10 September 2007

Where Authoritarianism Lurks

I thought it might be appropriate to jot down a few thoughts about where authoritarianism lurks, where Big Brother hides in our great country – and I’m not talking about the television show.

Some would have us believe that Big Brother manifests himself in things like the Patriot Act, those laws that place, figuratively at least, Orwellian television monitors on our walls which observe our every move in the form of call monitoring and satellite tracking. The logic is that people are not free to act as they choose because, through the Patriot Act (and other surveillance activities), Big Brother will find out. What is devious and hideous here is not the discovery of a plot but rather the means Big Brother would use to find out information. The theoretical “invasion of privacy” stirs images of Big Brother on the tele-screen giving orders and Room 101.

The tricky thing here and what evades people who take this view is that in the US there is still the rule of law and checks and balances. There is not – despite what some folks may think – an authoritarian government in place. No one dictates what people may think or feel, and there is not constant monitoring of every member the populace. Those who suggest that these things are true do not inhabit reality.

But there is a seed of authoritarianism out there, I believe. It lies in comprehensive schemes to manage individual citizens’ lives. Every new and expanded government plan which is sold to somehow help, empower, enfranchise, or otherwise enhance the daily life of a citizen is a drain on liberty. Take ideas for “universal health care.” Just trust the government, people are told, and health care will never be a worry, never a burden. Of course, more money will be taken from the citizenry to fund this behemoth, and already there are noises about “mandatory preventative care” (thanks, Mr. Edwards). But it’s a small price to pay so that we the people no longer worry about our individual health care.

Which begs a simple question: do you worry about retirement? There is, you know, a government program to cover that. So why worry?

The more the government manages individual lives through “well-meaning” plans and programs, the less liberty individuals have. The most immediate symptoms will be, in the case of “universal health care” if it comes to pass, less money in the average Joe’s pocket and much longer lines at the doctor’s office. Then of course will come (and this is just a guess) another bureaucracy to manage the managed health care.

And there, I think, is where authoritarianism lurks. The government promises to take care of the citizen in exchange for something (money and liberty), the citizen is lured by promises and agrees, and the next time the cycle comes more easily to both. It is in this way, not through lawful monitoring of suspected criminals, that citizens lose liberty.


Dude said...

First time commenter, long time reader. "If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free." (to paraphrase the great PJ O'Rourke). Sic Semper Tyranus, or something like that.

Bob M. said...

Pulling out the Latin on me... I remember you reading that quote to me earlier in the year. It must have stuck, that's for sure.

It certainly will cost more. Funny, but it just hit me that some of the same folks who would balk at a national ID card want government controlled health care. And they probably think an ID card would be intrusive. Hmm...