Neocybernetic Governance and the End of Politics

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* Article: Res Publica ex Machina: On Neocybernetic Governance and the End of Politics. by FELIX MASCHEWSKI & ANNA-VERENA NOSTHOFF. Institute of Network Cultures, October, 2018


Contextual Quote

“The problem of representation and the divergence between the rulers and the ruled, including the classic political-theoretical problem of how to overcome or mediate this divide, has – according to the cybernetic conception of government – become partially obsolete. In fact, it is thought to be resolved by a conception of politics that can continually establish orders through a real-time regulation of crowds, masses and affects. The political task par excellence becomes the (direct or indirect) creation of order(s) from noise, whereby the state’s goal is reduced to its mere systematic survival, what Habermas termed – in a more critical vein – equivalent to ‘the biological base of survival at any cost, that is, ultrastability.’”




"In 2017, Denmark sent the first digital ambassador, Casper Klynge, to Silicon Valley. The aim of this move of ‘techplomacy’ was, as Klynge explained, not simply to distribute greetings notes by the Danish queen. Rather, the intention was to ‘update diplomacy’ based on the recognition that a few tech companies have obviously become much ‘more influential than some nation states’. Klynge framed the new political course in the manner of a well-known old but still utterly contemporary mantra: ‘There is no alternative’. In a similar vein, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelson highlighted the importance of the step as follows: ‘Just as we engage in a diplomatic dialogue with countries, we also need to establish and prioritize comprehensive relations with tech actors, such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and so on. (…) The idea is, we see a lot of companies and new technologies that will in many ways involve and be part of everyday life of citizens in Denmark.'



"The idea to implement tech on new political test grounds is ... mirrored by recent digital initiatives which focus more explicitly on the nation-state. The most poignant concepts in this realm include ideas such as ‘algorithmic regulation’, ‘government as a platform’ (Tim O’Reilly), ‘direct technocracy’ viz. ‘info-states’ (Parag Khanna), ‘smart states’ (Beth Noveck), or ‘social physics’ (Alex Pentland), to name a few. It is vital to explore some of these concepts in greater detail and on a more theoretical and philosophical level. What form of politics is implicitly being promoted in this context? As we argue, this question is best examined against the background of an understanding of these concepts as very idiosyncratic reformulations of cybernetic approaches to the political, which date back to the 1960s. We explore how the implicit visions and concepts rearticulate early concepts of cybernetic politics in their insistence on the vitality of feedback structures, in allegedly blending hierarchy with tenets of decentralization, in shifting the focus from the individual to the interrelations between humans, including the social fabric encompassing them and, most importantly, in how far this might raise problems. Subsequently, this rather theoretical perspective will allow us to examine the extent to which such neo-cybernetic concepts promote a rather reduced vision of the political, or politics as such. As we argue, current approaches to ‘smart’ states or cities and their corresponding models of governance mark no entire automation of politics but at least in certain respects, a pragmatic actualization of cybernetic visions of the state against the background of surveillance capitalism. As such, theoretical dispositifs that have emerged from early ideas of cybernetic politics are still marking certain effects."



Theoretical Trends in Neo-Cybernetic Politics

By Anna-Verena Nosthoff and Felix Maschewski:

“Before we delve into the origins of cybernetics, a preliminary review of some of the most recent theoretical trends in neo-cybernetic politics is useful. We start with one of the most controversial figures. Political scientist and consultant Parag Khanna, a strong advocate of the ultimately cybernetic idea that connectivity per se is of intrinsic political and moral value, has most recently argued for what he terms ‘direct technocracy’. By this term, he refers to the intermingling of real-time information and an ‘info-state’, which is, for the most part, governed by non-party experts. Such ‘info-states’, the prior examples of which according to Khanna are Singapore and Switzerland, are driven by the ideology of supposedly ‘neutral’ pragmatism, with the only aim being to maximize efficiency. ‘In the long run, the quality of governance matters more than regime type,’ Khanna argues, believing that, ‘with good governance comes trust.’ Khanna’s book, Technocracy in America, was published just weeks after Trump’s election, a cleverly chosen moment to actively promote his tech-expertocracies alongside their presumably non-reactionary and, as he puts it, ‘non-ideological’ forms of anti-politics. The author is convinced that ‘America has more than enough democracy. What it needs is more technocracy– a lot more.’ Most dubiously, Khanna openly promotes not only Singapore but also China – which, as is known, has announced its ‘social-credit-system’ – as future role models for both the US and Europe. ­­­­

Khanna’s neo-cybernetic agenda can, in parts, be traced back to Tim O’Reilly, one of the first defendants of neo-cybernetic concepts. O’Reilly coined the term ‘algorithmic regulation’ around 2011 and ‘government as platform’ in 2010. Here, ‘regulation’ is in no way comparable to any traditional notion of government regulation; in contrast, O’Reilly’s aim is to replace regulation with reputation, that is, government with algorithmic regulation, such as with mutual ratings. For instance, he argues that services such as Airbnb and Uber can provide valuable models for providing maximum efficiency and oversight. Thus, according to O’Reilly, they do a great job ensuring quality and availability while ‘drivers who provide a poor service are eliminated’. Albeit O’Reilly is not as specific as Khanna on the countries that should serve as role models for proper neo-cybernetic politics, and seemingly envisions an agenda that is less state-centric than Khanna’s, he is equally focused on depicting the government‘s prior function as a ‘service provider’ while openly propagating to outsource most government activities to the private sector: ‘The whole point of government as platform,’ O’Reilly argues, ‘is to encourage the private sector to build applications that the government didn’t consider or doesn’t have the resources to create.’ This argument seems close to some suggestions by political scientist and ex-Obama-consultant Beth Simone Noveck, who is also a member of the ‘Digitalrat’ recently announced by the German Bundesregierung. Noveck repeatedly refers to corporate platforms – from LinkedIn to Facebook – when describing how the future of digital democracies should ideally appear.”


The Cybernetic State

By Anna-Verena Nosthoff and Felix Maschewski:

“The essential telos of a cybernetic state is precisely not a productive dissensus, let alone a form of democratic-agonistic pluralism, but the other’s integration into to the same, that is, the expansion of the whole via adaptation. Hermann Schmidt, the founder of cybernetics in Germany, affirmatively frames this logic as an imperative: ‘to control everything that is controllable, and to render controllable that which cannot yet be controlled’. The timely political conclusion to be drawn from this is nicely summed up by the authorial collective Tiqqun, who defines the task of cybernetic governance in the era of networks as follows: ‘governing means ensuring the interconnection of people, objects, and machines as well as the free – i.e., transparent and controllable – circulation of information that is generated in this manner.’”


The Cybernetic Hypothesis

„The Cybernetic Hypothesis is thus a political hypothesis, a new fable that after the second world war has definitively supplanted the liberal hypothesis. Contrary to the latter, it proposes to conceive biological, physical, and social behaviors as something integrally programmed and re-programmable. More precisely, it conceives of each individual behavior as something “piloted,” in the last analysis, by the need for the survival of a “system” that makes it possible, and which it must contribute to.“



  • ‘algorithmic regulation’,
  • ‘government as a platform’ (Tim O’Reilly),
  • ‘direct technocracy’ viz. ‘info-states’ (Parag Khanna),
  • ‘smart states’ (Beth Noveck), or
  • ‘social physics’ (Alex Pentland)


More information


Howard, Philip N, Pax Technica. How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us up, New Haven, CA: Yale University Press, 2015.

  • Khanna, Parag, Technocracy in America. Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace, Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.

O’Reilly, Tim, ‘Government as Platform,’ in: innovations, vol. 6, no. 1,2010, available at:

O’Reilly, Tim, ‘Open Data and Algorithmic Regulation’, available online: (last accessed May 15, 2017).

Seibel, Benjamin. (2016) Cybernetic Government. Wiesbaden: Springer.