Sunday, May 17, 2009Let me try to explain why I'm so outraged at Obama's recent reversals on civil liberties questions and at his continuance (and consolidation) of Bush policies.
Here's what I believe: the first duty of a republic is not to enhance the wealth of its citizens. It's not to provide economic opportunities or social services. It's not to educate, or to cure diseases, or make it easier to get around. It's not even to keep its citizens alive. No, the principal aim of a free society is to remain one by protecting the liberties of its citizens.
Now Cheney and his ilk would argue that personal freedoms take a back seat to the risk of death. This is incoherent - even a dictator can't say this with a straight face and truly make any sense. Why? Because there are things worse than being dead. Don't believe me? Well, if death were the worst thing that could happen to a person, then there would never be any wars, would there? Armies wouldn't fight, and invaded countries wouldn't resist, if death was the worst thing to be feared.
There are many thing worse than death. Human beings sacrifice their lives all the time for the sake of their families, their countries, for vague principles, for glory. They even give up their lives out of despair, or to avoid pain. Even in the case of torture, many subjects would rather die than face any more suffering.
To be enslaved, to live in fear, to be powerless in the face of oppression - these are the things worth dying to prevent, the things Republics are meant to prevent. Slavery is the worst of fates, whether of the institutionalized or more subtle sort (like tyranny). The founders of our Republic knew this. That's why their risked their lives in the name of liberty, and why so many of them died. It's a sad statement that we, the beneficiaries of their sacrifices, seem to have forgotten it.