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Let’s Not Join the Mob

Here’s a letter to an e-mail correspondent:

Mr. R___:

You accuse me of being “late to the game” when I oppose the application of First Amendment prohibitions to tech firms that deny platforms to certain people. Your case rests on the fact that “for decades government has overridden private business decisions by denying them the right to discriminate along lines of race, etc.”

You’re correct that such anti-discrimination legislation violates the principle that I wish to uphold – namely, private persons’ freedom to act ought not be constrained by the same rules that properly constrain government officials. But I don’t see how having taken a few steps toward the politicization of society renders additional such steps advisable or even acceptable. Surely, as long as there are different degrees of politicization – as there are – those of us who fear politicization of society are not bound to accept ever-more such politicization simply because some amount of it already exists.

And by no means should those of us who fear politicization of society be led by our anger at that politicization to call for more of it. It boggles my mind that many conservatives today, understandably upset that tech companies are behaving so politically, believe that an appropriate response is to politicize these companies further and more formally. Grave danger lurks in abandoning our principles.

Although perhaps prosaic at this point, I remind you of the famous scene in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Season in which England’s Chancellor Thomas More refuses his son-in-law William Roper’s plea to act outside of existing law to arbitrarily arrest Richard Rich, who they suspect will turn traitorous:

“ROPER: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

“MORE: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

“ROPER: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

“MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s!  And if you cut them down (and you’re just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

“Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

Let those of us who understand the importance of the rule of law not join the mob who don’t.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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