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The Reason of Rules

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


Kimberly Strassel might be right in predicting that actions by tech firms to silence Donald Trump and other conservative voices will give rise to successful efforts to treat tech firms as arms of government – and, hence, subject, as is government, to the First Amendment (“Big Business’s Sharp Left Turn,” Jan. 15). But Reaganite conservatives and classical liberals should fervently hope that she’s proven wrong.

A core characteristic of conservatism of the sort that has long been espoused in your pages, as well as of classical liberalism, is respect for rules. Rule-following, by its nature, requires toleration of occasional unfavorable situations in exchange for the best possible outcomes over the long-run. And among the most important rules in a free society is respecting the distinction between private actors and government actors in order to guard against excessive politicization of society.

Conservatives are understandably furious at tech-companies’ pandering to Progressive sensibilities. But conservatives’ own and best sensibilities should warn them against succumbing in anger to today’s urge to violate one of the most important rules of a free society.

Government may not silence speech and other expression that it dislikes. Private citizens, as long as they violate no property or contract rights, may. If this bright-line rule is breached by conservatives today, they will not close, but open far wider, the door to Progressives suppressing speech tomorrow.

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