“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H.L. Mencken
“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it.” – H.L. Mencken
Both of these quotes are attributed to H.L. Mencken, a well-known journalist, satirist, and scholar known as the “Sage of Baltimore” and one of the most influential writers of the first half of the twentieth century. More importantly, he was often noted as being largely libertarian with a noted distrust in representative democracy, which he believed constituted “inferior men dominating their superiors.” (Allowing for current affairs, Mencken may have a valid point there!) Considering that these two quotes were attributed to Mencken in the early 1920’s, it is amazing how much relevance they have in today’s America.
True to Mencken’s words, post 9/11 America was inundated with the political class and the media conjuring images of impending doom to warrant the creation of some new measure of government. The rush to expand the surveillance state in the name of safety started to look more like a grand prix rally than responsible, valid government; but to what end?
The TSA has subjected passengers to that “sorority girl after an all-night frat party” walk of shame upon passing through their airport pat and tickle line since 2001, but has it done any good? You may be surprised to learn that since its inception, the TSA has had over 400 agents arrested for stealing from the people they were employed to protect. Yet after $900 million and an untold number of crotch grabs later, the number of arrested terrorists or foiled attempts to harm our country is zero.
Edward Snowden informed us that the NSA basically relegated the 4th amendment to the role of a doormat by recording every communication of the American people under the guise of “stopping terrorism.” If the real goal was to stop onshore terrorism, shouldn’t the logical focus be centered on border security or due diligence in the visa and immigration offices, rather than eavesdropping on the American citizen? Ah, that would be the smart and logical choice but, unfortunately, smarts and logic aren’t exactly in vast supply within government circles. The agency tasked with “analysis of foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence” instead decided that it would be more beneficial to unconstitutionally spy on its citizens rather than just foreign governments.
The Department of Homeland Security (Am I the only one that gets a bit concerned over the Germanic roots of the word homeland?) was commissioned as the counterterrorism apparatus to help secure America from an impending terrorist apocalypse and to coordinate national defenses. With a big budget and almost unlimited resources, DHS has surely been able to provide significant advances in terms of security, yes?
According to a 141-page senate oversight panel report, the DHS U.S. Counterterrorism Centers have failed to deliver any valuable information; instead they provide uneven, untimely, shoddy intelligence that has been acknowledged as “predominately useless” even by DHS officials. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), goes on to state,
“It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties.”
In short, the agency appointed to reassure Americans fearful of terrorism, has spent between $289M and $1.4B in public funds to support centers that have provided no valuable return. Combined with presiding over the TSA, DHS is proving to be wholly impotent at its task, while being cited for endangering citizens’ civil liberties and engaging in Privacy Act violations. Furthermore, when questioned by Congress regarding failures and abuses, DHS has resisted any oversight and opted out of providing requested documentation to Congress on grounds of “sensitivity and confidentiality”.
In spite of these disappointments, we watch as the DHS increasingly militarizes themselves with reports of buying 1.6 million rounds of ammunition and 2700 mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. It is concerning that such a secretive agency, operating solely within our borders, is outfitting itself with enough equipment to sustain a 24 year domestic war. Especially in light of the fact that part of that ammo stockpiling consists of hollow points, internationally illegal in war per the Hague Convention. Doesn’t such an agency, with this much power, require a bit more than failed congressional oversight?
All of this comes down to one simple realization: safety cannot be bought, only temporarily rented. The government, along with a complicit media, consistently attempts to intensify our fear with the goal of convincing us that liberty and safety are a delicate balance; a balance over which the government should hold exclusive power to maintain. However, this idea is the very anti-thesis of the principals upon which our nation was founded. The principals that individual freedom and liberty are supreme and that we the people only consent to government as a means to secure and protect those principals.
Therefore, we must remember that we, as a people, are inherently charged with our own safety. While there are aspects of safety that we simply aren’t equipped to manage, we have provided government with limited authority to do so for us, such as: border security, due diligence in the application and issuance of visas and green cards, and in the realms of foreign intelligence. When we see the government start to shift its eye inward, suspiciously upon its people, or fail to succeed in its assigned task, then the people must ask themselves if government is capable of retaining the responsibility provided for that task. For safety is but a fleeting idea under constant challenge; but liberty and freedom, once surrendered, are very difficult to reclaim.
Should we let the “menacing hobgoblins” used by government to instill fear influence us to a point that that we willingly surrender our rights and liberty, we find ourselves unworthy of the birthright of freedom left to us by our founding fathers. When the balance between safety and liberty is called into question, liberty must always reign supreme. The simple truth is that liberty and safety can never be balanced, for they will never be equals. We are a nation of free men; as free men, we authorize to government the power to protect our freedoms of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. This authorization is what creates our safety, so it cannot be possible for government to limit our liberty in its execution. Should government attempt to subjugate our rights in the name of safety then liberty does not exist and we are duty-bound to resist. For as the second Mencken quote states, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it,” which is especially true when government is involved.