Belmont Club

Toward a More Perfect Tyranny

The Guardian writes that “the National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.” That would be in April of this year. After the obligatory mention of President Bush the Guardian goes on to admit that it might have something to do with President Obama.

Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.

A copy of the court order is here. The question of who is in power often matters less than what power he has.  Once the definition of enemies is expanded sufficiently to include people with contrary political view then eventually the necessary trawl must include everything.  It was Gerald Ford who put his finger on the paradox at the heart of the big government agenda.

The first seven words of the Constitution and the most important are these: “We the People of the United States …. “We the people ordained and established the Constitution and reserved to themselves all powers not granted to Federal and State government. … They know that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.

And yet somehow there remains on the Left the belief that the process of expanding government power can continue indefinitely — for good causes like regulating 16 ounce softdrinks  and ensuring that none but bureaucrats can possess firearms, to be sure — without ever getting to the point where it can seize telephone records, wiretap news agencies or use the IRS to crackdown on political opponents.

It can’t.  Power corrupts. And what is more it usurps.

As G.S. Kava observed in his book, no government can actually exercise such total control over a population. No government is ever as all-powerful as it pretends to be. At most it can create the counterfeit of omniscience. To maintain the illusion, they must put the imposture itself beyond question.

Governments typically do not possess enough members to coerce the rest of the populace without the active support of some of those outside the government. Rule by fear … requires that citizens remain ignorant of matters about which people, unless severely inhibited, are likely to communicate with one another: their attitudes toward the ruler …

Hobbes observed that “reputation of power is power” … in other words, a sufficient appearance of political power constitutes real political power … an appeal to mutual expectations may be needed to explain … obedience … a government’s power consists in the mutual expectations of its citizens that their fellows view it as having power over them. These are the main lessons of the paradox of perfect tyranny.

The Paradox of Perfect Tyranny can be restated in this way. Tyranny exists only for as long as we believe that others will do what we won’t. The moment people start talking among themselves they are surprised to learn that this expectation doesn’t hold.

In reality government doesn’t have a fraction of the ability people think it has. It can’t give you a good living. It can’t pay your rent or your gasoline.  Certain Obama supporters think it can but it can’t. It can’t give you “free” health care. They too have to find the goods, the services from somewhere.

In the end the only reason people believe it can do these things ex nihilo is because they think other people believe them too.

When Christopher Swindell writes in the Charleston Gazette that government can bomb everyone into submission he is not stating a fact. He is stating a belief  contingent on people doing what he thinks they will do.

We put the president in the White House. To support the new NRA president’s agenda of arming the populace for confrontation with the government is bloody treason. And many invite it gladly as if the African-American president we voted for is somehow infringing on their Constitutional rights.

Normally, I am a peaceable man, but in this case, I am willing to answer the call to defend the country. From them.

To turn the song lyric they so love to quote back on them, “We’ll put a boot in your —, it’s the American way.”

Except it won’t be a boot. It’ll be an M1A Abrams tank, supported by an F22 Raptor squadron with Hellfire missiles. Try treason on for size. See how that suits. And their assault arsenal and RPGs won’t do them any good.

But who did Swindell ask?  Nobody but himself and his echo chamber. If he had cast his inquiries further afield, he might have discovered not everyone thinks that way.

The breakdown point often occurs when enough people realize there is neither a Free Lunch nor Legitimacy in arbitrary power. The problem every tyrant faces is the discredit of the Narrative. Because it is the Narrative which confers the bulk of actual power.

Things start to go south with the realization that things aren’t free; that bureaucracies aren’t omniscient. It is neither because it consists of and ultimately derives its sustenance from actual people.

Maybe one day the Guardian is going to realize that there is no Perfect Tyranny and no wisdom in wishing for it. You can’t vote for a Messiah and not expect a theocracy. Any state powerful enough to build a Worker’s Paradise is not only the Serpent’s Egg but a fantasy — a kind of political and economic perpetual motion machine that exists only in the minds of the statist faithful. The downside to constructing a Frankenstein monster only becomes apparent when it comes for you.

But having done it once, one shouldn’t do it again.  Fat chance of that however, as the Left will probably vote repeatedly for people like Obama under the theory that if big government failed the last time it was only because it wasn’t tried hard enough. But how big does it have to be?

What is particularly disturbing about the FBI and NSA’s data collection program is that it relies on secret jurisprudence — secret court orders — which themselves rely on secret interpretations of the law by the administration itself.  Nor do things stop there. The implementation of these secret orders is also secret. The chain of events is completely submerged from beginning to end, almost as if it were ashamed of itself. Yet how could there be shame or embarrassment in this, the most ethical government in history?  One that is always ready to hold forth on the moral arc of history? On the special character of its leading members? The administration claims powers it tells no one about; obtains court orders veiled by national security and then conceals the actions pursuant to this process under pain of criminal prosecution.

Recently the President reluctantly agreed to share the administration’s secret legal reasoning justifying its drone assassination program with lawmakers.  And he did so only as part of a deal to confirm John Brennan to the Central Intelligence Agency.

In a reversal, President Barack Obama will allow lawmakers access to secret documents outlining the legal justification for drone strikes that kill US citizens abroad who conspire with Al-Qaeda.An administration official disclosed the move Wednesday on the eve of a Senate hearing on Obama’s nomination of his top White House anti-terror adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency in his second term.

What powers the President thinks he has is classified.

Things are now at the point where the FBI can secretly ask secret courts to do secrets things on the basis of secret powers that nobody knows it has. That’s a lot of power. If government has to get still bigger, borrow more money, obtain more authority, disarm more people, regulate more drinks to fix things then perhaps it’s time to recognize that it maybe the Perfect Tyranny is the problem itself.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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