If you want to take away such fundamental rights as speech, the press, religion, and political association, the formula is quite simple. You don’t need to force new draconian laws on the populace and send out the military to enforce them. You don’t need to change the Constitution or elect a totalitarian government headed by a dictator. That would be inefficient, difficult, and in a country like the United States, probably unsuccessful. No, all you have to do is scare the hell out of people, and they will cheerfully and voluntarily give up their rights in the name of security. As a case in point, it is happening right now, here in our own country, and in many areas, we are not even offering token resistance.
There has always been a struggle between the government and the private sector for dominance in society. And that is a healthy tension, one acting as a check on the other, neither becoming strong enough to impose its will entirely on the other. For many years this tug of war functioned as it should, but then came 9/11/2001.
There was a lot of blame thrown around at the time, particularly of the intelligence agencies, wanting to know how they missed what in 20/20 hindsight seemed to be apparent clues as to what was coming. How could this happen? Why wasn’t it stopped? Lower Manhattan had seen this before with the previous WTC bombing, so it would seem that any chatter regarding this target would raise red flags. How come information was not made available to local authorities to stop these monsters? The response to these questions naturally led to demands that we prevent this from ever happening again. The freedom we have enjoyed in this country for over 200 years was about to take a hit. This attack would not come from our enemies, but ourselves.
I can still remember the announcement by President George W. Bush that we would be creating a new security agency to coordinate the activities of existing organizations on the Federal and local levels. There was something not right about this. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I had a gut feeling that this was not going to bode well for us in the long term. Everything wasn’t laid out for the public, of course, but just enough for me to wonder if giving this much power to an already too powerful State was the best answer to this threat.
There were some concerns at the time pointed out by some that this was all just an excuse for a massive power grab, the chance to monitor and control citizens in ways that were Constitutionally suspect. These voices were dismissed as alarmists, conspiracy theorists, and crackpots. We were so sure our government would never be a totalitarian state, that ee had sufficient checks and balances to prevent even a despotic President from overtly abolish our freedoms, keep tabs on us or repress political opposition. Despite my misgivings, I was among the critics of those voices raised in alarm. They indeed did have some crackpot theories, but given developments in the past few years, some of those pots are beginning to look a little less cracked.
More to come on this.