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Lawrence Lessig1 History makes insight seem easy. Generations later, what was amazing seems obvious. After decades of confirmation and reflection and commerce, the radically new and important is confirmed. Once confirmed, the historians get to point to it. There is an “it,” at some moment. Everything important seems to follow. But at the time when that “it” gets born, its significance is not obvious. Its importance or potential is not clear. Indeed, most at the time don’t even get it. Most don’t see why the thing that will someday be “critically important” is, or was, then. Most, but not all. This book is about two souls who are not among that “most.” The one, the author, David Post, has seen a future for the Internet for as long as I’ve known him; the other, the admired, Thomas Jefferson, saw the future for a Republic, and struggled with how to get others to see. Post is a founder of a field of legal thought called “the law of cyberspace.” He mapped its contours before most had a browser. That map was an inspiration, mainly. It was bent, but only by an optimism about how people might live. He had architected a framework that seemed to him inevitable. That inevitable is not yet here. This book continues his map. And perhaps because he recognizes just how difficult it will be to get people to understand something that is so radically different, he has crafted that map on the model of perhaps America’s greatest political architect, Jefferson. But like Jefferson, Post wants to show us, not tell us. He wants you to look at things that can’t help but change how you see the familiar. He wants to set before you pieces which when seen together, when synthesized, change how you think about something you thought was familiar. He wants that synthesized view to convince you of just how significant this new world could be.
Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.
What he has shown us here will teach about more than just cyberspace. Post remains among the most insightful theorists of cyberlaw. But this book connects that theory to the very best of the idealism about what the American Republic could have been. At the time that question troubled Jefferson, there was an endless frontier to the West. After Jefferson cheated his own constitutional principles to secure the Louisiana Purchase, there would be an endless American frontier to the West. By purchasing that future, and tying it to a set of ideals about freedom, Jefferson hoped to leave us with a Republic perpetually young, with citizens forever devoted to the discipline of creating with their hands, and with a government selected by these responsible citizens, focused only on a public good. The west was not endless. We citizens were not all yeomen. And government quickly found foci beyond the public good. Jefferson’s Republic was not secured. Jefferson’s Republic was lost. Unless, of course, cyberspace revives it. For better than anything I have ever studied, this work makes compelling the link between Jefferson’s ideals and the potential of a particular version of cyberspace. There is an architecture of that space that would assure an endless frontier to the West. There is a virtue that could come from crafting that frontier, and from the yeoman work it would take to build it. And there is a Republic that would be formed, and secured, both there, and possibly here, if we could live that life with the idealism, and the principles, that Jefferson, through Post, celebrates. Post thinks of cyberspace, like Jefferson thought of America, as some place different. As an exception, at least if practiced with the right values. At a time when the rage to restore control in cyberspace only grows, Post’s beautiful book is a powerful balance. You will see this space differently after this short work. You will understand the brilliance of Jefferson more. And the two together might well make this book Post’s moose: For after a decade and a half of watching most deny what David Post has asserted, I agree with the feeling he no doubt had when he put this book to bed: They must see it now.