Liberation by Internet

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In
The
Constitution of Liberty
, Friedrich Hayek gave a dire prognosis
for the future of technology: "[W]e are probably only at the
threshold of an age in which the technological possibilities of
mind control are likely to grow rapidly and what may appear at first
as innocuous or beneficial powers over the personality of the individual
will be at the disposal of government. The greatest threats to human
freedom probably still lie in the future."

Hayek, like
most of the leading intellectuals of his time, did not foresee the
emergence of the Internet – the quintessential Hayekian spontaneous
order. As a decentralized communication system facilitating the
sending and receiving of messages by billions of people, the Internet
has greatly shifted the balance of power away from governments and
toward sovereign individuals. Even in its early days, the Internet
played a vital role in bringing about the downfall of the Soviet
Union’s government. Since then, it has catalyzed tremendous economic,
social, and political liberation in countries ranging from Cuba
to the United States.

While governments
have tried to use modern communication technologies to monitor and
regulate private individuals, their efforts are doomed to failure
stemming from a much more powerful and competent market response.

Hayek Did
Not Know the Internet

When Friedrich
Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty was first published in
1960, the Internet did not exist; nor did its military predecessor,
ARPANET, which was initiated in 1969. Fifteen years after the horrors
of World War II, the means by which the totalitarian regimes of
Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union used mass broadcasting technology
to indoctrinate their people were still recent memories. During
the Nuremberg Trials, Albert Speer himself expressed the Nazi regime’s
effectiveness at using technology to spread propaganda: "Through
technical devices like the radio and the loudspeaker, eighty million
people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible
to subject them to the will of one man." Faced with such facts,
Hayek understandably feared future uses of mass broadcasting technology.

Indeed, in
a world where the only mass communication technologies were radio
and films, the scales of power were shifted toward totalitarian
governments and away from sovereign individuals. According to Christopher
Kedzie, "Since traditional broadcast media are located closest
to the dictator’s optimum they are almost certain to be employed
as a powerful political weapon."

Read
the rest of the article

September
20, 2008

S.J. Masty
[send him mail], a former
Washington speechwriter, is an international communication consultant
based in London. He is a contributor to the Examiner newspaper group.

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