I’m not going to waste a lot of your time recapping what you are already being bombarded with in the news these past few days. The IRS Scandal, everyone is fair game to be spied on, etc.
Justice Antonin Scalia put it well when he wrote the dissent (which was supported also by Justices Kagen, Sotomayor, and Ginsberg) recently in the Supreme Court decision for allowing DNA swabs to be conducted on anyone who is arrested.
Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the “identity” of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school. Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection. I therefore dissent, and hope that today’s incursion upon the Fourth Amendment, like an earlier one will some day be repudiated.
When I was reading this (the dissent starts on page 33), I couldn’t help but see him wearing that St. Thomas More hat during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. Nor could I get the vision of More out of my head when I read Conor Friedersdorf’s piece in the Atlantic today.
What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants — to use power oppressively and unjustly — to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could’ve scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we’re counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant’s checklist that they’ve provided their successors:
* A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review
* The power to detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial
* Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027
* Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan’s blessing
* Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret — and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations
* The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing
* The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven’t been convicted of anything
* A torture program that could be restarted with an executive order
Even if you think Bush and Obama exercised those extraordinary powers responsibly, what makes you think every president would? How can anyone fail to see the huge potential for abuses?
I am not saying no one would resist a tyrant. Perhaps Congress would assert itself. Perhaps the people would rise up. Then again, perhaps it would be too late by the time the abuses were evident. (America has had horrific abuses of power in the past under weaker executives who were less empowered by technology; and numerous other countries haven’t recognized tyrants until it was too late.) Part of the problem is how much the Bush-Obama paradigm permits the executive to do in secret. Take that paradigm, add another successful 9/11-style attack, even after many years of very little terrorism, and who knows what would happen?
No one does.
That’s because we’re allowing ourselves to become a nation of men, not laws. Illegal spying? Torture? Violating the War Powers Resolution and the convention that mandates investigating past torture?
No matter. Just intone that your priority is keeping America safe.
Speaking of becoming a nation of (strong) men instead of a nation of laws, for the “sake of safety,” I wonder what St. Thomas More would say about that?
Which reminds us that as our system of government evolved into one that derives its power from the consent of the governed, St. Paul’s divinely inspired counsel to the church in Rome here,
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
cuts us to the quick when we realize we ourselves are responsible for this mess. Both major parties supported it, and neither one currently has the will to thwart the potential for the further accretion of power into the hands of the few.
I don’t often quote Mark Shea in these matters, as the Federalist Papers are usually more appropriate, but I will now.
A post-Christian culture will be a slave culture because slavery is the normal state of fallen man. It is the brief period in history where Christian civilization, after a labor of centuries, finally threw off slavery, that is the exceptional thing. It is the other 200,000 years where slavery is taken for granted that is what we are absolutely guaranteed to see–unless we repent and believe the good news.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The offer still stands. We just have to want it.
And where does the Church stand in all this? I argue that she stands for the light of liberty in the midst of this gathering of tyrannical darkness,
“We remain fully committed to the defense of our religious liberty and we strongly protest the violation of our freedom of religion that has not been addressed. We continue to work for the repeal of the mandate. We have grave reservations that the government is intruding in the definition of who is and who is not a religious employer . . .”
To that I would add, “and who is, and who isn’t an enemy of the state.” Just today our lead shepherd reminds us that,
Defending religious liberty and making it available for everyone, Pope Francis said, is everyone’s responsibility. Doing so “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.”
Liberty these days is our responsibility. It’s like the bard sings of here,
We’ve got work to do if we want to keep this garden we call a republic. At a loss for what to do? You can start right now by praying this special novena to the Immaculate Heart today with me, and with many others. Do it every day between now, and June 16th.
Never underestimate the “weak” strength of prayer.