One could be forgiven for throwing one’s hands up in despair at the sheer audacity of it all. A fortnight ago, as the federal government took to the courts to defend a rule that deliberately burdens the consciences of America’s more religiously devout entrepreneurs, the professional Left adopted the position that companies do not have consciences, griped that a harsh separation of the public and the private spheres was a recipe for the suffering of unpopular or put-upon individuals, and insisted that any links between the activities of an employee and the deeply held beliefs of his boss should be thoroughly shattered. Today, the opposite case is regnant. Defending the appalling hounding of Brendan Eich, progressives seem to have suddenly got the message: reminding critics that there exists no legal right to be the CEO of a non-profit; insisting correctly that this sordid and alarming little affair does not in any way implicate the First Amendment; and acknowledging that, the doctrine of at-will employment being what it is, a man may resign from his job for whatever reason — up to and including harassment.
Well, comrades — which is it to be?
The answer to this question, one suspects, is “whichever suits the moment.” Which is to say that the Eich affair is ultimately about power, not principle — the latest in a series of plays contrived to show who is in charge. Convenient as it might be to pretend otherwise, the Left does not truly believe that private companies may behave as they wish to, but that private companies may behave as the Left wishes them to — whether instructed by government or not.
Adroitly obfuscating the nature of his departure, Mozilla insisted that Eich “chose to resign,” which may be technically accurate but is a reasonable description of what happened here only in the sense that it is reasonable to contend that pirates who are asked to walk the plank ultimately “chose to jump.” As being faced with 200 sailors carrying scimitars provides quite the incentive to plunge into the icy Atlantic, so being the target of a cyclonic witch-hunt helps along the hand that signs the resignation papers. It is all allowed under the law, certainly — and should be. But that is not really the material question here. What is legal, as William F. Buckley famously noted, is not always reputable. And this has been a greatly disreputable affair.
Mozilla’s chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, explained oleaginously to the excited press corps yesterday that by hiring Eich in the first place, her outfit “didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act.” I’m not so sure. My support for gay marriage has long been tempered by the suspicion that the admirable calls for freedom and for toleration would swiftly be subordinated to the enforcement of orthodoxies and to the punishment of heretics. Anybody who has observed in action the maxim that what was yesterday prohibited will tomorrow be mandatory would have expected Mozilla to act precisely in this way — to make a good decision initially but then pithlessly to become the latest petri dish in which the never-sated advocates of “respect” might successfully try their luck. Later, Baker continued her abject apology by suggesting, inexplicably, that the company “didn’t move fast enough.” Short of his being thrown screaming from a window at the inaugural board meeting, it is difficult to see how Mozilla could have moved more quickly. Eich was pushed out after only ten days in charge — a remarkably quick scalp, even in our breathless age. The consequence of reflection and debate this decision was not. It was a victory for the mob, and nothing less.
How quickly has liberty been transmuted into orthodoxy. For the entirety of human history, gay marriage was a veritable non-issue — a thought that had occurred seriously to nobody and for which there was neither a meaningful constituency nor measurable pressure. In the space of a decade it has moved from a fringe and novel proposition to a moral imperative — and, now, to fodder for the new inquisitors. That the issue has now achieved the approval of a narrow majority is to my mind no bad thing. That the movement’s more vocal champions have started bludgeoning their enemies one and a half minutes into their still-fragile victory speaks tremendously ill of them, and does not portend well for the republic.
Eich’s crime is to have contributed $1,000 to support Proposition 8, a successful 2008 California ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Unlike the incumbent president of the United States, who not only affirmed in that year that he believed marriage to be between “one man and one woman” but contended that his religion required him to protect this definition, Eich has been relatively silent on the question of homosexuality. Still, we can presume rather reasonably that his contribution implied his support in that year, which puts him neatly in line with 52 percent of the California electorate, with Bill and Hillary Clinton, with the president and vice president, with the majority of the United States Congress, and with the American public — all of which, half a decade ago at least, were content to defend the status quo. One can only wonder at what manner of firings we would have to expect were we to rifle through the campaign contributions of other American leaders and chief executives. As is the proclivity of the technology industry, Mozilla evidently regards itself as especially open and unprejudiced — a beacon that burns bright in the night. But rare is the corporation that does not pay lip service to the very principles on which Mozilla appears so erroneously to pride itself. If we are to make long-term fealty to progressive doctrine the prerequisite to corporate management, America’s economy will fold overnight. Who is next, Torquemada?