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Day after day we witness state agents violently beat, kidnap, and kill our brothers and sisters. Day after day we experience the state's ever-encroaching presence in our lives. Yet we obediently sit, staring like deer caught in headlights, while politicians and bureaucrats counterfeit money to payoff their cronies then stick us and our children with the bill.

Somehow we convince ourselves that government loves us, that it's there to keep us "safe" and "secure." Our patriots. Our heroes. Our leaders. Our overlords ...

No matter what crime, Constitutional violation, or blatant evil that agents of government commit, "We the People" accept their lies at face value then aid and abet in their excuse. In the name of Party loyalty, we enthusiastically support the very worst that they do.

We insist that it can't happen here. That it won't happen here. We lie to ourselves again and again. We simply turn on the TV and tune out: "Michelle Obama is wearing a new dress ... " No worries. Some pundit will tell us how to think and what to do.

We have enjoyed so much freedom for so long that we are perhaps in danger of forgetting how much blood it cost to establish the Bill of Rights. -- Felix Frankfurter

The Police State Is Personal

Does America now qualify as a police state? And, if so, where do you — or will you — personally draw a hard line and say, "No! That is a law or a police order I refuse to obey"?

As an anarchist, I view all states as police states, because every law is ultimately backed by police force against the body or property of a scofflaw, however peaceful he may be. I see only a difference of degree, not of kind. But even small differences in the degree of repression can be matters of life or death, and so they should not be trivialized.

A police state is more commonly described as a totalitarian government that exerts extreme social, political, and economic control. It maintains this control by a pervasive surveillance of its own citizenry, by draconian law enforcement, and by granting or withholding "privileges" such the ability to travel. Typically, there is a special police force, such as a Stasi, that operates with no transparency and few restraints. Unlike traditional policemen, who respond to crime, the purpose of such state police is to monitor and control society.

Let me restate my opening question: does America now embody this common description of a police state?

Clearly it does. The American government exerts extreme control over society, down to dictating which foods you may eat. Its economic control borders on the absolute. It politicizes and presides over even the traditional bastion of privacy — the family. Camera and other surveillance of daily life has soared, with the Supreme Court recently expanding the "right" of police to perform warrantless searches. Enforcement is so draconian that the United States has more prisoners per capita than any other nation; and over the last few years, the police have been self-consciously militarizing their procedures and attitudes. Travel, formerly a right, is now a privilege granted by government agents at their whim. Several huge and tyrannical law-enforcement agencies monitor peaceful behavior rather than respond to crime. These agencies operate largely outside the restrictions of the Constitution; for example, the TSA conducts arbitrary searches in violation of Fourth Amendment guarantees.

The Internet would run out of electrons before I could complete a list of the specifics that constitute an emerging Police America. The extent to which you are personally oppressed by the state, however, can be estimated by answering several more abstract questions:

  • How many peaceful activities would make you a criminal if you chose to do them?
  • How much of your life is spent working to pay taxes and other government fees?
  • How freely can you relocate your assets and person outside state jurisdiction?
  • How freely can you use your assets and person within state jurisdiction?

Few people aside from the state apparatchiks can answer in a way that makes them feel anything but economically enslaved and physically trapped.

No one should have to chose between family and the state, nor their wealth and the law. When confronted by such choices, there is no easy or correct answer. An increasing number of Americans are becoming expatriates for their own safety and that of their families. But the great majority of people are rooted in place by extended family, friends, work, inertia, emotional attachments, or other compelling reasons.

Those who recognize the emergence of Police America and yet feel a need to stay should ask themselves a question: where is the limit at which you withdraw your cooperation and say "no!" to a state law or a state agent's order? Would you inform on a neighbor, as the authorities already urge you to do? Would you assist a friend or family member even if it made you criminally an accessory; if so, whom? Would you steal from or harm an innocent person on command? If ordered, would you assist a police officer to do so, or would you interfere and, so, become vulnerable to a charge of "obstructing justice"?

There are several reasons for asking yourself such questions now. They include:

  1. The consequences of your act may depend not merely on where you draw a line but also on how you do so. Planning can help you draw your line in a prudent way.
  2. You may be reluctant to draw the lines you wish because you fear endangering your loved ones, your wealth, or something else valuable to you. If possible, secure these in advance. Prepare.
  3. If you don't know where the lines are, then you are far more likely to act against your own principles or interests when suddenly confronted by a distressing, demanding situation like an officer barking commands.
  4. Knowing where your limits are makes it more possible to avoid situations that trigger them.
  5. Harry Browne advised people to pay a price as soon as possible because it costs less overall; this applies to psychological prices as well as to financial ones. It will never be easier for you to consider this question than right now, in privacy and comfort.

There are no correct answers. The purpose of the exercise is merely to become more aware of how you, personally, could live under a police state while retaining your safety and your self-respect.

"The Police State Is Personal" by Wendy McElroy is reprinted from Mises.org.

The author of several books, Wendy McElroy maintains two active websites: wendymcelroy.com and ifeminists.com. See Wendy McElroy's article archives.

Peaceful Republic or Police State?

We can only blame ourselves.

We are the ones who cowered in fear and sought comfort in the siren songs of demagogues. We are the ones who learned to love politicians more than liberty, put Party above principle, and desired acceptance over personal fortitude.

It's cool, it's trendy, everybody else is doing it ... and we dare not stand out from the crowd. So we happily exchanged the "animating contest" of our individual independence for the "tranquility" of obedience and state servitude.

How is that working out for you so far?

Complacency, fear and fashion

Since American politicians talk about liberty all the time, why are they so feeble in its defence? Part of the explanation is complacency: America is one of the world's freest countries—why worry about the bending of a rule here or there? Part is fear: contrary to what Mr Obama says, there is a choice to be made between safety and liberty, and in many minds safety wins. Part is fashion. There are some libertarians in American politics, but on the conservative wing of the Republican Party the liberty talk has come lately to dwell more on the alleged threat to economic freedom posed by Mr Obama's alleged taste for big government, and less on the sort of freedoms entrenched in the Bill of Rights. The second amendment, on the right to keep and bear arms, is treated as holy writ, but the fourth has somehow lost its sex appeal.

That is a pity. Mr Shipler used to report from the Soviet Union. He sees reminders of Soviet thinking in the United States since al-Qaeda's attacks. Though a bold line separates Soviet dictatorship and American democracy, people are much the same everywhere. That is why James Madison said two centuries ago that "all men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree". The lesson from the founders, Mr Shipler concludes, is that freedom depends not on the virtue of leaders or officials but on a "durable foundation of constitutional protections". The message from Guantánamo, and from the mean streets of north-east Washington, is that the foundation needs shoring up.

Does America Now Qualify as a Police State?

Does America Now Qualify as a Police State? is a post from: The Classic Liberal Blog


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