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Ayn Rand on Creeping Tyranny

ARI says that freedom depends on security, and that government must reign in our freedom to ensure our security. (See  No Conflict Between Liberty and Security  and  War Powers Without War  on this website.) All the while claiming to champion freedom, ARI’s position is best described as “pragmatic authoritarianism” – or  “Freedom is Slavery.”

The slavery comes not overnight but gradually. Countless small incursions wear away freedom after freedom, and the government has an excuse each step of the way. Today the excuse is terrorism, another is drugs, yesteryear it was “profits.”

On February 5, 1937 Roosevelt proposed legislation that would enable him to appoint more judges to the Supreme Court, up to a total of 15 (six more than the usual nine), should elderly judges refuse to retire. In response Ayn Rand wrote to the New York Herald-Tribune : [1]

   No tyranny in history has ever been established overnight. The method of dictators has always been a slow, gradual, well-calculated series of measures, each one of them seemingly innocent enough, easily alibied and explained by the ruler as embodying the best intentions in the world, and not one of them clear, direct and sufficiently flagrant to make the entire people – every single man on the street – realize that it affects him personally.
   Each measure is passed without great trouble or violent public opposition because the average man does not see at the time, how it can possibly affect his own existence ... . Then, one day, he awakens suddenly to realize all his rights and liberties are gone. He cannot say exactly how or when it happened. He sees only the cumulative effect of single measures he did not consider important at the time he accepted them. He may be horrified and he may want to scream in protest. But it is too late to protest.

She goes on to say that the vast majority of Americans take their civil rights for granted; they don’t realize that an institution is needed to guarantee those civil rights. [2]

She continues, and as you read recall Robert Tracinski’s statement that when government declares war, it’s expansion is “mitigated by the fact that it is explicitly temporary”: [3]

   If all the power in the country is centered in one hand – who is going to see that that hand exercises it correctly? And if those in power wish to take a citizen’s life – who can stop them by pointing to the law, when they are the law? What good is a constitution when there is no one to see that it is observed? Russia has a liberal constitution too yet Russian citizens can be executed without trial. Their constitution-makers conveniently forgot to provide an independent organ to watch that the constitution be obeyed.
   Germany has elections too only there’s no independent organization to check on the polls. Does everybody understand that a constitution is not written to protect the government from the people, but to protect the people from the government? A constitution is only a people’s [sic – is a people’s only] safeguard. And if this safeguard is left entirely at the mercy of those against whom it is supposed to guard – isn’t it just as absurd and useless as a lock placed on a door against burglars, with the key entrusted to the burglars?

This is very true, though the application to the Supreme Court is dated. We still have our “Nine Old Men” – Roosevelt’s epithet – but there is little need for the President to pack the Supreme Court today: it is mostly apathetic when the President or Congress violates the Constitution. The same violating worries ARI not at all when it comes to fighting the “War on Terrorism.” Indeed ARI eagerly furnishes intellectual bait for the government’s dictatorship trap:  Jump right in and don’t worry, the trap is mitigated by the fact that you can jump right out again.

As the teenagers say with withering contempt:  Yeah, right.

1  Apparently the Herald-Tribune did not publish her letter, dated February 9, 1937. I scanned the editions from Feb. 9 to Feb. 20 on microfilm and did not find it. Ironically the above excerpt was printed in The Intellectual Activist of March 1996, before 9-11 “changed everything” – including timeless principles.

2  In other words:  Though no one can take away your natural rights – they are “inalienable” and exist because you exist – they can be violated. The legal basis for preventing or punishing people who would or do violate natural rights is civil rights. Civil rights are the legal recognition of natural rights. Civil rights must be jealously guarded in order to mean anything.

3  See the ARI op-ed  War Powers Without War  reviewed on this website.