Tyranny, Inc.: How “Beltway Libertarians” Failed to Convince Conservatives

If you’ve been interacting with run-of-the-mill right-wing voters, you won’t be hard-pressed to find the phrase, “the Democrats are the evil party, and the Republicans are stupid.” It shouldn’t be a surprise given what has happened during the years of the Trump administration and now with the Biden administration. Everything is against the aspirations of these right-wing voters, from Big Tech censorship to an endless horde of career politicians and bureaucrats constraining their attempts to vent their anger and message their dissatisfaction. During the time before Elon Musk bought Twitter, the boundaries were tight: when Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails came into question, Twitter immediately locked the New York Post article from being accessed, then came the usual “intelligence community experts” and the vast left-wing media ecosystem echoing about how the laptop may be a “Russian disinformation campaign.”

Also, the pervasiveness of the private sector’s willingness to crack down on criticism has become routine and harsher. Even before the Hunter Biden email story, Silicon Valley implemented algorithms meant to hide any “untrustworthy” sources and any articles or links that were critical of the Democrats and the DC-left. However, mere defense wasn’t enough. Then came the need to “promote virtue.” The commandments of companies that mandate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles are to “do more” for the broader society rather than merely focus on their customers and shareholders, with one prominent theme being the promotion of progressive causes and the proliferation of “diversity.” Across the pond, politically incorrect individuals like Nigel Farage being “debanked because of their views is a warning for what’s next.

If anything, like the three-letter acronym ESG, the de facto direction that traditional institutions have adopted can also be aptly described in three ways: contain, propagate, and crack down. Many on the right have become increasingly disillusioned with the laissez-faire rhetoric concerning the economy from run-of-the-mill Republicans, or the GOP, as well as for their inaction. Many on the right seem to be thinking, “When will the GOP actually commit to reforming Section 230, institute fairness, and enforce free speech amid the cruel environment of light regulation?” It was among the primary reasons why “national conservatism” became so prominent and why Sohrab Ahmari’s Tyranny, Inc. became a success.

The book is, without a doubt, a repudiation of laissez-faire from a conservative perspective, which attracted a lot of attention from left-wing outlets. Ahmari himself defended left-wing champion Franklin D. Roosevelt during an interview with Vox about the book. It wasn’t the first nor will it be the last time where openness to economic progressivism is supported by the national conservatives, or “natcons.” Many on the antiwar Left like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi have been close to the natcons, not just because of their antiwar attitude but also because of their views on harnessing the power of the private sector by setting aside their social differences. Before Musk’s Twitter takeover, fellow natcon Nate Hochman relied upon the work of socialist Victor Pickard to argue in favor of an implementation of the Fairness Doctrine for social media by defending the legacy of, well, the Fairness Doctrine.

The Unfortunate Cycle of the Statist Quo

The censorship that has happened on Big Tech’s sites, the continuous promotion of left-wing propaganda by large corporations, and the “soft” political persecution—like debanking or refusing service (as when Amazon stopped providing servers to Parler)—are undeniable facets of the ongoing crackdown on growing discontent with the status quo. The future of basic civil liberties looks bleak, and in the face of more wars and economic stagnation, Republican voters want an alternative, but they cannot vent or be heard. It is no exaggeration to argue that the current censorship, the propagation of ever-more aggressive woke identity politics, and the crackdown on well-known opposition individuals are lighting up a powder keg.

No longer able to bear the censorship, ideas once loathed by the conservative movement are being resurrected. Once-hated policies and far-fetched ideas like following the Fairness Doctrine, using antitrust, and enacting greater oversight to ensure fairness are no longer taboo. The so-called freedom conservatives, or “freecons,” have also been rallying against the shift toward progressivism of the conservative movement by rallying around the banners and supposed champions of the free market. For any person who supports libertarianism, while the “national conservatives” may be better on foreign policy, other ideas proposed by them on the economy and the regulatory state are just as bad as the current vision of the Beltway consensus.

However, the freecons and other Beltway libertarians have little to no authority among the populist, national conservatives on these matters for a reason. The way both factions (like the CATO Institute and Reason) responded to concerns of then-not-yet natcons on Big Tech but did not account for some of the intricate details about Big Tech censorship and the foreign policy establishment during the time of the ideological formation of these natcons is deeply damaging. To call Big Tech private is flawed, especially with the Twitter Files in mind. Before the Twitter Files, the fact that people who get to sit on Silicon Valley social media moderation boards are the former staff of establishment Democrats and Republicans was the first warning sign, especially when the government is talking about the dangers of “disinformation” and “hate speech.” These factions should have called out government interference rather than talking about how Big Tech are private corporations that can do whatever they want on their own property.

There are also more reasons to consider. Consider the Donald Trump impeachment saga the tense relations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia over Ukraine, and Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric on the need to stop relations with Moscow from deteriorating even further. The sheer voracity the Democrats and hardline neoconservatives of the pundit and politician classes had is remarkable; remember the Steele dossier, the claim that Facebook may have hosted numerous Russian bots, and the craze over Russian disinformation, as well as any form of “disinformation” and “hate speech” later? Such claims on democracy being threatened are repeated often by politicians and bureaucrats with high prestige—retired or not—in the Beltway with similar views on foreign policy. With Russia seen as an existential threat to the international liberal order, why wouldn’t these politicians and bureaucrats smear and control the narrative around Trump to block an obstacle to solving a problem they regard as the most urgent until he was proven not guilty long after he left office.

Moreover, per Ahmari’s comments, the average American is more keenly aware of government abuse. However, the main form of government abuse people are accustomed to are direct and shocking abuses like the gulags or direct expropriation seen in socialist Venezuela. Ahmari is right. In order to not entice an extreme reaction, a blanket ban on “misinformation” had to be ruled out as it would be seen as what it is: an overt attempt to censor dissent. The blurry nature of the interference of the deeply entrenched and all-powerful state means it’s easy but wrong to argue that private businesses ought to be regulated further to protect individual liberty, and it’s extremely difficult but right to pinpoint what the government has been doing. By nature, this helps the very establishment the conservatives are now eager to dismantle as the current talk from the natcons is little more than rehashed Democratic talking points on domestic policies.

The most terrifying point is that the damage already done by the freecons and Beltway libertarians with their analytical blunder gave the natcons a free ticket to “debunk” the free market rather than realize that the government is the problem. Now that we know that Mark Zuckerburg was pressured by the FBI to throttle the Hunter Biden laptop story, it may just be too late. This kind of thinking will spread elsewhere, as the average American doesn’t know how deep the effects of government interventions are. The average American already doesn’t know much about fractional-reserve banking, and they’ll blame the manifestations of the problem (Big Banks) rather than the Federal Reserve. They don’t know how Big Unions profit at everyone’s expense when a tariff is declared. What happens if one of the natcons gains an influential role or becomes president and declares war on Mexico trying to stop the flow of fentanyl? The principal blame for this failure to turn the next generation of conservatives into libertarians lies with the Beltway libertarians and many of the freecons.

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