Whatever the result of the massive Twitter purge, it made one thing clear to the world. Carl Schmitt’s most important and controversial aphorism, “sovereign is he who decides the exception” is still timeless.
In the American republic, the sovereign is not the state, which has hollowed out. The sovereign now is the group of neo-feudal oligarchs, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, who now decide and control who can speak, see, learn, and buy, and what and when. Give them an army of their own like the East India Company, and the American state is over.
This is an accelerationist’s dream, and a centrist and moderate’s nightmare. The question at the heart of the debate within conservatism, of “who holds the real power,” was settled for good as the tech purge rolled.
After the reprehensible violence at the most respected state symbol of the American republic, tech companies and corporates took the fight to the other half of the populace. This is not just about banning President Trump as an individual or deleting his tweets from the official POTUS account. This is about choosing sides and flying a flag of war.
Yesterday was not a protest—it was a riot to uphold white supremacy.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) January 7, 2021
When there’s no difference between the flavor of tweets about this subject from overpriced ice-cream companies and the largest internet providers, the question of the neutral public sphere becomes irrelevant. In a way, that is a good thing, as there is no neutral public square, and never has been. It’s a quirky myth in a typically American conservative way, which always seemed baffling to Europeans, Indians, Chinese, and Russians—those of older societies more attuned to history.
If the rapid censoring from Twitter, Google, and other massive tech monopolies leads to the death of that stupid myth, that is good. Politics is about not just wielding power, but using it. Conservatives, especially American ones, are late to that wisdom.
Quillette editor Claire Lehmann pointed out that “Many people already see a number of large legacy media orgs as de facto mouthpieces for a particular political faction inside the US. And the infrastructure of the internet has mostly appeared relatively neutral. Until today.” Some of us have been warning about this for years now. The concept is simple: You either live, broadly, in a nation-state or under a feudal entity.
After the last few days, a significant part of the world sees a great power that cannot restore order in its cities for a year or stop the desecration of the highest state symbols in the capital. Now it cannot even stop oligarchs from silencing a duly elected president even in his official medium of communication. One hopes the bigger philosophical question within conservatism about the concept of power gets settled at these events for good.
Some point out the hypocrisy of Twitter in keeping Chinese accounts and Iranian ones, not to mention the thousands of Antifa accounts regularly organizing violence. These questions are also irrelevant. No matter how loudly one cries and moans about hypocrisy, Twitter isn’t going to ban Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khamenei or the Chinese embassy’s account, because their staffers don’t care enough to consider those people enemies.
The hypocrisy here is the establishment of a new hierarchy and power structure. Twitter is doing what it can, not what it cannot. Tech companies can go against Western conservatives because they are not afraid of Western conservatives. They have realized that, due to their ideology and free-market dogma, modern conservatives are impotent about using the state or power.
Twitter cannot do that with China or Antifa, because there will be real consequences in terms of their revenue or street violence. In other words, tech companies are afraid of state power in some countries (China, Russia) and not in others (the free-market United States). The principle of power remains the same. As Phillippe Lemoine said, “Twitter banned Trump because it could and that’s all there is to it. At least the Athenians were honest with the Melians before they destroyed them.”
The tech companies have chosen their side. The world has noticed. The ramifications will be severe. There is already Chinese and Russian control of their internet. Europe will follow too. Imagine if some nerd tomorrow decides that Boris Johnson is a fascist, or Emmanuel Macron is instigating violence?
No wonder China, Russia, the European Union, and India are trying to control their internet. Their sovereignty is in question if tech oligarchs decide who can speak and who cannot. And the Chinese are happy to rub it in that at least in China, the state remains supreme to a bunch of feudal lords arbitrarily deciding rules.
“This Schmittian political landscape has urgent lessons for us in Europe: we need to disentangle ourselves from America’s political chaos as urgently as we do from China’s industrial and economic stranglehold,” British war reporter Aris Roussinos wrote recently. “The result of the free-market ideology trading under the name ‘conservatism’ is that we have handed control of information to California’s tech oligarchs just as we have handed control of industry to the Chinese Communist Party.”
The tech-lash censoring of the president and a bunch of conservatives is similar to the king realizing during Magna Carta that it’s the feudal lords who hold real power, not him. It is the duty of historians to add that conservatives have only themselves to blame if they lose the war with the tech neo-feudalists.
They had years to break up monopolies. They didn’t. Vae Victis. The coming consequences will be severe.