23 January 2013

Proof: U.S. = Tyranny!

Reading one of the local papers this morning, I stumbled across a typical expression of anti-government paranoia in the paper's call-in "Sound Off" column. A caller was reminding readers that "the Second Amendment was not put there for target practice or hunting. It was put there to keep government tyrants in check." You've probably seen or heard what follows hundreds of times:

When the government fears the people, you have liberty; when the people fear the government, you have tyranny.

It's just about as self-evident as you could want that many people in the United States fear the government -- some seem to fear the idea of government itself. By the rule stated above, these people's fears are self-confirming: if they fear the government, it must be a tyranny.

Someone could argue that I misunderstand, perhaps purposefully, the usage of "fear" in the old proverb. It seems to mean something like "cowed into quiescence out of respect for some dread power to punish transgression." Liberty flourishes, the proverb suggests, when politicians know that the people will deal with them if they transgress. Conversely, if the people believe that the government can and will crush them if they transgress -- in this context, the right verb would be "dissent" -- tyranny is secure. The open defiance from reactionary dissent in 2013 appears to prove that "the people" are not yet cowed, and that tyranny is not yet secure. My reading of the proverb, however, seems more psychologically convincing. A deeply rooted philosophical (or pseudophilosophical) suspicion that government is always in danger of tending toward tyranny encourages immediate suspicion that the current government actually is tending toward tyranny. Those who fear government will always see tyranny looming.

Is the remedy to reject all suspicion of tyranny? Classical political philosophy warns against that. If you find the cyclical theory of political history convincing, tyranny of some sort will seem inevitable wherever constitutional liberty prevails today. The heart of the matter, yet again, is what actually counts as tyranny. It has to be something more than "the state has too much control." Who has control of the state matters more. Those who see "government" itself as the inherent threat miss the point. They also seem to limit their own choices; the proverb allows no option but rule by fear. Can't we do better than that?


Anonymous said...

I still say that as long as we still have free elections, the only tyranny exists in the minds of paranoid/delusional gun nuts who present the true threat to our freedom to continue to draw breath.

I also still insist that, despite his or her probable ownership of multiple firearms, the malcontent is likely a coward as are most gun nuts. If not, why has he/she not lead the charge, weapon in hand, against the tyrant?

Because like all the rest of the trash, they want someone else to fight and die and then hand the power over to the cowards who lacked the courage of their convictions to put their own worthless lives on the line to prove their point.

Samuel Wilson said...

Indeed, even if the freely elected government violates the Constitution, no one needs to sound the alarm until that government openly defies a conscientious Supreme Court.

I don't know who's a coward, but it is interesting that these people all expect to assume a defensive posture when tyranny breaks out instead of taking the fight to the enemy. Maybe that's just realism, and maybe it's that mental block that makes assassination seem less honorable than mass battles.

Anonymous said...

By "coward", I refer to any and all gun nuts who talk about an armed "revolution". Notice that all they ever do is talk about it? That is my point. It seems to me that the government should have absolutely no problem with removing assault weapons and military grade hardware from these people who have no need of such firepower to begin with. Both because they will never actually have the courage to rise up against anyone better armed, and because the government is NOT a tyranny.

Anonymous said...

"When the government fears the people, you have liberty; when the people fear the government, you have tyranny."

So how about those who suffer from mental illness? Should we assume because someone fears the government, they actually have a reason to fear it? It seems to me that the right is full of paranoid loonies who see conspiracies every where. So when a paranoid person fears the government, does it really indicate tyranny on the part of the government, or mental illness on the part of the fear-monger?