Renowned Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig spoke about political campaign contributions undercutting the values of a democratic republic as well as the danger of restrictive internet laws during his lecture in the McCune Conference Room in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building on Wednesday.
Lessig, a director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics and founder of Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, gave a detailed account of how financial contributions have historically influenced politics. In addition, Lessig explained how the Stop Online Piracy Act and P.R.O.T.E.C.T. IP Act, which are currently under consideration by Congress, could have potentially detrimental effects on a civil society.
Lessig’s recently published book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It investigates these issues extensively and has been featured in national media outlets including the New York Times, the “Daily Show with John Stewart” and Rolling Stone.
According to Lessig, campaign funding is the driving factor in determining the winning congressional candidates.
“We have a system right now where, in fact, the candidates run two elections,” Lessig said. “They run in the money election and the votes election. They have to win the money election in order to win the vote election, most of the time. The problem with those two elections is that one is constitutionally egalitarian, and the other is isn’t.”
Lessig opened the lecture with a Henry David Thoreau quote to establish his speech’s framework: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
According to Lessig, Americans must address the origins of the political stalemate in Washington, where corporations are consuming the influence the founders created for the public.
In addition, Lessig analyzed the language of SOPA and explained how it authorizes unconstrained internet censorship in violation of the First Amendment.
Although the legislation’s proponents point to its potential ability to salvage the money lost from infringement, Lessig said the money lost from suppressing innovation would eclipse its benefits.
Lessig, who was elected to the Free Software Foundation’s Board of Directors in 2004, said the bill would stifle internet advancements, using the popular site Wikipedia as an example.
“When people said, ‘Let’s write an encyclopedia on the internet, where everybody gets to add and edit anything they want,’ I can tell you that there were many, many, many years before anybody thought this was serious,’” Lessig said. “And then, there it was.”
First-year political science major Elika Mazhar said Lessig’s speech demonstrated the nuances of the government’s structural incompetency.
“The presentation reaffirmed my view that Congress has been really inefficient,” Mazhar said. “He made really compelling arguments.”
First-year psychology major Rachel Anderson said Lessig proposed a viable resolution for the highlighted governmental flaws.
“Lessig presented a solution as well as the problem,” Anderson said. “It really inspired me to try to find a common ground with what other people seem to think is wrong with the system as well.”
According to the professor, citizens must retain their faith in the American system of government in order for it to flourish once again.
“We need a love for country,” Lessig said. “There are people who go and fight wars on a theory a million times more attenuated in its relationship to democracy in America. They risk their lives for their love of country. All I’m saying is that same kind of love for country has to be here. It’s impossibly difficult and there are a million reasons why it’s going to fail, but I don’t give a damn. We have to do everything we possibly can because we have no choice by accepting the system the way it is.”