Thursday, July 28, 2011
State of the Security State
The American Revolutionaries were long revered in our political culture because -- by risking everything, including their lives, to wage war against the most powerful empire on Earth -- they chose liberty and freedom from state intrusion over personal security.
Multiple provisions of the U.S. Constitution reflect this same prioritization of values. The Fourth Amendment bars the police from entering our homes without search warrants and probable cause even though that restriction means that some of the most heinous and dangerous of criminals -- from mass murderers to child rapists -- will remain un-apprehended. The Fifth Amendment bars imprisonment without due process and the Bill of Rights imposes a slew of restrictions on the state's power to convict accused criminals even though it means that those same horrific criminals may sometimes go free, able to commit their crimes again. This subordination of security to other values was long the defining attribute of the American political identity, because we didn't want to live in a Singapore-like Security State or an East-German-like Surveillance State.
All of this has given way -- among the political class in the U.S. -- to a supreme fixation on safety at the expense of every other value -- a fixation that is in equal measures cowardly, authoritarian and exploitative. Patrick Henry's long celebrated tribute to courage has been turned on its head by the degraded cowardice of GOP tough-guy leaders -- such as Pat Roberts, John Cornyn, and Rush Limbaugh -- shrieking that civil liberties are worthless if you're dead: i.e., that safety is the paramount goal.
This is the ultimate issue. Is it better to be safe, or free? The modern Republican party, while couching its rhetoric in the mantle of liberty, says its better to be safe. Safe from various, nebulous external and internal threats. But if you want to be safe from hunger, or homelessness, the Republicans say, "that's your problem."
Its an interesting philosophical dichotomy. Democrats feel you should be safe from hunger an poverty, Republicans say you should be safe from violence. However, this dichotomy assumes that Democrats think you should not be safe from violence, and that Republicans think you should be safe from poverty, which is a false assumption. The real question here is, how much personal liberty are you wiling to surrender for personal security?