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Heavy-Handed Politics

"€œGod willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world
without the United States and Zionism."€ -- Iran President Ahmadi-Nejad

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


An excellent post at Chicago Boyz:
A vast array of citizens watch with eagle eyes every new power of the state and seek to obstruct most of them, believing that the powers represent a greater threat than the enemy they seek to contain.

History, however, suggest they are looking in the wrong direction.

The history of the 20th Century paints a very clear picture of how liberal orders collapse into authoritarian ones. Contrary to popular belief, liberal orders do not gradually evolve into authoritarian ones by the accumulation of state power. Instead, liberal orders fail suddenly when they cease to provide basic physical and economic security. The functional power of the state decays until conditions reach a degree of disorder that triggers a sudden collapse into an authoritarian order. Ineffectiveness kills the liberal state, not excessive powers.

The major cases of Russia, Italy, Germany and Japan all follow this pattern . . .

If we cannot successfully curtail the escalation of terrorism we face the collapse of our liberal order. Today we face Islamist terrorists, but if others view terrorism as successful we will face attacks from other groups as well. Terrorist attacks will undermine social and economic functions and people will increasingly view the liberal order as a failed one. 9/11 illustrates this risk in miniature. During the '90s the West proved unable to restrain Al-Qaeda and its attacks grew increasingly destructive. People worried more about increasing state power than they did about the external threat. Finally, 9/11 caused a counter-reaction and we saw a sudden expansion of state power. Had we treated terrorism more seriously and had we authorized relatively minor expansions of state power in the '90s we would not have the Patriot Act and NSA surveillance today.

Political correctness threatens to cripple the effectiveness of the liberal order. For example, we refuse to use proven techniques such as profiling airline passengers and instead use invasive and ineffective searches for any object that might contain a bomb or weapon. We consider profiling, even accurate profiling, unjust. Neither will we use data mining, keyword searching or other modern tools, preferring instead to rely on invasive techniques such as planting informants. In the end we create the illusion of programs that are both powerful and ineffective. If a future attacks succeeds on a grand scale, many may conclude, just as they did after 9/11, that the state (or worse, a successor state) needs vastly more power.

We may be sliding down a slippery slope towards authoritarianism, but I fear we do so facing up-slope and unawares. We fix our eyes uphill on the minor threat while we slide insensibly down into the maw of the beast.

Hat tip to Marc Schulman at American Future.


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