This is the preface to Sen. Josh Hawley’s new book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” which is out today. Published with permission.
This is a book the corporate monopolies did not want you to read. Corporate America tried to cancel it, just as they have tried to cancel me and to cancel or control the speech, the communication, even the ideas of millions of Americans—all Americans, in a sense, because what the woke capitalists want, along with their allies in government, is to preserve their power over American politics and society.
They have been working to entrench that power for the better part of a century, since the age of the last robber barons, and they are not about to see it challenged now. This book presents a challenge nevertheless: it calls into question the reigning order of corporate liberalism, and it challenges the power of those who benefit from it. And I hope that after reading it, you will want to challenge the corporate liberal order too. I hope you will want to work to revive what is properly the birthright of all Americans, the republic of the common man and woman.
It will take some doing. The framers of our Constitution feared aristocracy—“faction,” James Madison called it, rule by the enterprising few. But that is in fact what we have in America today. The titans of woke capital, and of Big Tech above all, lead the most powerful corporations in history. They have amassed that power with the active aid of government, and now together Big Tech and Big Government seek to extend their influence over every area of American life.
If you doubt this, look only at the furious assault on free speech by Big Tech and its fellow corporatists in the early days of 2021. Following the grisly riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Big Tech quickly moved to silence conservative voices. The major tech companies de-platformed a bevy of conservatives, including the president of the United States.
In a matter of days, Big Tech brought down the independent social media platform Parler: Apple and Google refused to make Parler available in their app stores, and Amazon soon denied Parler access to its cloud computing service. Other major corporations got in on the act. Banks reportedly turned over private information about their customers if they had been in or around Washington, D.C., on January 6.
One of the largest publishers in the nation cancelled this book, citing my “role” in the events of January 6. My sin? Not encouraging the riot, as the publisher certainly knew. I fiercely condemned the violence and the thugs who perpetrated it, just as I had condemned all civil violence and rioting during the months of unrest that unfolded across the country in 2020.
No, my sin was to raise an objection to one state during the electoral college certification process, thereby triggering a congressional debate, precisely as permitted by the law and precisely as Democratic members of Congress have done in the electoral counts of 2001, 2005, and 2017. I was, in fact, waiting to participate in that debate on the Senate floor when the riot halted our work and forced the Senate (temporarily) to disband. For this I was branded a “seditionist” and worse. But like many others attacked by the corporations and the Left, my real crime was to have challenged the reign of the woke capitalists.
Since I arrived in the Senate in early 2019, I have relentlessly targeted the power and pretensions of the Big Tech monopolies. The weeks following January 6 demonstrated their frightening, tremendous reach: power over information, over news, over communication and social debate. Even Angela Merkel expressed disquiet at Big Tech’s censorial campaign.
But none of this was new. Tech had been amassing power for some time, gathering influence at every opportunity, more with every passing year, and all with the helping hand of government. It was government that fueled the tech oligarchs’ rise with special protections in federal law. It was elected politicians who cheered on Big Tech’s censorship—and called for more—in the closing years of the 2010s and the opening days of 2021.
Big Tech wants to transform America, that’s clear; it wants to remake our society in its image. But in this regard, Big Tech is no different from the earlier oligarchs who made its rise possible.
Up until a century ago, most Americans regarded monopoly and corporate concentration with profound distrust. The founders associated it with aristocracy, and they believed aristocracy was a death sentence for republics. Accordingly, they strictly limited corporate power, banned monopolies in all but the rarest cases, and worked to establish an economy of independent producers— where the common person, the common laborer, would have political influence and sway.
In fact, earlier Americans believed the republic depended on the strength of the working man and woman. These were the most virtuous of citizens, Thomas Jefferson said. The early Americans celebrated labor and the dignity of ordinary life—hearth and home, work and family. They believed the republic was meant to protect that life and the people who lived it. And for that, the common person needed to have a share in self-government. That’s what liberty was.
That changed—or began to—a century ago, when a group of corporate barons argued that monopoly wasn’t such a bad thing after all. They contended that economic concentration was inevitable, even necessary, for progress. They characterized the economy of independent producers the founding generation had known and labored to uphold as outmoded.
They advocated instead a new hierarchy in America, with the capitalists and their professional manager class at the top and mere labor down below. As for liberty, they argued it had little to do with the common man’s share in self-government. Liberty was the private space government and the professional class agreed to leave you in the country they now ran.
The corporate barons of the Gilded Age succeeded in bringing their vision, their corporate liberalism, to America. Big Tech is their natural successor. Like the barons of the Gilded Age, today’s tech oligarchs wield immense power, thanks to a combination of government aid and monopoly; like the barons, they are utterly convinced of their own righteousness and their right to govern America.
Our republic has never been more hierarchical, more riven by class, more managed by an elite than it is today. That is corporate liberalism’s legacy. But it need not be our future. This book is an exercise in alternative possibilities, an attempt to recover a different way of thinking about society and politics; it is an attempt, most fundamentally, to recover the meaning of the common man’s republic. It is not too late to make it real again.