October 22, 2014
 
 
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.comment: Strange Alliances in U.S.v. Microsoft

First Principles

  • January 24, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

It is awfully tough trying to figure out the motivation for people of widely varied political philosophies taking atypical views in that little lawsuit known as United States v. Microsoft Corporation.

Thinking people spend at least part of their thoughtful lives seeking what amounts to a unified theory of right and wrong: a set of base principles whence everything else derives. And thinking people often as a result embrace a political philosophy, politics being the administration of coercive institutions. Though there are shades and flavors all along the line, the fundamental argument is between conservatism, which sees the individual as the fundamental unit of society, and liberalism, which sees the group -- sometimes society as a whole -- as the fundamental unit of society. The Constitution of the United States, a pretty perceptive political document, takes both philosophies into account, providing the basic document as a charter for a liberal government, and the Bill of Rights (as written, rather than as interpreted in recent years) as a series of protections for the individual. People who ponder these things typically find one philosophy more sensible than the other, and the answer to many questions, illuminated by the chosen point of view, is often, maybe usually, suggested.

Considering the people involved, it would seem as if U.S. v. Microsoft is immune to answers drawn from political philosophy. I mean, take a look: those lined up against Microsoft include the lawyers David Boies (who most recently represented Albert A. Gore Jr. in his Florida legal wrangling), Robert Bork (who was, well, borked by Senate liberals during his U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings), former Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and, well, me. Microsoft's supporters include the liberal writer Michael Kinsley (who I have described in this space as being the result of an attempt to merge the gene pools of the human and the tree frog) and the conservative broadcaster and author Rush Limbaugh (who I count among my friends).

How can this be? Here we have two groups of people who I think it can safely be said agree on nothing except their respective views on the Microsoft case. Does principle provide no signpost pointing toward justice in the case?

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