The Rule of the Prince-Electors


During the Middle Ages, in the time of the Holy Roman Empire, there was a small group of men known as the Prince-Electors.  They, and only they, got to choose the next Emperor.  We have something kind of similar in America today.  There is a cluster of influential and would-be-influential people who fervently believe that–while they might not get to actually select the next President–they should have the authority to decide who may and who may not be considered for the Presidential role.  These Prince-Electors include national journalists, Ivy League professors and administrators, and high-level government officials.  Their primary means of action is via the control of communications channels.

A few days ago, Jon Gabriel linked a YouTube video of a 2019 speech by Giorgia Meloni, the newly-elected Prime Minister of Italy.  For at least 12 hours, that video showed a  message: “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.”   It now has been restored.  But the fact that a video platform would take it upon themselves to censor a speech by the elected leader of a major and generally-US-friendly country betrays an astonishing level of arrogance.  Although not surprising, given the recent history, including Twitter banning of Donald Trump and the Facebook suppression of stories about the Hunter Biden laptop–and much more.

Many years ago, I was talking with a wise executive, who said something has that stayed with me:

When you’re running a large organization, you’re not seeing reality.  It’s like you’re watching a movie in which you get to see maybe one out of every thousand frames, and from that, you have to figure out what’s really going on.

This is very true in business, and it’s even more true in politics.  The control of what Frames people get to see, and in what sequence, is a source of enormous power.

This power reaches its zenith, of course, in totalitarian societies, where people are prevented from sharing unapproved Frames via threats of arrest, long prison sentences, and even execution. China under Xi and Russia under Putin are pretty close to this condition.  Vitaliy Katsenelson, in one of his essays on Russia and Ukraine, remarked that many of his friends back in Russia seem like they are living in the Truman show… i.e., a totally controlled and imaginary environment.

We are not presently in that situation in the US, of course; but the parallels are getting pretty disturbing.   During decades of the Cold War, the Soviet Union invested great resources in the jamming of radio transmissions from outside the country–powerful jamming transmitters and large antenna arrays. Yet even during the most dangerous times of nuclear confrontation, the US did not ever find it necessary to jam Soviet transmissions in order to prevent Americans from hearing them.  This was true under all administrations, Democrat and Republican. But today, the desirability of censorship of ‘dangerous’ ideas is increasingly taken for granted by many people, some of them very influential.

There are, of course, many venues where open political discussion is still possible and multiple points of view are exchanged–there’s a lot more to the online world than just social media.  But the simplicity and commonality of the social media platforms has encouraged a lot of people to restrict their online reading, viewing, and writing to those venues, rather than exploring the broader world, which includes sites such as Ricochet and many others.  So those market-dominant social media sites do have great political power, as do the traditional television and print media.  (Former CNN CEO Jeff Zucker:  “You cannot be elected President of the United States without CNN”)  In the case of the social media sites, I believe the censorship policies are motivated partly by the desire to befriend what they see as the long-term power centers in government, and partly by sincere beliefs on the part of the senior executives of those companies that they are doing the right thing.  (The location of so many ‘tech’ companies on the West Coast is surely a factor in these political attitudes.

In 2010, I wrote a post titled The Scribes and the Idea of Freedom, which suggested that the whole idea of individual freedom is under attack. This relates to the idea of ‘nudging’, as promulgated by (among others) Cass Sunstein, Obama’s director of the Office of Regulatory and Information Policy–i.e., techniques for getting people to think, feel, and act in the way that they are supposed to think, feel, and act.  Excerpt from my post:

It has been believed for some time that intellectuals tend to be especially supportive of freedom..but it’s not clear that this really has historical warrant, especially if we generalize “intellectuals” to “the scribe class”, i.e., people who read and write for a living, ranging from medieval clerics to British schoolmasters of the Thomas Arnold era to modern college professors. Indeed, the attacks on individual freedom and choice seem to be propagating mainly among the members of our modern scribe class. I certainly don’t think there is any kind of central Illuminati directing the propagation of these memes; however, many members of this class clearly feel threatened by current turns of political opinion, and the high degree of conformity and groupthink within this class ensures rapid transmission of ideas that are judged to be socially acceptable in their circles. It appears that the critique of choice is now such an idea.

The demand for speech control is by no means restricted to the US, of course, it is disturbingly common among leaders and influential people in many, perhaps most, of what we used to refer to as the Democratic Nations or the Free World.  A particularly strident demand for speech control recently came from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who called the Internet “a weapon of war” and demanded to know, “How do you tackle climate change if people don’t believe it exists?”

A pulp novel from 1954, Year of Consent, projected a future in which America is still nominally a democracy, but the real power lies with the social engineers…sophisticated advertising and PR men…who use psychological methods to persuade people that they really want what they are supposed to want.  (Prefiguring “nudging”)  While Year of Consent (which I reviewed here) can’t be called great literature, on a par with 1984 or Brave New World, it projects a future that perhaps more closely mirrors the immediate threats facing American liberty in 2022 than either of those two other novels.

There are some signs of hope.  This month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law forbidding large social media companies from engaging in viewpoint discrimination.  The increasingly popular Substack platform has become a refuge for those who have parted ways with their traditional-media employers, and has allowed some of these individuals to make quite decent incomes. It is still possible that Elon Musk will acquire Twitter, where he would very likely implement a less-censorious environment.  But there are still plenty of threats, and the US today is closer to a controlled-speech environment than it has ever been, with the exceptions of the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Wilson administration.

See my related posts Do the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop Approve?,  The Rage of the Prince Electors, which has a long and interesting comment thread, and Comm Check.  As I said in Comm Check:

H G Wells’ 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come posits the emergence of the Air Dictatorship: global rule established by a technocratic group that begins with the imposition of a monopoly over global trade networks and especially control over the air.  Benevolent, rule, of course, as Wells saw it.

Are we in danger of de facto rule by a Communications Dictatorship, or at least a Communications Oligarchy?  I think the threat is clearly a very real one.

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There are 9 comments.

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  1. Ernst Rabbit von Hasenpfeffer Member
    Ernst Rabbit von Hasenpfeffer

    If you don’t have free speech, you don’t have a democracy.

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy has never Member
    Misthiocracy has never

    David Foster: During the Middle Ages, in the time of the Holy Roman Empire, there was a small group of men known as the Prince-Electors.  They, and only they, got to choose the next Emperor.

    This was still a much better system that what was done previously.  i.e. Civil war.

    • #2
  3. David Foster Member
    David Foster

    A case in point.


    • #3
  4. David Foster Member
    David Foster

    YouTube says the Meloni video was removed in error.

    So if the removal involved a human, are there going to be any consequences for that human?

    If it was removed by an algorithm acting on its own, what is being done to alter that algorithm?


    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    An excellent description of the path we are on and may very well complete. Let’s hope for those of us in the scribes class that we maintain our freedom to write the truth, as long as possible.

    • #5
  6. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill

    A salute to Jon Gabriel for his promoting the video release of the new Italian PM’s remarks.

    Some years ago, I posted the consequences of people accepting that David Ickes is so outside the normal margins of human discourse, as well as their accepting that Alex Jones is so far outside those margins, that they willingly overlooked how the social media PTB was busy censoring them.

    This remark was not an endorsement of Ickes or Jones. It was an endorsement of how the more upsetting or “non-realistic” the views of individuals may be, the more important to early on draw a line in the sand and state clearly “No you may not do this.” Because those who censor will continue to do so.

    Five years ago, the Never Trump crowd did not seem to mind the implications of legacy media lying through their teeth regarding statements he made at press conferences. They did not cringe when “comedian” Kathy Griffin held up Trump’s bloody severed head in effigy.

    I clearly have stated over the years that should censorship not be protested early on, then eventually there would be difficulties here at ricochet with regards to the ability to have a high level of discourse.

    That doesn’t make me any less sad to know that Jon Gabriel’s contribution brought him into turmoils of censorship.

    • #6
  7. Steven Galanis Coolidge
    Steven Galanis
    @Steven Galanis

    @David Foster. Yet even during the most dangerous times of nuclear confrontation, the US did not ever find it necessary to jam Soviet transmissions in order to prevent Americans from hearing them. This was true under all administrations, Democrat and Republican

    What need is there to jam transmissions that a tiny fraction of your population would understand?

    With respect to communications control, consider the value of tailoring your message to a world audience, and you begin to see why the MSM news feed is so selective and so shallow.  My guess is this news feed is either dirt cheap or free, everywhere in the world, and everywhere in the world English is spoken.

    Conversely, Americans who may be conversant in a second language have to pay a premium to get a news channel feed from a foreign country. For many of us, this premium is not even a major barrier. We simply don’t appreciate words that come at us too quickly, and we need English subtitles.  We are spoiled in that way.






    • #7
  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster

    Steven Galanis (View Comment):

    What need is there to jam transmissions that a tiny fraction of your population would understand?


    Pretty sure that the Soviets had an English-language service, along with various other languages.

    • #8
  9. David Foster Member
    David Foster

    Judicial Watch files lawsuit against California secretary of state, asserting that the California Office of Elections Cybersecurity (OEC), which Secretary of State Shirley Weber oversees, caused YouTube to remove Judicial Watch’s election integrity video on September 25, 2020.  The 26-minute video featured Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton discussing the vote-by-mail processes, changes to states’ election procedures, ballot collection (sometimes referred to as “ballot harvesting”), and states’ failures to clean up their voter rolls, among other topics.  

    Records show the Office of Elections Cybersecurity communicated with YouTube and/or Google to have Judicial Watch’s video taken down

    • #9
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