Leviathan Goes to 'War'

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"This
morning, freedom itself was attacked," President Bush announced
on September 11, shortly after several commandeered commercial aircraft
facilitated the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. Actually,
it was the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that were attacked
on September 11. The latest assault on American freedom is only
now getting underway, courtesy of the U.S. federal government.

Most
everyone has heard the old aphorism from Benjamin Franklin that
people who give up liberty for security wind up with neither. Nevertheless,
66 percent of respondents in a Washington Post poll say they are
prepared to sacrifice some freedoms to fight terrorism. Until last
week, I thought that self-professed conservatives and libertarians,
at least, understood Franklin's warning, even if many of our countrymen
did not. Sadly, this has turned out not to be the case. People who
have for years cogently and earnestly argued for a much-needed rollback
of state power have suddenly cast their lot in with Leviathan.

Overnight,
New York-based National Review Online became rife with talk
of massive state empowerment. "Maybe now, in the wake of this
terrible act of war, we can break our great taboo and at least consider
a revival of the draft," wrote contributing editor Stanley
Kurtz less than 24 hours after the attack. "The military's
budget should be Washington's first priority, not its last,"
insisted another writer, Mark Levin. "Bush should demand broad
warmaking authority," cried Washington editors John Miller
and Ramesh Ponnuru.

What's
going on? My libertarian friends, who were always suspicious of
conservatives' commitment to limited government, would normally
snort and ask, "Well, what can you expect from those statists?"
Normally, that is, except that many of those libertarians now are
talking in much the same way as the folks at National Review.

And
Washington is ready to oblige this majority sentiment. The House
of Representatives voted to shovel at least $20 billion more into
a nebulous "war on terrorism" that already employs a thousand
government snoopers. That isn't the half of it. The Federal Reserve
stands ready to increase the hidden tax of inflation by printing
billions more in greenbacks. Air travel, already larded with many
nonsensical security regulations that failed to prevent last week's
catastrophe, will be subject to even greater restrictions. Increased
government meddling in people's financial records, personal communications,
and business affairs cannot be far behind.

Certainly,
the pundits are right that last Tuesday's events change everything.
Never again can Americans assume they are safe in their own cities,
in their homes, or in their jobs. Never again can we believe we
are insulated from the actions of our government overseas, actions
that needlessly make enemies for us in countries around the globe.
And we can be assured that it will become increasingly difficult
for ordinary citzens to opt out of the state's latest "war,"
a war which is sure to provoke even more attacks on Americans.

Which
brings me to my main point, a point that most people, understandably
ready for military retribution, will not want to hear: War is still
the health of the state. And this new "war against terrorism"
is even worse than the state-enhancing wars of previous eras. A
war against whom? For what purpose? The conflict is ill-defined
and open-ended, meaning there is, and can be, no discernible end
to the calls for "sacrifice" and "emergency measures"
that aggrandize government at the expense of the average person's
freedom and ability to lead his life.

There
are those who might call an attitude of continued skepticism toward
the state during this time selfish, callous, unpatriotic, cowardly,
or even worse. But war is nothing if not the biggest, ugliest, costliest,
and most violent government program there is. Why should anyone
expect that the same government that can't properly deliver mail
is suddenly capable of "eradicating terrorism from the planet"?

There
is, of course, an even larger reason to doubt the U.S. government's
efficacy in prosecuting a "war against terrorism." That
reason lies in the nature of what we're calling "terrorism."
Is it really true, as National Review and other media outlets
insist, that "The United States is a target because we are
powerful, rich, and good"? Or is it more likely, as columnist
Sam Francis has it, that "the terrorists attacked us because
they were paying us back for what we started" in Iraq, Sudan,
and other Muslim countries? If the U.S. government doesn't even
understand the motives of its enemies, what hope does it have of
outwitting and defeating them?

Mass
murder is not something that one swallows easily with his morning
coffee. Nevertheless, we must remain committed to a free society
and press for a long-term solution that involves not more government,
but less, both domestically and abroad. No more meddling in other
nations' affairs. No more attacking people who have not done us
any harm. And no more letting the state carry out its belligerent
plans in our name, with the kind of dire consequences we are now
seeing.

These
are truly the times that try men's souls. In this present crisis,
let us acquit ourselves with aplomb and affirm the enduring American
values of peace and liberty that generations of our brethren have
fought and died for – and that tens of thousands of innocents
perished September 11 for want of.

September
18, 2001

Michigan
writer David Bardallis [send
him e-mail
] maintains
a web site at www.thought-crimes.net.

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