By: Sean Herbert
As one who views individual liberty as sacrosanct, I absolutely reject the notion that national security concerns override the explicitly understood primary purpose, by our organic law (Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, etc), of our government: the security of our liberties. Of course there is, as has been the case from the beginning, a universal accord, within the political class-- and to a lesser extent, a number of members outside such class- on the idea that the national security interest overrides any fidelity to the maintenance of our civil liberties. As evidenced by certain decisions throughout our history, an especially complicit judiciary has affirmed this position. The fact that the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 passed and were never allowed challenge along with the Japanese Internment of the 1940’s, whereby the courts affirmed the right of the government to impose, discretionarily (upon race), curfews and confine or detain members of a given race if the government deemed as much appropriate (Hirabayashi v. United States, 1943 and Korematsu v. United States, 1944), is testament to the complicity of the judiciary in this noxious trend and both serve as prime examples of a government run amuck, all in the name of protecting itself first and individual liberty second.
What is the proper role and scope of our form of government? Surely not to “protect itself”. Is it not “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity”? How then, if you accept this maxim, could we justifiably allow “state interests” to ever override “essential liberties”, particularly when such interests could be the very foundation upon which individual liberties had been abridged? When we founded this nation, government was erected to protect individual liberties, not state interests. Government, therefore, was erected as an “agent” to the stated ends. Are we really suggesting that the “agent” of our interests should ever override the “principle”? Are we really of the opinion that the state must place more predominance in protecting it’s own interests than of any consideration to what is chartered as it’s primary function?
If the primary function of government is the protection of the state and state interests, what then precludes our government, and those in our ruling class, from being more concerned with maintaining their status as rulers than acting in furtherance of our stated fundamental principles? Further, what is our judiciary, if not a catalyst for the assurance that the latter does not happen; that the primacy of individual liberties is forever protected given its understood priority is in facilitating the security of such blessings? If the primary purpose of government is the protection of the state and state interests, what then is in place to protect us, the people, when the instruments we put in place to safeguard our liberties become the very devices used to deny us our liberties?
There is a case in recent history of a government more concerned with protecting the national security interests than observing individual rights. I’m referring to East Germany of the 1950’s which eventually collapsed in 1989. Such government appointed a Ministry of State Security, otherwise known as the “Staatssicherheit”, for the purpose of protecting state interests with such government also proposing that the national security interest was more important than the observance of certain inalienable civil rights, though initially only in certain situations. The problem lies within the nature of slippery slopes and the persistence of inimical interests. Inevitably, items will be characterized as being within the sphere of the national security interest which had never previously been recognized as being so in the past; and simultaneously would never have been considered acceptable in the past. Not only did the state become more secretive but it became outright contemptuous of it’s citizenry. There was no presumption of innocence in the public square, there was a presumption of guilt. There was no right to privacy, the state (or those serving in an official capacity of the state) reserved the right to tap into every facet of one’s personal life-- which was a practice bound to result in mass abuses. Eventually, all such things had come to fruition in East Germany. The people, in their condition of being secondary to state interests, had no privacy, no right to due process, no right to a fair trial by a number of their peers, and no right to question/challenge their detainment (habeas corpus).
I’m not suggesting this is where we are now-- not that I wouldn’t suggest we were close. The point is that the slope begins somewhere. If we have abandoned the idea that governments are erected to serve the people and are but manifestations of the members of that society acting in support of the constituencies they are appointed to serve, not something over and above them whose interests take priority over the given fundamental principles of said society, then we are expediting our course toward yet another period of tyranny and oppression.
The national question we have before us is of paramount importance and it revolves around our determination as to that which we hold as more sacred: the protection of the state and state interests, in whatever form it may find itself to be-- be it benevolent or malevolent- or shall we conclude that the protection of those essential liberties, so fleeting in the history of man, deserve our most fervent attention? Afterall, what good is that state if it is not rooted in protecting our individual right to be free from tyranny? Why would we be any better off being subjugated by our own government in whatever effort the state itself deems as most appropriate (without regard for our recognized civil rights) than we would be should we have found ourselves subject to the whims of some oppressive warlord in a third-world nation? In the end, if our government is one purposed in securing our rights to life, liberty and (our) pursuit of happiness, it cannot simultaneously be one which will allow those protections to take a back seat to any other consideration, particularly not at the will of an increasingly autonomous executive branch.