Elon Musk has established himself as a champion of free speech with his acquisition of Twitter, but his foray into electoral politics may not be such a good sign for the country.
While it’s good he shares a vision with and is willing to promote a strong conservative presidential candidate like Ron DeSantis, it highlights the dangerous role oligarchs play in American society.
Musk is as close as it gets to what Plato called a “philosopher king” – a member of the ruling elite who applies his knowledge of philosophy to exercise power to maximize happiness for all citizens. Plato believed this philosopher king was the ideal ruler of a society. (RELATED: It’s Smart That DeSantis Is Announcing On Twitter. Here’s Why)
Now, America is short on philosophers these days (at least as the Greeks understood them), and we certainly never had any kings. Yet Musk is somewhat of a modern equivalent. Musk is the ultimate insider for understanding how our dysfunctional society works. He is a titan among oligarchs, far exceeding other billionaires in power, wealth and access to virtually all the halls of American power – from tech and finance to green energy and government. With that comes an understanding of how they have simultaneously been weaponized for an insurgent left-wing ideology. His unlimited financial resources give him near-absolute power as the new “king” of Twitter.
Such knowledge and power generally breeds corruption, but Musk has a vision of society — Twitter is itself a form of society — that channels these traits toward the common good. That common good is what, until recently, all Americans have understood and agreed upon: the fundamental nature of free speech in a functioning society.
Musk clearly believes in this vision. Explaining why he bought Twitter in the first place, he said “Free speech is meaningless unless you allow people you don’t like to say things you don’t like, otherwise it’s irrelevant. And at the point at which you lose free speech, it doesn’t come back.” (RELATED: Elon Musk Calls Out Liberal Fact Checker For Allegedly Trying To Discredit The Daily Caller)
When pressed on whether his commitment to free speech promotes “misinformation” and “hate speech,” Musk understood how the Left weaponized these terms to silence critics: “Who’s to say that something is ‘misinformation?’ Who is the arbiter of that?”
“Free speech is meaningless unless you allow people you don’t like to say things you don’t like”
Bravo, @elonmusk https://t.co/5FwdWjj6VG via @YouTube
— Joe Rogan (@joerogan) April 12, 2023
While managing Twitter over the past several months, Musk has proven he is the hero America needs. He understands the threat of a far-left insurgency to the American way of life and is willing to mobilize all of his resources to defend it.
Therefore, it was tempting to cheer when Musk announced his role in DeSantis’ campaign launch. However, there is a big difference between Musk promoting his political vision as a private citizen versus as a campaign surrogate in direct support of DeSantis. Is it good to depend on someone as powerful as Musk to openly choose our elected leaders, no matter how noble and enlightened his intentions are?
While Plato championed the philosopher king, he cautioned against oligarchy, a system of government in which a small cohort of wealthy elites hold power. This is timeless wisdom. Modern American oligarchs such as Musk and other Wall Street or Silicon Valley titans are no less corruptible than the elite of ancient times.
On a practical level, it makes sense for Musk and DeSantis to team up. Musk has a higher favorability rating (47%) than Trump, Biden or DeSantis, and he will likely lend credibility to the campaign among his own massive Twitter following (over 140 million). For his part, DeSantis’ Twitter announcement is a political innovation likely to help bolster the continued growth and relevancy of the company. While the relationship appears mutually beneficial, it can still go wrong.
As Plato warned, oligarchs are usually most concerned with the preservation of their own power and wealth. While the relationship might be mutually beneficial in this case, if faced with a choice between the campaign and his business interests, an oligarch is much more likely to choose the latter. (RELATED: Trump Trolls DeSantis With Genius Spoof Twitter Announcement)
This speaks not only to the Musk-DeSantis relationship, but the megadonor-candidate relationship more broadly. The Republican donor class clearly favors a more refined, conciliatory candidate who is friendly to Wall Street and ambitious abroad, but unwilling to wade too deeply into social issues on behalf of the conservative base. The base, meanwhile, prefers a populist warrior who focuses inward toward Main Street economics and the culture war.
That Musk and DeSantis appear to be the exception does not quite matter. By becoming so closely entwined, they legitimize a model for other candidates and backers to follow. While big money support in politics is nothing new, the hype around the DeSantis-Musk announcement will likely produce credibility for a model of alignment that would typically (and rightfully) breed skepticism. It is unlikely future emulators will be as altruistic.
When faced with a choice between the popular will and the status quo, oligarchs usually seek to protect what they already have. They can manipulate the popular will toward preserving the status quo for some time, but eventually the abuses become too hard to ignore. That is why oligarchies are so unstable: The common people will eventually wise up and revolt. While tyrants are bad, angry mobs are no better – they merely impose a different type of tyranny.
While Musk and DeSantis appear to be on the path of righteousness, the fact that a popular leader like DeSantis must look to oligarchic support for backing and protection means America is on a slippery slope to becoming a banana republic. In fact, it means we may have already arrived.