The most dangerous time for the people of a country transitioning from freedom to tyranny is the period of transition itself. The events of the transition period are invariably bloody. However, those events are also educational. Once the opposition has been destroyed, the survivors are aware of what it will take to remain survivors. Any that don’t absorb the lesson won’t be around for much longer.
The United States has entered such a period. We’re in the slow but steady acceleration phase of the transition, during which the tyrants’ forces must gather speed in a judicious manner. The process must not go too swiftly at first, lest it awaken too wide an awareness, and a spirit of resistance. Here as in other, related processes, gradualism is the name of the game.
During the transition, the moral standing of the citizenry is tested with increasing severity. Part of it arises from the multiplication of moral hazards, as Gonzalo Lira once told us. Changes in public policy can create situations in which doing the wrong thing is more profitable than cleaving to what is demonstrably right. But possibly more stressful are new opportunities to use unjust laws against one’s fellow man, for one’s own advantage.
The classic, which has been in force for a long time now, is the IRS’s “snitch” program, which rewards those who tattle on others for tax evasion. This isn’t confined to reporting on others who’ve submitted not-quite-correct tax returns. Snitch Smith can allege that neighbor Jones has been bartering, or earning “under the table,” or even that he’s simply “living beyond his means” with no indication of how. In many cases, the allegation need never be substantiated for Smith to receive payment. Similar programs exist at the state level for persons who report others for the violation of other laws. Drug use and drug dealing are among the most frequent accusations.
Such possibilities, and the dollar-signs-in-the-eyes effects they have on the morally unsteady, will multiply as the transition period wears on.
A third set of tests arises from the implicit destruction of traditionally recognized and conventionally understood rights. Such things as the right to freedom of expression or freedom of movement are being undermined. Where they were once honored as unconditional – i.e., that no government at any level has a say about who, where, when, or how they were exercised – they’re increasingly being converted into things that require government permission. But a right is not a permission; it’s an inherent property of the individual by reason of his membership in Mankind. To demand that he obtain some government functionary’s permission to exercise a right is to deny that it is a right.
The following three links are illustrative:
- Remote Control
- Arrested for reading the Bible in public
- Indicted for openly doubting the integrity of an election
Add to the above the many cases of pro-life protestors being arrested and tried for their protests, and the denial of the well-established, Supreme-Court-confirmed right of the individual to keep and bear arms.
I could go on, but I think the point will stand. If the law deviates from the defense of rights, those who dislike you will have an incentive to use the law to wound you. Often it doesn’t matter whether you’re acquitted at trial…or whether you’re ever brought to trial. “The process is the punishment,” as they say, and governments can make the process as long and arduous as they please. Think about “civil asset forfeiture,” which occurs under an evidence-free presumption of a criminal offense. You have no power to prevent such a seizure; resistance would get you killed. In many cases, the seized money or goods are never returned.
All of the above facets of the transition period act to separate us from one another, and to reduce our willingness to trust one another. It hardly matters on which end of the abuse one stands, for Smith will know that just as he has abused Jones, Jones – or Davis, or White, or Green, or Brown, or Black – could easily do it to Smith.
People think of the descent to tyranny as a period when armed and uniformed men are battering down doors and hauling helpless citizens away to face sham trials in star chamber courts. The reality is much less dramatic…and much more threatening to the social fabric that makes trust possible.