“Fear always springs from ignorance.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s former chief of staff) said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” He meant that when there’s a crisis, try to stack on it as much other policy, regulation, tax increases, and programs that you can. His statement fits nicely in with Connor Boyack’s book, Feardom.
In this book, Boyack considers how governments use fear to get the public to approve and back new rules, regulations, actions and wars that the leaders of a nation seek to implement.
While threats are real, Boyack notes that many threats are made bigger than they really are, in order to enlarge government or expand programs. Why is this a problem? After all, “If Jack Bauer is saving millions of lives, what’s the fuss if he ends a few along the way?”
Boyack discusses the real danger of Hitler’s Germany. Why was Hitler able to convince millions of Germans that Jews were worthy of mass death, and they had the right to overrun all of Europe? He quotes Hermann Goering, who noted after the war (during his trial) that while the average farmer does not want war, the leaders can always drag them along, regardless of whether the nation is a democracy, monarchy, or dictatorship. Whether the people had a voice in government or not, all one had to do was say the nation was under attack, denounce the pacifists as traitors, and the people will jump on board.
The Jews were not murdered from day one. Instead, minor actions were first taken, justified by saying Jews had caused the Great Depression, stolen jobs and riches from the people. This led to the people begging the Nazis to protect them from the Jews. So, Jews were detained, controlled, and eventually carted away to camps, where it was just one additional step to gas them. Once things go beyond a certain level of atrocity, most people stopped thinking about what they were doing, and just quietly assented.
Sadly, we see such in our own nation. FDR imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese in the name of national security. George W Bush insisted we had to expand the war on terror to not only Afghanistan, but into Iraq, even though there was no direct connection. He sought to develop a the Bush Doctrine of preemptive action – attack the terrorists before they blew up the Free World with a nuke. Boyack notes that when the Great Recession began, Bush insisted that he “abandoned the free market principles to save the free market system.” Only George W. Bush could use such wrong logic to create a recession that would last longer than any other in history!
Such crises of fear allow leaders to justify expanding government power and authority. Boyack extensively uses the example of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If the villagers (people) are paying attention, they will eventually stop believing the lies and cries of alarm given by the boy (government).
Boyack notes that “ignorance is fear’s greatest catalyst.” He notes how Americans trustingly approved the Patriot Act, the TSA searches at airports, and the expansion of the NSA network. Only when people began questioning little old ladies being strip searched at the airport, and saw Edward Snowden’s revelations on the NSA did they begin to complain. Sadly, the complaints have not been sufficient to cause major changes in government oversight.
Boyack discusses several areas in which the government has used fear to justify creating new programs, many of which have not made a difference (while Boyack doesn’t mention it, the Dept of Education hasn’t improved school test scores since we began spending hundreds of billions in federal dollars in the Carter Administration).
Perhaps Boyack’s best thought is that we need to decide whether we want liberty, which is often chaotic, or safety, which requires a loss of liberty. We are on a ship, which is safe in harbor, but ships are meant to be out at sea, where it sometimes gets rough.
“Feardom” is a good read, and while you may not agree with all Boyack’s points and comparisons, you will agree that Americans often give up too much freedom to government, because we’ve been convinced we ought to be over-afraid and over-reactive to crises.
Connor Boyack is the founder of Libertas Institute in Utah. It is a libertarian organization that works to develop positive legislation for the state, promoting freedom rather than regulation. His other books include a new series on liberty for kids called “The Tuttle Twins.”
Read more about the Libertas Institute