by N. A. Halkides
It is generally understood among Conservatives that freedom in the U.S. (and Western Europe) has been gradually eroding for a long time and that now, in the age of Obama, it is under concerted attack. The specter of tyranny has become all too real to those who know how to see. Yet despite this, the idea of living under an actual dictatorship still seems somehow fantastic to those who have few definite political convictions and who do not closely follow current events.
What even Conservatives and other freedom-lovers may not fully understand is precisely how the process is taking place, that is, how we are “progressing” from liberty to servitude (the true meaning of progressivism, by the way). It is my hope to focus attention on this topic by considering some of the characteristics of a free society and how they gradually mutate into those of first a “soft” tyranny and then those of a “hard” one so that we may better fight the growing statism of our times.
To begin with, I would like to present eight essential characteristics of a society and how they differ in three different stages: first a free society, then one which is in the process of devolving into statism as the collectivist/progressive ideology begins to take hold (“soft tyranny”), and finally the “hard tyranny” of a Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany when individual freedom has been completely abolished. After that, I will look briefly at each characteristic in turn and identify the trends that are pushing us along The Road to Serfdom, to use F. A. Hayek’s memorable phrase.
Characteristics of a free society:
1. Business regulation is minimal; people are free to open a business and run it as they see fit without interference from the state.
2. “Public health” is confined principally to the control of communicable diseases: quarantines, vaccination programs, inspection of restaurants to prevent infection, etc.
3. The individual’s personal life (including his business) is off-limits to government officials. Development of private property does not require government consent; individuals are free to enter into contracts of mutual benefit; employers are free to hire whomever they wish and charge whatever the market will bear for their products.
4. All laws passed by legislative bodies directly accountable to the people.
5. The effective rule of law and not of men.
6. Full freedom of speech: the individual can say whatever he wishes without fearing punishment for the content of his speech. This freedom is not lost by individuals who have banded together as corporations to go into business – a key point in the modern world when publishers, radio and TV stations, etc. are all incorporated.
7. The right to bear arms fully respected. No infringements such as arbitrary restrictions on certain classes of firearms or magazine sizes, and no registration of guns or gun-owners.
8. “Crime” means only an act which deprives an individual of his rights. It does not mean any action of which the government disapproves.
Characteristics of soft tyranny:
1. Business heavily regulated but still under private control in a more than nominal sense. Increasingly difficult to get new business ventures started because of government regulations of all kinds, from labor to environmental.
2. “Public health” begins to be construed not as combating communicable diseases, but as the private health of individuals considered collectively. This leads to nanny-state control of diet, exercise, “bad” habits, etc. Private health care still available but much government involvement, to the extent that markets are badly distorted.
3. Numerous petty regulations limiting options in one’s personal life – arbitrary building code restrictions, inability to negotiate voluntary agreements (contracts) of mutual benefit between two parties (e.g. employment agreements and health insurance contracts). Businesses not free to hire and fire at will but forced to bargain collectively with government-sanctioned unions and to engage in “affirmative action” to achieve racial quotas. Largely the consequence of an administrative state, where laws are passed by officials not directly accountable to the people.
4. The existence of an administrative state, with bureaucrats possessing de facto legislative authority but without any accountability to the citizens who are expected to obey their laws.
5. The rule of law (power strictly controlled and not arbitrary; government officials severely constrained in their official acts) may be weakened, but still effectively restrains government in many particulars.
6. Freedom of speech still exists but is now under attack on multiple fronts: the argument from intimidation in the form of “political correctness”, baseless accusations of racism, and actual disruption of speeches the Left dislikes are all techniques employed to browbeat its critics into silence.
7. Partial gun control – some arbitrary restrictions on types of firearms and who may own them, but citizens still armed. Characterized by government “allowing” citizens to retain arms not as a right but as a privilege which politicians may revoke when they please.
8. The definition of “crime” slowly expands to cover situations other than the violation of individual rights. This typically goes along with the attacks on freedom of speech and gun rights; thus “hate speech” is considered unprotected and it becomes a “crime” to possess magazines with more than x rounds of ammunition, etc.
Characteristics of hard tyranny:
1. Business completely under government control. Favored citizens (e.g. party members) may be allowed a small amount of autonomy and a large amount of wealth. Government decides which products are to be produced.
2. Socialized medicine, with government making all medical decisions and in complete control of the medical profession.
3. No-longer-petty regulation of every aspect of the citizen’s life: from childhood education to adult vocation to healthcare, the important decisions are made by the state.
4. Administrative state without any constraints whatsoever. This usually takes the form of unaccountable bureaucrats supplemented by commissars and all under the control of one central authority.
5. The rule of men and not of laws (arbitrary power in the hands of both elected and unelected officials). Rule of law replaced by rule of men. Government officials wield arbitrary power – “the law is what is two lines above my signature” – Saddam Hussein
6. Outright censorship, especially of political ideas.
7. Strict gun control (firearms possession severely restricted or banned outright).
8. A class of political crimes, that is, conduct the government disapproves of but which does not violate private rights. Political “criminals” may be sent to re-education camps, imprisoned, or executed.
Although the forms are somewhat different, these hard and soft tyrannies have something in common: officials possessed of arbitrary power, that is, the coercive power of the state no longer restricted by objective, clearly-written laws designed to protect life, liberty, and property. Such arbitrary power is used, rather, to impose the will of the official upon the citizen. • (1899 views)