In response to my article “The Worst Mistake in U.S. History,” a reader wrote to tell me that, in his opinion, there have been worse mistakes in U.S. history than the conversion of the federal government to what is called a “a national security state.” He cited as examples the adoption of the federal income tax, the Federal Reserve System, and public (i.e., government) schooling.
That reader is certainly correct that those were big mistakes insofar as the freedom and well-being of the American people are concerned.
As early as 1990, here at The Future of Freedom Foundation we were pointing out that the federal income tax effectively nationalized people’s earnings and made them serfs of the state.
In that first year of publication of our monthly journal Future of Freedom, we were also pointing out the destruction of liberty and prosperity that comes with governmental control over the monetary system.
In September 1990, I addressed the socialism of public schooling, showing why a government education system is antithetical to the principles of a free society. FFF’s uncompromising perspective on this issue, which included an opposition to school vouchers, even garnered a critical article by Milton Friedman, which was recently republished in the Hoover Digest.
As FFF’s longtime supporters can attest, ever since then we have continued to make the consistent case for economic liberty and educational liberty.
So, I agree with our reader that those certainly are very egregious infringements on liberty and that a genuinely free society necessarily requires their repeal.
However, I continue to hold that those infringements, as destructive and harmful as they are, pale in significance compared to the conversion of the United States to a national-security state. The failure to see that, in my opinion, is why so many libertarians hardly ever confront the existence of the national-security state in their articles and speeches, much less call for its dismantling. They either see it as just another infringement, just like the others, or, even worse, have bought into the notion that the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA are actually necessary to keep us safe and secure and just need to be “reformed” or “reined in” rather than dismantled.
Ask yourself: What is the worst power that any government can possess insofar as the freedom and well-being of the citizenry are concerned? The power to tax incomes? The power to debauch the currency? The power to censor speech? The power to compel church attendance?
No. As bad as all those powers are, they are still not the worst. The worst power is the power to kill people, including the government’s own citizenry.
That’s the power that the federal government acquired with the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state after World War II — the power to kill Americans (and others) without risk of any criminal or civil liability. It’s also the power held by all totalitarian regimes in history, including Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Red China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea.
All that U.S officials have to do is relate the killing to “national security” and that’s the end of the matter. There will be no federal criminal indictments on federal killings that are related to “national security.” The federal courts have made it clear that they lack jurisdiction to interfere with or second-guess such killings. Congress will not interfere either. The national-security state’s power to kill people, including Americans, is complete. It is omnipotent. Just ask the families of Charles Horman, Frank Teruggi, Rene Schneider, Anwar al Awlaki, or any of the many others who have been killed by agents of the national-security establishment. They will all attest that the killings came with no interference by the Justice Department, Congress, or the federal courts.
That’s not all. The conversion to a national-security state also brought the power to arrest or kidnap people, including Americans, torture them, and keep them incarcerated in military dungeons or concentration camps for life. The federal courts confirmed the existence of such powers in the Jose Padilla case.
It also brought with it the power to spy on people, listen to their telephone conversations, read their mail and email, and keep secret files on them.
There are those who might argue that because the federal government isn’t widely exercising such powers, they are secondary in importance to such powers as income taxation, the Federal Reserve, and public schooling.
But a free society isn’t measured by what powers are being exercised at any given moment. It is measured instead by the powers that a government wields. Moreover, as history has shown, governments often wait until a grave emergency arises and then pull out the big powers, such as the power to kill their own people.
And that includes emergencies that are the makings of the national-security state itself. Case in point: Korea. If President Trump and his national-security establishment succeed in getting a war going in Korea, especially one that turns nuclear, don’t be surprised to see them exercising to a larger extent those big powers here at home. Keep in mind that the people they are killing will no longer be around to complain about income taxation, the Federal Reserve, and public schooling.
Yes, money and education are important. But in my opinion, one’s own life and the lives of one’s family are much more important. That’s why the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state was an infinitely worse mistake than all the others.