Free trade and open markets are great ideals. These principles, over the last few centuries, but especially since World War II, have created tremendous wealth, particularly in the developing world. But free markets were made for human society, not the other way around.
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When Google went public in 2004, it epitomised technological and entrepreneurial genius. Two engineers had developed a remarkably powerful, easy-to-use search engine, opening the doors to vast amounts of knowledge.
The founders proclaimed their motto as ‘Don’t be evil’, which was typical of Silicon Valley’s decades-old techno-optimism. Stewart Brand, writing in Rolling Stone in 1972, claimed that once access to information became universal, it would turn us all into ‘computer bums, all more empowered as individuals and as cooperators’. It would be a new era, Brand continued, of enhanced ‘spontaneous creation and of human interaction’. The ‘early digital idealists’, noted computer scientist and writer Jaron Lanier in 2014, envisioned a ‘sharing’ web that functioned ‘free from the constraints of the commercial order’.
This idyll is no more. Google and the other Big Tech firms are no longer grassroots creators. They’re now oligarchs and monopolists, exerting undue influence on the market and on politics.
When we think of oppressive regimes, we immediately think of the Stalinist model portrayed in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the heavy-handed thought control associated with Hitler’s Reich or Mao’s China. But where the old propaganda was loud, crude and often lethal, the contemporary style of thought control takes the form of a gentle nudging towards orthodoxy – a gentle push that gradually closes off one’s critical faculties and leads one to comply with gently given directives. Governments around the world, including in the UK, notes the Guardian, have been embracing this approach with growing enthusiasm.
It’s hardly debatable anymore that the Left is out of control, increasingly influenced and even governed by a radical authoritarian culture that brooks no dissent and over-corrects on all fronts it sets its sights on. You would think this would present a perfect opportunity for Republicans to seize the moment and capture the confidence of moderates and even liberals deeply alienated by this woke authoritarian culture.
You would be wrong.
Through sheer stupidity, the GOP has repeatedly squandered opportunities to fight the righteous cause of left-wing overreach with sensible and popular counterproposals. Instead, Republicans have doubled down on culture war issues and their own extremism, mirroring rather than fighting the Left’s overreach. In case after case, Republicans seem to be working overtime to alienate potential constituencies in the service of their most aggrieved and even unhinged base.
The most glaring example comes from the heart of Republican power: Texas. The state passed an abortion law so extreme it effectively bans all abortions while relying on private citizens to enforce it; the law deputizes individuals to bring civil lawsuits against their neighbors should they learn that they have performed or assisted in an abortion. The law bans abortions at six weeks and anyone who assists or performs an abortion can be sued.
The new law is so extreme it has the local business community “scratching their heads,” as one Republican operative put it; business leaders were shocked to see Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a sometimes moderate, adopt such a far right stance. Like other far right pieces of legislation on things like the open carry of guns, the new law could become a barrier to attracting more companies to the Lone Star State; it’s already generated a strong set of counter-measures among tech firms. Some have been kicking pro-life activist websites off their servers and offering protections to their own employees, including Uber and Lyft drivers who might be liable for transporting people to abortions.
And it’s not just business leaders who are alienated. The abortion ban will not play well in the suburban communities that are the state’s prime political battlegrounds. As Gallup has consistently found, barely one in five Americans support a total ban on abortion, while fully one-third favor no restrictions at all.
The abortion law reminded voters how extreme large sections of the GOP have become, particularly in red states like Texas. But perhaps more critically, the abortion law and the way it deputizes vigilante justice undermines what was becoming a compelling case against progressive authoritarianism as it’s being carried out in universities, on social media, and on major internet platforms.
After all, it’s difficult to campaign against campus thought policing and the blatant politicization of information by Google and Facebook while urging citizens to spy on each other. And the fight against encroaching left-wing authoritarianism and censorship is popular according to recent surveys, not only among Boomers but the vast majority of millennials and Gen Zers, too.
This is a fight the GOP could win—and win big. But to do so, it will need to stop focusing on the culture wars. Let the progressives—increasingly the voice of the Democrats—keep hammering away at the culture wars, embracing a repressive and widely unpopular agenda. Republicans should abandon these sorts of fights that appeal to the most extreme corners of their base, and should focus on moderating across the board.
Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
By: Brendan O’Neill
Joel Kotkin, author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, joins spiked’s editor for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. They discuss the aristocratic arrogance of the tech oligarchs, the failure of ‘progressive’ politics and the battle to preserve liberal democracy.
In episode 4 of Feudal Future podcast, Joel Kotkin & Marshall Toplansky interview Jennifer Hernandez about how California’s climate policies affect the middle class.
In episode 3 of Feudal Future podcast, Joel Kotkin & Marshall Toplansky interview guest Li Sun about her research on China’s urbanization and globalization.
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