The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union speech in 1941 proposed four fundamental freedoms that all people should have; freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These first two, the freedom “of,” were already a part of the U.S. Constitution, and merely require for their observance that the State refrain from restricting the people in their various forms of expression. The latter two, the freedom “from,” are of an entirely different nature.
If the State is somehow to grant the people the “freedom from fear,” then it must somehow remove evil from the world so that the people need no longer need fear for their security. And this is exactly what the War on Terror was always about. “Our responsibility to history is already clear — to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil,” proclaimed President Bush on September 14, 2001. “Freedom and fear are at war, and there will be no quick or easy end to this conflict. It will be fought on many fronts against a particularly elusive enemy over an extended period of time.”
The speech had the tone of a moral crusade, delivered to a shocked and grieving public ready to accept a savior to deliver it from evil. The president made clear by his remarks in this speech and subsequent others that the War on Terror, as it had been christened, would be fought over decades. The War on Terror would be fought not against an identifiable enemy, but against a tactic, in pursuit of objectives that would come to be ambiguous and ever shifting. As the years went by, however, the very idea of the U.S. government trying to rid the world of evil became more and more ludicrous. No one talks about ridding the world of evil anymore, and yet the War on Terror continues apace.
Americans had too much liberty, we were told, and the terrorists had taken advantage of that. Since anyone could be a terrorist, including Americans, everyone would now be a suspect. Civil rights would have to be curtailed; there would need to be secret laws and secret courts so that the State could do its work, unhampered. There would be no time for the formal niceties of individualized warrants issued by impartial judges and no time to assemble and present the formal rules of evidence and build a case normally required in the courtroom. After all, we were sitting on a ticking time bomb; we had to act before they could strike again. Sleeper cells were everywhere, waiting to unleash death and mass destruction. The time-honored rules establishing due process and the administration of justice would have to change. Everyone would be under secret surveillance. New enemies call for new tactics, we were told. We would have to sacrifice some of our liberty for security.
Thirty-seven percent of likely U.S. voters now fear the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released April 18, 2014. Forty-seven percent do not, and 17% are not sure. This is not some poll conducted by wild-eyed nuts hunkered down awaiting Armageddon; this is Rasmussen. America once stood for freedom, one of the few places where one did not have to fear the midnight knock on the door, of being whisked away to parts unknown. This was a country populated by those fleeing from tyranny and deprivation. And now we’ve come to this.
When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
We are traveling down the path against which Benjamin Franklin warned so long ago. His warning forms the philosophical background of State of Terror, which advances and extends contemporary restrictions on liberty to their logical next steps, from roaming VIPR squads and random checkpoints to no-fly lists and watchlists of various sorts.
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
—Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
And thus the Freedom from Fear, the natural longing for safety and security, was cynically exploited, advancing State power and control. The State found, once again, that it could arouse deep-seated fear and yet claim credit as the protector of the people. Future historians may marvel at how easily the people were duped to accept any intrusion, inconvenience, or demand in the name of security.