Increasingly, a very few with too much power threaten the core of our national mores. The principles we hold close to our hearts, the traditions that we treat as sacrosanct, and the ideas that have inspired our greatest successes are under vile attack by a poisonous movement that hates what this country stands for. Ignoring this is ignoring the truth, and refusing to fight back in name of prudence is cowardice.
The Administrative Retreat
The David French-sycophants find ways to include iron rules that mustn’t be broken in every one of their critiques of substantive action, lauding Reagan’s legacy while forgoing Hamilton and Roosevelt’s. All perceived threats are met not with an equal force, but gatekeeping their own side. Results mean little to those in this sphere. Virtue signaling a moral superiority is far easier, and allows them to maybe even appear on MSNBC!
In Paul Ryan’s latest criticism of Trump’s “figurehead status” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, he mentioned Ronald Reagan 17 times in a 20-minute speech. The remaining words were not too engaging, either. Superficial critiques of style followed by retvrn to economica talking points. It is quite clear Paul Ryan did not learn the lessons of his 2012 embarrassment.
Liberals have built the current playground, and conservatives have for too long refused to make their own. It should not be that complicated. Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince is not necessary to grasp basic power dynamics. Have you ever navigated high school? One side apparently has. They use the full strength of the federal government with pure ambition, and the other refuses to even tie ambition with principle. As times evolve, our nominally conservative political class has abandoned the citizenry who elects them by becoming utterly neutered. Repeatedly, they have managed to bargain away what for us is non-negotiable, with only economic returns to show for. A controlled opposition from the current regime is not even required, we control ourselves. The faux-populism embraced by many established GOP figures is not much better. For those who can Google “OpenSecrets” on their web browsers, you will quickly discover the same donor networks.
Now, as we observe the consequences, we only beg them to acknowledge that the literal size of government is not the same as one limited in the scope of power. The resizing of government structure occurs naturally cross-generationally, with or without conservatives. We used to understand this when Republican leaders like Eisenhower and Nixon embraced a New Federalism conducive for the modern era, or Theodore Roosevelt’s administrative state. So, what happened? Why do we not embrace an active administrative state, based upon Hamilton’s federalist principles, to ensure that nudging intervention fosters the principles we love and not those we detest? There is precedence for it.
Ronald Reagan was an icon in his time, but the battle was against the Soviets and inflation. An external threat facilitated internal cohesion, and the battles fought today were unimaginable in his America. By presenting stark moral contrasts, he unequivocally altered the conscience of conservatives, but he catalyzed an ever-evolving fear of government action that has made us ignore other significant threats. Americans adore the principle of limited government, and rightfully so. But there is a difference between an intervention that fosters dependence, malice, suffering, and an intervention that course-corrects past unnatural intervention. Such a reactionary rather than radical intervention would actually bolster the restoration of constitutional principles and the wider traditional American nation.
It is for this reason that limited does not mean small. Small government, unmanaged, can just as easily become invasive, while a principled limited government with a like-minded administrative state can act immediately. Arguing in favor of a weak federal government, and looking away when massive concentrations of power negatively impact our traditional institutions, is fundamentally anti-conservative. And by becoming enamored with big vs. small dichotomies, we fail to use the wonderful instruments delivered to us by our Founding Fathers. Replacing the Federalist Papers with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is not only a mistake, but a disgusting insult to statecraft.
It is difficult to predict if the GOP will genuinely change in the following years. The desired shift is backed by polling and appears self-evident at first glance, but the Republican Party found ways to shape President Trump’s administration. So, it should come as no surprise when they apply the same techniques next. What we do know is that the increasingly illiberal-liberal-Left will continue to wield power in pursuit of insatiable progress; even when such risks destroying what took centuries to build. We should, in response, expect uniquely strong opposition and a chant in unison: “our strength, honor, and duty will not be replaced by phony calls for diversity, inclusivity, and equity.”
Returning to this Tocquevillian tradition of a push-pull relationship between progress and conservation, liberty and equality, would benefit us greatly. Currently, when they push, we do not pull. In large part, the modern-day Republican Party, through policymaking inelasticity, although not always through signaling when a camera is nearby, has responded weakly to what should be a battle that fosters great cohesion within our movement. This battle is nothing more than the defense of our culturally reinforced ethos. Our culture upholds our values; without that culture, the principles we love cannot penetrate civil society. One does not defend what one does not love, but one does love who cares for your wellbeing; thus, meaning that by conservativism’s monolithic attitudes toward economic, militaristic, and legal responses, we effectively sacrifice the conservation of the country while never replacing the ideas that have aided our opposition in the defeat.
We can have a limited government that acts as an efficient drawer of boundaries, a freer and fairer market that puts Americans first, and a powerful military that operates in the people’s best interest. Anyone remotely familiar with Marx’s work comprehends that it requires vast inequalities to exist for Marxism to succeed. Socialism did not rise after the export-import era in Latin America or the import-substitution-industrialization era either. It succeeded when a period of neoliberalism made the continent the most unequal one globally. Socialists took advantage of the situational characteristics to spread their idea pathogen coherently—and succeeded.
Today, when our middle class is under attack and our population yearns for government action, it is imperative to guarantee that socialism does not succeed. And unlike what the corporatists would suggest, it does not succeed incrementally; it is sudden. The so-called free marketeers, who still intervene when their donors tell them to do so, demanding the working-class to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, have done more for socialism than the Left could ever dream of.
The Role of Big Tech
One of those fundamental issues that require conservatism to rethink how it interacts with government structures is the clear and present danger Big Tech presents to the future of the nation. If no actions are taken to deter the practices of tech giants that directly shape the culture which upholds all of the principles we love to talk about, then eventually all other battles will be lost as a consequence. And leftists will have to thank kumbaya-conservatism for their masochism years later—when nothing else is left to conserve.
As phones and laptops replace public parks and universities, it is crucial to ensure that the same principles established in the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence reciprocate on the Internet. It is in our interest to pursue protections for individuals that desire to express themselves without the intention to harm. By harm, the Millean definition of forcible action that prevents others from pursuing individuality seems appropriate. The free exchange of ideas is an essential element of America’s mores, and for this reason, the defense of this freedom should always require cross-institutional agreement. An attack on our foundational beliefs may produce irreparable damage to the behaviors that sustain those values. If justifications for censorship are backed culturally, then expect the clock to start ticking until freedom of speech is no longer considered inviolable in our civil religion. As Alexis De Tocqueville suggested, liberty is fragile, and through calls for equality and comfort, citizens can sacrifice purpose-seeking with coercion. It is easy to destroy; it is difficult to build.
The Internet has grown to levels that were unimaginable decades ago. The American ethos is intrinsically linked to the interconnectedness and modernization revolutionized by the Internet— especially social media sites. As this evolution brought immense economic growth and flow of information, it also yielded some threats and demanded greater responsibility. Today, a vast part of this responsibility lies in the American government. For this reason, we must put forward legislative prescriptions that address potential congressional actions that may ensure a fairer, freer, and safer Internet by increasing accountability from Big Tech while reaffirming the boundaries in which such actors can act within this country’s jurisdiction. To that end, politicians find themselves constantly shrieking in the Capitol halls, but doing little to translate uttered words into policy. Still, both the unrealistic pathways and the status quo deny Americans the policymaking that they envision.
At the center of this debate lies Section 230 and its consequences—a controversial piece of Internet legislation passed into law as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. In short, the law protects platforms from civil liabilities that present them with potential high financial costs since the responsibility for the behavior of the users does not reside in the hands of the provider. At first glance, it sounds like common sense. Would T-Mobile be responsible for the crimes someone committed by using their services? No. So why should social media sites be held to another standard? This is the recurrent question thrown at dissenters by the self-proclaimed lovers of liberty who see no problem with massive concentrations of power that threaten the cohesion of this nation because since it is not coming from the federal government, who cares? Criticism comes from the defenders of the corporations that hate us, and those who want to conserve market fundamentalism more than they want to preserve the traditions that make our country truly special. Thus, personifying the inexplicable and disastrous dangers of empowering an unresponsive political class. Unlike what Conservative Inc may prescribe as the solution to this problem—the classic “let’s ignore it, cry about it, and move on,” when it comes to this situation specifically, the intense emotions held against the government by political actors may blind them—if they are not sightless already— from an even more efficient and coercive actor: Big Tech.
When it comes to Section 230, it is clear that the world has changed enormously since the law’s passing. Congress did not know what Facebook and Twitter even were. The law was meant to shield sites from the actions of terrorists, pedophiles, and scammers; it was not designed to allow a few to crush discourse while acting like regulators, gatekeepers, and publishers. While a reason to consider the importance of Section 230’s mission in facilitating competitivity among emerging platforms exists, it is time to consider the need for proper modification seriously. Amending Section 230 to clarify its intended purpose should remain a top priority, which does not translate into communistic abolition as the bootlicking corporatists claim. Simply polishing the law would do the trick; adding specific language that does not assume good faith—or ill-intention —from Big Tech executives.
Section 230 establishes that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” These 26 words have irrefutably created the Internet experienced today. Since this act was put into effect, the worldwide web has become, in the words of Klon Kitchen, “more central to American life than could have been envisioned when the CDA was passed, and the law should reflect this reality. In 1996, approximately 0.9 percent of the global population (36 million people) was on the Internet. Today, 62 percent of mankind (4.8 billion people) is online.” Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the intent and impact became opposed as times evolved.
When first passed, corporate self-regulation seemed like the most convenient driver to ensure fairness and security in the technological sphere. But the enormous security breaches, accusations of censorship, and election interference have been some of the few factors that have fostered increased friction between government oversight and the tech giants. This in part, makes complete sense; freedom without responsibility is not enough. When expansive concentrations of power directly impact the national free flow of information and security, a limited yet present drawer of boundaries becomes necessary. The belief that social media companies will do the right thing without legal challenges is essentially the nonsensical status quo. Supposedly, these digital platforms respond to periodic public shocks, but what the American public has noticed in the last years are solely vacuous profuse apologies, empty promises, and minor changes that are unconsequential by nature.
The practical reality is, as Danielle Keats Citron and Benjamin Wittes from the Georgetown Tech Law Review indicate, “companies have too limited an incentive to insist on lawful conduct on their services beyond the narrow scope of their terms of service. They have no duty of care to respond to users or larger societal goals. They have no accountability for destructive uses of their services, even when they encourage those uses.” Thus, directly contradicting the reasoning behind the passing of the Communications Decency Act that intended to incentivize the proactive removal of objectionable material by providing a liability shield from frivolous accusations made by aggrieved users.
As such, the law has successfully allowed companies to act against explicit threats in their platforms without strict penalties otherwise considered unjust. But the inherent vagueness of the statute’s language accompanied by broad judicial interpretations has led to virtual isolation from accountability mechanisms. Thus, requiring further reconsideration. Such a process must ensure that in the following years, ‘good faith’ is properly defined, acceptable editing and publisher behavior are legally differentiated, and ‘otherwise objectionable’ is removed from the law. Only then will we observe Big Tech live up to its initial promise.
The Future Role of the State
Do not forget that the government intervened first to protect them, not us. The outlined policy prescriptions in this piece are only the beginning. Inaction inevitably leads to domination in the hands of our opposition. Do not fall into the pseudo-libertarian trap; politicians need to act immediately. Our future depends on it.