The book has been controversial from the start. Although it was originally bought by Simon & Schuster, the company declined to publish the book after Hawley sided with protesters at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The book was then picked up by Regnery Publishing, and it has since climbed the best-seller charts.
Hawley’s argument has to be read in full, but the (very) short version is this: America is rooted in a tradition that distrusted big government and big concentrations of economic power and personified by Teddy Roosevelt. Hawley believes that Big Tech — but especially Google and Facebook — need to be investigated and charged for practices that violate the country’s antitrust laws. They have gained too much power, he believes, and government has been too slow to step in.
Both parties, to be sure, have been eyeing the regulation of Silicon Valley but have so far hesitated to move. One reason for that hesitation is that Democrats and Republicans know the United States needs Big Tech’s brainpower and technical skill to compete against China in the future; already the Chinese Communist Party is moving fast to create an Internet it can control, rather than one owned and operated by the guys and gals in hoodies who live in the 50-mile zone around Palo Alto, Calif.
A former law clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Hawley is quick to acknowledge the groundbreaking work of Harvard Business School professor emeritus Shoshana Zuboff, who has many fans on the left. Zuboff’s critique of Big Tech in her book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” is detailed and damning, and Hawley used some of the same research to reach policy recommendations similar to Zuboff’s. When left and right meet and agree, watch that space.
Hawley also believes that we are living in an age of unstinting political upset. We have been beset, as Americans, by a nonstop run of shocks in the past two decades: the razor-thin 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore; the 9/11 attacks; then, a pair of wars that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars; and then, the historic but deeply left-wing presidency of Barack Obama; and finally, a counterrevolution in the form of Trump. Oh, and then a pandemic.
No one saw any of this coming; and the string of unending earthquakes has changed us in ways we are only now starting to understand. But in the same 20-year period, while we were coping with so much convulsion and change, Big Tech has quietly transformed our lives without even the most minimal government oversight. Its power and influence have grown far too large. That has to change. If Hawley is correct, a revolt against all things big — Big Tech chief among them — is gathering strength for a comeback.
If Hawley persuades, it will be despite his ill-considered “raised fist” to protesters at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Hawley rightly argues that his vote and speech on the Senate floor objecting to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes were not only legal but also followed a path blazed by Democrats who objected to the outcomes of the 2016 and 2000 elections. He also confirmed to me what every serious constitutionalist knows: Vice President Mike Pence, contrary to what Trump suggested at the time, had no authority on Jan. 6 to do anything other than preside over the counting.
If Hawley is right about the dangers of Big Tech to the republic, my bet is that he won’t have to worry about his role on Jan. 6. His ideas about how to tame and regulate tech companies — even if it means breaking them up — will matter more in future years to voters than his actions on the day when protesters stormed the Capitol.
Meanwhile, “The Tyranny of Big Tech” is among the more important policy books in years. Read it, whether you love or loathe Trump.