If Americans have learned nothing else from the Sept. 11 attacks, they should at least learn what the priorities of the dominant political class are. Ever since the attack, the spokesmen for that class have exploited it to push for immense increases in the size and scope of federal power and the federal government—to the gain of the class that manages and directs the vast labyrinth of the federal leviathan.
Some government enlargement may be necessary for countering terrorism on a temporary basis, but some champions of the state want to go further. It's ironic that the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which poses as libertarian, last week ran one of the most outspoken endorsements of state power yet written.
The article, by writer and historian Jay Winik, is titled, "Security Comes Before Liberty," which in fact is true, though rather ominous to announce. Mainly what Mr. Winik does is dredge up every violation of personal freedom in American history in previous "emergencies"—and use it as precedent for violating more freedom.
His heroes are three major American presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt—each of whom used the federal government to silence critics, intimidate opponents and re-enforce his own power. At the best, some of their actions might have been necessary, but most Americans would prefer to forget them rather than cite them as justifications for current and future policy.
Lincoln, for example, suspended habeas corpus and ignored the ruling of Chief Justice Roger Taney that his action was unconstitutional. "To enforce this decree, a network of provost marshals promptly imprisoned several hundred anti-war activists and draft resisters, including five newspaper editors, three judges, a number of doctors, lawyers, journalists and prominent civic leaders." Lincoln also used troops to prevent the sitting of the Maryland state legislature when it looked like it was about to secede and locked up a congressman who criticized the war.
Wilson also led the campaign to smother dissent during World War I. "All dissent became suspect: There were continual spy scares, witch hunts and even kangaroo courts that imposed harsh sentences of actual tar and feathering.... People were regularly hauled into court for as little as criticizing the Red Cross or questioning war financing, and the mail was summarily closed to publications that espoused socialism or feminism or displayed an anti-British bias."
Franklin Roosevelt is most notorious for authorizing the internment of Japanese-Americans, but he also used the FBI and the Justice Department to hound opponents of interventionism like the America First Committee and its leaders. He tried to prosecute the Chicago Tribune because it published leaked documents about his own war plans, and a large group of so-called "seditionists" were put on trial at the end of the war—until the judge threw the case out in disgust.
Mr. Winik is dead right and then some about all these presidents—who happen to be the major icons of American liberalism. But unlike most of the historians who ignore or try to excuse their actions, he glories in them and looks forward to similar measures in the future. The Bush administration's measures so far "pale in comparison to what previous wartime administrations have imposed," and "If, as we get thicker into this grim conflict, the administration deems it necessary to enact more restrictive steps, we need not fear. When our nation is again secure, so too will be our principles." Just how "restrictive" Mr. Winik is prepared to be is suggested by his rather gleeful account of the torture of a terrorist suspect by the Philippine police in 1995.
Mr. Winik is perfectly comfortable in his belief that "our principles" will remain secure despite blatant and massive violation by the authoritarian state he advocates because "there was little long-term or corrosive effect on society" from the violations his three heroes imposed. The point is that the "corrosive effect," aside from the illegal and unconstitutional acts themselves, consists in their use as precedents by later political leaders. It's no accident that every one of Mr. Winik's heroes not only trampled on civil liberties at his pleasure but also was a chief architect of the bloated monstrosity that dominates Washington and the nation today.
It's revealing that the Wall Street Journal should publish Mr. Winik's apology for tyranny. Not only does it expose the phoniness of the paper's libertarianism but also it tells us whose liberties the Journal's editorial page values most. Not once since Sept. 11 has the Journal suggested or endorsed the slightest reduction in immigration or any tightening of security procedures for visas. In the bizarre world of the Wall Street Journal, immigration and the rights of immigrants are inviolable; it's only the U.S. Constitution and the rights of Americans that are happily expendable.
COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
October 29, 2001