Technology × Freedom

The "Slippery Slope" of Internet Regulation Isn't a Fallacy, It's a Strategy

July 3, 2017 invisiblehand

The other day, I picked up a rare gem: a copy of Austrian-school economist Ludwig von Mises' collection of essays, Planning for Freedom. Mises was an ardent defender of capitalism, which in his time was increasingly out of vogue. A recurring theme in these essays is that there is no true "middle road" or "third way" between the two ends of the political-economic spectrum of socialism and capitalism. All policies that seek to improve or "tweak" the current system will lead away from capitalism and draw a nation toward socialism.

This isn't an accident. It's by design. It's written in the playbook of Marxism itself, codified and ingrained in the strategy of any socialist who has climbed the political and academic ranks. Mises identified this strategy clearly:

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels designed a plan for the step-by-step transformation of capitalism into socialism. The proletarians should "win the battle of democracy" and thus raise themselves to the position of the ruling class. Then they should use their political supremacy to wrest, "by degrees," all capital from the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels give rather detailed instructions for the various measures to be resorted to. It is unnecessary to quote in extenso their battle plan. Its diverse items are familiar to all Americans who have lived through the years of the New Deal and the Fair Deal. It is more important to remember that the fathers of Marxism themselves characterized the measures they recommended as "despotic inroads on the rights of property and the conditions of bourgeois production" and as "measures which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which in the course of the movement outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production."

There are many writers and tech leaders out there who advocate for regulating the internet in some form or another - whether it's regulating the telecom companies, censoring "hate speech" and "fake news" on social media, forbidding encryption, or calling for a publicly owned internet. They win their argument by appearing sensible, level-headed, and pragmatic, and by invoking the slippery slope fallacy against any opponent who claims these regulations will lead to 1984-style totalitarian socialism.

But if we take Mises seriously, the slippery slope argument is not only not a fallacy, but the very essence of the strategy of the left. Marxists and the later Fabian-style socialists understood that the masses couldn't simply be won over to Marxism as a theory. To succeed, they would have to push through, little by little, certain "practical" policies to address problems like unemployment and poor working conditions. These policies wouldn't directly attack the foundation of capitalism but would introduce a distortion to the market - a distortion that seemed to solve one problem but would, with time, cause a whole slew of new problems. But rather than seeing these new problems as a result of the original market distortion, the masses would be fooled by the academic/intellectual/media elites, who, with sophisticated-sounding arguments, would blame capitalism itself. In Mises' words:

As long as the syllogisms of these pseudo-philosophies retain their undeserved prestige, the average intellectual will go on blaming capitalism for all the disastrous effects of anti-capitalist schemes and devices.

This would pave the way for further "economically untenable" policies, and thus the destructive cycle would be set in motion to destroy capitalism and establish a government-planned economy, society, and (by extension) internet.

Few people today consider themselves to be Marxists or socialists. Most people, in fact, consider capitalism to be "pretty good" but in need of some central regulatory power to keep its flaws in check. But it is precisely by accepting neither socialism nor capitalism wholesale and instead believing in a mythical "middle road" that socialism will be able to achieve its own coronation. In politics, the slippery slope is not a fallacy, but a strategy. When it comes to internet freedom, you cannot be "pragmatic." You must choose sides, or the side will choose for you.