“Open” allowed O’Reilly to build the largest possible tent for the movement. The language of economics was less alienating than Stallman’s language of ethics; “openness” was the kind of multipurpose term that allowed one to look political while advancing an agenda that had very little to do with politics. As O’Reilly put it in 2010, “the art of promoting openness is not to make it a moral crusade, but rather to highlight the competitive advantages of openness.” Replace “openness” with any other loaded term—say “human rights”—in this sentence, and it becomes clear that this quest for “openness” was politically toothless from the very outset. What, after all, if your interlocutor doesn’t give a damn about competitive advantages?
Unsurprisingly, the availability of source code for universal examination soon became the one and only benchmark of openness. What the code did was of little importance—the market knows best!—as long as anyone could check it for bugs. The new paradigm was presented as something that went beyond ideology and could attract corporate executives without losing its appeal to the hacker crowd. “The implication of [the open source] label is that we intend to convince the corporate world to adopt our way for economic, self-interested, non-ideological reasons,” Eric Raymond noted in 1998. What Raymond and O’Reilly failed to grasp, or decided to overlook, is that their effort to present open source as non-ideological was underpinned by a powerful ideology of its own—an ideology that worshiped innovation and efficiency at the expense of everything else.