly mean? The simplest explanation is that Bitcoin is accessible to everyone and can be used by anyone, regardless of their political views and disposition. Inversely, it can be used in theory for political purposes of any ideology. Bitcoin is indifferent to politics in this sense. The Bitcoin network does not judge, discriminate, or hold any opinion. A transaction is a transaction, regardless of the originator or sender, and regardless of the recipient. Transactions do not need to be labeled, thus the network has no way to determine whether a transaction is good or bad, whether it is used to transfer funds from one wallet to another, or whether it is sent from one country to another to support morally questionable motives. In this regard, Bitcoin is apolitical: the network does not discriminate or judge based on political inclinations. But this is actually just the definition of the previously mentioned attribute of Bitcoin’s neutrality (in my opinion, a better way to express “Bitcoin does not discriminate”).
But non-discrimination or neutrality does not necessarily mean being non-political or apolitical. The definition of this adjective strictly means:
 Having no interest or involvement in politics; Disinterest in such matters.
 Having no political relevance or function.
The first definition, we can certainly agree, should be fulfilled. Bitcoin is not interested in politics. Bitcoin is a network, a protocol, a system. Bitcoin is only concerned with itself. Its own preservation and the rules established in the protocol: Approximately every 10 minutes a new block is produced, regardless of the amount of computational power available to the network, regardless of the number of transactions to be added, regardless of the number of network participants involved.
However, the second definition becomes a bit more complicated. Bitcoin was created by Satoshi as a Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System that solves the inherent weaknesses of the current trust-based model of the financial system. Satoshi already identified the problem back in 2009:
The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust.
The Genesis Block itself contains what is arguably the most famous and most often cited of all messages ever immortalized in the Bitcoin timechain:
Hence, the conception and creation of the Bitcoin protocol itself is already a political act. Bitcoin presents an alternative to our current monetary system and, in the best case scenario, aims to replace it. Bitcoin positions itself as a counterpart to the state, which currently acts as the guardian and master of the monetary system. The state is inherently a political entity. Therefore, when competing with something that falls under the jurisdiction of the state, it automatically becomes political.
Building on from the last argument, this by no means implies that every person who uses Bitcoin is automatically subjected to a political act or pursues anarchist, libertarian, or liberal goals themselves. However, it cannot be denied that Bitcoin and its aim to create an alternative to the current prevailing monetary system constitutes an inherently political statement.
If Bitcoin is not apolitical or explicitly political, one could argue that it is at least anti-political. The state (the most political entity there is) and its control over the monetary system are the declared adversaries of Bitcoin. Thus, Bitcoin positions itself as a challenger to a system that places power in the hands of a few. In politics, those who espouse the most popular opinion (if things go well) or gather the most force behind them (if things don’t go so well) prevail or rule. A system of rulers. In the Bitcoin network, those who most efficiently utilize the incentive structures (miners, mining pools, Lightning routing channel operators, etc.) or most effectively leverage Bitcoin for their own benefit and contribute to the ecosystem’s growth (entrepreneurs, experts, developers, etc.) are the winners. A system of rules. The political beliefs of these network participants play absolutely no role whatsoever. It doesn’t matter whether a node operator collects pickelhaubes at home or writes Bitcoin protocols wearing a Che Guevara T-Shirt. What unites them is the common stance against the status quo.
The declared opponent
The current monetary system has many disadvantages, listing them all would exceed the scope of this article, but some prominent ones can be easily identified: rent-seeking, every Bitcoiner’s favorite topic, the Cantillon effect, currency debasement, and monetary policy all share the same underlying problem. They all fall victim to political influence exercised by and for the benefit of a few (privileged) individuals. What may be promising and profitable for a handful of individual beneficiaries is harmful and financially damaging for the collective. Bitcoin provides an alternative to this. It can be argued that the existing supply and wealth distribution within the Bitcoin system are already unjust. However, this distribution only benefits the individuals without harming the collective. Owners of large amounts of Bitcoin can exert as much or as little influence on the system as those who possess relatively small amounts. Bitcoin is an opportunity of sorts, not an “equalizer”.
If there is anything of value, whether it be money, precious metals, or other assets, there will always be people who possess more of it than others — that is an undeniable fact of nature, and Bitcoin will not be able to change that. However, Bitcoin provides the necessary incentive structures to increase one’s share. As mentioned earlier, entrepreneurial spirit, expertise, and hard work of those who contribute to the network are rewarded. In contrast to the current system, where not only entrepreneurial spirit and labor are rewarded, but also (and often more) political influence, prestige, power, or even proximity and close access to the spheres of influential interest groups. Corruption, lobbying, and political favoritism therefore lead to unproductive work, where only the recipient directly benefits.
Bitcoin is (anti-) political
Bitcoin eliminates this political favoritism and is therefore anti-political. In this sense, Bitcoin is indeed political, as being anti-political is the opposite of “having no political relevance or function” as seen in the paragraph above. The state assumed the role of a kind of religion for many people, and in a certain way, Bitcoin is to the state what the printing press was to religion back then.
Religion itself, not the individual sermons, is actually apolitical following the first definition. Although one could argue that followers of certain religions are generally found within the same range of the political spectrum, it doesn’t inherently make religion political. However, the separation of church and state can indeed be described as a highly political act.
Where Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire advocated for an appeal to reason as the universal arbiter of judgment and initiated a fight against prejudices and for a turn towards natural sciences, religious tolerance, and an alignment with natural law, Bitcoin and its proponents aim for a departure from state-controlled financial and economic interventions infused with fiscal and monetary policies and instead advocate for values such as decentralization, censorship resistance, and individual autonomy.
The same applies to the separation of state and money. Money itself, not the weaponized use of it, is inherently apolitical following the first definition. However, the separation of money and state is a highly political act. Likewise, the misuse of money to achieve political goals is highly political. As mentioned earlier, Bitcoin is politicized in this manner, albeit as a counterproposal. It serves as an anti-political alternative to the flawed political fiat system.
What I mean to say is that Bitcoin is inherently political. It is simply a different paradigm from the prevailing political thinking today. Bitcoin remains permissionless and value-neutral, making its general usage apolitical. However, specific use cases can become political, they constitute political acts. Bitcoin donations to WikiLeaks have political implications. Bitcoin donations to the Freedom Convoy in Canada are political. Bitcoin donations to Hodlonaut are political, even if they pertain to the internal politics within the Bitcoin ecosystem.
So it is not accurate to simply say “Bitcoin is apolitical.” It is more accurate to say that Bitcoin does not hold a political opinion and cannot be easily instrumentalized for political influence. Remember, Bitcoin is a protocol, a network of many, and it only concerns itself with its own functioning. However, Bitcoin is indeed political in nature, because the acts it embodies are anti-political and therefore have political relevance or function. 🎤