Fascism, Free Speech, and Musk’s Twitter

David Golumbia
6 min readNov 7, 2022

Elon Musk’s claim to be a “free speech absolutist” makes sense only if you believe that there are two kinds of people

Image source: Mark Fiore/KQED

Fascism talks a lot about free speech. Many who oppose fascism point out the irony that in all societies where fascism has taken hold, fascist leaders do not support free speech at all, but instead impose significant penalties on anyone who speaks out against them.

A reasonable person might ask, what does “free speech” mean to someone who openly advocates the censorship and even criminalization of opposing views?

The answer is easy enough to see as long as we understand what fascism is. Of course fascism is many things, but one of its core elements is the distinction between a good “us” and a bad “them” — a “friend” and an “enemy,” as Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt put it. One of the main distinctions between democratic politics and fascist ones is found right here: democracy means that every human being is fundamentally equal, especially in terms of political rights and power. Fascism says some people are better than others — in fact, many of those whom democracy calls “people” aren’t really worthy of the name. Under fascism, there are übermenschen and sheeple, not “people.” When fascists say “people” they mean their version of the good “us.” There is always a “them” there, whether or not the “them” is made explicit.

When fascism talks about “free speech,” that has to be understood in the context of its fundamental commitment to “us” and “them.” Free speech, to the fascist, applies only to us. We must be allowed to say anything we want, without consequence. We get free speech, in the most ordinary sense of free speech.

What is left unsaid is that under fascism, you aren’t a person. Not only does this mean that you don’t get freedom of speech. Because you aren’t a person, but some kind of sub-person or sub-human, the “real” humans, the fascist “us,” believe that they have significant power over you.

When it comes to speech, the fascist position usually appears to be that they can say anything, while everyone else has to listen to them.

That’s what I think drove Musk to buy Twitter: the mistaken conviction that he was buying Twitter’s users, who will now be forced to sit there and take the…

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David Golumbia

Professor, Writer on Digital Studies, Language, Theory