Big Tech has adjusted to its global market by developing a global business model. It has discovered how to operate — to the extent it is allowed — in both China and the United States simultaneously. And in both countries it has bought into what amounts to a protection racket.
To win the favor of Chinese authorities, Big Tech companies happily censor themselves — and the rest of us — even in the United States. They routinely remove or suppress content that the Chinese Communist Party deems offensive anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the most likely and serious threat to Big Tech’s bottom line are the Democrats, the party of taxation, regulation, and routine spasms of anti-corporate outrage (directed only at American corporations). But Big Tech has managed to prove particularly useful to them, censoring damaging news and suppressing critical commentary (even by individuals sharing content only within their own families), such as the New York Post’s still-unrefuted Hunter Biden story. They do so on the basis that such content misinforms or incites, but they systematically allow and even amplify the most imbecilic conspiracy theories about Republicans (such as the Russia-Trump collusion hoax, or any Michael Moore theory picked at random) without regard to truth or the potential for violence.
Alas, here at home the similarities with Big Tech’s role in China run deeper still. The evolution of America’s political institutions toward a one-party state has been underway for a long time, particularly since the New Deal. Most progressives start with noble intentions — fighting inequality and racism, giving effect to the impulses of the democratic majority, protecting “rights” of every description. Alas, the progressive program necessarily entails government powers that are far beyond those that were actually enumerated in the original Constitution.
Think about the progressives’ core commitments: national majority rule at the expense of states and communities; the subordination of economic and property rights to whatever notion of social justice happens to command a transient majority; the manipulation of courts to take issues of self-government out of the realm of legislation entirely and make the progressive position permanent under a new umbrella of judicially discovered “rights”; and now the project to seize control of information, of the news, and of the Truth itself, which has gone so far as to propose a new analog to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984 without the least hint of embarrassment.
And notice something else: The expansion and centralization of government power, supposedly justified by a democratic commitment to dismantling counter-majoritarian restraints, has come pari passu with the erosion of self-government, of community autonomy, and — most ironically — of individual choice.
Now come the Big Tech social-media platforms, launched two decades ago by Bill Clinton’s vision of unfettered invention, to demonstrate that they can be pillars of the one-party state and enforcers of its fetters. They have shown, in keeping with their global business model, that they can perform that function in the United States just as faithfully as in China. Indeed, their absorption of much of the public square, which is now subject to their completely arbitrary regulation, accountable to nobody, is the best example of Bobbitt’s “market state.”
In his 2009 book Terror and Consent, Bobbitt argues that the emerging-market states will be based either on consent or on terror, and the key question is whether there is a strong rule of law. “Weak laws . . . can induce states of consent to become states of terror because, in the absence of legal rules, force is the only option remaining that offers safety.”
Perhaps the question now on people’s minds — whether to regulate Big Tech in accordance with limits traditionally applied to governments — is not the crucial question. Perhaps the most crucial question is whether Big Tech will honestly embrace clear and neutral rules for its regulation of the public square, which nobody can seriously believe to be the case today, or whether instead it will become a pillar of the one-party state and its arbitrary power, on its way to becoming a dystopic market state of the future.