James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, wrote that of all the enemies to liberty, war is the greatest. What he meant by that is that governments inevitably use wars and other crises and emergencies to centralize and expand their powers over the citizenry. Thus, in the process of claiming to keep the citizenry safe from external threats, the government often becomes a grave threat to their freedom and well-being.
The United States has been at war for more than 15 years, ever since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. But it’s actually much worse than that. If we go back to 1941, we see that the United States has been embroiled in what has become perpetual war, including World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the violent regime-change operations in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Brazil, Cuba, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, and other countries around the world.
Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone, given Madison’s dictum, that Americans now live under a regime that wields powers that are ordinarily found in countries ruled by totalitarian regimes, including assassination, indefinite detention, torture, and secret surveillance of the citizenry. All of these powers have been upheld by the federal judiciary so long as U.S. officials relate them to national security, foreign policy, or the war on terrorism. Very few Americans ever expected, when they were growing up, that they would be living under a government with such totalitarian-like powers.
There are two things to note about the state of unending war and totalitarian powers in which Americans now find themselves.
The first point is that such powers are antithetical to the principles of freedom. There is just no way that any society in which people’s government is wielding such totalitarian powers can be considered genuinely free. They are the same powers, after all, that are wielded by the communist dictatorships in such countries as Cuba, North Korea, China, and Vietnam.
Ironically, however, many Americans are convinced that they are free. They have been told that since the first grade, and they still believe it as adults. They go around singing, “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” Or they express thanks in sports stadiums, churches, and other venues for the troops protecting “our rights and freedoms” in overseas military activities. The plight of many Americans can best be summed up by the words of the great German thinker Johann Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
That’s why many people are befuddled by us libertarians. They hear us saying that we are fighting to restore a free society to our land, and they just don’t get it. How can freedom be restored, they ask, if freedom already exists?
In fact, that’s why many statists who love big government power and hate freedom resent us libertarians. They don’t like it that we tell people they’re not free. Their position is that ignorance is bliss and, therefore, as long as Americans believe they’re free, that’s all that matters. They don’t like the fact that libertarians are telling them otherwise, even if it is the truth.