Right Opinion

Big Tech, Consent, and Deliberation

Guest Commentary · Jul. 16, 2019

By Zachary D. Rogers

The monopolistic control of Big Tech is strangling political deliberation and thereby endangers the Republic established by the Founders. And it is doing this through the unabashed censorship of conservatives. 

There are multiple examples of conservative censorship in the media. Here are two examples. 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn had a Twitter reelection ad censored in October 2017. Blackburn’s video was blocked because of her statement regarding the sale of baby body parts that Twitter “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.” Abortion is a contentious political issue requiring deliberation because of 1) the serious moral nature of the deed, 2) the implications and consequences for individuals and a society that condones such deeds, and 3) because the Supreme Court ignored the will of the people set forth in state law. Finally, Representative Blackburn is just that — a representative lawfully chosen to serve and deliberate for the good of her electors and the nation. Censoring her campaign hampers the ability of the people to elect the representative they want. 

The Claremont Institute, based in Southern California, was recently prevented by Google from advertising for its 40th Anniversary Gala. It spent hours on the phone to discover what the remedy to this action would be only to be informed, in essence, “There is no appeal; we recommend you remove the content to bring yourself into compliance.” The Claremont Institute was later informed that this had been a mistake. It is interesting how often these mistakes happen to conservative individuals and organizations and that they are only resolved when pressure is brought to bear upon the offending companies. 

These incidents are either chalked up to algorithm issues or the issue is resolved after enough publicity and attention has been brought to the incident. However, these instances do affect individual conservatives, and the danger is greatest for those who lack the institutional sway of the Claremont Institute or the power, recognition, and authority of Marsha Blackburn. As Ryan Williams, president of the Claremont Institute, clearly pointed out in an article, “What Google is really doing (like Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms) is policing the terms of American political debate to advance acceptable establishment ideology.” Public deliberation is vital to the operations of the Republic and one of the reasons freedom of the press was secured in the Constitution. This is because of the political theory Americans adopted.

Equality, Consent, & Rule of Law (Majority Rule, Minority Rights)

The political theory of American government is well set forth in the Declaration of Independence and may be succinctly summarized. All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and because of this equality the just powers of government requires the consent of the governed. The purpose of government is to secure the rights of life, liberty, and property, i.e., justice. The regime is formed when men voluntarily enter the social compact so that all may be governed by law for the common good. Because free government involves ruling and being ruled in turn, agreement is necessary on the fundamental ends of government found in the Declaration and secured through the Constitution. Because the Republic is based upon consent and the government is formed for specific ends, we operate under a system of majority rule that protects minority rights. The will of the majority to be right must be just; statesmen and their place in public opinion have an important role in this.

Lincoln on Public Opinion

Statesmen shape public opinion and thereby the laws. Few men exemplify this better than Winston S. Churchill or Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln argued:

Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed [emphasis added].

The ability to engage and change public opinion enables men to deliberate about the good and change the laws in conformity to the common good. For example, the pro-life movement has for decades engaged in vigorous debate to change people’s minds, and the result is legal progress at the state level and a strong role in public opinion.

Further, Abraham Lincoln stated at a Republican banquet in Chicago two years prior to the above quote that “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically so much.” Public opinion in conjunction with the laws provide the framework of the regime. The regime, in turn, helps to shape the character and behavior of the citizens. 

Politics and Law Shape Society

Conservatives are fond of stating that politics is downstream of culture. While the two certainly impinge upon each other, this is a drastic understatement and understanding of the role of law, when enforced, to change public opinion. The law shames those who break it by punishing them with fines and imprisonment. This in turn shapes the behavior of citizens, i.e., civil law impinges upon the law of public opinion. Similarly, what the government esteems and honors — in a word, rewards — will be imitated. One only has to look at the heroic deeds of fighting men whose reward is the respect of their fellows and the receipt of a medal. It requires deliberation in the public square before laws are passed in this regime — laws that will shape men to be virtuous, productive, and able to engage in the manly self-assertion necessary for free government. 

Legislature and Deliberation

Free speech is necessary in order to deliberate upon public policy. The legislature was once the glory of the nation where men such as Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and John C. Calhoun deliberated about justice and the national interest. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas famously debated the proper response to slavery and territorial expansions in a serious of debates before the public. They traveled across the state of Illinois to debate each other, and the result of these debates was a change in public opinion. Not incidentally, the debates brought Lincoln to national prominence. The technological landscape has changed from newspapers and the telegraph to online news media, but the need to influence public opinion has not changed. The power of the Big Tech companies is warping the ability of individuals to do so. 

Current Crisis Demands Debate (Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Public Good)

The United States is facing a crisis. That crisis is the threat of identity politics and the administrative state. Concomitant with this are the numerous policies created due to identity politics and enforced by the administrative state that is causing havoc in the nation. The issues of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, the proper role and formation of the family, sexuality that conforms to human flourishing, and a proper understanding of the public good (trade, immigration, and limited government) are pressing problems that must be discussed, debated, and deliberated upon in order to fashion the best laws, policies, and programs. Rather than allow ideas and positions they do not agree with, the Big Tech companies have engaged in a campaign of censorship. It is time for conservatives to consider the proper response in order to preserve the deliberation vital to representative government. 

Don't miss Guest Commentary and other great columnists. Subscribe today!

Click here to show comments

It's Right. It's Free.