Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Déjà vu

Well that didn’t take long. But as we have learned in the past, statists and aspiring tyrants like to feed on the bodies while they are still warm. And so, as predictable as the springtime return of short skirts to the Tuileries, as ubiquitous as the jambon buerre, as inevitable as an SNCF strike, Paris now brings us calls for restrictions (is it t0o soon to say “containment”?) of free peoples’ civil liberties as the only possible means to avert even more attacks. 

Everyone, it seems, wants a bloody mouthful. French President Hollande wants his 12-day "extraordinary powers"  – which include warrantless searches and detentions, and prohibitions of certain gatherings – extended for three months now and then written into the French constitution in a way that eliminates that onerous consultation with Parliament.

Here in the US, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the FBI director wants private use of encryption restricted. But you have to admire the bureaucratic ambitions of the chairman of the Federal Communication Commission – last I checked, not a law enforcement agency – calling for more wire taps. Fortunately for them, these members of the Executive Branch needn't worry overmuch about pesky checks and balances by the Legislative Branch. They'll have enthusiastic support from lawmakers like Diane Feinstein, who never met an exercise of state control she didn’t want to take home and take to bed -- including state control over the cooperative playing of Mario Cart.

But then, we are talking about a government – at least here in the United States – that seems more than a little fuzzy on notions like the free exchange of ideas. How else to understand Secretary of State John Kerry’s facile and frightening distinction between last week’s Paris attacks – which he considers thoroughly unjustified – and the January murders of journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which murders he described as “legitimate, er, rational, um, particularized.*

We’ve talked about this before, this tendency for hard facts to make bad – usually grandiosely named -- law. But the danger is that you might want understand this impulse only as the sort of paroxysm of desperate, ex post facto panic that leads even a liberal Montessori mom to spank her toddler after he’s run into the street. But this is not an emotional overreaction by an otherwise liberty-minded set of leaders. This is no aberration.**

Rather it is inherent in the nature of the state always to expand its power and always to seek to expand. At its core is an understanding that, to ever expand, rulers must “never let a crisis go to waste.”*** As soon as, and every time that, events make the people a little less vigilant of the state, the state will take advantage.**** So while you're keeping an eye out for Daesh, spare one for Washington.

* OK.  I admit it. That paraphrase isn’t precisely perfect. But the link will take you to what he actually said, which was, frankly, worse.

** For this, I like to quote Robespierre: "The principle of the republican government is virtue, and the means required to establish virtue is terror."

*** Rahm Emanuel said it recently, perhaps revealing more than he meant to about his particular team strategy. But the concept by no means belongs to progressives alone. The quote is originally attributed to Winston Churchill (aren't they all), no progressive he, but quite the fellow for expanding state power, as many a dead Irish patriot could tell you from his grave.

**** And here we mean "take advantage" in the precisely same way a father means it when he warns his daughter before prom "not to let that boy take advantage."

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