Pop Quiz


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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8 Responses

  1. Freddie says:

    there doesn’t seem to be a strong ideological constituency in favor of expanding domestic surveillance. From the Guardian to Philip Blond, you also see a wide array of political figures inveighing against “the surveillance state.” So why do CCTV and DNA registries persist? The answer may be that an apathetic public plus an entrenched, self-perpetuating bureaucracy guarantees the expansion of domestic surveillance, despite persistent bipartisan distaste for the whole enterprise.

    If you think about it for a bit, I think you’ll see that there is a rather dramatic goalpost migration in this passage.Report

  2. josephfm says:

    I’m more surprised you think this is surprising than anything…Report

  3. I would have thought the answer was “Iceland” because of the extensive studying done there by the Human Genome Project.Report

  4. Trumwill says:

    I guessed Singapore, but I’m not surprised. The real authoritarian places often lack the money and often don’t have the need. I mean, why do you need DNA unless you have rules that make it difficult to convict whomever you want? So you’d expect it to be a well-developed country with a fair amount of rules with a fetish for keeping track of its citizenry (and without a Bill of Rights to provide at least some barrier in preventing it from doing so). The UK fits the bill.

    On the other hand, DNA collection in the USA is nothing to be proud of from a privacy angle.Report

  5. Chris Dierkes says:

    3) Does the rise of the surveillance state vindicate public choice theory?

    I think it vindicates Marx. Technologies that proliferate with market value are inevitably going to be used in some fashion by governments. The question is how, if there are any checks, what’s the reach, etc. I don’t see any difference with the national surveillance state.

    As Jack Balkin would say, “it’s not coming, it’s already here.”

    If governments don’t take on elements of rising technology then they get labeled (by conservatives and liberals typically) not as “adaptive” or “efficient” as business.Report

    • Jivatman in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

      I don’t see how this vindicates marxism, by far the most anti-liberty pro- nanny state of the three major parties in the Britain, the party who has been in power since 1997 and has brought about the majority of these “reforms” is the Labour Party. The Fabian Society the principle think tank of the Labour party, is explicitly gradualist-Marxist.

      However, I think that more generally, this is symptomatic of how Tocqueville mused about how democracies can gradually fall prey to a soft despotism:

      “After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

      I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

      Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.

      By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience. I do not deny, however, that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms that democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst”

      I don’t think a written constitution offers any real “legal” protection via the supreme court, any more than the pope has a monopoly on the bible and prevented the crusades.

      It is really only the circumstances of our country’s founding at the height of the enlightenment, by geniuses, especially Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, in revolution from an empire, that has embedded in our country’s DNA some degree of respect for liberty.

      But the cynic in me says that overall, liberty is just not that popular. Well, I guess we’ll just have to see if tea partiers, the most libertarian-seeming large movement to be seen in a long time, supports the national ID card coming in the Immigration bill. If so, I fear all hope is lost.Report