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What the Early 20th Century and the SOPA/PIPA Fight Have In Common

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, September 26 2012

As it happens, there's a connection between the SOPA/PIPA fight and sexuality and politics in 1920s Austria.

That's the argument Beth Noveck made Monday at New York Law School, during an evening book event Personal Democracy Media hosted to discuss Steven Johnson's new book, "Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in the Networked Age." Noveck spoke alongside Tina Rosenberg, co-writer of the Fixes online column for the New York Times, Internet thinker Clay Shirky, and our editorial director, Micah Sifry.

Johnson's book outlines "collective, incremental, networked approaches," Noveck explains.

And this reminds her of Hugo Bettauer, the early 20th-century Austrian novelist and journalist whose prolific output made him tremendously popular — except among political hard-liners of both stripes. His progressive take on sexuality and women's rights, Noveck said, made him both controversial and widely read.

"He was mobilizing movements of people, peers if you will, against both the the left-wing orderly worker family, the Social Democratic-Marxist order that the left was preaching, and against the clerico-fascist Catholic order that the right was preaching," Noveck said. "So he was, in a way, a kind of peer progressive, if you will, and we can fast forward the debate from one about socialism versus catholicism, to one about the market versus the state, about raising taxes versus cutting services, and we sort of find that there is this third way through a debate that in every era we have seen this left-versus-right debate which this kind of engaged liberal philosophy, and I use liberal in the sense of individual rights, really pits itself against."

Across the not-quite-two-hour discussion, Johnson, Rosenberg, Noveck, Shirky and Sifry took turns hacking away at this idea of a "third way," one that is not a moderate compromise between a market-driven politics and a state-driven one so much as it suggests a more decentralized model for concentrating and distributing wealth and resources.

That's the theory behind the SOPA/PIPA connection. The kind of network that coalesced to exert some political pressure on Congress is, in theory, the kind of network Johnson suggests we might be seeing more of.

Here's the whole video:

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