December 20, 2010
Really Free and OpenBy Jeffrey Folks
"Freedom and openness" has become a mantra for many on the left.
On Dec. 1, FCC Chair Julius Genachowski circulated his remarks on preserving internet "freedom and openness," even as he promoted greater government regulation of the web. George Soros, a shadowy financier who has for years paraded as a servant of freedom and openness, funds the intensely partisan Open Society Foundation and, of course, moveon.org and Media Matters. Anti-democratic leftists such as Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua regularly spout the phrase even as they grab more and more power.
Not least among this motley crew on the left, Julian Assange has repeatedly asserted his commitment to freedom and openness even as he attempts to defend himself against allegations of sex crimes and espionage.
Just how "open" is Assange himself? Suzanne Moore, writing in Britain's Daily Mail, questions Assange's commitment (and that of WikiLeaks itself) to openness. She notes that Assange, whose activities are funded by donations, has not released the names of his contributors.
As for freedom, there is no doubt that Assange is committed to that, at least when it allows him to do whatever he likes. The charges of two Swedish women regarding his alleged sex crimes bear witness to that. And these are apparently just two of the many women with whom Assange has had brief relationships. Plenty of freedom there, but not much commitment.
Though Assange does not reveal much about his funding or the questionable if not illegal aspects of his private life, he has written a great deal about the motivation behind WikiLeaks. In a recent op-ed in The Australian, Assange -- never one for false modesty -- compares himself to the young Rupert Murdock. He brags that WikiLeaks has brought down "whole governments," yet he has never harmed a single person. WikiLeaks, Assange claims, is always on the side of "truth" (and presumably it is WikiLeaks that determines what that may be). Most importantly, Assange portrays himself as the champion of freedom and openness.
Let's be very clear at this point. No society can function without a set of laws. The radical freedom that Assange champions cannot exist in a functioning society because freedom must necessarily be limited by law. A society without law would either be anarchistic like Somalia or authoritarian like North Korea. In neither case are the rights of individuals, including personal freedoms and property rights, protected by the rule of law.
It is the rule of law that is put at risk by the left's campaign for total freedom and openness. And clearly, there are many on the left who believe that their so-called high ideals place them above the law. Daniel Ellsberg, the person responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers, was one of these. But the theft of classified documents is a serious crime, as is the act of hacking into government or corporate computers. These actions are a violation of the rule of law, and those who engage in them should be prosecuted.
Many of those who support total freedom and openness are naïve, to say the least, but this is not to say that they are unserious. It is hardly coincidental that freedom and openness should become the mantra of the left.
For the left, freedom implies the right to confiscate income and redistribute it to others. But redistribute it to whom? To those whom the left deems worthy.
Openness suggests the right to examine the confidential discussions of government and corporate leaders and to post them on the internet with the intention of changing behavior. But changing it in what way? Changing it to accord with the principles of the left.
Reduced to these terms, freedom and openness take on a very different meaning. What the left is about has nothing to do with truth and fairness. Instead, it has to do with confiscation, imposition, and power. The campaign for freedom and openness, in fact, is just the latest round in the long war waged by the left against democratic capitalism.
What Obama's FCC seeks is not greater freedom, but more regulation, and regulation with the intent of imposing the views of a leftist elite upon the broader public. Likewise for moveon.org and WikiLeaks. It is not freedom in general, but the freedom of some over others that they seek.
The left will never abandon its bedrock notion that the dumb masses, as they imagine them, must for their own benefit be ruled by an intellectual elite. Anyone who doubts this premise need only read Cass Sunstein's Nudge. In this book, Obama's regulatory czar (what else?) speaks of eliminating the institution of marriage for the sake of an American public too dim-witted to realize that marriage no longer serves their purposes. I suppose that Sunstein, divorced for fifteen years before his remarriage in 2008, knows more about the topic than the rest of us.
Every leftist regime in history has seized power in the name of freedom and openness and has then proceeded to appoint czars to regulate and control every aspect of life. What was Lenin if not a proponent of liberation? What was Castro if not a freedom-fighter? What was Obama...
Those who see Assange as a servant of freedom and openness fail to understand his real intentions. In essence, Assange is nothing more than a facilitator for the radical left. His stated intention is to bring down governments and private corporations that he judges to be "immoral." What sort of government and corporation would he replace them with?
Presumably, it would be government that would impose egalitarianism on its people. It would be corporations that would operate "in the public interest" rather than primarily for profit. What Assange envisages, in other words, is a socialist state in which market forces no longer function freely. In this society, there would be plenty of freedom for welfare moochers and leakers, but not much for corporations.
The mantra of freedom and openness is, in sum, a clever dodge intended to disguise a malevolent underlying motive. That motive has little to do with freedom and openness. It points to a totalitarian future in which our liberties will be lost. In that future, nothing that is said will be protected from the charge of "hate speech." No enterprise will be protected from regulation and control. Nothing that is owned will be protected from redistribution.
Those who support freedom and openness need to consider the real intentions of Genachowski, Soros, Assange, and the rest for whom absolutism is the actual goal. Once our liberties have been seized and destroyed, America will be no more free than any other communist utopia.
Jeffrey Folks is author of many books and articles on American culture and politics.