For sheer comic relief, it seldom gets any better than to take in the thoughts of the internationally renowned political theorist Benjamin Barber. How do I know Barber is “internationally renowned”? Because his own website tells us so. Clearly he doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem. (In this week of dramatic events in Libya, it may be worth recalling my observations about Barber’s toadying to Kadafy in National Review a few months ago.)
Anyway, Barber appears in the current issue of The Nation to tell liberals it is “time to fight,” but offers comic gems such as this:
What we lack is a coherent progressive narrative explaining and justifying liberalism’s role in the radically changed circumstances of the twenty-first century—a liberal vision of the kind Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams offered the founders or John Dewey gave the Progressive Era. Liberals need to stop denying who they are and, like the young protesters, start fighting for what they believe in. For though aggravated and anxious, liberals have never been less visible in the struggle for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens.
With no coherent new liberal narrative to render our values timely, we too often cleave to the center and compromise to the right. We care about civility, but civility is looking a lot like surrender. We must not step away from our values before negotiation begins, allowing runaway financial markets, bloviating plutocrats and anti-government hubris to dominate, while poverty, social justice and climate change slip off the legislative agenda. And when we do take to the streets to voice our anger, we lack the clarity and focus that only a relevant narrative can offer.
I could spend some time drawing out the amazing implications of the admitted failure of the original Progressive narrative, which was thought to be the narrative to end all narratives politically speaking, but never mind. Too tedious. More interesting is one of Barber’s concrete ideas: regulate the Internet like a public utility:
The second dilemma posed by the new capitalism is the privatization of a digital public utility (the Internet) as the result of Bill Clinton’s decision (in the Telecommunications Act of 1996) to deregulate digital media because of so-called spectrum abundance, which supposedly offers room for diverse voices and needs no government enforcement of fairness or the public good. . .
Private ownership corrupts democracy because money skews power rather than equalizing it. For new media to be potential equalizers, they must be treated as public utilities, recognizing that spectrum abundance (the excuse for privatization) does not prevent monopoly ownership of hardware and software platforms and hence cannot guarantee equal civic, educational and cultural access to citizens.
This isn’t hard to decode. Barber wants censorship. He’ll deny it, but can making the Internet a subject for public utility-style government regulation have any other plain meaning?