Friday, July 09, 2010

Government by Emergency

Classical Greece and Rome had a tradition of appointing a dictator during times of national emergency. After the crisis finished, the dictator would step down so that government could return to normal, usually to some form republic or oligarchy. Following this tradition, modern leaders frequently appeal to times of real or alleged 'crisis' to persuade the populace to entrust them with powers that would normally be distributed.
However, there is a crucial difference. During times of national crisis the ancients would be ruled by a person, whereas we are ruled by laws rather than people. The consequence of this is that the augmented power required by a crisis has to first be legitimized by legislation. And here's the rub: the legislation does not step down after the crisis is over like the classical dictator did. In this way, an entire slough of totalitarian legislation can be built up over the years, like barnacles clinging to a ship, gradually changing the face of society from one of freedom to one of enslavement. Just consider the following list of executive orders that Presidents have issued to cope with “emergency” situations:

Executive Order #10995: Seizure of all communications media in the United States.

Executive Order #10997: Seizure of all electric power fuels and minerals, public and private.

• Executive Order #10999: Seizure of all means of transportation, including personal cars, trucks or vehicles of any kind and total control of highways, seaports and waterways.

 • Executive Order #11000: Seizure of all American people for work forces under federal supervision including the splitting of families if the government finds it necessary.

 • Executive Order #11001: Seizure of all health, education and welfare facilities, public and private.

 • Executive Order #11002: Empowered the postmaster general to register all men, women and children in the U.S.

Executive Order #11003: Seizure of all airports and aircraft.

Executive Order #11004: Seizure of all housing and finance authorities to establish Forced Relocation Designated areas to be abandoned as "unsafe."

Executive Order #11005: Seizure of all railroads, inland waterways and storage facilities, public and private.

Executive Order #12919: Signs June 3, 1994, by President Clinton. Encompasses all the above executive orders.

Totalitarian creep should concern us all, but first we must stop thinking of totalitarianism solely in terms of things like steel fences and ID checkpoints. That is where totalitarianism end but it is not where it starts. Totalitarianism, at least in the modern west, has traditionally begun with leaders who are human enough to empathize with our needs and shrewd enough to fulfill those needs as soon as sufficient power is entrusted to them.

When totalitarianism does arrive, it arrives as the concomitant of a population that has been oriented to view the state as benefactor and protector, even as the great mother. (See my article Maternal Statecraft). When Mussolini first coined the term “totalitarianism” it was not a pejorative slur, nor was it something connoting tyranny. Rather, he used the word to refer to a humane society in which everyone was taken care of and looked after by a state which encompassed all of life within its grasp.

Even before he was elected President, Obama identified himself with a type of “caring totalitarianism” of Mussolini. That is why the Obama administration has made clear that they never want a good crisis to go to waste. Times of crisis are opportunities for the government with totalitarian aspirations if the populace can be convinced that the needs of the crisis can only be addressed by the augmentation of power. If the people have already been oriented to view their leader as caring, they will gladly yield up their liberty for the security he promises to bring. That is why, when I defended my decision not to vote for Obama, my reasons were based, not in his policy, but in his compassion. Obama is just caring enough to overcome any obstacle, even the constitution itself, if he believes he is truly helping the American people. And that, my friends, is precisely why he is so dangerous.
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