Unicornia is a beautiful land on the borders of Faëry. There are rivers of pure water, chocolate springs, cotton candy clouds, candy houses, and ideological models applied to the letter. There, reality is easy to interpret, without the need for nuances or adaptations.
In Unicornia, life is cheerful and comfortable, full of seminars, think tanks, conferences, and friendly chats where everyone agrees and where, propelled by a tasty macchiato with the mermaid logo, you can build a perfect world. The only problem is that the rules of Unicornia do not apply in the real world.
The tale is relevant because these past few weeks, the libertarian community fell into a bitter conflict between those of us who denounced Big-Tech’s grotesque censorship against Donald Trump, and those who defended said censorship with the argument that “they are private companies and can do whatever they want.”
Let’s speak clearly
Dear Unicornia libertarians, my friends, it’s time to explain something to you with all the charity and clarity that the subject deserves: If you are going to get into politics, you cannot expect to play by Unicornia’s rules in the real world.
This also applies to the “companies are private, and therefore they can do whatever they want” mantra. Saying so implies approaching companies with the same absolute adoration that Socialists devote to the State. Basically, the only difference between a Unicornia Libertarian and a Unicornia Socialist is what institutions they assign a pure and angelic role to (either corporations or governments). Both of them are wrong.
The truth is that neither businesses nor governments are inherently pure or evil, because they don’t act (it’s Mises 101 people, only the individual acts). What we perceive as the actions of companies or the State are, in reality, the acts of individuals with decision-making capacity within those organizations. So, there are times when “companies” act with a political objective, involving themselves directly in the battlefield of politics, even though they are private companies.
In this case, what the Big-Tech companies did in destroying Parler, silencing Donald Trump, and censoring millions of his supporters was not merely a business decision. It was a political act designed to weaken the political machine of the right and strengthen the “cancellation culture” and the near-hegemonic Progressive narrative.
In plain English, Big Tech companies helped the radical left, weakening the Republicans and sending the unequivocal message that whoever dares to challenge it will be at risk of being censored and extinguished. They didn’t do it for Trump; they did it to set an example.
Innocents, realists, pragmatics
The Libertarians of Unicornia cling to the “they are private companies” chant. They don’t understand that these companies can act politically and become part of a censorship machinery. They refuse to understand the real world, where politics are played with machines or ecosystems which go beyond the government or political parties; the media, academia, social activists, and entrepreneurs are also part of that machinery.
At this point, the Libertarian from Unicornia, my friend, could reply: “Hey, but isn’t all that stuff just a way of justifying your immoral pragmatism or even your betrayal of Libertarianism by supporting Donald Trump?”
That’s a valid question, and my answer is this:
No. There is a difference between realism and pragmatism. Realism understands that there’s a predefined set of rules that you need to play by. Conversely, mere pragmatism acts out of strictly selfish interest and betrays the principles it purported to defend. The realist understands that to defend freedom in the political sphere; he has to play by the rules; the pragmatist does not want to defend freedom but only uses it as an appearance.
This being so, “it is almost impossible to distinguish realists from pragmatists,” the Libertarian will reply.
Right, because in the real world, the good guys and the bad don’t go through life with different colored helmets. In real life, the vast majority of people will be somewhere in between, and it won’t be easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and the regular guys.
Yes, it would be much easier to live in Unicornia, where all companies are good, all governments are bad, all incentives are clear and all scenarios are modeled in a nice book, an interesting lecture or a tasty cup of coffee. But that’s a fantasy.
As Libertarians, one of the things we know is that reality exists in advance, and we can’t mold society like clay (that’s what leftists try to do, with genocidal results). Similarly, if you are going to do politics, you cannot make up your rules, allies, and enemies. You enter a scenario with rules, consequences, and players that were already there.
One step from innocents to “useful idiots”
In the United States, it’s evident that there are two great political machines: The Progressive one, which has appropriated the old Liberal machinery and includes the Democratic Party, Hollywood, the academic elites, and the big cities; and the Conservative one, which consists of the Republican Party and an increasingly diverse alliance based on the love of America and the respect for the country’s traditions and identity.
As a Libertarian, I’m convinced that the Conservative machine is closest to our values and vision. Progressivism is increasingly authoritarian and totalitarian, seeks to dictate more and more aspects of our lives, and has the power to drive those tyrannies in the United States and internationally, from the banning of straws, to centrally defined “quotas,” to “political correctness” and the obligation to speak with ridiculous pronouns.
Hey, you’d reply, “what about the Libertarian machine, the Libertarian Party?” Well, let’s face it: After nearly 50 years of existence, the Libertarian Party is nowhere near relevance. Worse, it lately seems doomed to become a fellow traveler (useful idiot) of Progressivism, celebrating sexual liberties while becoming a silent accomplice in the loss of all others.
The irrelevant peace of Unicornia, or the useful uncertainty of the real world
Listen, my Libertarian friend from Unicornia: I, too, have lived in that land of fantasy and absolute certainty. I don’t deny that it’s a beautiful place, and I understand that you like it there, but you can’t live in both worlds at the same time (remember that scarcity is an element of human action).
You have two options:
The first is to stay in Unicornia, comfortable in your think tank, your cafecito, and your conference room, denouncing the evils of the world by reciting theories and mocking the pragmatists out there, but you will be irrelevant. Yours will be a mere hobby, like that of a model railroader, a comic book reader, or a Klingon apprentice.
The second option is to go into politics and make politics. That means falling from the certainties of Unicornia to the nuances and dust of real life. It involves getting dirty, taking risks, getting it wrong, but it will also (with any luck) allow you to make a real difference in the world.
I choose the second option. I hope you do too.