Politics & Policy

The New Torquemadas

Brendan Eich would not recant, so he had to be punished.

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?

Nervous that his appointment had provoked some doubt as to his “commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla,” Eich immediately set about issuing promises. As CEO, he would strive to keep “a place of equality and welcome for all,” “work with LGBT communities and allies, to listen and learn what does and doesn’t make Mozilla supportive and welcoming,” and demonstrate an “active commitment to equality in everything we do, from employment to events to community-building.” In response to this assurance, Eich was shown precisely how “supportive and welcoming” Mozilla was: He was urged to leave.

The entreaties ranged from the contradictory to the sinister. Wrapping her intolerance and hysteria in the vapid, saccharine, and malleable language of the graduate-school prospectus, an employee named Sydney Moyer explained on Twitter that because the company offered a “big, open, and messy” “culture of openness and inclusion,” her new CEO should be forced to go away. Once upon a time, individuals who could not square their consciences with their circumstances saw fit to remove themselves. But, safely ensconced under the new cultural carapace, Moyers evidently recognized that she had all the power. I “cannot reconcile having Brendan Eich as CEO with our company’s culture and mission,” Moyers wrote. “Brendan, please step down.” Thus, once again, was the English language — the language of Mill, Shakespeare, Milton, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Churchill — not impressed into the service of individual liberty and defense of conscience but inverted and twisted in the hope of silencing the different. It seems that one can get away with the most extraordinary non sequiturs if one wraps them in enough nonsense. Two spoons of sugar, one of vinegar; let’s hope that nobody notices the taste.#Ad#

All in all, it is tempting to see Moyers and her ilk as little more than sad victims of their generation — lost souls who have a poor grasp of the meaning of words and an unfortunate tendency to swallow zeitgeists whole and to cheer on their enforcers. So often now, platitudes are offered as replacements for thought — reason being held in lower esteem than the unholy mixture of corporatespeak and progressive silliness that has infected our national conversation. Contemptible as her behavior was, Moyers and the thousands who think like her are not the cause of the problem, but a symptom — useful idiots, not evil schemers. Alas, the same cannot be said of the ringleaders — of men such as Owen Thomas, a tech gossip columnist and amateur tyrant who was so vexed by Eich’s employment that he saw fit to issue what can only be described as a catechism. Among the commandments that Thomas etched onto his website were: “Stop saying that this was merely a private matter that won’t affect your work as Mozilla’s CEO”; “Say that whatever chain of logic led you to conclude that your personal views required you to support Proposition 8 was flawed, erroneous, incorrect”; “Say that you support the rights of people to enter into same-sex marriages everywhere”; and “Make a donation equal in amount to the money you gave to Proposition 8 and candidates who supported it to the Human Rights Campaign or another organization that fights for the civil rights of LGBT people.” Elsewhere, a Credoaction petition accrued 75,000 signatures behind the demand that “CEO Brendan Eich should make an unequivocal statement of support for marriage equality. If he cannot, he should resign. And if he will not, the board should fire him immediately.”

In other words, Eich must repent: Specifically, he must prostrate himself before his betters and announce publicly that he has sinned; he must thank his inquisitors for their forbearance and beg for their forgiveness and charity; and, perhaps most sinister of all, he must start tithing to a church of their choice lest he be refused redemption and ostracized like a common leper. And if he should refuse this call to betterment? Hie thee to a monastery, man! — or, better perhaps, to the public stocks at the bottom of the valley.

Notably missing from the hysteria was any explanation of precisely what Eich’s critics expected to happen were he left in charge. Instead, Mozilla’s press office merely asserted that the company was such a diverse, tolerant, and live-and-let-live sort of place that it was all but obliged to hound a man out of office because he possessed slightly different political views from the majority of its staff. Nowhere was it suggested that Eich would damage the company. Nowhere was it argued that he was personally hostile or unpleasant toward its employees. Nowhere was it implied that he would seek to discriminate against those about whom he might have personal qualms. Instead, we were left with the uncomfortable impression that the assembled denizens of the open-source browser industry are so pathetic and so delicate in their sensibilities that they cannot work alongside anybody who displays the temerity to disagree with them. Is that who we want to be?

Announcing its nasty little victory, Mozilla informed the public that the resignation had struck a blow for “free speech and equality.” Gay conformity agency GLAAD went one further, praising corporate America for demonstrating its commitment to providing an environment that is “inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all.” The most comprehensive commitment to toleration, however, came from a different source — from a man who assured spectators before he left office that he wished only to ensure “that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.” That affirmation was penned by Brendan Eich, but it can’t be held to count for much, because he has the wrong sort of heart.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.


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