America’s Default Mode
by Ryan McMaken by Ryan McMaken
It’s been known for thousands of years that the lust of the mob moves faster than justice and reason ever will, but for what its worth, at least some sanity peeks in here and there. Last week, top members of the House let the CIA know that they have been making decisions with "significant deficiencies" in intelligence and "insufficient specific information" about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
This is hardly shocking news given what the international intelligence community has known for a very long time, but now that even the White House is even admitting that Saddam had nothing to do with the terrorism of September 11th (and forget about WMD’s), the Congress has apparently decided that it should probably say something about it. Of course, many Americans still support the decision to invade Iraq, possibly because Saddam was a brutal despot. Fortunately for the numerous far more brutal despots around the world, however, most Americans don’t know they exist. Zimbab-what?
What Americans do know is that when it comes to foreign policy they should just do as they’re told and not try to ask unsettling questions. We’ve all been taught quite well by years of Cold War and public schooling that when it comes to National Defense, whoever’s in charge has everything under control. All that Constitution and republican government stuff just gets in the way. Deliberation and debate are fine for things like welfare benefits and city politics, but when it comes to declaring war, Americans had best leave it up to the professionals.
For the partisans of limitless international meddling and limitless spending of taxpayer dollars, this is all well and good, but for ordinary Americans, it is a truly disastrous state of mind. Alarmingly, many Americans now operate under the assumption that unless otherwise proven, the federal government can be assumed to be acting in the best interests of Americans. In other words, the burden of proof is now on the people of the United States to prove that the government is not justified in its actions, instead of the other way around. Apparently, having the feds justify their hundred billion dollar pet projects to the people who pay the bills is just too much to ask.
This is much like the IRS functions. Once they decide that you owe them some money, you’d better have plenty of cash just burning a hole in your pocket, since by the time you prove that you don’t actually owe the government your life savings, most of it will probably be gone in legal fees anyway. Since we’re apparently so blithe about having gov’t bureaucrats go through our personal lives and finances with a fine toothed comb, the federal government probably figures that we wouldn’t be any different about sending our sons and daughters to get shot in far away lands — and pay through the nose to do it. And they would be right.
That this attitude is completely contradictory to virtually every principle of republican government as imagined by Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries, should be quite obvious. Americans who value liberty do not surrender it at the first sight of a charming president, or a classified document, or even an armed foreign enemy. In 1813, the great Southern conservative John Randolph of Roanoke knew as much:
"The people of this country, if ever they lose their liberties, will do it by sacrificing some great principle of government to temporary passion. There are certain great principles, which if they are not held inviolable, at all seasons, our liberty is gone. If we give them up, it is perfectly immaterial what is the character of our sovereign; whether he be King or President, elective or hereditary — it is perfectly immaterial what is his character — we shall be slaves — it is not an elective government which will preserve us."
Randolph voiced these opinions during the War of 1812, a war begun after the British had caved to American demands, but went on anyway as delusions of imperial greatness (i.e., the conquest of Canada) drove democratic demagogues like Henry Clay to clamor for war. In that war, as with every American war since, American liberties were diminished in the name of military security, taxes were raised, the currency was devalued, and the Constitution was ignored.
Whether in wartime or not, though, Randolph’s words are prescient, for they illustrate that there is no defense for freedom other than vigilance against the State. Randolph figured that this vigilance would go right out the window as soon as some "man of the people" came along who could convince the mob to trust him — to sacrifice great principles to temporary passion. And of course, this is exactly what has happened.
As Randolph knew, it is "immaterial what is the Character of our sovereign." Today, many Americans — even the really decent ones — prefer to just give the President a pass because he’s supposedly a good man. This may or may not be true, but as Randolph knew, if the people use the supposedly good character of a President to convince themselves that the government is looking out for them, a loss of liberty will not be far behind. Others console themselves with the thought that no true danger to liberty can come out of an elected government. We have elections. We have a Constitution. Randolph knew that elections and “good men” are no protection against the State. For only a deep suspicion of the State and of its plans — and the willingness to act on those suspicions — could save Randolph’s “great principles” of self-government, liberty, and the rule of law.”
Of course, what those with power prefer in Americans is not a suspicion of the government, but of the people themselves. We are told that those who question the motives of the government are impugning the character of the president, or aiding the terrorists, or hating Jews, or any other litany of sins that must accompany anyone so mad as to not simply assume that government never acts in its own interests. In the age of democracy, we are told to trust not in ourselves and in our ability for self-government, but in the State, in its agents, and in its power.
The schoolmarms tell us: Those Americans of the Republic from Jefferson to Madison to Randolph all feared government, but they had seen the tyranny of a King. We have a democratically elected president, and we all know that people who are democratically elected wish no power for themselves. They are here to serve you.
Such is the insidious propaganda given to our children who grow up to believe that it is treason to question why American soldiers are sent to kill and to die in the name of toppling a dictator who was no threat to the United States. Such is the mindset that guides Americans who believe that to defend the Bill of Rights is to be a friend to terrorists. Yet, amazingly, we Americans manage to convince ourselves that something out there is preserving liberty while we cower in the multiplexes and strip malls distracting ourselves from the true work at hand.
But we are in denial. No law can make a man free who has resigned himself to slavery. When we trust in "great men" and parchment documents and exhortations to "trust us, we’re from the government" we betray everything that American liberties are founded on. But surely — we are told — there is no treason in that.