Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How Far Will We Go?

My recent post (In Case You've Forgotten) demanded defeating and utterly discrediting Islamofascism, ending with

The questions of how far we go to defeat them, and with which of our own ideals we will temporarily part to do so, I leave to another day.
I suppose it is a bit of an open question whether we need to temporarily set aside any of our ideals. Things temporarily set aside have a way of becoming lost, of course.

But in an odd twist on the ad hominem buteo gallus argument, what sacrifice will those of us not on the front lines make to preserve our own liberties? Who will demand, despite all reason and human history, both freedom and peace without the sacrifice of blood in their pursuit?

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote "You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. But don't ever count on having both at once." Conversely, as Franklin is quoted, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety". But how do we decide whether a liberty is essential or the safety temporary? In an age in which transnational jihadists and hyperthyroidal governments may use instant global telecommunications and the infrastructure of civilization against one another and us, how can we know whether the freedom we seek from the latter will compromise the peace we desire from the former?

In short, how far will we go to defeat Islamofascism?

Many say that there is no peace without freedom and justice, that an occupied or enslaved people is not at peace. But Heinlein and I use "peace" in its classical meaning, as the absence of war. A conquered people is at peace, having surrendered their essential liberties to an invader. And it is this conquered peace which the Islamofascists desire -- over us.

In I Know My Rights, we saw that there are many kinds of rights, but those rights are at once layers of protection for and mere shadows of more fundamental ideals. For instance, the right to travel, assemble, and speak are both practical requirements needed to ensure our ability to control our own governance and a necessary consequence of the ideal of personal sovereignty: we own ourselves. No person should own another, and if a group can control where a person comes and goes or says when he gets there, the group would have effective ownership of the individual.

I do not mean to imply that the rights of travel, assembly or speech are limited solely to issues of sovereignty, nor that sovereignty can be maintained by their exercise alone. Ideals are in the end dependent on the maintenance and defense of all rights. American ideals include
  • Personal Sovereignty - we own ourselves, and not each other
  • The Golden Rule - Treat others as you would have them treat you
  • Nondescrimination - neither the government, nor increasingly an individual, should discriminate between individuals based on their group membership
  • Majority rule - this one smacks the other ideals around
  • The Rule of Law
  • Honor in War
  • There are many others, but I have to move on.
But rights are not the ideals they shadow, and it may be possible to emphasize some of the layers of protection over others for a time. Rather than be foolishly consistent and insist on winning all battles, a wise general knows that sometimes losing a battle can win a war.

We find the use of nuclear weapons repugnant, because it violates our ideal of Honor in War -- civilians should be excluded from military threat. Yet we know that the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the end of the Second World War in the Pacific. It was an example of a terrible cost to be paid, stepping back from pursuit of some of our ideals in order to defeat a threat to all of them.

Similarly, if a child has been abducted or a bomb threat issued, we either grudgingly or willingly consent to a search of our vehicle, home, or person. Some might stand on principle and refuse to be searched without reading a bench warrant, and to them my only comment would be "consistent fool". Yet at some point the Amber Alerts and Terror Threat Levels may elicit the measured response to the baying of an imaginary wolf.

Ideals are as much or more a part of culture as art, language, or religion. Americans, for instance, have an innate cultural insistence on freedom generally and to our cherished liberties specifically. In fact, I would go so far as to define culture as a shared set of ideals. I don't think it's trading too much in ambiguity to say then that if a culture is a group with shared ideals, preserving the culture will necessitate preserving the ideals.

While charges of theocracy and dictatorship abound, the real and perhaps more ominous trend in the last several decades is toward populism and rule by opinion poll - the tyranny of the majority. It is therefore counterintuitive that our elected officials would take a break from their prostrated supplication to refuse pursuit of cultural ideals held by even the slimmest majority. And if an ideal is not held by the majority, is it our ideal?

So there is a line to draw somewhere between the situation on one hand in which we are sure the threat is real enough and the rights we are surrendering will come back to us, and on the other that the threat is too ephemeral to fear and the rights to fragile to lose. Heinlein's peace and Franklin's security require the citizen to be vigilant against his own government, but just as mindful of the threat posed by outsiders. There is in the end no magic formula for deciding when liberty should be ceded, except that we do it only when we must, and as little as we can. Let the soldier not doubt that he is defending a free country.

But that free country has enemies, and those enemies need to be treated as such. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that those who do not share our ideals mean us no harm. They do mean us harm, and when we find measures to defeat them which impinge only theoretically on our liberty, we should ignore the theory and destroy the enemy.

When conditions return to their natural order, we may then stand on our shared ideals and demand either our liberty, or the head of him who dares violate it.

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Jimmy said...

While we laugh and play at IMAO, you are adressing the real issues, Socrates. You strike a chord, touch a nerve...and flesh-out your ideas so well.

American's would do well to readdress the idea of "sovereign citizens." After years of pondering its philosophical foundations, I have advised my sons thusly: don't forget that your own sovereignty is equal to the country in which you live.

KnightErrant said...

When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they required an oath of office. The oath is to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution." The oath is to the Constitution not the Nation. That is a significant difference and not an accidental choice. It is Constitution that requires vigilant defense. It is the Constitution which makes the United States unique. The Nation is the Constitution. Without that scrap of paper we are just another patch of land occupied by people.

I viscerally object to the notion that Constitutional liberties are indulgences that should be abandoned whenever things get difficult. If liberties can so easily be shed then they are of no importance. Is freedom is such a weak concept it cannot withstand challenge?

I have a question regarding your final sentence. Given the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the GWOT, when, exactly, in our nation's history was the last time conditions had been in their "natural order?" It appears to me that the natural order has always been chaos and conflict.

Loren Heal said...

Thanks, KE.

The question is not whether the ideals of Liberty or Freedom are worthwhile, but whether specific manifestations and protections are necessary and wise. Moreover, might there be other, better ways to protect our ideals?

For instance, we have the Internet now. Doesn't the freedom to speak now have a more powerful force? Does that force obviate some other liberty, such as the absolute right to privacy of phone records of calls made to Jihadistan?

Jimmy said...

Indeed, the Constitution is but a conveyance - an embodiment - of it's true meaning. Otherwise, what could it be for? There are many "constitutions" but very few demand the kind of oath or possess the kind of ideals that ours does.

And under it, the Nation - we - are it's livelihood. Is our Constitution complete enough for us? Does it contain flaws that require our immediate attention? Does it address the fine line between attacks on our Nation from within and from without?

I'll wager you get around to these, and more, Socrates !

KnightErrant said...

Allow me to strike closer to your heart. Since you seem to believe the Fourth Amendment is expendable, what about the Second?

We stand at no risk from invasion by a Muslim army. Terrorists, however, can enter the country unarmed and acquire all of the weapons they want inside the United States. What sort of restriction on your right to keep and bear arms are you willing to surrender to keep terrorists from getting the weapons they need to attack?

There is a story about a rich man who approaches a beautiful young actress renown for her chastity and tells her he will give her ten million dollars if she will sleep with him. She smiles coyly and says, "Sure."

The rich man then says, "Will you sleep with me for twenty bucks?"

The actress is outraged. "What do you think I am?" she shouts.

"We know what kind of woman you are, we are now just negotiating the price," he replies.

If freedom can be bargained away for security then we are all slaves and we are just negotiating over the price of our slavery.

Loren Heal said...

Oh, Knight. Will you accuse me of hypocrisy if I note that the right to keep and bear arms is supported specifically, but not exclusively, in the Constitution in order to defend against just such an invasion?

A question perhaps even closer to my heart is if the freedom of religion should be curtailed because some Muslims are abusing it.

But before you ask that, I should explain my position better. I see specific rights that we have (e.g., the right to speak freely in the park or on the train, or privacy of our phone records) as girders supporting the structure of our ideals. There are many such specific rights.

The structure is in need of repair. If we pull out one girder, the whole structure doesn't collapse. It makes us nervous, but we let the engineering firm we hired remove that one girder to repair the whole thing.

And if they end their repair work without putting all of the girders back, there's going to be trouble for them. End of strained metaphor.

We have an explosion, a flood of communication today that we didn't have 20 or even 10 years ago. Everyone has a cell phone, email, a satellite dish or cable TV, and millions of people have blogs. All of that would be turned in full opposition to any government that tried to take something important away permanently. Why not temporarily give up something that really doesn't matter, like access to your recent calls list when you call terror suspects, when doing so will almost certainly help keep bad people from blowing up your town?

If you don't think the threat from jihad is worth the risk of letting the government see the phone bill when you call Jihadistan, then you don't. If that's your position, then we'll just have to disagree (with no animosity, I hope).

Loren Heal said...

Actually, it was a strained simile.

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