Once upon a time, there was a society that was not ruled by one ruler, but by the collective will of the people. Classical Athens was certainly not a democracy in a modern sense but the ideas of democratic values, the civic duty of each person to contribute to the well-being of greater society, were the major defining features of Athenian democracy. While it has from time to time come under the rule of tyrants, absolute rulers who would impose their will upon the people, the values that it had would live on through one of the greatest powers in history: the Roman Republic.
The aforementioned values would go on to persist albeit in different forms, inspiring individuals like John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and the Founding Fathers of one of the most radical experiments of its time, the United States of America. No longer did rulers, absolute or democratic, make decisions without consequence. France went from a kingdom with a strong tradition of absolute rule and Louis XIV proclaiming that he was the state, to a country whose secular and republican traditions can be felt to this very day, its motto proudly professing the values of freedom, equality, and brotherhood. It can be argued that freedom was not an exclusively Western quality, but it was a quality that featured more often than not in the West’s violent history.
Fast forward to the 20th Century. A war-torn Germany was forced to pay humiliating reparations, have its standing military severely limited, and give up some of its land to a highly revanchist France. In place of a once strong, unified Kaiserreich was a weak republic that was wrought with corruption, inaction, and economic distress. While most dictators tend to seize power through an aggressive military takeover or a political coup, Adolf Hitler claimed power legitimately through the democratic process; many people in Weimar Germany were more than willing to give up their newfound liberties for a strong leader. The people did not care if Hitler did away with constitutional power, granting himself emergency powers with the Enabling Act, nor did they see a problem with him choking the last gasps of breath from the opposing Communists and Social Democrats. The death of democracy was celebrated in Nazi Germany.
Its eventual defeat fulfilled Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that those willing to give up freedom for safety deserve neither and would lose both. The forces of the free world triumphed over the forces of tyranny in 1945 and they would do so again in 1991 with the collapse of the centrally-governed Soviet Union.
However, it would be folly to believe the free world is truly free today.
The last two decades have seen the consolidation of power by the federal government of the United States. George W. Bush signed the PATRIOT Act in the wake of September the 11th 2001 allowing agents to wiretap phone calls and perform unwarranted searches, rendering the 4th Amendment of the Constitution redundant, along with a dramatic expansion of government. Soon after came two expansionist wars that would see a sharp increase in government spending along with an increasing distrust in whether or not the United States was a force for good in the world.
Then came Barack Obama who told the people that it did not have to be this way; he promised to change the way Washington would behave, enhance responsibility within the government, bring the troops home, and roll back some of the tyrannical changes of the neoconservative administration of his predecessor.
Nothing changed at all. Obama’s administration may have overseen the end of the war in Iraq and a reform in healthcare, that mainly benefits corporations whilst bearing a striking resemblance to a state-wide healthcare reform that his presumptive opponent Mitt Romney enacted. The scariest facts, however, are that he is not only extending many of Bush’s unconstitutional laws, but expanding upon them.
The PATRIOT Act has been extended and other developments such as the introduction of body scanners in airports, along with reports of traumatic experiences due to the Transport Security Administration (TSA) especially among the young and disabled, are worrying.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) declares the United States a battlefield, giving the military authority to detain anyone indefinitely (American citizen or not) on the suspicion of terrorism. While sponsored by Republicans, Obama still signed the bill, essentially declaring martial law in the United States and infringing on the 6th Amendment. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina said that anyone who wanted to speak to their lawyer should shut up.
Things in the United Kingdom are not exactly bright either. Britain is one of the most watched countries in the world, many of its cities covered with CCTV cameras. In an effort to combat terrorism, the Labour government proposed establishing a National ID card and creating a database containing the DNA of each individual in the country. Were it not for a vote in the House of Lords, the 24 day limit for detention without trial would have been extended to 42 days. The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition had been exploring the possibility of a bill in the House of Commons that would allow the government to monitor the activity of each individual on the internet, from emails to which sites one visits.
The 2012 Presidential election in the United States will probably see a contest between a Democrat who will continue increasing the deficit and continuing passing laws that would expand the federal government, and a Republican who will continue increasing the deficit and continuing passing laws that would expand the federal government. Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) have been given the go-ahead to patrol American airspace, watching over every citizen. These same vehicles killed Al-Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without fair trial. The United Kingdom is edging towards becoming a Big Brother state that would prefer to watch and regulate every moment of its citizens’ lives rather than live and let live.
It does not take an Alex Jones-watching conspiracy theorist to realise that democracy is slowly dying away in the West. Unlike Nazi Germany, we are not willingly sacrificing our freedoms for safety, but we are simply indifferent to the fall of democracy. Obama’s presidency is not meeting the same kind of opposition that Bush’s met or would have met had he been allowed a third term. We are not losing our freedoms out of enthusiasm, but out of sluggish complacence.
It does not have to be this way. It is one’s civic duty in a free society to criticise the actions of his or her government. It is our duty to resist the erosion of our civil liberties by cherising them before it is too late.
Image Credit- Amandajm
Current Affairs Editor’s Note: This editor gives his thanks to all those who have written for Current Affairs this year and all those who have read its articles. It has been an immense honour. Those interested in reading more of this writer’s work are more than welcome to follow his ‘Eleventh Hour’ Blog at http://crazedraven.wordpress.com/