Liberty, Freedom and Privacy
America’s original patriots bristled when King George’s soldiers and sailors bullied citizens through stop and search, impressment and forced quartering in their homes. Even staid and loyal subjects like George Washington became first peeved and then outraged at the erosion of their sense of liberty and freedom.
Edward Snowden, recent discloser of “secrets” and patriot/criminal/fugitive, has ignited a controversy not just around the idea of privacy but about how the US government treats its citizens.
The American conception of liberty and freedom has long been that if you obey the law you will be unmolested by the state and that you will live a life of relative privacy that is a kind of reward for honesty and adherence to our ideals.
Of course, that conception began to crumble when the CIA funded and supported anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan including Osama bin Laden. bin Laden would come to despise the US in part for its oil driven foreign policy which included the stationing of our armed forces in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the middle east. It is a bit of irony that the American drive for independence from Britain was also fueled by our outrage at the presence of their military here. Not for the first time our outrage stopped far short of empathy or wisdom. After all, we are special.
bin Laden made a down payment on his outrage on September 11, 2001, and the official American response was to simultaneously declare war on al-Qaeda and on the liberty of American citizens through the Patriot act. To top it all off we decided to go to war in Afghanistan, surely one of the world’s unconquerable nations.
Here is what Alexi Kosygin, the Soviet leader said in response to an Afghan request for military support in the 1970’s:
“We believe it would be a fatal mistake to commit ground troops. […] If our troops went in, the situation in your country would not improve. On the contrary, it would get worse. Our troops would have to struggle not only with an external aggressor, but with a significant part of your own people. And the people would never forgive such things.”
Forgive me for saying that Kosygin could be talking about the last decade.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the American response to bin Laden and al Qaeda, a movement we helped, at least in part, to create is the material diminution of American liberty as our own government spies on us under the guise of protecting us.
Conservatives, most famously Judge Scalia, claim that there is no right to privacy. They have decoupled the train cars of democracy– liberty, freedom and privacy–under the guise of a constitutional interpretation wholly at odds with our history.
Liberty and freedom have always contained the expectation of fundamental privacy, of living unmolested and the assertion otherwise is a triumph of corrupt elitist intellectualism.
Happy Fourth of July, Edward Snowden. Right or wrong, you made us think.