by N. A. Halkides
Having presented eight key descriptive characteristics of a society, let’s now use them to examine how a modern Western society moves from freedom to tyranny. Note that these characteristics were chosen for their utility in this respect, and not because they were best for actually defining the abstract concepts of “freedom” and “tyranny”. My purpose is threefold: to provide a foundation for further discussion, to illuminate the gradual process by which freedom is lost, and to discover exactly where the Western world first went wrong – how it opened the door to oppression – so that we may one day close it again.
1. Business regulation.
(Free) Business regulation is minimal; people are free to open a business and run it as they see fit without interference from the state.
(Soft) Business heavily regulated but still under private control in a more than a nominal sense. Increasingly difficult to get new business ventures started because of government regulations of all kinds, from labor to environmental.
(Hard) 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.
The entering wedge of statism in this case was the idea that without government regulation, businesses would “run wild”: mistreat workers, pollute the environment, etc. Once that principle was admitted without limits, it became inevitable that government would acquire more and more control. Under Obama, we have seen business required (for the first time in American history) to provide employees with health insurance meeting the standards of unaccountable government officials, even though this violates the rights of both businessmen and workers to reach voluntary employment agreements.
A second avenue has been more explicitly statist: government ownership and/or control of business. We have seen government loan guarantees whose effect was both to shift production from profitable enterprises to “green energy” boondoggles (Solyndra, etc.) and outright government ownership (General Motors) as well as government control without ownership (most doctors and hospitals under Obamacare). Indeed, were the amount of government control in these instances to be replicated across the entire range of business activity, we would have reached the “hard” stage with a Soviet-style command and control economy.
2. Public Health
(Free) “Public health” is confined principally to the control of communicable diseases: quarantines, vaccination programs, inspection of restaurants to prevent infection, etc.
(Soft) The private health of individuals is 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.
(Hard) Socialized medicine, with government making all medical decisions and in complete control of the medical profession.
Although government interference with a free market in medicine goes back at least to World War II with tax laws favoring employer-provided health insurance, it is the major Federal initiatives since then, particularly Medicare and most obviously Obamacare, that have more seriously undermined freedom and moved us perilously close to socialized medicine. (State insurance mandates are a big factor in raising premium costs also, and one that is not pointed to nearly often enough). It is no secret that Democrats wanted “single-payer” (their preferred euphemism for complete government control) but were afraid of the consequences if they went that far in 2009, so they settled for Obamacare figuring that with private insurance companies either driven out of business or placed under government control, it would be easy to complete the health care takeover at a later date. Indeed, this incremental approach is typical of the Progressive movement and one of the factors that motivated this article. Nor is it coincidence that Obamacare was rammed down our throats at the same time Michael “The Nanny” Bloomberg was determining what size soft drinks New Yorkers would be permitted to consume. (See my FrontpageMag.com article Inside the Progressive Mind for more on this).
3. Personal Regulation
(Free) 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.
(Soft) 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 (see #4 below).
(Hard) 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.
It will be quickly seen from the examples chosen there is in fact little difference between regulation of the citizen’s private life and that of his business. I only attempted the distinction because unfortunately many people are more willing to accept regulations that seem to constrain only others – hence the greater outcry over Obamacare’s widely-despised Individual Mandate than over its equally repugnant Employer Mandate. The reason is simply that one man’s personal concern (say health care) is another man’s business.
4. The Administrative State
(Free) All laws passed by legislative bodies directly accountable to the people.
(Soft) Laws made by bureaucrats possessing de facto legislative authority but without any accountability to the citizens who are expected to obey their laws.
(Hard) Administrative state completely unconstrained. This usually takes the form of unaccountable bureaucrats supplemented by commissars and all under the control of one central authority.
If it weren’t bad enough that legislatures often act as though they have unlimited powers, our descent into servitude has been hastened by their delegation of the law-making power to administrative bureaucracies. Such agencies attract the type of person least desirable for the exercise of political authority: those who believe they know what’s best for their fellow men, who think they can build a better world once every man’s life and property are theirs to dispose of. These individuals are remarkably ruthless; they think nothing of the individual lives they destroy as they pursue their utopian dreams.
The EPA may be the most egregious example at the current time: without so much as an act of Congress, they are waging a war against fossil fuels by declaring carbon dioxide to be a “pollutant”, the economic consequences be damned, and are preventing people from building and improving their own land. As for their ruthlessness, recall the statement of former EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz who once said this:
“I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement,” Armendariz said during a meeting in 2010. “It’s kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean: they’d go into little Turkish towns somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they’d run into, and they’d crucify them and then, you know, that town was really easy to manage over the next few years.”
Those are the thought processes of the petty tyrant, the man unlikely to rise to the top of the ruling class but nonetheless able to bring down no end of misery to the ordinary citizen when empowered with the legal use of force by the regulatory state.
5. The Rule of Law
(Free) The effective rule of law and not of men obtains. This means power is strictly controlled and not arbitrary; government officials are severely constrained in their official acts.
(Soft) The rule of law may be weakened, but still effectively restrains government in many particulars.
(Hard) The rule of men and not of laws (arbitrary power in the hands of both elected and unelected officials). Government officials wield arbitrary power – “the law is two lines above my signature” – Saddam Hussein
“The rule of law” has become nothing more than a verbal mannerism among today’s political class. They use the phrase to mask their implementation of its exact opposite: Obama’s granting of “waivers” from the Obamacare law to favored groups, or completely ignoring the Bankruptcy statutes to put his union supporters ahead of the other unsecured creditors in the GM-Chrysler bailouts. This is not “prosecutorial discretion,” it is in fact the most profound assault on equality under the law (a corollary of the rule of law) in the history of this nation. When a public official – any public official – can decide who must obey the “law” and who may ignore it, we don’t have “law” any more, we have the arbitrary rule of men.
6. Freedom of Speech
(Free) 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.
(Soft) 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.
(Hard) Outright censorship, especially of political ideas.
America has always had more freedom of speech than Europe, which is now very close to complete censorship. The First Amendment, as well as a more robust tradition of free expression here, explains the difference. But as in so many other things, we’re not that far behind Europe: the “bipartisan” (in reality, unipartisan) “Campaign Finance Reform” law (a/k/a “McCain Feingold”) was an explicit attack upon political speech, and was struck down by the narrowest possible margin (5-4) in the U.S. Supreme Court. More recently, Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has spearheaded an attempt to actually repeal the First Amendment in what I believe to be the most under-reported story of our time (see “Keep the First Amendment” by the editors of National Review Online).
For the moment, these attacks have been repelled, but not by much. Meanwhile, Pelosi and the Left are biding their time, gathering their strength for renewed assaults on the First and Second Amendments (which I would argue are the most important provisions in the Bill of Rights) once they can further tip the balance of power through either immigration or an increased Federal workforce (principally the new Obamacare administrators), or both. We should recognize that while the attacks are only now reaching the political realm, they started taking place in the intellectual realm of our colleges and universities (if these institutions can be viewed as “intellectual” any more) thirty years ago with speech codes defended by such Democratic luminaries as future Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, then Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin (Madison). Those speech codes had two obvious purposes: (1) censor speech on campus by punishing “offenders” through student disciplinary procedures, and (2) provide the intellectual foundation, e.g. proscribing “hate speech,” for censoring speech in America by punishing “offenders” through the criminal code.
7. Freedom of Arms
(Free) 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.
(Soft) 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.
(Hard) Strict gun control (firearms possession severely restricted or banned outright).
So much has been written about gun control recently that perhaps nothing more really needs to be said here. Still, we should carefully note recent developments, specifically new and oppressive anti-gun measures in New York, Connecticut, and Colorado, and the failed attempt by Congressional Democrats (shamefully aided by Establishment Republicans) to re-institute the semi-automatic rifle ban (to use the proper term for their “Assault Weapon”) and expand background checks, thus further harassing good citizens while doing exactly nothing to reduce crime. In particular, the leaked contents of a closed door meeting of New York Democrat legislators revealed that they considered going even further than the misnamed SAFE Act they eventually passed, and Governor Andrew Cuomo openly mentioned the possibility of outright gun confiscation.
What this reveals is that when a Democrat says he respects gun rights, he’s lying. What he really means is that he respects the voting power of gun-owning American citizens, and will wait to enact the strict anti-gun measures he privately favors until such time as the Party has become so entrenched in power that it no longer has to fear those citizens.
8. The Manufacture of Criminals
(Free) “Crime” means only an act which deprives an individual of his rights. It does not mean any action of which the government disapproves.
(Soft) 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.
(Hard) 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.
How does a tyrannical government operate upon the people? Since the use of government force against the individual generally takes the form of prosecution under the criminal law, it follows that for such a government to tyrannize an innocent man, it must turn him into a criminal by redefining the ordinary choices he would make as a free man to be criminal offenses. The recent anti-gun legislation, as well as the Left’s intention to ban the private ownership of firearms, is an excellent example of this.
The choice of a particular firearm for use in self-defense, the choice to use a magazine which holds more than a very small number of rounds, or the mere possession of a firearm itself infringe upon no one’s liberties and can therefore never be criminal acts properly defined. Only the use of firearms for a purpose criminal in itself such as robbery or murder can be a proper subject for the operation of the police power. The criminalization of gun possession and the criminalization of speech criticizing government officials are the Left’s long-term cherished goals. The enactment of either one into law would be the clearest possible signal that the government has in fact become a tyranny. Even the necessary precursor acts, such as the registration of firearms (required for later confiscation) or any attempt to weaken the protections of the First Amendment (required for censorship) would be a sign that the time has come to actively resist the government.
No country goes from freedom to dictatorship overnight. It is my hope that by detailing the specific paths that lead from liberty to tyranny we may still avoid following them to their horrifying end-points. I also hope these observations will stimulate further, more detailed observations about how tyranny progresses and how to stop it.
Tyranny from Soft to Hard, Part I • (892 views)