A Little Wisdom from Benjamin Franklin
Posted By Roger Kimball On June 10, 2013
I am contemplating the train wreck revolving around the revelations about our National Security Agency’s appetite for spying on U.S. citizens, along with the train wreck that swirls around the revelations about the deployment of the IRS for partisan vengeance, along with the train wreck that is the fiscal, administrative, and, ultimately, medical catastrophe called ObamaCare (aka, the un-affordable “Affordable Care Act”), not to mention the train wreck that was the administration’s reaction (“What difference does it make?”) to the murderous Islamic terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, along with . . . well, you get the picture.
Thinking just about the first, the NSA part of the current entertainment, I am reminded of a friend’s note to me about how it fits in with the administration’s gradual transformation of itself into an unaccountable nomenklatura with more or less unlimited powers. The concomitant transformation, it does not quite go without saying, is the transformation of us citizens — formerly the employers of all those “public servants” (it sounds funny now, doesn’t it: “public servants” forsooth!) swanning about in Washington on our money — the transformation, I say, of us citizens into serfs, i.e., slaves working for a feudal master. My friend quoted Obama’s statement about the behavior of the NSA when it came to your phone/internet/banking/whatever data. “It’s important to recognize,” said the leader of the formerly free world,
that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.
As my friend noted, Obama leans toward the security side of the equation, and he does so with, so to speak, a vengeance. Right: we have to debate this issue, “but he puts his thumb on the scale. And because of the secrecy involved, no one outside his top-secret circle can make an informed judgment about the efficacy of these powers.” Just like those unpleasant chaps in Orwell’s 1984, the fact that we are now and apparently ever shall be on a war footing means that we are living in a state of perpetual emergency, which in turn means that he, the man in charge, can do pretty much whatever he wants to whomever he wants, and so can his minions. Either you’re part of the nomenklatura, or you’re not.
Few people, I think, would deny that extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War and, in my view, he was right to do so. But what we have here is the fabrication of perpetual emergency in order to justify the unlimited and permanent expansion of of government power. The other word for that process is tyranny. It doesn’t happen all at once. But it’s happening pretty fast. Even the reporters at the Associated Press, whose data was sifted and snooped upon, ought to recognize that.
My friend ended with a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin that ought to be one everyone’s lips when they hear the president of the United States tell us that he must “inconvenience” them more or less forever by taking away their Constitutional rights in order to keep them safe. “Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety,” said Franklin, “deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
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