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Liberty or Death

June 16, 2010
 by Austin Raynor


Recent infringements of Americans' civil liberties are unjustifiable from the point of view of both freedom and security.

Freedom is most endangered in times of crisis. Threats, real or perceived, provide leaders with justifications for expansions of governmental power and, frightened and often simply uninformed, citizens acquiesce to these abridgements of liberty.

Through savvy rhetoric and fear-mongering, modern American politicians have succeeded in transforming, in the public mind, many difficulties into crises. The language we use to speak about the obstacles our nation faces reflects the success of this rhetorical strategy.

The “War on Drugs” daily justifies police abuse, racism, and the infringement of civil liberties. The “War on Terror” is used to justify torture, limitless detention of suspects, assassination of American citizens, and two costly and harmful wars never even declared by Congress.

But we are not engaged in “wars” on drugs or terror. These are hobgoblins invented by politicians eager to justify their paternalistic power-grabs. Can we defeat “drugs?” Can our government vanquish “terror?” Such terminology, obviously, is ridiculous. But it aids in creating a perpetual climate of fear in which more government appears to be the only answer.

Politicians’ constant attempts to acquire more control over our lives make it necessary to view these so-called “crises” from a broader perspective. Consider these statistics (the most recent available): in 2008, 33 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks; that same year, 288 children drowned in pools. In 2009, 40,000 women died of breast cancer. Our concerns, in short, are not reflective of reality.

Our present difficulties also need to be viewed through a historical lens. The most invasive governmental practices are only justified when the survival of a civilization is at stake. We are not at that point; the existence of the United States is not threatened by terrorism or drugs.

Furthermore, an understanding of the historical progression of civilizations can be helpful in putting into context the present state of American government. It is not unusual to view democracy as a natural outgrowth of tyranny, and the progress of society as a process of evolution rather than devolution.

But freedom is not stable; it requires our constant and jealous watch. Rome was a republic for close to 500 years before Augustus declared himself emperor. Relevantly, Augustus did not dissolve the Senate. His was a dictatorship of concentrated executive authority given legitimacy by a castrated legislature.

Are we so far removed from tyranny that we have forgotten its sting? George III ruled these shores fewer than 250 years ago. In the 20th century the world watched in horror as some of the most violent and horrific dictatorships ever to exist wreaked havoc. We cannot forget that Hitler was democratically elected.

But the issue at hand is an issue not only of realities but also of values. It is undeniable that the fierce love of liberty which animated our Founding Fathers and the patriots who fought alongside them is, in many Americans today, entirely absent. Patrick Henry’s blood-stirring plea for liberty or death rings hollow to millions of our countrymen.

Even given the difficulties we face, it is still entirely possible to balance governmental restraint with the need for security. But assume, for a moment, that a commitment to freedom really did entail suffering occasional terrorist attacks.

How many of us would seriously embrace Henry’s plea for liberty or death? What if the price of liberty was the death of one million Americans at the hands of a terrorist armed with a nuclear weapon? Would we be willing to pay that price? The Founding Fathers certainly would. Their commitment to freedom was predicated on principle, not circumstance.

But in Barack Obama’s America, a free trip to the dentist is worth more than freedom. It is better, Obama and Congressmen on both sides of the aisle claim, to sacrifice hard-won constitutional liberties than to suffer the possibility of a terrorist attack. Obama’s assumption is that by surrendering our liberties to a beneficent, if tyrannical, government, we will be both happier and safer.

The logic of this approach alone is illustrative of the changing nature of American values. For the Founding Fathers, the very existence of tyrannical power, no matter how benevolently exercised, was objectionable.

They understood that it is impossible, in the long run, to prevent the abuse of extreme power if such power exists. The Constitution was crafted with the prominent goal of diffusing power and lessening this risk.

According to the neo-Roman conception of freedom, which animates the very structure of our republic, individuals must be restrained by law. The disintegration of this structure, which protects legal equality and prevents the arising of tyrannical control, is evident in the ever-increasing power vested in unelected officials and the executive branch.

The irony is that a tyrannical government steals from us both our safety and our freedom. An unchecked government itself poses the severest threat to its own people. Close to 170 million people were killed by their own governments in the 20th century. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge murdered over 30% of the entire Cambodian population in a mere four years.

By allowing the unchecked growth of state authority we expose ourselves to the danger of tyranny—a danger far greater than terrorism. Under a constitutionally restrained government we are safe and free. Under a despot we are neither.

Related Content:

Obama Authorizes the Murder of an American Citizen - Austin Raynor
Legalize Drugs and Criminalize Politicians - Jim Iannuzo
Due Process and the War on Terror - Austin Raynor

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User Comments:
Bill_Harris, on 6/17/2010 at 6:33am, said:

One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to the ongoing open season on hippies, commies, and non-whites in the war on drugs. Cops get good performance reviews for shooting fish in a barrel. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery is being extradited to prison for helping American farmers reduce U. S. demand for Mexican pot.

The CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnates Al Capone, endangers homeland security, and throws good money after bad. Fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies, but he underestimated Schafer’s integrity. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use. Former U.K. chief drugs advisor Prof. Nutt was sacked for revealing that non-smoked cannabis intake is scientifically healthy.

The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. God’s children’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with their maker.

Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

Common-law holds that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration. Liberty is prerequisite for tracking drug-use intentions and outcomes.

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