Horwitz, Henderson, Hayek on the Police State

Lynne Kiesling

On a subject too important to overlook … today Steve Horwitz wrote a short, clear argument providing evidence that we are indeed living in a police state. As evidence he offers 3 related phenomena:

  1. The immoral, ineffective, and financially irresponsible security theater we endure in the form of the Transportation Security Administration (as I’ve discussed previously here and here);
  2. The militarization of local police and the increase in activity, and the brutality of that activity, of SWAT teams and extensive inland border patrols; and
  3. Border patrol agents boarding trains and buses and demanding identification papers.

All of these actions are part of the growth of the national security state associated with the Orwellian-named PATRIOT Act. Sadly, I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion:

When residents of the United States have a legitimate fear of being sexually abused by agents of the State when engaging in peaceful air travel, we live in a police state. …

When residents of the United States have serious reason to fear the door being busted down in the middle of the night by armed agents of the State despite having done nothing wrong, we live in a police state. …

When American citizens are stopped while traveling within their own state and asked to account for their whereabouts, we live in a police state. …

When innocent American citizens are told they should have “their papers” on them, we live in a police state. …

Since 9/11 the biggest threat to the American people is not radical Muslim terrorists, nor deranged domestic terrorists, but the terrorists with the blue uniforms, badges, and body armor. Their weapons of mass destruction are not bombs, but state-approved guns, latex-gloved hands, and a profound disregard for our rights. Until we stand up and say, “Enough!”these terrorists will keep winning and our rights will continue to be lost.

David Henderson agrees too, and reminds us today at EconLog of his excellent article last year about the growth of the surveillance state, “Life in the USSA“. David draws on Hayek’s arguments about the concentration of government power and the failure of economic central planning to argue that anti-terrorism central planning is also doomed to failure, for the same reasons … but politically powerful interests use fear-mongering arguments to instill a generalized perception that such centralized police and surveillance power are necessary protections. For that reason they also argue that decentralized adaptations, such as the hardening of cockpit doors and the widespread realization that we now have to pound the crap out of terrorists on planes rather than acquiescing to them, are insufficient. David’s entire argument is well worth reading, full of data and analysis.

This story of David’s is very telling, and should serve as another indication that we should, as Steve said, stand up and say Enough!

Three weeks after 9/11, I began a fall quarter class at the Naval Postgraduate School in which, on my first problem set, I stated Bush’s view that the terrorists were after us because of our freedom. This, I said in the question, is an hypothesis. How would you test Bush’s hypothesis, I asked. What data would you look for? Only about 2 people out of 50 refused to play, writing, essentially, that I was unpatriotic for questioning “the commander in chief.” The other 48 did play. I’ll never forget one of the answers. I wish I had photocopied it. The student, a U.S. military officer, wrote, “Congress and the President are busy, with the USA PATRIOT Act and intrusive security at airports, getting rid of our freedom. So if the President’s hypothesis is correct, there will be no more attacks.”

2 thoughts on “Horwitz, Henderson, Hayek on the Police State

  1. Also: the light bulbs. They way the state paves the way for submission to its more openly aggressive expressions is by undermining individuals’ resistance first. It does that by getting them used to submitting to all manner of seemingly petty and unimportant, but ultimately insidious, arbitrary rules governing every aspect of life and by grinding out of them the expectation that rules ought to make sense and be reasonable and that there’s some areas which are out of bounds. It’s a seamless whole from light bulbs and recycling to the TSA grope, as each unchallenged step emboldens the state to take the next. But people fool themselves into thinking that there’s nothing to worry about as long as we just limit ourselves to our “favorite” interventions.

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