We used to have a conversation about politics that would start, “It can’t happen here.” It refers to tyranny, and the violence that accompanies it. Why can’t tyranny happen here? Because we have a long constitutional tradition, founded on the Bill of Rights, that prevents tyranny here in America. That argument appears hard to contradict, as we all regard the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, as a firm protector of our liberty. The first Ten Amendments establish a legal barrier against government power that might become too strong. Through many struggles, we expected the legal prohibitions and limits in these amendments to hold.
That is not the case any longer. The signs and omens of tyranny are so strong, so blatant that we cannot overlook them. No one has a good reply now to the person who says, “Why can’t it happen?” We wonder now why we let this loss of liberty happen. Why has a national security state developed above us, while we appear unable to do anything to stop it? People who care about these questions want to know whether we can restore our freedom – and our security – without violence.
Civil libertarians maintain a consistent position about the relationship between violence and liberty. The two cannot coexist. The time when we can change course in the direction of freedom may have passed already. With war washing over one country after another abroad, and with the contagion of violence rampant in our own states, the window for peaceful change within our borders has started to close. Murderous conflict abroad spawns massacres and other horrors in our country. We have to prepare ourselves to respond, both to the violence, and to the state that clearly benefits from it.
No one wants to say the dread word, tyranny. No one wants to believe that state intimidation, fear mongering and growth of illegal power have all advanced so far. Will our country experience the same sort of coercion and political violence we witness elsewhere? What was once unimaginable is now justified as necessary for our own protection. Personal and public security slip away, both gradually and with sudden lurches. When violence infects our elections and our everyday life, when fear and hatred become familiar feelings, you know something unusual has happened. Current violence, and conditions that promote violence, deserve careful thought because our ability to live freely depends on how we respond.
In publication for since the early 2000s, The Jeffersonian has produced several excellent collections of essays on politics. To learn about these books, and their author, visit Dr. G’s Writing Workshop.