Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Beyond liberty

I was perusing the U.S. Constitution the other day, and I was startled to discover that Wall Street is not mentioned anywhere in the entire thing. This is an amazing oversight, since Wall Street is clearly the most powerful branch of our government. All Wall Street has to do is make a few threats or express alarm about something, and you can be sure that the Congress and the White House will do all they can to placate it.

Just a little research into the historical era of the Constitution helped clear up my perplexity. In those days, as it turns out, there was no Exxon Mobil. Nor was there a General Motors, Citigroup, General Electric, Home Depot, or Lockheed Martin. How these people survived I cannot imagine. Without television or the internet, they could only sit and read by candlelight in their powdered wigs, passing the interminable hours writing letters. Without the thousands of helpful billboards and other advertisements surrounding them, they didn’t know what to buy, or even what to want. It’s no wonder, then, that their work, however laudable, has become woefully out of date and inadequate for the needs of our time.

One can only chuckle at the quaint notions that pop up in our ancient founding document. The Congress, for instance, is given the authority to declare war, when we all know that only the President does that. I don’t know how they expected a bunch of elected officials to be able to coordinate something as important as declaring a war. Only the executive knows the secret information about our security that necessitates military action.

Article IV of the amendments, to cite only one more example, says that no warrants should be issued without probable cause, and the police would even have to specify the persons or things to be seized. This would tie the hands of our law enforcement and homeland security authorities so that terrorists and criminals would be free to wreak havoc. It’s no wonder that we decided to sidestep this barrier by going without warrants altogether. Torture and detention without trial are further wise steps taken to protect us, and the protests of the so-called human rights community can only be viewed as ultimately self-hating. The Constitution, as Judge Posner so wisely stated, is not a suicide note.

Times have changed, and our leaders have understandably altered our course with the times. The founders sought naively to make liberty the centerpiece of their document rather than security or authority. When all that threatened them were antique muskets and cannons, that probably made sense. But now it’s far too dangerous a world for us to indulge in such infantile fantasies.

When we talk about freedom today, we of course mean economic freedom. We have the freedom to buy many wonderful products and enjoy their use. We can sit with our families and watch television, freely digesting our good food, in reasonable security from the actions of criminals or terrorists, provided we give our leaders and troops the support they need in order to keep us safe. We can ride in our automobiles across this fine land, enjoying the many picturesque natural sites and theme parks. And we all worship together in the church of our choice, satisfied with living moral lives, working together to ensure that fetuses go to term and homosexuals are kept in their place. These are time-honored values.

Freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and so forth, is fine within certain limits. We have seen, however, how abuse of those rights have led to discontent and distrust. Ultimately these freedoms don’t matter so much in the larger scheme of things because the authorities and corporations have more knowledge and expertise on how to run things than the average person, and allowing dissent or anti-government views to proliferate only weakens our credibility in the world, giving encouragement to our enemies and undermining our security.

For the sake of sentimentality, we talk about the old Constitution as if it mattered. We even have the President swear to uphold it, although we all know that’s not possible. We are the greatest country in the world because of our wealth. Much of the rest of the world is jealous of our riches, and the wide range of products that we consume—thus we have terrorists seeking to destroy our way of life, take our oil and wrest other resources away from us. For our own sake, and the sake of our children, we must face the facts. A military government, with the President as commander-in-chief of all the citizens, is the best way to face the challenges of a dangerous world. A few wise men know this, while liberals and other do-gooders continue to live in the past. Surely our founding fathers, who were practical enough to allow slavery to exist for a while rather than upset the social order, would understand the need for a decisive new vision of government to meet the new demands of a terrifying world.

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