Monday, January 02, 2006

Pinkerton's mega-wankery

Columnist James Pinkerton is hard at work pushing absolute monarchy in his latest OpEd tome, You choose: Civil liberties or safety?

Here is the fantasy world he inhabits:

This will be remembered as the year in which mass surveillance became normal, even popular.

Revelations about the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping rocked the civil liberties establishment, but the country as a whole didn't seem upset. Instead, the American people, mindful of the possible danger that we face, seem happy enough that Uncle Sam is taking steps to keep up with the challenges created by new technology.
Never mind that polls (other than that ridiculous Rasmussen travesty) seem to indicate a very different story -- people are pissed. Never mind that the issue Pinkerton goes on (and on) about is a complete red herring, and that he resolutely avoids acknowledging the elephant in the room. The extent to which these quivering cowards are wiling to ignore the fact that their godhead willfully and knowingly violated a federal statute beggars belief.

And he enlists an interesting ally in his war against imaginary enemies:

Some say that these new government actions are taking us closer to "1984." But, in fact, the key year was 1651. That's when the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published "The Leviathan," a hugely influential political science tome that laid the intellectual groundwork for a strong central government. Hobbes wrote that in a state of nature, without benefit of law and law enforcement, life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Hobbes believed in strong government, but he was no totalitarian. Instead, he was reacting to the Wars of Religion that had raged across Europe for the previous century-and-a-half, in which Catholics and Protestants enthusiastically burned and butchered one another by the millions. In addition, Hobbes' own country had just been wracked by a decade-long civil war.

Clearly, a powerful state was needed - a regime that, as he put it, would possess a monopoly of force within the society. Would people lose some of their freedoms? Sure they would, and among the freedoms lost was the freedom to hack to death the deviationist next door.
But Pinkerton's reading of distant history is as flawed as his reading of current events. Hobbes is generally seen as the father of the political theory known as the "social contract," but it is utterly false that he "laid the intellectual groundwork for a strong central government." Europe was chockablock with monarchies in Hobbes' time, and they were generally plenty strong. What was new with Leviathan was the idea that the monarch's power came from the people.

It is true that Hobbes thought that civil society required an absolute ruler. But social conract theory did not stand still after Hobbes. Far more influential on our founding fathers was John Locke, who wrote fifty years later. And Locke rejected exactly this absolutist view. Locke talked at length about the limits of executive power, and the right of the people to overthrow tyrants:

Sec. 218. Why, in such a constitution as this, the dissolution of the government in these cases is to be imputed to the prince, is evident; because he, having the force, treasure and offices of the state to employ, and often persuading himself, or being flattered by others, that as supreme magistrate he is uncapable of controul; he alone is in a condition to make great advances toward such changes, under pretence of lawful authority, and has it in his hands to terrify or suppress opposers, as factious, seditious, and enemies to the government: whereas no other part of the legislative, or people, is capable by themselves to attempt any alteration of the legislative, without open and visible rebellion, apt enough to be taken notice of, which, when it prevails, produces effects very little different from foreign conquest. Besides, the prince in such a form of government, having the power of dissolving the other parts of the legislative, and thereby rendering them private persons, they can never in opposition to him, or without his concurrence, alter the legislative by a law, his conse power, neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made can no longer be put in execution. This is demonstratively to reduce all to anarchy, and so effectually to dissolve the government: for laws not being made for themselves, but to be, by their execution, the bonds of the society, to keep every part of the body politic in its due place and function; when that totally ceases, the government visibly ceases, and the people become a confused multitude, without order or connexion. Where there is no longer the administration of justice, for the securing of men's rights, nor any remaining power within the community to direct the force, or provide for the necessities of the public, there certainly is no government left. Where the laws cannot be executed, it is all one as if there were no laws; and a government without laws is, I suppose, a mystery in politics, unconceivable to human capacity, and inconsistent with human society.

Or, in modern English:
When the executive power of a government devolves into tyranny, such as by dissolving the legislature and therefore denying the people the ability to make laws for their own preservation, then the resulting tyrant puts himself into a State of Nature, and specifically into a state of war with the people, and they then have the same right to self-defense as they had before making a compact to establish society in the first place. In other words, the justification of the authority of the executive component of government is the protection of the people’s property and well-being, so when such protection is no longer present, or when the king becomes a tyrant and acts against the interests of the people, they have a right, if not an outright obligation, to resist his authority. The social compact can be dissolved and the process to create political society begun anew.
Boatloads of evidence as to whether Jefferson and friends were believers in the the absolutism of Hobbes or the conditional view of Locke, may be found in places such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Or look here, here or here if you are the kind of monarchist who prefers to stay as far as possible from the definitive source material that would provide real answers to the questions you pretend to ask.

For folks who claim to be all about following the original intent of the framers, these wankers sure do have a hard time finding it.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

pinkerton and his ilk are 'bedwetters', 'whiny-ass titty-babises' or as we used to call them, 'pussies'.

http://firedoglake.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_firedoglake_archive.html#113618490093424750

http://jameswolcott.com/archives/2006/01/rolling_out_the.php

2:01 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

A less modern version of the same idea:
hen in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

1:54 PM  

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