"It [government] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." ~ Alexis de Tocqueville
Begging the Masters for Liberty
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
I was reading Judge Napolitano’s article describing the Amash-Conyers amendment attempting to stop wholesale NSA snooping of Americans, and also the letter from Edward Snowden’s father to Obama. One can understand both of these initiatives at three different levels.
The first level is a straightforward interpretation: an honest attempt by some in Congress to stop the snooping, and a genuine appeal to Obama to stop persecuting Lonnie Snowden’s son.
No doubt many in Congress actually do want to stop the snooping, and Mr. Snowden really does wish Obama would relent. But let’s not forget this is a Congress that enabled the whole mess in the first place, a Congress that specializes in unconstitutional, immoral and violent action, as well as far too much deference to the Presidency. Speaking less collectively, no doubt many of the same individuals in Congress who signed on to Amash-Conyers also voted for such obscenities as the Patriot Act.
At any rate, taking these actions at face value strikes me as naive. One has only to look at the character of the President and virtually all those in Congress to understand.
We dispense easily with the naive view. This brings us to the second, deeper interpretation of these initiatives. We might call it an attack on legitimacy.
Amash-Conyers is not an attempt to actually stop NSA snooping; clearly the agency would continue regardless of what Congress does or says about it. It’s not like Congress has any visibility into the agency, and they willingly swallow the lies supporting it (if you think otherwise, let’s just see if there are any sanctions for that lying). So, why bother?
It’s a good idea to try to generate some backlash against certain actions such as snooping on Americans. It gives the perpetrators of the actions a reason for pause. It’s not the Constitution itself that stops them, obviously; instead it’s the idea they might be labeled as not supporting the Constitution, or of backing what amounts to a vast army of Peeping Toms, or other such disreputable images. Here they had wrapped themselves in the American flag as defenders against terrorism, and then they find out that some in Congress and many outside hold them in contempt for it. “Public opinion” (whatever that means) does have some effect after all; maybe Boetie was correct.
Likewise it may be that Mr. Snowden had no illusions about making his appeal to the likes of Obama, and his true aim was to attack Obama’s legitimacy. If his letter would have no direct result on Obama, who has no better nature to appeal to, perhaps the indirect effect via an attack on legitimacy might get him to relent.
Of course many of those in Congress supporting Amash-Conyers might have had completely cynical and self-serving reasons to support it; but still, an attack on ruling legitimacy is never a bad thing.
Or is it?
Going yet another level deeper, does it help to beg the masters for liberty, even if the intention and result (according to our second level) is a loss of their legitimacy? Might those who try this strategy also lose something? Might they also, paradoxically, be granting the rulers legitimacy at the same time they question it?
I keep getting back to Jeff Snyder's notion that “to fight for the establishment of rights or for recognition of rights by one's government involves tacit subordination to the state.” It is not a cost-free action, to petition Congress or the President.
Win or lose, Amash-Conyers would have changed nothing--not what the NSA does, nor what peoples’ relationship to the state would have been.
Lonnie’s Snowden’s appeal is perhaps a bit more understandable, for his own son, although in any case Edward Snowden will never be safe. The state depends too much on fear to leave him be. And no President will voluntarily give up the power to kill or ruin anyone he pleases, even if he is temporarily thwarted in one particular case.
Is liberty something that is begged for, or something that is taken? If it somehow, against the usual trend, is bestowed on you, is it real?