The Digital Republic: On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st Century by Jamie Susskind - review by David Anderson

David Anderson

Rousing the Weary Giants

The Digital Republic: On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st Century


Bloomsbury 464pp £25

John Perry Barlow, Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in his 1996 ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ that the internet was ‘creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity’. He had a simple message for those ‘weary giants of flesh and steel’, national governments: ‘You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.’

Such libertarian sentiments still resonate strongly in the United States. They are reflected in its law, notably Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which prevents internet platforms from being sued for content posted by their users. Mistrust of government meddling has created a powerful fusion of free-speech absolutism and laissez-faire capitalism, both founded on a belief in the power of competition to further the public good. While Europe regulates, it is said, America innovates, a truth nowhere more evident than in the astonishing growth of the internet and the global transformation of our capacity to learn, connect and communicate.

Jamie Susskind, a London-based barrister and former Harvard fellow, understands the appeal of what he calls market individualism. However, he condemns it for its inability to provide a means of controlling not only the excesses of Big Tech but also the growing influence of digital technology over every

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