Earlier today, Amanda (Billyrock) Johnson published an article claiming that Bitcoin is Not a Tool for Freedom. In it, she makes the claim that Bitcoin, like all tools, is neutral. As evidence, she points to the ID3 project, which seeks to function as an identity card for digital transactions. These concerns are echoed in a recent video by Stefan Molyneux, in which he details the threats to Bitcoin from the State and its co-conspirators.

But are tools really neutral? That depends on what one means by “neutral.” Tools do not have agency; they do not have a will of their own, and their effect is derived from how they are used by human beings who do have agency, motives, and desired outcomes. In that sense, they are neutral.

At the same time, different tools have different purposes to which they are best-suited. Saying that Bitcoin is not a tool for freedom is much like saying that a hammer is not a tool for pounding nails. A hammer has no will or ability to act on its own, and is unlikely to protest when used for purposes to which it is ill-suited, and yet a hammer is very much a tool for pounding nails (among other things). It is decidedly not a tool for sweeping floors.

Amanda’s example of a neutral tool, a gun, is a very good example of a tool that has something close to a neutral purpose. It is tremendously useful for both liberty and tyranny, which is why tyrants seek to limit its use solely to agents of oppression. But are all tools equally useful for freedom fighters as for despots?

That is simply not the case. Large-scale nuclear weapons, for example, cannot be used in a way compatible with human liberty, as their use cannot target only the guilty and their area of effect is too wide to focus solely on the deserving (even discounting the long-term effects of radiation pollution).

On the other hand, cryptography and the tools such as Bitcoin that have been developed from it are far more useful for the promotion of human liberty than for its negation. Yes, increased anonymity (which is possible through, but not inherent to Bitcoin) could mean secret funding for government projects (something which is already managed today without cryptocurrency). It also means an end run around certain types of prohibition, including the simple prohibition known as “money laundering” in which individuals defend themselves against theft. It means being able to move a medium of exchange through customs without declaring it. It means defense against civil forfeiture. It means getting the products you need without risking back-alleys or members of State-sanctioned cartels. It means the transfer of information without the prying eyes of the NSA. These are all things that cryptography and Bitcoin enable right now.

If Bitcoin becomes widely-used, it would end the modern warfare state, which thrives on State control of the money supply. Yes, it also could mean that banks or regulators could require the ID3 tag for transactions, giving them data about transfers of money through public channels — data that they’re either already getting with credit cards or will be getting fairly soon. Even if both these things happen, liberty wins.

I agree with Amanda that Bitcoin will not end the nation-state. It will, however, weaken the nation-state in key ways proportionally to the effectiveness with which entrepreneurs, both liberty-minded and simply self-interested, harness the technology in ways that make it easier for individuals (libertarian or otherwise) to go around the state than to comply with its demands.

Some tools favor our cause. As friends of liberty, the most useful thing we can do is to take up these tools and use them as hammers to smash the State.