Jan 9, 2004 4:41 pm


I just posted an essay about the Bush administration's cultivation of fear and dependence, by means of both their language and their actions. Here is the conclusion:

But this ongoing" crisis" atmosphere provides many benefits to the administration. As the Spiked article points out, it gets the administration off the hook of blame: we can't say they didn't warn us, even if they didn't do so in any meaningful way. It makes people more likely to believe that those in the administration are genuinely concerned about our safety and well-being (which many individuals in the administration undoubtedly are, even if their methods are mistaken). But perhaps most importantly -- and most dangerously -- it makes the general citizenry look to the government for protection, for action, for the continuation of life itself.

In short: it makes the populace look to the government, in a crucial psychological sense, as their savior. It is the government that will protect us from any and all threats; it is the government that will take any required action; and it is only the government that can be trusted to do all of this, and thus to ensure our very survival. In this kind of atmosphere, it becomes much easier for the government to clamp down on"dissent," should it choose to do so at some point -- and the overall cultural atmosphere already significantly discourages dissenting views. If there is another terrorist attack, or more than one, here in the United States, this is precisely the kind of atmosphere that could easily lead to censorship in some form.

And beyond censorship, which it should be remembered is a requirement for any dictatorship, this is the kind of atmosphere which enables a government to gather increasingly more power unto itself. Recall how quickly the Patriot Act was passed after 9/11 -- and how most legislators had not even bothered to read it. But to vote against it would have been viewed as disloyalty, and perhaps even treason. An atmosphere of this kind does not lend itself to considered, measured judgment -- and disagreements are quickly condemned as emanating from a"fifth column."

For these reasons, the use of language by Bush and others -- in terms of what it reveals about their overall approach, and in terms of the possibilities it creates for further encroachments on our liberties -- is of great significance, especially when viewed in combination with their actions, and its importance should not be underestimated.

Finally, consider the following. I am speaking in very general terms here, but one of the key differences between the view of many Europeans with regard to their relationship to their government, and to the state, and that of most Americans had been that Europeans viewed themselves as belonging to the state in a crucial way: that the government knows best, and that their individual fates and well-being were inextricably bound up with the health, and power, of the state itself. In this sense, they were creatures of the state, both psychologically and in terms of the state's dominance over the individual lives of its citizens.

But that had not been a typical American's view of his relationship to his government. An American viewed the government as existing to do his bidding, to serve him. Certainly there were functions the government performed that he couldn't individually -- but fundamentally, his life was his own, and the government had little to say about how he led it. But over the last several decades (beginning in the 1960s to a significant degree, although the roots of this phenomenon were present as early as the World War I era, and even before), that perspective has changed significantly. And now, an American looks to government to protect his financial well-being, to care for him in times of trouble, and to regulate any number of his activities, no matter how little they may impringe on others. Thus, a typical American has now become largely dependent, rather than independent. And in this way, Americans have become more and more"Europeanized."

It is this kind of cultural atmosphere, and this kind of psychological outlook, that allows for the growth of an increasingly authoritarian government, particularly in a time of crisis, whether real or manufactured (or some combination of both). It is this kind of culture that allows for the growth, in time and if the course is not halted and reversed, of a dictatorship.

This is why these issues matter so much -- and why our present cultural climate is so filled with danger. It is a phenomenon that we should all be on guard against, and fight against in every way we can. Freedom unquestionably does require continual, unceasing vigilance, against both foreign and domestic enemies, and even against those domestic enemies who say they are only"protecting" us -- and that has never been truer than at the present moment.

You can read the entire essay here.

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