Today's Republican Party demonstrates the problem of putting new wine into old bottles.
Friend, Foe, and Free Speech on Social Media
A genuinely open Twitter would be deadly for our decadent liberal regime.
The American regime’s crusade against social media free speech revealed the radical character of our liberal ruling class. From 2016 onward, the elites and their social media mercenaries waged an unrelenting propaganda war against ordinary Americans who wanted to live decent lives. In the process, they unveiled their hatred of nations, families, and moral norms—anything that bears the smell of order and hierarchy. As the masks went on, the mask came off. The consensus of the oligarchs fractured, however. Elon Musk crashed the liberal propaganda party by taking over Twitter and revealing the rotten internal workings of the previous censorship regime.
Elon’s willingness to once again open America’s largest public forum to real political debate is the most consequential political event since the election of Donald Trump. It opens up new political possibilities and reveals the fundamental weakness of our ruling class: their power rests on permanent control of the narrative.
Whatever its history in more spiritually robust times, “liberalism” today is an extreme and unbridled philosophy of total conformity. It depends on a gigantic system of social, economic, and political control and censorship in order to maintain its authority. At the heart of this regime is a sleight of hand in which the gatekeepers of the liberal order claim to have transcended the primitive political distinction between friends and enemies. In reality, by making that very claim, enforcers of liberalism have pushed the friend/enemy distinction to extremes that would have been unheard of in the ostensibly backwards politics of yesteryear.
Liberalism claims to defend the open society of toleration and liberation. The nation-state, or closed society—with its racism, parochialism, and conservatism—has been done away with. The free movement of goods and people will lead to utopia. The Pride flag is the symbol of global liberal democracy, John Lennon’s “Imagine” is its anthem, and this Coke commercial is its vision of the perfect society.
The notion of “friends” and “enemies,” according to this outlook, is a relic of the unenlightened, rejected past. Prior to 1945, nations used to fight wars. Now, war is illegal. But this supposed achievement of progress merely represents a radicalization of the friend/enemy distinction.
Claiming that this distinction had been overcome was simply a tacit way of radicalizing it. Enemies are now not only opposed: they are erased from existence, disqualified as legitimate participants in politics. They don’t count. This enables über-liberals to claim both that “hate has no place here” and that “everyone is welcome”: these rhetorical gestures depend on excluding dissidents from among the referents of “everyone.”
So the enemy of the liberal order is not a legitimate opponent but an absolute enemy—the literal reincarnation of Hitler. The last seven years of Trump Derangement Syndrome in our politics is a sign of this radicalization.
Donald Trump ran in 2016 on a moderate Republican platform. He embraced a law-and-order campaign, an end to foreign wars, limits on immigration, and a strengthening of American trade policy. These were all policies that had once been endorsed by leading Democrats from Barack Obama to Bill Clinton. But Trump was treated as if he were an illegitimate totalitarian leader.
This intense religious fervor is explicable only in light of the animating principle behind the liberal order—it knows that it is vulnerable to the challenge of aspiration. Trump unashamedly embraced a policy of national greatness. He argued, implicitly, for a return to the old order—to the closed society of laws, borders, citizenship, and real national interest.
This kind of aspiration is modern liberalism’s arch-enemy. The ideal citizen of the “21st-century global economy” is the spiritual eunuch who simply sits there and takes it. Make money, go home, watch sports, get a hobby, have a “normal one,” eat the bugs, live in the pod—that is the model. Every regime has an ideal citizen—the human type it aims to inculcate. The ideal liberal citizen looks like Sam Bankman-Fried, vegan man-titties and all.
The longing for nobility and excellence, however, yearns for something more. It isn’t satisfied with the stultifying life of modern “liberal democracy” with its 401Ks, transgender surgery for minors, and censorious HR bureaucracy. Resentment, sloth, and cowardice are the ‘virtues’ of the liberal order, but some human types reject this mode of being. They don’t feel resentment at greatness—a desire to tear down, debunk, decolonize, etc.—but a longing to emulate it.
These human types are the fundamental enemies of the liberal order. The gatekeepers fear them more than anyone else and will stop at nothing to suppress them.
One can see this in Twitter’s moderation standards under the old regime. Alex Jones, who has never killed a child, is banned from this and every platform. He has been targeted for financial ruination and, if possible, total erasure. Meanwhile child pornographers, avowed Marxists, and war criminals from George Bush to Barack Obama—both of whom have the blood of innocents on their hands—are allowed to speak freely.
This is not “hypocrisy” but a manifestation of the friend/enemy distinction. Whatever distaste or even disgust you may personally feel at Jones’s more extravagant conspiracy theories is irrelevant, except as a useful pretext for commanding your assent to his destruction. The real principle at work here is: Alex Jones is a Bad Person and therefore his speech is subject to whatever standards his persecutors find convenient. But Donald Trump’s accusers, who alleged he colluded with the Russian government and was pissed on by Russian prostitutes as part of sexual encounters, are free to lie and defame at will.
I am sure that innumerable 10,000-word essays have explained how this all makes sense because of “principles.” But these midwit bloviations mean nothing. The reality is much more simple. Donald Trump (and his followers) are, in the minds of the Left, fascists who want to destroy democracy, etc. The people who “resist” this “fascism”—such as America’s entire media/corporate/academic industrial complex—are therefore given a blanket license to engage in all manner of vicious political tactics.
Global gatekeepers from FDR onward have managed to neuter every significant threat to liberal hegemony. Nixon left office in disgrace, and voices in the wilderness like Pat Buchanan and Robert Taft were kept far away from the levers of power. Trump changed everything. His election in 2016 was a “black swan” event unlike anything in post-war history. The Left lost its mind in response, doubling down on every insane policy it could get its hands on. The global COVID hysteria is but one manifestation of this impulse.
But this radicalization is not a plan: it is the powerful spasm of a blind monster lashing out in malice and rage. The anti-white rhetoric, blatant double standards, and election shenanigans are the work not of brilliant master planners but of a powerful (though dumb) ruling class trying to will itself back into hegemony.
The Democrats poured billions into “fortifying” the 2022 election. They got to keep the Senate but still lost the House. But none of this matters now. Elon Musk’s decision to roll back Twitter’s censorious policies is an infinitely greater blow. The Left’s control over the culture and information networks is their most important weapon. By stripping them of it, Musk opens up the possibility that ordinary people can express their true thoughts about the liberal regime.
The thoughts that tens of millions of Americans hold in private, once given voice in public, could easily become a movement of aspiration. The vital energy of Trump’s 2016 campaign gave young men a taste of possibility. Things don’t have to be this way. We don’t have to live in a country with a hollowed-out heartland; we don’t have to fight endless foreign wars; we don’t have to be displaced by foreigners in our own country.
Trump pointed the way toward a new kind of politics. For the last seven years, liberals have been desperately trying to put that genie back in the bottle. It won’t work. If Musk carries on with his instinct to truly liberalize the most important public forum in the country—not to bring it in line with the stultifying imperatives of global conformity but genuinely to open it as a forum of spirited and varied discussion—the possibility of another Trump, or even of something greater, becomes almost inevitable.
The return of free speech spells disaster for the rule of the global gatekeepers.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.