War Is Big Government at its Biggest
Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf laments the hypocrisy of those who fear big government creep in domestic matters, yet turn the other cheek when it comes to the state waging war. He implores Tea Party types who see Obamacare as the greatest threat to liberty and even the Obama backing left to turn their attention to how the state greatly expands its power during wartime. Friedersdorf ably makes his case by pointing out just what policies the government has implemented over the past decade:
[W]e’ve created a new cabinet level super-agency, the Department of Homeland Security. We’ve waged foreign wars whose ultimate cost will easily reach into the trillions of dollars, all of which will be born by taxpayers. Fourth Amendment protections against government searches without due process have been significantly weakened, as has the expectation of privacy enjoyed by the average citizen. Traveling on an airplane is now deemed just cause for agents of the state to look underneath our clothes and to feel our genitals, making thousands deeply uncomfortable. The president himself now asserts that he possesses the unchecked power to put American citizens on assassination lists if he deems them to be a terrorist.
Much as I am opposed to Obamacare and the ever-expanding regulatory state, what Friedersdorf lays out above, to my mind, is a far more egregious expansion of government power. When states wage war, they move quickly to expand and consolidate power. As Gary Chartier recently pointed out:
State actors’ perceived need to mobilize and consolidate domestic support for war leads to the implementation of repressive measures, including censorship, propaganda, torture, surveillance, and due process violations of various kinds. Not only are these troubling on their own—they also are all too likely to persist after war’s official end.
…War-making by states helps to birth all-too-intimate relationships between politicians, military leaders, and economic elites happily dependent on the money provided to pay for military equipment and other resources. The wealth siphoned off by these elites is often misspent even from the perspectives of those who favor war in principle, given the wastefulness and inefficiency of war production undertaken in tandem with the state. But it also gives them more access to and more influence over politicians, enabling them both to press for non-war-related privileges and also, and even more troublingly, to push for continued preparedness for war during peace-time and even, all too frequently, for new hostilities.
State-made wars are funded using taxes extracted from the unwilling—which ought to be troubling because nothing entitles the state to claim anyone’s resources at gunpoint.
While it may not seem like it at face value, the state’s decision to wage war permeates all aspects of society effecting both civil and economic liberties. Now, this is not some new revelation, as James Madison succinctly put it in 1795:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
Image via Flickr user abudoma