If the 2010s were defined by the “soft” censorship of tech-company deplatforming, the 2020s are more likely to see a return to the more primal, hard censorship of state repression: a censorship more akin to the twentieth-century totalitarian regimes than anything we are accustomed to seeing in twenty-first century America.
This is a somewhat strange development. Americans in 2019 already live under the most effective system of thought control in human history. As the Internet becomes increasingly centralized, it is easier than ever for a few corporate gatekeepers to make dissident thought inaccessible. Fifty years ago, if the Stasi wanted to repress samizdat literature, they at least had to find and destroy the printing presses. Now, Google doesn’t need to go to the trouble; it can repress electronic samizdat quicker and more efficiently just by altering its algorithms, to bury forbidden websites (and amplify establishment attacks against them).
Our ruling class is weak and dishonest, but this system has worked for them as well as any can. As the libertarians never tire of telling us, private companies can do anything the government can better. Apparently they are even better at censorship. It would take a lot of resources for the slow machinery of the State to investigate anonymous Internet rightists, expose them, and then put together a legal case to imprison them for thought crime. Google offers to censor the same content with little effort and for free.
Private deplatforming and cultural pressure have permitted the once-feared alt-right to be crushed as a political force. Its leaders have been ridiculed, driven from the public sphere, and given over to endless infighting. Dozens of once-anonymous followers have been exposed, their personal stories spread out in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post as a warning against anyone else who might be involved. The President himself has been rendered toothless, unable to achieve any of the anti-establishment policy goals that got him elected in the first place. Meanwhile, most normal people still have enough material wealth and comfort that they won’t risk anything to challenge the establishment, even when its corruption is obvious. Where was the popular backlash against the elites who covered for Jeffrey Epstein, covered up the burning of Notre Dame or the motives for the Las Vegas shooting?
But despite its wild success, the left is still plainly unsatsified with our system. Opinions like this in the Washington Post—calling for a hate speech exception to the First Amendment—are increasingly becoming the mainstream even among the center left. The recent attacks against Mark Zuckerberg in Congress and the press are another ominous sign. While it is easy to hate Zuckerberg, the left hates him because he is too sympathetic to us and won’t censor enough. After years of complaints about right-wing accounts getting Zucked from Facebook, Zuckerberg’s downfall might come from an Elizabeth Warren Justice Department that never forgave him for insufficient gatekeeping during the 2016 election. It seems that they won’t be satisfied until they actually criminalize authentic rightist thought.
We should resist the urge to over-intellectualize this issue. The reason the left is so dissatisfied is very simple. They don’t just want dissident thought repressed. They also want to see us in pain. Simply having Google or Facebook delete us from the Internet does not cause us enough pain. They would trade a lot of efficiency for the sheer joy of seeing the object of their 2 Minute Hate beaten to death in prison. Until you understand this—the sheer sadism and evil of the left—you can’t understand where American politics is headed.
Indeed, most political issues become a lot clearer when you realize that, in America in 2019, the ideological left is made up almost entirely of bad people. The street activists, whether antifa or pussy-hat marchers, tend to be psychologically broken sociopaths. The ideologues of the upper tier, even when more civilized, are motivated by a burning hatred of traditional white Christian America—even while they mimic the comfortable bourgeois lifestyle that that same America once made possible for the masses of working families, not just the urban professional elites. If you read the American Sun, they hate you even more.
The best description of leftist motivations may come from Dostoevsky, who titled his own novel about a radical sect, with Slavic bluntness, simply Demons. These are not ideological true believers; true believers act more like libertarians, consumed by endless debates over every application of the NAP. When the mask slips on social media, leftist “ideologues” are just evil people who use ideology as a cover to justify their pre-existing hatreds and psychological dysfunction. Progressive ideas become clubs to beat opponents satisfying their desire to punish non-believers. They realize the leveling egalitarianism of the far left is the best weapon to dissolve the traditional culture they hate, so they seize on that, and will overlook any contradiction or inefficiency so long as it makes our culture worse. Consider how they react with anger at the idea of right wingers seceding and leaving. They want to punish others.
If you doubt this, consider that the same people who decry “rape culture” openly salivate at the prospect of Trump and his associates getting raped in prison, while Hollywood liberals spent years covering for Harvey Weinstein. The same people who attack middle class college kids for “culturally insensitive” Halloween costumes have no problem with Justin Trudeau or Ralph Northam wearing blackface. The same people who would criminalize any criticism of Jews or blacks will celebrate the most vile insults against whites and Christians. The same people who call Christopher Columbus a genocidal maniac express no concern about the human sacrifice that went on in pre-Columbian cultures: like this giant skull tower, the size of a basketball court, that the Aztecs kept.
It is tempting to say that a group motivated purely by demonic hate—pushing everything to the breaking point, allowing spite to override prudence—betrays a weakness that will ultimately cause its downfall. Unfortunately, the popular distrust and dissatisfaction that brought down old leftist experiments like the Soviet Union simply does not exist in modern America. Even if it did, it can still ruin a lot of lives before it falls. The left holds power now, and, if for no other reason than inertia, will likely hold it for a while still.
This means that in the immediate term, the left will continue to get its way and we are likely to see more criminalization of dissent. For a long time, the American right has benefited from the fact that, even if we lose our Twitter accounts, we at least won’t go to prison. We need to think about how to act in a world where that is no longer the case. We should not despair; the truth is on our side. In the 2020s, our primary goal will be to survive and adapt.