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Why We Fear the Government

“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson


In this speech at Yale Law School, Glenn Greenwald recounts a moment when he realized that the behavior of many of his readers was consistent with those of people living under tyranny rather than liberty (the story begins around the 28 minute mark). He had just written an article about Wikileaks, and upon concluding that this was an organization committed to government transparency and thus worthy of support, he encouraged his readers to donate. But many readers responded that, while they agreed with him that there was merit to supporting Wikileaks, they were declining to do so for fear of ending up on some government list or even for fear of being subjected to criminal liability if Wikileaks was retroactively declared a terrorist group.

Earlier in his speech, Greenwald laid the groundwork for how we have arrived at this fearful state of affairs -multiple observations over many years that the power elite are often not being subjected to the rule of law.

Greenwald suggests that the down slide began with Ford’s pardon of Nixon, and it’s easy to recall other examples of Presidents skirting the law without repercussion since then (i.e. Reagan’s Iran/Contra, Clinton’s lying under oath, GW Bush’s unlawful detentions, and most recently, Obama’s killing of Americans without due process).

Further, in recent years Americans have observed that even those wielding power outside of the government are not being subjected to the rule of law. For example, witness the complete lack of interest by the federal government in prosecuting any of the Wall Street crooks, even when it is obvious to even the casual observer that outright theft occurred (i.e. MF Global).

Greenwald is right; it is the undeniably uneven application of the rule of law that has led many Americans, including myself, to the conclusion that their government is something to be feared.

The author of the following brilliant DP post (which did not get the attention it deserved) makes a similar observation about the importance of the even application of the rule of law to civil society, and points out that this is a concept with which both Anarchists/Volunaryists and Minarchists agree.


And that brings me to my point. In the wake of the #StandWithRand phenomenon, during which we observed principled progressives joining with principled conservatives and libertarians, it was because Rand struck a nerve with people of principle across the political spectrum precisely because he was resisting the idea that the administration is not subject to the rule of law.

This principle is also the common thread between libertarians and the occupy movement progressives. It is the place where the principled left and right join forces and it is critical that we in the liberty movement recognize this important point of agreement.

The even application of the rule of law is something that, I dearly hope, most Americans still agree with, and it is a concept that should be a pillar of every liberty movement campaign.

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