Defending the Digital Commons

The left-libertarian spirit flows from the Enlightenment tradition expressed in the work of Karl Marx, the father of modern class politics. To be sure, Marx was critical of the type of liberty that finds a right in individual control over capital, but he believed that censorship did more to further that type of liberty than undermine it. Marx is critical of the property right because of the class interests underpinning it; free speech, when protected, provides access to persuasion for those who do not command the machinery of prevailing ideology. Indeed, for Marx, the liberal notion of rights does not emanate from the property right but rather the property right is the contradictory element in the system of rights liberalism identifies. It is the property right that allows speech to be captured and controlled for the securing and perpetuation of exclusive interests oppressive to labor. Yet many on the left see free speech per se as an oppressive instrument of capitalism (and of racism, sexism, etc.). Those who call for censorship have the substance of their demand precisely backwards: rather than limiting the power of property to interfere with the free exchange of opinion and expression, they support subordinating speech to the property right.

In this essay, Defending the Digital Commons: A Left-Libertarian Critique of Speech and Censorship in the Virtual Public Square, published by Project Censored, I explore the potential application of civil rights protections to public accommodations and utilities with respect to social media platforms, services Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy describes collectively as the “modern public square.”

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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