Zero Powers wrote:
> There has never in the history of humanity been a nation which allows its
> citizens as many freedoms as ours.
That was true a century ago. Since then, most of those freedoms have been
eroded to vestigial status, and many have vanished entirely.
First Amendment protections are stronger than ever, and the extension of
full citizenship and equality before the law to women and minorities was a
dramatic improvement. But, scanning the bill of rights, I can find only one
provision that is not blatantly ignored on such a routine basis that most
people don't even notice anymore. The sole exception - the provision
forbidding the quartering of soldiers in private homes without
compensation - is observed more because of its irrelevance to the modern
world that out of any respect for constitutional principles.
> There has similarly never been a
> government which is as accountable to the populace as ours is.
Yes there has. Representative governments are nothing new, Zero - they go
back at least two thousand years, maybe more. There have been hundreds of
states where the people could vote their rulers out of office, and thousands
more where rulership was a tribal matter based on the consent of the
In fact, by vesting so much power in unelected bureaucrats hidden within
vast government agencies, we have actually achieved a situation where the
people have far less control over what their government does than was
usually the case in early republics.
> There has never before been a nation in which the press has had an
> unfettered right to criticize the government.
The First Amendment is in much better shape than the others, but "absolutely
unfettered" is still overstating the case. Unless you are a reporter, you
can be prosecuted for your speech if it involves classified information,
slander, or emotional statements that could be construed as threats. Since
the government gets to decide what 'classified', 'slanderous' and 'threat'
mean, that is a bigger limitation than it might seem at first. You can also
be punished in other ways (for example, the IRS used to have a habit of
auditing anyone who criticized them too openly), and as long as the agency
involved isn't unusually incompetent there isn't much you can do about it.
> There has never before been a populace which has been as well educated and
> informed as we are now.
Except, of course, for all the other developed countries that regularly beat
us on comparisons of scholastic achievement. And lets not forget that
educational standards in America declined considerably between 1900 and
2000, so the comparison with our own history isn't all that great either.
> There has never been a time where the average citizen could reach as wide
> audience as any member of the media or the goverment until now.
And that ability is purely the result of technology, has nothing to do with
our government or society, and is also available to the citizens of every
other Western country and much of the Far East.
> I mean come on! In light of the recent thread regarding politeness, I
> guard my words as much as possible. I am *not* calling anyone here
> But, it seems to me that to believe that America of 2000 a.d. could
> suddenly devolve "very easily" into a totalitarian state is..., well...,
> um..., way, way, very much less than reasonable?
Reading your history tends to undermine such feelings of security.
Representative governments seem to have a natural tendency to mutate into
autocracies over time, and the only sure defense against tyranny is a
populace that cherishes its freedom and will fight to defend it. If you
don't have that, all the legal protections in the universe will ultimately
Unfortunately, most American's aren't even willing to vote for freedom, much
less fight for it. We are fortunate in that there is little chance of the
kind of external crisis that strongmen usually take advantage of to seize
power, but that won't protect us forever. If the trend of the last hundred
years continues the end result will be some variety of police state, and we
are only a few decades from the end point of that curve.
The renaissance of classical liberalism might prove strong enough to turn
back the tide. Future technologies will change the political landscape in
unpredictable ways, and may act either to undermine the state or to make the
whole issue moot. But the outcome of the struggle is far from certain at
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:10:36 MDT