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Elon Musk’s twist on tech libertarianism explodes on Twitter

“Love it or hate it – but Twitter is a million times better and more fun since @elonmusk took over,” wrote the conservative troll pseudonymous account – yes, unfortunately – “catturd2”. The tech world’s favorite, podcaster Lex Fridman, proclaimed that “Twitter is better than Netflix right now.” Venture capitalist and writer Mike Solana noted the lack of national press to understand when it comes to Silicon Valley, saying “there are SF engineers trying to work on Twitter right now entirely because they think it might be difficult”, something political writers “really can’t understand”. In short: liberals and even many establishment conservatives do not obtain the philosophy Musk brings to Twitter, and their dismay at its changes, is proof enough of that in itself.

This makes Musk’s ownership of Twitter more than just a billionaire vanity project or a tech-world skirmish over content moderation. It’s a window into a distinct mindset, common but not exclusive to Silicon Valley, that glorifies individual drive rather than the pursuit of group consensus; frontier standards of speech, sucking like buttercups, rather than crowd-pleasing moderation; and old-fashioned ideas about the “wisdom of crowds” rather than the prescriptions of “experts.” The result is a new-school version of tech libertarianism that merges the global “founder” cult with modern conservative critiques of liberal institutions. It’s no different than the form of pro-business, star-crossed, culture-war conservatism practiced by Gov. Ron DeSantis in his “Free State of Florida,” but his fans aren’t limited to red states — he just check your Twitter feed.

Antonio García Martínez, author and tech entrepreneur, summed up this mindset and its grievances well in a Twitter feed who said Musk’s takeover was a “revolt of entrepreneurial capital against the professional and managerial class regime that otherwise dominates everywhere (including and especially big tech companies)”. In other words: A revolt of billionaires against… their own employees.

This positions, in Martínez’s grievance-bearing language, the “HR regime, ESG scammers, Skittles-haired folks with mouse-click jobs who see themselves as daring social crusaders rather than parasitic weight around the neck of any organization”, against another twitter gadflythe hypothetical “100 passionate libertarian engineers” with shares in the company, capable of overthrowing it overnight with the sweat of their brow and pure self-interest – and who, implicitly, believe themselves capable of going from “employee to musky Moguldom overnight thanks to hard work and a lucky break.

These engineers, along with right-wing tech figures like Musk and his close friend David Sacks, a venture capitalist and adviser on Project Twitter, share a classically libertarian passion for free speech and free markets. Where this tried-and-true mindset, at the bottom right of the political compass, finds its modern twist is in the particular conflict that Martínez describes: key movers like Musk are now battling not just greedy bureaucrats and parasites of Ayn’s welfare. Rand’s imagination, but a cultural regime that seeks to cement its dominance through corporate governance (not to mention academia and the media).

A dynamic “constructor”, after all, is nothing without a foil to contend with – and all things considered, post-Reagan America is still damn friendly to capital. The story of Silicon Valley since the 1980s has been one of unfettered freedom and “permissionless innovation,” with a few notable exceptions. This level of comfort could be what gets a self-proclaimed ‘free speech absolutist’ like Musk to ponder his support for DeSantis, a man who used state power to punish one of his top employers. for… speaking out against the legislation. did not like. Libertarians and Culture Warriors now have the same target in the “Waking Capital”.

The libertarian technological world offers some theories on the rise of woke capital. A particularly popular characterization of their opponents is, as Martínez put it, the “professional-managerial class” or “PMC,” a concept borrowed from World War II political philosopher James Burnham. Although their understanding of it is slightly distorted by Burnham’s actual writings, it has become so widespread that it is worth considering on its own: “PMCs” are the college-educated middle managers who dominate ranks of inflated companies and impose their cultural preferences on these companies. companies although they are not really manufacturing anything.

This criticism, it should be noted, is not limited to the right. But on the libertarian right, there is no sin so great as “doing nothing,” which makes the “HR regime” and its allies a particularly powerful boogeyman. Martínez’s use of the word “regime” to describe them is, intentionally or not, telling: Ohio Senator-elect JD Vance used the term endlessly during his campaign as a radical characterization of government-dominated institutions. PMC in business, government and media, drawing on its intellectual influence Curtis Yarvin, the monarchist blogger and software engineer.

You might read the word “monarchist” and think we’ve come a long way from libertarianism in the space of a single paragraph, but worlds collide more often than you think. Writer John Ganz recently compared the philosophy shared by Yarvin and GOP mega-donor Peter Thiel to the apartheid-era South African concept of “baasskap,” in which “highly competent technical managers with a crystal-clear vision, engineers,” rule. without dissent or democracy on a submissive population.

It is a mistake to equate outright, as some liberals have done, the woolly, unpredictable libertarianism of Musk with the harsher hard-right ideology of Thiel. The former might have made a favorite game, if not now a big part of his business empire, of “owning the libs”, but he expressed nothing like Thiel’s practical obsession with shaping American politics (at unless you plan on getting tangled up with the National Industrial Relations Commission). But both share a fundamental commitment to a sort of aggrieved, hyperindividualistic view of their rightful place in the world, namely at the top: to borrow a slogan from another era of industrial hero worship, “Silicon Valley does, the world takes”. ”

This all sounds, once again, very Randian. Ayn Rand’s hard-line free-market dogmatism is decidedly out of fashion among the newer and more vibrant parts of the post-Trump right. But not so long ago, it was driving the backlash of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Ron Paul movement, and even the Bitcoin cult. Modern “builder” libertarianism abandons Rand’s allergy to the state but retains its glorification of the architect and the railroad builder – now, the coder – in a world of liberal reprimands, censors and regulators.

That’s what makes Musk’s ownership of Twitter such a galvanizing event for his followers. Pre-Musk Twitter was a company like any other, with a professional culture and goals guided by its board of directors and the desires of the company’s advertisers. Musk bought the company and basically said, “The board is me,” disbanding that board and taking personalized control of the company to effectively turn it into a startup.

If you don’t share the philosophy of Musk and his fans, and thought Twitter was a flawed but important “digital public square,” that’s reason enough to “freak out.” But if you believe in the power of Musk’s “hardcore” few, this is an unprecedented opportunity to show the world the power that has been suppressed by a ossified liberal establishment – a dynamic that defines this era of politics just as much as this wild moment in business.

politico Gt

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