I recently read the strangely contemporaneous work of fiction by Irving Wallace — The R Document. Published in 1976, he has described a fictional scenario of the lawmakers attempting to subvert the Bill of Rights by amending the Constitution. Dismissed as mere fantasy or a conspiracy theory only a few years ago, the novel uncannily depicts a possible worst-case scenario in the much-democratic America. It starts with an interesting quote by Benjamin Franklin:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”
It does ring true in concerns for temporary safety against terror attacks. Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge after fears of loss of privacy were expressed in the aftermath of 9/11 counter terror measures. Indeed the incident was horrendous and unprecedented in the history of America, as the notion of the last safe haven on earth crumbled. Hardcore conservatives had a field day in expressing fears of a doomsday conspiracy and called for stricter measures in countering terror. The terrorists have already succeeded when we fear to congregate for a parade in large numbers or to occupy an office on the 90th floor. But is that excuse enough to sacrifice our liberty?
Initially I was all for exercising a tighter leash on possible terror suspects as I was for TADA or POTA in India but as the powers of the Patriot law percolated into workings of daily life of an average citizen, I realized the larger implications on basic rights. I remember reading about a writer being investigated by the FBI for merely reading a article criticizing Bush aptly titled Weapons of Mass Stupidity. This would have raised hell in “normal” times. But do times of terror or war give the state enough leverage to overturn certain basic rights that are an integral part of the Constitution? At what point is it justifiable to strip a citizen of his basic rights to protect the state from possible harm?
India unfortunately doesn’t have a publicized Bill of Rights and random overturning of citizen rights is considered normal in name of national security. We have suffered the consequences of a draconian law twice in history, once in 1962 after the Chinese invasion and second, the dark ages of Indian politics — the Indira Emergency. No matter how diverse or geographical widespread India was, the Emergency was an uncomfortable reality. Similar traits have been observed in America too after the 9/11 incidents wherein breach of citizen privacy rights and right to randomly search premises under mere suspicion have been taking root gradually. The Bush cartel has found a great excuse in need for national security for imposing stricter control measures on its citizens. Strangely enough, these measures have found a strong backing amongst the populace who aren’t aware of the far-reaching implications. I am reminded of the following anecdote in the R Document when I talk of self-inflicted harm:
In 1787, after the delegates in Philadelphia signed the new United States Constitution, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin. “Well, Doctor,” she asked, “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
America, like India has an entrenched democratic spirit and believes strongly in the power of the electorate. So the only possible way that these countries will get fascist rulers are if they are voted to power. Germans did elect Hitler and history is testimony to the consequences.
The vote is a powerful choice and can go either way; to utopia or to doom. So before we give the state far-reaching powers, be aware of its far-reaching consequences. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, says a popular maxim and whether you believe it or not, it still is true.
PS.This post can be considered as a gloomy sequel to yesterday’s post.