Interrogated by an Agent of the State

Recently by Jim Fedako: Democracy: Convicted by the SleepingJuror

Governments exist through the consent of the governed. Something that is always true. Consider this quote from Ludwig von Mises, "Only a group that can count on the consent of the governed can establish a lasting regime. Whoever wants to see the world governed according to his own ideas must strive for domination over men's minds. It is impossible, in the long run, to subject men against their will to a regime that they reject."

At times, consent is given freely by the majority. At other times, it is has to be manufactured through propaganda and fear. But at all times, it is the governed who allow themselves to be governed.

Years ago, my wife and I were Peace Corps volunteers (forgive me). During the orientation program before being sent in-country, we learned a little about cultural differences, especially about ways to navigate cultures as an American.

The presenter provided an example: He had recently landed in a former Soviet republic as the leader of a group of new volunteers. Having assembled the group in front of the customs area, he began sending volunteers one by one to the customs agents. Without fail, the volunteer would fearlessly march up to one of the agent, all the while looking directly at the agent's eyes, and proudly present passport and luggage. And, also without fail, the agent would signal the volunteer to another area for closer scrutiny.

The presenter wondered what was going wrong. All of the other folks in the customs lines – all different nationalities – passed without even a second look. Then he noticed a pattern. Where the Americans strutted their stuff, so to speak, the other folks sheepishly shuffled to the agent, papers in an outstretched hand, with eyes cast to the floor. They never looked up – they never challenged the agent – and they passed through with a simple wave from the agent. The presenter, then instructed the next few volunteers to adopt the same mannerisms, and each passed without incident.

This example is instructive. An authoritarian state needs fear in order to hold consent. And that fear must be reinforced on a regular basis. An attitude similar to that of the American volunteers from two decades ago must be continually extinguished. Such a spirit – one that challenges authority – is perceived as a threat to the state because it is a threat to the state. So the masses must be made act submissive before any and all agents of the state. All dissent must be squashed before it takes root.

In an accelerated pace, the fear of the state is overtaking this nation, with the proud strut of liberty being replaced by the cautious shuffle of statism. And I have found myself a victim as well.

On a recent trip with my older children, we faced the agents of the state at the airport security line. As we proceeded through the various checkpoints, I noticed that the agents joked but the masses lowered or diverted their eyes. No one wanted to upset an agent who has the ability to ruin a vacation, at the very least.

On the other side of the x-ray machines, we began to collect our personal belongings. All seemed in order until one of the agents pointed and asked, "Whose bag is that?" Well, it was my son's, so I replied, "That bag is with me. I'm responsible for it."

His voice rose in anger, "Whose bag is it?" Again, I replied that I was responsible for the bag.

The agent pointed and asked his question louder. And I lowered my eyes and finked on my twelve year-old son. "it's his," I replied.

My son was separated from me and interrogated while his bag was inspected. So there I stood, a middle-age man, without shoes, belt in hand, watching my son subjected to questioning from an angry adult who knew nothing would be found in the bag. And I could not help.

In minutes, the iPod that caused the concern was found and we were on our way – physically, but I left no small part of my pride there. I had finked on my son, turned him in, ratted him out.

The whole charade was choreographed to emasculate, to instill a fear of the state. Sure it was a minor affair, but it showed me how easily I would cower before agents of the state. And it let me know how much has changes in last two decades. The American cowboy is slowly becoming another shuffling, servant of the state, as the home of the free and brave begins to look more and more like that former Soviet republic of years ago.

And this is important: As long as the majority accepts the propaganda of endless wars – of enemies at the border – they will never realize their true fear: being noticed and interrogated by an agent of the state. Our day-to-day fear is not some attack from outsiders, it's having to subject ourselves to agents of the state, whether on the road or in a line at the airport, or anywhere else.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Two thoughts give me hope.

First, ideas matter. As it has been said variously over the years, "Even tanks cannot stop an idea whose time has come."

Second, ideas can flourish if given the right spark. To borrow from Gary North: small groups of liberty-minded folks meet over the years until, almost overnight, the belief in liberty takes hold and societies structure themselves around it.

So our task is the same as Albert J. Nock is his article, "Isaiah's Job." We are to continually speak to the remnant, the rump coalition whose heart is still set on liberty, and recognize that as the failures of the state become obvious, the idea of liberty will blossom from those small groups and finally and firmly take hold.

And then, even armies will not be able to stop the idea whose time has come.