The Only Viable Threat

 Posted on March 30, 2008 in Uncategorized

The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.

AHCL, at the Elect Kelly Siegler Blog can be forgiven a bit of snarkiness when she reads:

Defending People is about protecting the people, one at a time, from the only viable threat to their liberty: their government.

After all, to people like AHCL and her core readers, who either serve the government or are scared of things that go bump in the night and want the government to protect them, the idea that the government is anything but noble is anathema. We wouldn't expect them to readily accept the notion that the government's protection has a price, much less that the price of that protection is liberty, and very much less that the government is the only viable threat to our liberty.

I am willing to accept, for the sake of argument, that government is a necessary evil, or at least an inevitable one. But a necessary evil is not, by virtue of its necessity, any less evil, much less noble.

By a margin of more than 11 to one, Defending People readers choose freedom over safety as the thing they value most. Even if all of the people who value health most and the three goofballs who prefer wealth to health and freedom chose safety over freedom, freedom would be favored more than two-to-one by Defending People readers. (AHCL, I dare you to run the same poll over at your site.)


The history of civilization is the history of a struggle not between good and evil or rich and poor or black and white or left and right or Democrats and Republicans but between institutional power and individual power. Until the aliens invade, this struggle will define humanity. Governments increase their power by taking away individual power (also known as freedom). In this struggle, prosecutors have chosen the side of the government. Increasing institutional power by taking away human freedom is not a noble profession.

I've long pictured the government as a beast, necessary to society - or at least inevitable - but nonetheless dangerous. And I've pictured the Constitution as a leash, wrought to keep the beast restrained. (Thomas Jefferson saw things the same way, as evidenced by his quote with which I began this post.)

So: in America we've got this terrific document, the Bill of Rights. It lists some of our rights explicitly. Then it says, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Yet the history of Constitutional jurisprudence (written by the government's judges) has not been one of clarification of the rights of the People not listed in the Constitution; it has, rather, almost universally been one of (a) expansion of governmental power (the obverse of the People's rights) to exclude any rights not explicitly listed, and (b) curtailment of the rights explicitly listed. The leash, in other words, has been stretched and weakened.

In every case in which the government's judges allotted the People less freedom and the government more power, it was the result of the government's prosecutor arguing persuasively for the diminution of human freedom.

Other than government, what threats are there to our freedom as a People?

Kidnappers? Individually, any of us could be kidnapped by a criminal. But the chances of that are minuscule and we cannot be kidnapped as a people.

Foreign invaders? The last foreign enemy that posed a real risk to the Constitution and the freedoms it preserves was arguably Nazi Germany. If not Nazi Germany, then Great Britain in 1812.

Terrorists? Laughable. Terrorists can do no harm to our Constitution without the collaboration of the internal enemy: the government. I've written often about how governments use fear as an instrument of compliance. Make people afraid: make the People fear things that they would not otherwise fear. One fear that the government exploits is this risible fear of terror's threat to freedom. "They hate us for our freedom," the President says, justifying our embroilment in a war without end that in turn serves as rationale for the curtailment of our rights - to free expression ("There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do...."), to be secure in our homes and persons (the malevolently-named USA-PATRIOT act), to habeas corpus, counsel, due process and jury trial (Guantánamo)....

So am I guilty of the same sin as the Government, trying to make you, reader, afraid of the threat that the government poses to our liberty?


First, I do want you to be wary of the government; that's the first step in preserving your liberty. If we don't recognize and acknowledge the threats to our freedom, we can never counter them. But you don't have to be afraid. We have, as Ed Howdershelt wrote, the Four Boxes: soap, ballot, jury and ammo.

Second, I don't want anything from you. When the government tries to make people afraid, it wants something from us. Specifically, it wants our liberty. From the legislature to the courtroom, government wants us to give it more power, which means giving up our freedom.

I've got all the power I need; I don't want more. All I want is for you to recognize what the government is and does, and behave accordingly.

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