Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Ten years ago this week, Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla, the company he co-founded, because of ginned-up outrage over small donations he made to groups opposed to legalization of same-sex marriage in California. A visionary technologist whose work had made the web a more accessible, free, and enjoyable experience for everyone was condemned as a hateful bigot and treated as a pariah by his company, the press, and on the internet that he was so instrumental in building.

Rather than fighting for the position he had earned through years of work as lead architect and chief technology officer, Brendan parted ways with Mozilla. After laying low for over a year, he co-founded Brave Software, where he remains CEO. Brave, a browser that prioritizes user privacy and security, has exploded in popularity since 2020. 

A just society would esteem and elevate Eich for proving to be so effective and generous in everything, from his ten-day sprint to produce the first specification of JavaScript, to his stewardship of the Netscape codebase and his leadership at Mozilla and now Brave.

JavaScript is one of the three fundamental technologies on which 99 percent of user-facing websites are coded. Free and open-source, meaning anyone can implement the technology without licensing, JavaScript unlocked a universe of possibilities in function and aesthetics for websites and browser-based applications.

Eich’s career is often defined by JavaScript, but it is his work on free browsers for the people that the true theme emerges. Eich is a student of the American spirit, which, from the Founding to today, he takes to be characteristically pragmatic and productive. It is not “hard revolutionary, it’s not trying to burn the past and destroy everything,” Eich told Lex Fridman in an interview. “We have these rights and we have duties, too.” Americans will only tolerate so much oligarchy and incompetence until a small band of overachievers will take it upon themselves to disrupt the system and restore the balance so they can once again fulfill their duties.

Much of Eich’s work revolves around the empowerment of the principled few who can benefit the many. A small group of people built the simple but brilliant tools that we all use in our daily lives, and they did so utilizing technologies designed by an even smaller cohort—composed of people like Eich—for the purpose of constant creation and iteration.

The World Wide Web held promise for freedom and prosperity, and Eich contributed to the fulfillment of that potential. He is also intimately aware of the risk one takes when a life is lived, and society is run, in constant connection to that web. When companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook know everything you view, say, buy, and sell, even where you live and go, you cannot meaningfully exercise sovereignty. The exercise of true personal sovereignty—and thus collective political sovereignty as The People—is impossible without possessing control over your own data.

It is poetic, then, that ten years ago Eich’s cancellation was the first event to demonstrate the awesome danger we now face.

I was working in New York's “Silicon Alley” when it happened, and I immediately recognized it as a major escalation in the culture war. It was a warning that the Leviathan of technocracy did not care how well I did, how hard I worked, or how well I treated others. Ideological conformity to the top-down, programmatic transformation of the country that was rapidly taking place was all that mattered. If I was unwilling to affirm the current thing dictated according to the whims of “progress,” I was an enemy of humanity and an enemy of America. And my beliefs, no matter how ancient, innocent, and valid, must bow to the will of Leviathan, or the digital swarm would descend upon me. In fact, the higher I rose, the harder opponents would hunt for an excuse to throw me, like Belteshazzar, to the lions.

The attack on Eich has been replayed hundreds of times in the last decade in the ritual scapegoating of successful men and women who run afoul of the regime. And, being totalitarians, the cancellers aren’t satisfied with mere professional or reputation harm but seek a comprehensive and permanent destruction of their victims that includes even ostracism by friends and family. This is what they sought in Eich’s case. Mercifully, they failed.

I am not here to complain about cancel culture. Brendan Eich does not. He is too busy. He refuses to be defined by the evil done to him, or by the purported heterodoxy of his beliefs, but by the work he does and by his character, as known by those closest to him.

Rather than taking to the airwaves and leaning into the role of martyr, as have so many others who have endured similar abuse, Eich never speaks publicly about the wrong done to him—not once even in private to me. Instead, he diligently pursues his vocation.

In this, he is emulating Christ, who, when his disciples were worried that he had not been provided anything to eat, replied that his sustenance was “to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” Finding work to do that makes you fearless will make you unstoppable. Setbacks will become stepping stones to a more refined vision of one’s vocation. The wrongs done to you will become opportunities for cultivating wisdom necessary for your next iteration, making you stronger, more resilient, less fragile.

In 2014 I was worried that what happened to Brendan Eich might happen to me. How much could I stand to lose? My reputation? A position? A business? Friends? Family? I remember fearing that anything I built could be snatched away, that the Eye of Sauron might fix upon me and unleash a legion of woke orcs against me and those I loved.

Now, a decade later, I have more reasons to be afraid. I have built things I love with people I love: a family, a business, a circle of friends and associates. All the while, the enemies of the Good have grown even more totalitarian. And yet I do not fear, in good part due to Eich’s example. The darkness stole things from him, but it failed to stop him from doing the work he believes transcends his own life.

In the same Fridman interview, Eich was asked whether, after all his world-changing accomplishments, he fears death. Brendan said he did not, citing his Catholic faith, and observed that those who do fear death often feel like they’ve “missed out on opportunities to do something that will endure.”

The dangers of ten years ago are greater now for faithful Christians. But if we diligently perform the work that God has called us to, we can suffer delay, and even death, without fear. The work will endure, because it is His work.

Andrew Beck is partner at Beck & Stone.

First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

Click here to subscribe to First Things. 

Image by Sam Barnes/Web Summit via Sportsfile licensed via Creative Commons. Image filtered and cropped.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles