Exclusive to STR
April 2, 2007
It is rather amazing how fast a cultural heritage of multiple centuries can simply vanish in a few years. Western society, as most of us should be aware, is a product of the continental and cultural awakening called the Enlightenment. Essentially, this period meant people awoke from centuries, if not millennia, of religious unconsciousness to embrace philosophy, science, and reality.
The product of this philosophical paradigm shift is evident in Western economies, through society-wide wealth production in the era of industrialization, and in science, where seeing reality without mystic bias made enormous headway possible. But the most important change was in philosophy, where the logical and reasoning intellect was liberated from religious dogma. The change in philosophy came first, and from it emerged a new way of seeing man--and not seeing god.
It is in this new way of thinking that an intellectual elite started thinking about what man is and whether man has a duty to society or if it is the other way around. These are the thoughts from which the United States emerged: man as an end in himself rather than as a means to achieve a luxurious living for monarchs and emperors. Man, this new way of thinking declared, must be protected from government--it is the individual who is vulnerable, not violent power.
This is the reason many Western democracies have their governments split in multiple powers. The theory is that such powers, with no real ties to each other, can balance the harm done to the citizenry by government. Government, this intellectual elite declared, is evil--but a necessary evil.
Thus, individual liberties and personal integrities were defined and exemplified in constitutions in order to make people aware of their right to not be oppressed. All basic rules for how the public authorities must treat the individual, such as the legal "presumed innocent until proven guilty" and habeas corpus, serve the same purpose: power must be leashed so that it doesn't transgress its so-called proper functions and limited powers. The constitutions, the intellectual elite thought, would guarantee the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--against government intrusion.
It didn't take long to completely destroy this dream. The 20th Century was a severe backlash for individual liberty and a victorious century for the State. The victories were won through waging wars and using democracy as a means to enslave the people. There is a reason the old-time Enlightenment intellectuals were hesitant to let "everybody" become government tamers. It would be better, they argued, to leave people be and guarantee their rights and liberties; people are easily misled and tend to accept incremental infringements in their liberties for promises of an undefined good.
In neo-political discourse, people talk of this as "how to cook a frog." You cannot, the theory goes, put a live frog in boiling water--it will jump out of the pot. But if you increase the temperature little by little, the frog will not notice the real change: It will remain in the pot and be cooked alive. This is exactly what has happened to the peoples of the West during the 20th Century--the heritage from the Enlightenment has been effectively wiped out. We are no longer sovereign individuals to whom the government is a servant; instead, we are equally enslaved by the omniscient and omnipotent State.
Some blame (and some cheer) 9/11 as the turning point. This is but an illusion-- the gradual change towards total enslavement started a long time ago. 9/11 is simply the latest "crisis" used by the State to further its powers at the expense of individual liberty. The terrible attack on the WTC made the people of America aware of the fact that there are people in this world who are simply nuts--and that some of them really don't like the US government's imperialistic foreign policy.
But while focusing on and calling for anti-terrorism measures, i.e., protection from harm, not many seem to have noticed that none of the new policies have anything to do with protection. It has but to do with increasing State powers, and that can only be done through restricting that very state's citizenry's rights and liberties. To protect us from terrorism, the State has publicly and potently declared us all terrorists: We're all terrorists and enjoy what's left of our liberties only as far as we don't speak up, speak out, or start asking questions. The state, we will learn, sooner or later, is protecting itself--as well as its privileged class and its vast powers--from its citizenry.
The question is no longer whether the State in its public or military courts can prove someone is guilty. No one is presumed innocent until proven guilty--conviction is a question of whether you have a right to claim you are innocent, whether the State will let you prove you are innocent, and whether anyone at all cares. The heritage from the intelligent gentlemen of the Enlightenment has been long lost; the powers of the State were unleashed a long time ago, and government is feeding off whatever is left of life and liberty. The pursuit of happiness, we must learn, necessarily includes pushing the State back and keeping its powers as distant as possible.