I’ll have more to say on the whole Wikileaks thing later, but I’m a little disturbed by the reaction I’ve seen by some libertarians to one developing aspect of the story. The London Guardian reported:
The United States struck its first blow against WikiLeaks after Amazon.com pulled the plug on hosting the whistleblowing website in an apparent reaction to heavy political pressure.
The main website and a sub-site devoted to the diplomatic documents were unavailable from the US and Europe on Wednesday, as Amazon servers refused to acknowledge requests for data.
The plug was pulled as the influential senator and chairman of the homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, called for a boycott of the site by US companies.
“[Amazon's] decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material,” he said.
In response, I’ve seen a few libertarians who are now calling for their own boycott of Amazon — ”I won’t be shopping there this holiday season,” etc. — to protest the company’s capitulation. I’m sorry, but that’s childish and stupid. First of all, you’re adopting the very tactics the state used against Amazon. Second, what you’re basically saying is that you’re going to let statists like Joe Lieberman decide where you will and won’t shop. That’s asinine. Third, it’s one thing to boycott a firm that actively colludes with the state or, say, lobbies for political favors; Amazon was a victim here, not a belligerent.
Given that you have prominent political and media personalities demanding the outright murder of Wikileaks officials, I think it’s a reasonable act of self-preservation for Amazon to heed these threats. I’m normally the first to criticize companies that fail to stand up to bullying by government regulators. But for the moment, this is a much different, and much more volatile, situation. The anti-Wikileaks forces are led by mentally and emotionally unbalanced animals. Right now they are capable of anything. Amazon is under no ethical duty to stick their necks out in this context.
But back to my original point. While everyone has to decide for themselves where and when to “boycott” a company, I respectfully suggest a policy of punishing those firms that yield to state pressure does nothing to advance the cause of liberty. I know of many small businesses that were forced to sign “consent orders” at gunpoint. Would it be ethical to boycott these mom-and-pop stores as well to send a message to the aggressors? I think not. And I think that applies even to large, successful businesses like Amazon.