Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Beware Creeping Tyranny

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." -- Justice Louis Brandeis, 1928

Liberals in the US have been decrying the "erosion" of constitutional rights under the Bush Administration, arguing loudly against the NSA surveillance program and the renewal of the Patriot Act. Yet Conservatives and Libertarians see a quite different erosion — one due to left-leaning courts that create "emanations and penumbras"or cite other countries' laws to interpret the United States Constitution, and legislation that restricts political speech, gun ownership, property rights, and freedom of religion. (Go read the Bill of Rights!)

The European experience with well-meaning legislation has, over time, produced chilling results. Consider this WSJ Op-Ed (subscription required) on the legal lunacy in the British criminal "justice" system:

How did things come to a pass where law-abiding citizens are treated as criminals and criminals as victims? A giant step was the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act, making it illegal to carry any article for an offensive purpose; any item carried for self-defense was automatically an offensive weapon and the carrier is guilty until proven innocent. At the time a parliamentarian protested that "The object of a weapon was to assist weakness to cope with strength and it is this ability that the bill was framed to destroy." The government countered that the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive weapons in their pockets; it is the duty of society to protect them."

The trouble is that society cannot and does not protect them. Yet successive governments have insisted protection be left to the professionals, meanwhile banning all sorts of weapons, from firearms to chemical sprays. They hope to add toy or replica guns to the list along with kitchen knives with points. Other legislation has limited self-defense to what seems reasonable to a court much later. [...]

It may be crass to point out that the British people, stripped of their ability to protect themselves and of other ancient rights and left to the mercy of criminals, have gotten the worst of both worlds. Still, as one citizen, referring to the new policy of letting criminals off with a caution, suggested: "Perhaps it would be easier and safer for the honest citizens of the U.K. to move into the prisons and the criminals to be let out."

A similar sentiment republished in the Brussels Journal caught my eye, "Why Citizens Should Be Allowed to Bear Arms:"
The right to keep and bear arms for defence is as fundamental as the rights to freedom of speech and association. Anyone who is denied this right – to keep and bear arms – is to some extent enslaved. That person has lost control over his life. He is dependent on the State for protection.

The default reaction to this argument is to cry out in horror and ask if I want a society where every criminal has a gun, and where every domestic argument ends in a gun battle? The short answer is no. The longer answer is to say that more guns do not inevitably mean more killings. There is no evidence that they do. What passes for evidence is little more than an excuse for not trusting ordinary people with control over their own lives.

Why is gun control an issue in Britain? The fact that the UN will convene the "Small Arms Review Conference" next week probably has something to do with the surge in opinion pieces. The official Conference website is here. The conference program sounds benign:
Five years after the adoption of the United Nations Programme of Action to address the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, some 2,000 representatives from Governments, international and regional organizations and civil society will meet at United Nations Headquarters from 26 June to 7 July 2006 to review progress made; to address future cooperation and activities; and to assess challenges on the road ahead.

By unanimously adopting the Programme of Action in 2001, the United Nations Member States committed themselves to collecting and destroying illegal weapons, adopting and/orimproving national legislation to help criminalize the illicit trade in small arms, regulating the activities of brokers, setting strict import andexport controls, taking action against violators of such laws, and better coordinating international efforts to that end.

The small arms Review Conference should reinforce the momentum for action among Member States, civil society, international and regional organizations. The Conference is also expected to welcome the establishment of a group of governmental experts who will meet in November 2006 to tackle the issue of reining in illegal arms brokers.
Not everyone is sanguine about the conference. Mary Katharine Ham interviewed Wayne LaPierre, author of “The Global War on Your Guns: Inside the U.N.’s Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights.”
The philosophy of these groups, LaPierre said, is that the right to own a gun should be solely the right of governments, and they despise the fact that the United States remains a country in which private citizens can keep a handgun at their bedsides.

In a recent debate LaPierre did with Rebecca Peters, who is heading up the NGOs’ gun-ban efforts, Peters told him that Americans need to give up on the notion of self-defense because it’s something that only happens in movies.

The problem is, of course, that a disarmed people can do nothing when its armed government or militias turns on it. The U.N. has no response about what to do about that, LaPierre said, citing the Tutsis in Rwanda, the people of Darfur, and the Muslims of Bosnia.

“All they offer is a global socialist fantasy…If there were no guns, there would be no poverty, there would be no child hungry, there would be no violence. It’s the same global socialist fantasy we saw in the 20th century, “ he said. “Under the U.N. gun-ban policy, they have no solution for when the government goes bad; they have no answer for how to be liberated from a tyrant or a dictator; they have no answer for what oppressed people should do…Their whole philosophy is give up your arms and your freedoms and we’ll protect you.”

The pernicious influence of UN group-think on traditional freedoms isn't confined to gun control. Another piece from the Brussels Journal discusses the state of homeschooling in Belgium (HT Instapundit):

The fact that a growing group of children seems to be escaping from the government’s influence clearly bothers the authorities. Three years ago a new school bill was introduced. The new bill refers to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and it obliges homeschooling parents to fill out a questionaire and sign an official “declaration of homeschooling” in which they agree to school their children “respecting the respect [sic] for the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others.”

The declaration does not specify what “respecting the respect for the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others” means. It states, however, that government inspectors decide about this and adds – and here is the crux of the matter – that if the parents receive two negative reports from the inspectors they will have to send their child to an official government recognized school. [...]

Under the Convention severe limitations are placed on parents’ right to direct and train their children. Under Article 13 parents could be subject to prosecution for any attempt to prevent their children from interacting with material they deem unacceptable. Under Article 14 children are guaranteed “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” – in other words, children have a legal right to object to all religious training. And under Article 15 the child has a right to “freedom of association.”

[Update 6/22: The author above has a follow-up post, "Crackdown on Homeschoolers: It’s the UN Wot Done It"]

While idealists consider democratic governments a bulwark against tyrannical dictators, democracies are not immune to the tyranny of the well-meaning. Democratic governments around the world are falling prey to socialist-tainted liberalism that elevates the interests of the state above those of the individual citizens. There's a kernel of truth in the assertion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his letter to President Bush that,
"Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems."
Dr. Sanity diagnoses the pathology thusly:
Those glory days when the Left believed in freedom and individuality; and that the content of one’s character was more important than the color of one’s skin-- are long gone. Nowadays it seems that the Left only pretends to believe in those values and feels it necessary to mouth the words.

But my observation is that today’s Left pretty much stands for nothing—not freedom, not equal opportunity; not individual rights; not even peace. Trying to right the wrongs and injustices of the world is truly ethical and noble goal, but something happened on the road to that beautiful utopia. The Left made a wrong turn and got lost--somewhere in the vicinity of Vietnam, I think. [...]

At this very moment, every issue supported by the Left, and almost all of the behavior exhibited by the Left is completely antithetical to classical liberal philosophies. There is no longer a commitment to personal liberty or to freedom. The Left is far too busy to promote freedom for the common man or woman, because their time is taken up advocating freedom for tyrants who oppress the common man; terrorists who kill the common man; and religious fanatics who subjugate the common woman.

The intellectuals who once promoted the IDEA of freedom, now are ensnared in an IDEOLOGY that depends for its very existence on the silencing of speech; the suppression of ideas; and the persecution of those who dare to refute its tenets.

Patriotism and love of one’s country is mocked by those who once fought to bring the American Dream to all American citizens; and who once championed those who were prevented from sharing in that Dream. Slowly and inexorably those idealists who once shouted, “we shall overcome,” morphed into a toxic culture promoting a never-ending victimhood that cannot possibly be overcome. Love of American ideals and values was transformed into the most perverse and vile anti-Americanism –where all things originating or “tainted” as American are uniquely bad; and where America became the source of all evil in the world.

The classical liberal tradition is now almost exclusively upheld by what are called “conservatives”. Once “liberal” was synonymous with the “left”. No longer.
A final pithy quote from Freedom Keys:

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do." -- Edward Everett Hale