For the past century, Americans and the rest of the free world have been warned that if our freedoms were lost, they would be taken by the all-encompassing state. Conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals have been on guard against the ever-growing leviathan. Classic dystopian novels such as 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 have provided us with many parallels to today, but what these books failed to predict was that censorship and tyranny would come from private society.
Instead of state sponsored propaganda like “newspeak” from 1984, we have Merriam-Webster retroactively updating definitions to fit the mob’s narrative during Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings. Who needs Fahrenheit 451’s government sponsored book-burning “firemen” to keep people happy when you have the Twitter mob bullying Amy Coney Barrett’s sorority into deleting and apologizing for an “offensive” non-partisan congratulatory tweet for a fellow sorority sister. There is no need for the “Ministry of Truth” when entire private social media companies are censoring the New York Post, a major news outlet, to protect a presidential candidate from serious scrutiny.
Who could have predicted that instead of state sponsored censorship and despotism it would be more efficient to privatize the tyranny? The silver lining in it all is that the classic libertarian criticism of “who will build the roads” is severely weakened. Without the government, who will censor us?
Since George W. Bush, conservatives have been goaded into willingly accepting the welfare-warfare state that was only expanded by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama. Disguised by insincere lip service paid towards the market process and the civil institutions that are necessary for providing the moral foundation of society, conservatives secretly hoped that the government could be used to promote traditional American values. Now in the age of privatized tyranny, the modern conservative no longer seems interested in even paying faux homage to the pillars of a free society and are openly advocating for the government to save them.
Instead of acting like Southern Baptists in a liquor store, awkwardly pretending not to know one another, they are now doing shots with the pastor off the ice luge sculpture of our nation’s “father.”
The reaction by conservatives to this new tyranny, by turning towards the state to punish their oppressors, is understandable. Believers in classical liberalism have always held that private institutions are free to do as they please. If you do not like what they represent you can take your business elsewhere. The invisible hand of the market would sternly correct these private progressive heathens. In an age where the market is now dominated by what seems to be a few progressive monopolies, and traditional values are more than ever in the minority, it doesn’t seem that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, with their billions of dollars, are going to miss the wallets of a few disgruntled, outdated Christian conservatives.
With their values more threatened than ever, the American right is now willing to completely throw in with the state.
Before they take the plunge, they should do two things. First, admit that they have been lying to themselves for the past thirty years by paying lip service to free markets and Milton Friedman, all while quietly and comfortably attempting to use the state to promote their values. Second, if they can do the first, they should pause and consider turning the other direction to fight back against privatized tyranny.
They should consider anarchy.
No, not the anarchy of black ski masks, Molotov cocktails, and local businesses on fire that was witnessed in the streets of major cities across America. Not the state approved lawlessness of Antifa that tore down statues of founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln, while cowardly local officials stood by and did nothing. Instead conservatives should turn towards anarchy that is rooted in civil society, that understands the difference between power and authority, that can govern peacefully without the monopolistic violent arm of government. Anarchy, for those who have never entertained the word as something that conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals could align with, simply means civil society organizing itself in absence of the power of the state.
If you turn right at federalism and head right past localism you will eventually arrive at a place the economist Murray Rothbard called anarchism.
For the past thirty years, conservatives have bemoaned the erosion of social institutions such as the family, church, and local community that are the arbiters and protectors of traditional values. Claiming to defend these institutions against the leviathan while quietly losing faith in civil society and placing their hope in the state to promote these values. So, before Milton Friedman and all the libertarians that were never in charge of anything take any more blame for America’s social decline or are used to excuse more government, conservatives should do some soul searching.
Before turning to anti-trust policies to break up big tech and stick it to those “Marxist-communists” like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey for obvious censorship, conservatives should consider who is going to do the breaking up and who has the better lobbyist on payroll. Corporatists and politicians are members of the same ruling class. You would be hard pressed to find a time from the past when the corporatists did not come out on top in the long run after some major government action to appease angry little guys. Even if the conservatives and small government advocates could strike a blow against big tech companies, would it be worth it if it required further submission to the leviathan that will only continue to erode civil society?
Everyone wants the silver bullet that will restore the republic.
The temptation to keep looking for it is real, but it is not worth searching for what is not there. The best way for conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals to fight back against this new privatized tyranny is to truly embrace the ideas of liberty. If government is to be used, use it to remove regulation and roadblocks to encourage new competition from innovators and entrepreneurs that will eventually replace the likes of Zuckerberg and Dorsey. A healthy free society is one of pluralism in ideas, associations, and choices. If the state is encouraged to grow by both the progressive left and conservative right we will be left with fewer choices, continual erosion of formative civil associations, and more mandatory group think.
Libertarians and conservatives do not have to become Rothbardian anarchists, but thirty plus years of failure at using government to promote traditional values seems like long enough. Perhaps now it is time to turn away from Keynes and consider what can be gleaned from the ideas of political anarchy to combat this new despotism. There is no silver bullet that will take down the leviathan and put an immediate end to this cultural erosion. But a commitment to create a new laissez-faire rooted in both individualism and pluralism can reinvigorate the social institutions necessary for a free, prosperous, and moral society.