“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
Lon Snowden, father of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, gave an interview to the media this week. The venue: Rossiya 24, a state-owned station. His message was one of gratitude to Russia for considering his son’s request for asylum. Edward, as everyone knows, is on the run for having revealed to the American people that their government is logging every communication and storing it for later use.
In other words, Edward is in big trouble for revealing that our government is doing to its own citizens what the U.S. once accused Russia of doing to its citizens. In what is really a bizarre turn of events, Russia has become a safe haven for an American whistle-blower. Any friend of freedom has to join Lon Snowden in expressing gratitude. Because as it turns out, there are only a handful of countries in the world that the U.S. government can’t intimidate into compliance.
I’m as glad as the next guy that “we” won the Cold War. But sometimes you just have to wonder: What was the point of those 45 years of nuclear stalemate? All that time, we were told that this was a mighty struggle between individualism and collectivism, between freedom and tyranny, between capitalism and communism.
But at the end of the day, once everything has shaken itself out, it is Russia that is providing sanctuary to our best citizens.
Is this some sort of strange dystopian novel? Well, yes, and it has a name: Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. Murray Rothbard once did a reconstruction of the hidden meaning of that novel. He demonstrated that Orwell was writing about the reality of the wartime and postwar period. A time when Russia’s status as an enemy turned to friend and back to enemy again in the blink of an eye.
In Orwell’s depiction, the world is dominated by three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Alliances would turn on a dime depending on political priorities. “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” says the slogan. Sounds just like something we’d hear today.
Islamic fundamentalists were U.S. allies in my living memory. They were heralded in the 1980s as freedom fighters who held to traditional family values and served as a mighty bulwark against atheistic communism. After the Cold War, our friends became our enemies. Now the right-wing talk shows speak daily of how we’ve always been at war with Islam.
The Russia case is particularly interesting. In the 1920s, American politics was sporadically consumed with the Red Scare. By the 1930s, Russia had become a kind of paradigm of progress. It was a model after which the New Deal copied its planning schemes for agriculture and large industry. By wartime, Russia was our dearest friend, a heroic ally in the struggle against Japanese and German imperialism. But only a year after WWII ended, President Truman spun it again: Now Russia was the biggest threat to Europe’s freedom, and thus began the long Cold War.
But it is even more complicated than that. As Rothbard wrote in 1986:
“Our deadly enemies in World War II, Germany and Japan, are now considered prime Good Guys, the only problem being their unfortunate reluctance to take up arms against the former Good Guys, the Soviet Union. China, having been a much lauded Good Guy under Chiang Kai-shek when fighting Bad Guy Japan, became the worst of the Bad Guys under communism, and indeed, the United States fought the Korean and Vietnamese wars largely for the sake of containing the expansionism of Communist China, which was supposed to be an even worse guy than the Soviet Union. But now all that is changed, and Communist China is now the virtual ally of the United States against the principal Enemy in the Kremlin.”
And today? Following some years of friendship in union with the anti-Islamist cause (the U.S. has tacitly backed President Putin in all his imperial wars), Russia is the enemy again. After all, this awful state is protecting a whistle-blower from capture by the U.S.! Meanwhile, Japan doesn’t figure into world politics at all, while China is said to be an unrelenting menace to our industrial superiority due to its propensity to steal trade secrets.
As should be clear, Orwell was not so much writing about a future that might come to pass as a present that had already revealed itself in politics throughout the 20th century. This was the century of the total state. What does that mean? It means that no aspect of life is conceptually out of reach for the government. All your data belong to them. All your products, services, and activities are their business. Our property we own only at their discretion. No aspect of life is unplanned by our masters, provided they have the interest and means to make it happen.
The totalitarian mind is revealed in its fullness in the attitude toward war. Beginning in the age of democracy of the 20th century, entire populations were considered to be combatants and potential targets. You know how during U.S. wars, we hear about how civilians are just as culpable for tyrannical power because they are somehow permitting the dictator to rule by failing to overthrow him? We heard this constantly during the Iraq War.
This is a totalitarian mentality. No one is considered outside the political constellation.
Freedom and the total state are incompatible, except that, of course, any state is happy to use propaganda to proclaim itself to be the true land of the free and home of the brave. The reality is borne out in the state’s attitude toward dissidents. If you see something and say something bad about the government, what happens to you? It’s a basic test of freedom. In this case, the U.S. has been failing miserably.
But the humiliation is increased for Americans to see our former enemies (well, one-time enemies turned friends turned enemies turned friends, etc….) now providing a safe haven to a young man who told the truth about the U.S. surveillance state. Edward Snowden, said Doug Casey last week at Agora Financial’s Vancouver Symposium, is not just a hero, but a superhero. He gave up everything to do a public service, all in the interest of making a dent in the inexorable tendency toward total control.
What’s fascinating is to see how completely lacking in cynicism Snowden truly is. He thinks that the system can change. He wants Congress to do something. He wants the American people to rise up and demand that their government keep to normal standards of civility and afford their citizens some degree of privacy. In expressing that hope, Edward Snowden revealed himself as one of the last men to actually believe that the system can work to the good. Most of the rest of us lost that hope long ago.
Now he hides… in Russia.
Or as George Orwell might write, “Yet, after all, we’ve always been at war with Russia.”