One thing that has unified the entire modern conservative movement is the notion of resisting tyranny. Some on the libertarian right see such tyranny in the form of an authoritarian, socialist government. Others have asserted that the biggest tyrannical threat our Republic faces is posed by the power of corporate entities, particularly those technology monopolies in Silicon Valley engaged in censorship. There’s no doubt both are threats to our nation of ordered liberty, but the central question is which of these is the greater threat?
Following the censorship of President Trump on Twitter and the collusion between Apple, Google, and Amazon against the social media platform, Parler, it seems that the greater, present threat comes from the monopolies. Specifically, those willing and eager to strip away our fundamental right of free expression, even from the leader of the free world. Their actions didn’t just demonstrate their power over the President of the United States, nor were they the result of one company being targeted. They taught any dissident of their regime a broader lesson: no matter how powerful you may think you are, no matter how hard you may work to use the avenues of the market to compete, our will will prevail.
Nevertheless, some on the libertarian right have been hesitant to agree with that assessment, cautious not to arm the federal government with too much power to combat these corporations as to create the tyrannical government they feared from the beginning. They have often focused on the idea of “small government,” presumably in deference to the Constitutional principles of our founding fathers, and espoused the mantra, “the smaller the government, the greater the citizen.”
This belief, on its face, is untrue. An immediate, American example of this can be seen in the failure of the Articles of the Confederation to establish justice, order, and secure the blessings of liberty. It’s part of the reason why two of our founding fathers James Madison and Alexander Hamilton argued in favor of the Constitution, a stronger government, in the Federalist papers.
In Federalist No. 51, they wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” They surmised that the “great difficulty” in designing our government was: “you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Hamilton and Madison’s argument was that mankind’s unrestrained nature makes us unconcerned with the rights of others in all cases, even if we may think our rights are absolute in nature. It’s why the founders established our limited government, so one entity would protect them above all other interests.
Their argument here also explains precisely why the idea of “private courts” or “private judges” would never establish justice nor protect our rights. Private entities are driven to act by their own interests, whatever they may be, not by an ideological principle of non-aggression or concern for our inalienable rights. That’s an axiom of both our economy and human nature.
The Constitution of the United States was created to find the sweet-spot between absolute freedom and order. The founding fathers who waged war against a monarchy that deprived them of their God-given liberty also feared anarchy, where private actors guided by their own interests would trample on the rights endowed to us from Heaven above. That liberty was described by President Abraham Lincoln as the “apple of gold” surrounded by the “picture of silver,” the Constitution. The point being, whenever our rights are stripped from us, regardless of who takes them, it becomes the priority of our government to protect them.
One argument libertarians may also pose in defense of these corporations is the fact that, to a degree, they’re legally recognized as “people” with rights of their own. In the example of Twitter, they offer a service another may use so long as they adhere to their “community standards,” despite the fact that their constantly evolving, amorphous standards contradict their platform’s alleged purpose of free speech and the only thing that truly connects the Twitter “community” is a tendency to vent while in a state of rage.
For the purposes of argument, if we were to agree that these corporations are people and, as people, possess certain rights in the U.S. that extend beyond the federal government being required to respect the contracts they forge, we would also agree that they, like any other private entity, are bound by our laws and Constitution to respect the rights of others. This concept, after all, is the basic outline of a social contract designed to maximize liberty. As of now, our tech giants reap the benefits of operating in America, and disregard their obligation under the Constitution to respect our rights as a free people.
Even if the First Amendment of the Constitution is specifically a negative power of the federal government, it enshrines a larger “apple of gold” Lincoln described. The concept of free expression is inseparable from our inalienable right to liberty, one that we believe cannot be taken away by a government or any private actor. And it is well within the powers of the government to protect those rights.
The town square of modern America, where ideas are communicated and then debated, is online, whether we like it or not. Going into 2021, Democratic lawmakers sympathetic to corporations who effectively bar conservatives from the town square will control the whole edifice of our political branches of government. It will be self-defeating not to challenge the control these state-backed monopolies have on our discourse by means of law.
If tyrannical rules are imposed by the government, the people at least have means of legal recourse in the courts, or can lobby their lawmakers to repeal those rules. If we don’t like the rules imposed by private actors in the market space, the libertarian would argue that the only private recourse we have is to “build our own [insert institution here]”. Big Tech proved to us that even if conservatives have mild success in the market space, they can and will squash our efforts and any endeavors to protect their power.
It’s incumbent on us as conservatives to defend and promote the “apple of gold” from all actors who seek to take it away, beginning with the immediate threat of Big Tech.
Anthony Leonardi worked previously as a reporter for the Washington Examiner and correspondent for the Leadership Institute’s Campus Reform. In 2018, he was selected for the Red Alert Politics “30 under 30” list.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.