This week, we saw these illiberal views unleashed full force in real-time. The unhinged reaction by lefties on social media to Thursday’s news that billionaire Elon Musk had offered to buy Twitter included dire warnings about the supposed negative “impact on society” and democracy-damaging* effects free and open debate would bring.
(*Author’s note: This might sound controversial, but historically, freedom of expression has been central to free societies).
Musk goes all out for @Twitter
This is his price to ensure it becomes a free-for-all where anything goes, the wild West of the online world, a fake news emporium. Governments beware of libertarian lawlessness so welcomed by Trump. https://t.co/X6fmH7fMjg
— Jeff Kaye (@Jakdaw09) April 14, 2022
Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) April 14, 2022
Elon Musk's attempt to buy Twitter represents a chilling new threat: billionaire trolls taking over social media https://t.co/pc0duVocgx
— Business Insider (@BusinessInsider) April 14, 2022
These people sound like Robert Bork.
For those unfamiliar, the late Bork was a federal judge nominated for the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. The Senate denied his confirmation.
But for our purposes, Bork also wrote a best-selling book that advocated using censorship as a way of promoting a healthier society.
Bork’s 1996 work Slouching Toward Gomorrah was controversial at the time because a general consensus existed on both the Right and Left that free speech was sacrosanct in the United States. Back then, you could find social conservatives who were more comfortable with using state power to suppress speech and behavior while the American Left often stood as a bulwark against those tendencies.
Socially conservative Bork did not subscribe to this consensus.
“Sooner or later censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues to plunge to ever more sickening lows,” he wrote.
How many American “liberals” are worried about Musk taking the country to “sickening lows” right now? Or former President Donald Trump? Or his supporters?
Bork started with pornography and violence but did not stop there, also citing certain art, ideas and “prose” as being in need of censorship, as well as “radical personal autonomy,” which he believed didn’t deserve First Amendment protections.
“There is, of course, more to the case for censorship than the need to preserve a viable democracy,” Bork explained. “Any serious attempt to root out the worst in our popular culture may be doomed unless the judiciary comes to understand that the First Amendment was adopted for good reasons, and those reasons did not include the furtherance of radical personal autonomy.”
Suppressing free speech = preserving democracy. Sound familiar?
But what was Bork really saying?
He got explicit, “I am suggesting that censorship be considered for the most violent and sexually explicit material now on offer, starting with the obscene prose and pictures available on the Internet, motion pictures that are mere rhapsodies to violence, and the more degenerate lyrics of rap music.”
There it is.
Back when liberals subscribed to liberalism, a New York Times book review read, “More alarming to many readers will be Mr. Bork’s bluntly worded calls for censorship…”
The Times even raised the obvious problem, noting that Bork “does not deal, for instance, with the question of exactly who would impose censorship rules, where the guidelines would be drawn or what would prevent such censorship from completely quashing First Amendment rights.”
Obviously, a primary difference between what Bork was arguing for then and those upset about the potential of free debate on social media now is that Twitter is a private company. For the last few years, when conservatives or others complained about being silenced on the platform they have been given a standard libertarian answer: It’s private. The First Amendment doesn’t apply. Twitter can do whatever it wants.
They have a point. This has always been part of the Big Tech-free speech dilemma.
But for lefties to go stark raving mad when a billionaire who doesn’t share their values threatens to buy Twitter and enforce his own PRIVATE free speech absolutism reveals that censorship by their ideological peers of competing views is what many on the Left truly want. They recognize that this private platform is an important part of today’s public square–and they want to control it. It’s power.
Most lefties also don’t really care about the ‘private’ part. It has just been a convenient line until Musk mucked it up recently. Like Bork, these folks have no qualms about using government force to muscle private entities into doing what they want:
Exactly as they vowed, Dems are now using their power over both houses of Congress and the White House to pressure Silicon Valley monopolies to censor even *more* online content.
When monopolies censor because of government pressure, that is not mere private-company choice. https://t.co/QSVQNAcn65
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 18, 2021
No matter what happens with Elon Musk and Twitter, his left-wing critics will continue to insist that democracy and civilization will be set ablaze if unfettered free speech reigns supreme in America.
Robert Bork agreed.