Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the single most indispensable voice for civil liberties in today’s media, has moved from Salon.com to the Guardian. In a recent column at his new home, he offers up this eloquently worded statement in defense of a government limited by real constitutional safeguards:
When a government is permitted to transgress the limits that have been imposed on its power (in the case of the US, imposed by the Constitution), the relationship between the government and the citizenry changes fundamentally.
In a free society, those who wield political power fear those over whom the power is wielded: specifically, they harbor a healthy fear of what will happen to them if they abuse that power. But the hallmark of tyranny is that the opposite dynamic prevails: the citizenry fears its government because citizens know that there are no actual, meaningful limits on how power can be exercised. A nation in which liberties are systematically abused – in which limitations on state power are ignored without consequence – is one which gives rise to a climate of fear.
This climate of fear, in turn, leads citizens to refrain from exercising their political rights, especially to refrain from posing meaningful challenges to government authority, because they know the government can act against them without real constraints. This is a more insidious and more effective form of tyranny than overt abridgment of rights: by inducing – intimidating – a citizenry into relinquishing their own rights out of fear, a state can maintain the illusion of freedom while barring any meaningful dissent from or challenge to its power.
Exactly right. I first saw this idea expressed in Bertram Gross’ Friendly Fascism.