When Josh Hawley was last in the headlines, it was for spearhead the effort to challenge the Electoral College’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory on January 6. the theories behind the objections were specious and contradictory; it was a deeply cynical effort. And in The tyranny of big technologies, Hawley has produced a deeply cynical book. The Missouri senator raises valid concerns about the tech industry and offers solutions that deserve to be taken seriously. But he integrates these ideas into a larger argument that is so misleading that he calls the whole project into question.
Hawley’s in-depth reviews of Silicon Valley will be familiar to anyone who’s watched The social dilemma on Netflix: smartphones are addictive. Behavioral advertising is manipulative. Social media is bad for children’s mental health. The biggest tech companies together spend tens of millions of dollars each year to buy influence in Washington. Facebook, Google and Twitter wield too much power over communication. And they are using it, says Hawley, to discriminate against the Conservatives. (Likewise Simon & Schuster, the original publisher of the book, who abandoned Hawley after the Capitol Riot – proof, writes Hawley, of American society trying to silence him. The book eventually found a home with Regnery Publishing. , a conservative brand.)
Where Hawley’s book departs from the standard anti-technology treatise is in its attempt to tie the present moment to a grand theory of American political history. In Hawley’s account, people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos are the direct ideological descendants of the original robber barons of the Golden Age. Their domination is the culmination of what he calls “corporate liberalism,” a philosophy in which, he writes, the state and big business conspire to deny the common man his independence and self-government. . According to Hawley, corporate liberalism took hold a century ago in both major political parties, and today, “Big Tech and Big Government seek to expand their influence in all areas of American life.”
And so Hawley spends much of the book telling those historical roots. The hero of his story is Theodore Roosevelt, whom Hawley considers the champion of a small Republican tradition dating back to the founding of the nation. “He believed that freedom depended on the independence of the common man and his ability to participate in self-government,” writes Hawley. “He believed that concentrations of wealth and power threatened the control of the people and therefore their freedom.” Roosevelt established this good faith by bringing a successful antitrust case against financier JP Morgan in 1904. But his Republican vision saw its tragic demise in the 1912 election, when Roosevelt lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, whom Hawley calls “the the first leading liberal company in the country. . Where Roosevelt defended the common man, Wilson favored government through the corporate aristocratic elites. Once in power, he put an end to the anti-monopoly movement, settling instead for friendly cooperation with big business. “It was the Wilsonian settlement, the triumph of corporate liberalism that would dominate American politics and political economy for a century and reach its apotheosis with Big Tech,” Hawley writes.
It’s an interesting story, and Hawley tells it well. The problem is, almost all of the important stuff is wrong. In the 1912 election, it was Roosevelt, not Wilson, who fostered cooperation between the government and business elites. After the 1904 confrontation with Morgan, Roosevelt decided that the “good” trusts were fine, as long as he could regulate them. This arrangement was much more acceptable to the tycoons. George Perkins, a Morgan partner at US Steel, was a leader and major funder of Roosevelt’s Progressive Party during the 1912 campaign. Morgan himself given over $ 4 million in today’s dollars when Roosevelt was re-elected in 1904. Hawley does not mention these warm relations.
Wilson, on the other hand, was the real anti-monopoly candidate of 1912. His “New Freedom” platform was heavily influenced by Louis Brandeis, widely regarded as the godfather of the anti-monopoly; as president, Wilson would elevate Brandeis to the Supreme Court (a connection Hawley only briefly recognizes). To portray Wilson as the pro-business candidate, Hawley takes his words so far out of context that they take on the reverse of their real meaning. He quotes a speech, for example, in which Wilson said: “Big business is undoubtedly a great deal necessary and natural.” But if you follow the footnote, you will find that this is part of an argument against monopolies. “What most of us are fighting for is breaking this very partnership between big business and government,” Wilson said. “I absolutely take my position, where every progressive should take a position, on the proposition that the private monopoly is indefensible and intolerable.