The disciplinary corporation

The unfortunate and deeply stupid evolution of mob politics in our time is the subject of my new book, The Smallest Minority, Chapter 5 of which is titled “The Disciplinary Corporation.” Ochlocracy — mob rule — sometimes takes the form of rioting or other kinds of open violence, as in the case of Antifa, but more often it consists in the mob bullying third parties — government or, increasingly, businesses — into implementing the mob’s agenda. The vectors of causality can get complicated: If anybody thinks that the Chinese nationalist pressure on Nike was entirely extraneous to the actions of the Chinese state is dangerously naïve. Mobs lean on politicians, but politicians also whip up mobs. In articulating his infamous “fire in a crowded theater” standard — in a case that involved the question of whether the Democrats could lock up war protesters — Oliver Wendell Holmes created our ruling tautology: The government must prohibit the expression of unpopular political ideas, he argued, as a matter of public order, because the mob would not tolerate the expression of those unpopular political ideas, in that case the Socialist party’s criticism of the war effort and conscription. The state consults the mob and the mob presses the state: It becomes a matter of shouting “Fire” in a crowded feedback loop. The evolution of the corporation as an instrument of explicit political discipline in its role as investor and in its role as employer is troubling. A certain kind of old-fashioned libertarian socialist (oxymoronic, or simply moronic, as that formulation may sound to the modern ear) understood the modern state and the modern bureaucratic corporation as being sides of a coin, twin creatures of the same regimenting and centralizing impulse. That line of criticism has much to recommend it, and contemporary conservatives should take note of it.