A liberal relative of mine wrote recently on Facebook:
I am probably about to get railed at, but here goes. I’m not sure I understand why people are more upset about being submitted to targeted airport investigations that have already been determined to be constitutional and justified, than they are about a video game system that scans your living room and sells the information to advertisers. Just sayin’.
To which I replied: “Advertisers can’t deny your freedom to travel. All they can do is offer you stuff.”
I might have added that the freedom to travel is a lot more important than the freedom to play a video game system. I might also have noted that a video game system can’t reach out and fondle your penis. Not yet, anyway. (Did the Founders ever suffer a like indignity? All I can think of is the slave auction.)
I did link to him this piece by James Fallows, which I’m sure League regulars have already seen. Here are some relevant bits:
1) The TSA excesses are creating strange bedfellows. Charles Krauthammer writes today about the “idiocy” of the TSA’s approach to airline security, including the nuttiness of body-searching the same pilots who will soon have the flight controls in their hands. David Weigel, via Andrew Sullivan has his own analysis of why, as in the case of Krauthammer, the TSA is proving the one issue that can bring about previously elusive bipartisan unity.
1A) Bonus idiocy point about strip-searching the pilots, as a United pilot pointed out to me yesterday. I don’t know this first hand, but I’m told that most airline cockpits come equipped with a safety device known as the “crash axe.” This is to allow the flight crew to break through cockpit windows or doors, if needed for escape from a crashed plane. Even my little Cirrus propeller airplane comes with a crash-hammer, whose “safety” purpose is to let you get out through the cockpit windows but which, like the “crash axe,” would work perfectly well to brain someone.
So, pilots must be patted down, to make sure they have nothing hidden in their underwear; and we insist on this safety-first step before trusting them not only to fly the plane but to do so with an axe in arm’s reach? Where in God’s name is the logic of taking pen knives or over-3-ounce tubes of toothpaste away from them in these circumstances? I think this is the kind of “security” “strategy” for which the term WTF was invented.
He’s right, except for the stuff about bipartisan unity, which is almost always nonsense, or pernicious, or both. The bipartisan unity here still seems mostly on the side of growing government power, alas.
It works like this: The majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority party can’t do much about it. We are a democracy, and minorities have fewer resources in a democracy. Rather than fight, lose, and be seen as a loser, the minority acquiesces.
When the minority party becomes the majority, nothing changes. Once again, the majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority acquiesces. The cycle repeats.
A very few will resist the growth of government power regardless of which party rules. Albert Jay Nock called these people the “Remnant.” In the Bible, the Remnant is what remains of a community after a disaster. Said the prophet Isaiah (10:1-4,20-25):
1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain…
20 In that day the remnant of Israel,
the survivors of Jacob,
will no longer rely on him
who struck them down
but will truly rely on the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob
will return to the Mighty God.
22 Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel,
only a remnant will return.
Destruction has been decreed,
overwhelming and righteous.
23 The Lord, the LORD Almighty, will carry out
the destruction decreed upon the whole land.
24 Therefore this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says:
“My people who live in Zion,
do not be afraid of the Assyrians,
who beat you with a rod
and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did.
25 Very soon my anger against you will end
and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.
We live in the wasteland of power; we Remnant are losers. Like Christians, we take it for a badge of honor. If you are wondering about the persistent, elusive link between Christianity and libertarianism, this is it. The best libertarians and the best Christians alike are always a Remnant. (Can you ever be sure that you are among them? Short answer: No, never.)
Among the many things left unsaid on Facebook, I might have noted to my liberal relative that being constitutional is no guarantee of good policy. It would be constitutional, for example, if all fifty states were to prohibit alcohol. It would also be stupid and evil. The Constitution, while great, is not now and has never been a perfect defense against power. The Remnant has no perfect shelter in our fallen world. Eternal vigilance is the price of both Christian and civil liberty.
If these enhanced screening procedures — an ugly phrase, a twin to enhanced interrogation techniques — if these procedures are constitutional, then our Founders, or those who interpret them today, have been idiots. There is no definition of the word “reasonable” by which these searches could be so termed. We face either a failure of common sense or of language itself. I am not sure which prospect disturbs me more.
These screening protocols aim at a preposterously unlikely danger. Estimates suggest that one is as likely to get cancer from the backscatter X-ray as to die in a terrorist attack. The risk, in both cases, is roughly equivalent to the risk we brave when we fly in an ordinary airplane for even a few minutes, thanks to cosmic radiation.
Oppressive as the new system is, it remains full of holes. Airport security neither respects the privacy of the traveler nor stands much chance of doing its so-called job. It’s both over-inclusive and under-protective, and it seems likely that any screening system will have the same problems:
Of course Abdulmutallab boarded his flight to Detroit in Amsterdam, so these enhanced screening procedures would have done nothing to stop him from getting to the United States, and that remains true for vast numbers of foreign terrorists who could theoretically carry out an attack on an American airliner without ever stepping foot on American soil. Richard Reid boarded his flight to the United States in Paris, for example, and the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 took place without a single terrorist entering the United States. In that case, the explosives that brought the plane down over Lockerbie, Scotland were put on the plane in Germany. Neither the attempted attacks by Richard Reid or Adbulmultallab, nor the successful attack on the Pan Am airliner, would have been prevented by screening procedures in the United States. So, forcing American travelers to undergo invasive security procedures doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything.
So what’s the score now?
The first group of winners are those who enjoy stripping down men, women, and children, and treating them like cattle. Sadists and humiliation fetishists will get “opportunities… for cheerful and unalienated labor,” as Robert Nozick once put it.
The other winners are politicians — no less the lovers of power — who can say they have Done Something about a Very Serious Problem. Politicians only count as winners when they Do Something. This is so even when not doing anything is the wiser course.
Not so long ago, my liberal relative was a staunch opponent of the George W. Bush administration. We commiserated together, often and at length, about the evils being done by it, supposedly in our name. Now his party is in power, and that power is growing, and he is happy, and he does what he can to rationalize. I am troubled to the depths of my soul about it. I stand now — uneasily — with conservatives, of all people. Perhaps some of them are of the Remnant too.
I know full well, however, that most of them are not. As Jim Peron put it:
For the last half century—and before that as well—the conservative movement has fought virtually every attempt by anyone to expand an individual’s control over his own body. You [conservatives] have been explicit in your denunciation of the idea that the body is under the sovereign control of the individual and insisted that some collective good required that the State have the final say in what one does with their physical body.
Today the Obama administration has introduced the most intrusive assault on the bodies of the American public that has ever been done by any government in the world, as far as I know. Anyone, American or not, who travels by air is subjected either to a scanner that takes what amount to nude photos of the passenger or they must be subjected to a government agent fondling their buttocks, genitals and breasts. Government agents now take their fingers and rub them along the length of a man’s penis in the name of a greater good.
And you are outraged. I am thrilled that so many conservatives are outraged about this. But on what premise do you base your outrage? It certainly can’t be on the claim that each individual owns his body. You have spent the last half-century claiming that such ownership is a fraud. Are you upset that the State has asserted control over a person’s body? But the entire modern conservative movement has argued, since I was born and then some, that the State must be the final authority over what individuals do with their bodies.
As much as you may loathe the man, Barack Obama and his administration are acting fully within conservative principles when the subject Americas to intrusive, intimate searches. And, just like you, the Obama administration is appealing to some greater good that takes precedence over individual liberty. Mr. Obama and Ms. Napolitano may be intruding on the bodies of Americans in ways that are totally unheard of in any civilized society, but they are not violating conservative principles.
Quite so. Conservatives opposed interracial marriage, supported sodomy laws, fought the war on drugs, panicked over pornography, and in general did whatever they could to assert communal control over our bodies — especially over the naughty bits.
Now they reap what they’ve sown, and they are outraged. All the best slogans are on the other side: Keep your laws off my body, anyone? Can any conservative say that with a straight face?
So I join my friends on the right, with no illusions and plenty of regret. To believe oneself a part of the Remnant is gloomy, I will no doubt be told. I will shortly have to break bread with my liberal relative, and I do have a heart, despite all appearances to the contrary. It will be awkward indeed.
Yet if I were asked how a bourgeois, dovish, small-government, just-plodding-along political philosophy like mine could ever be inspiring, this is what I would point to. The Remnant often loses, but there is a grandeur in its loss that Power can never have.
And sometimes, too, the Remnant wins.