In case you are not already alarmed about the direction of the country, here is a question to consider: Why is modern tyranny—which is distinguished by the attempt to subjugate the mind—the worst imaginable form of despotism? This is a highly relevant question to ask in the United States right now.
For most of human history, self-indulgent thugs and petty dictators cared mainly about what people did, and not so much about what they thought. These despots could be cruel; many committed acts of random violence. But it was usually possible to stay out of their way. Such regimes, which still exist, typically are not “ideological.” The rulers want some semblance of order and a functional economy. Therefore they don’t interfere with strictly private matters of work, family, and religion—as long as these pose no threat to the people in charge. Still, life for the average citizen is precarious and limited.
A major step in human civilization was achieved when people managed to implement the rule of law—which is really no more than the idea of one set of rules that apply to everyone, including those running the government. This principle is so important for the higher purposes of human life that Aristotle thought “man, when separate from law and justice, is worse than any animal.”
Yet legalism becomes a problem when the law lapses into a mere pretense to justify atrocities. For example, the Spanish inquisitors of the 15th century employed torture to obtain confessions of heresy—because it was important that punishment be preceded by an admission of guilt. But even when horribly distorted in this way, we can see that the formality of a confession, if only for the sake of appearances, was an acknowledgment that following “procedure” was important. (Hypocrisy, according to the adage, is “the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”)
Much worse is when the law is not only manifestly unjust, but those in power openly flaunt this fact—boasting, in effect, that the system is rigged. Our own history, alas, provides an unfortunate example of this. The late professor of political philosophy Harry V. Jaffa explained that before the Civil War, under the 1850 fugitive slave law,
a man charged with being a runaway slave would be held without bail. A federal commissioner would be appointed to hold a hearing, in which the slaveowner could bring witnesses, but the accused runaway could not. If the commissioner decided in favor of the slaveowner he was paid $10, if in favor of the accused, $5. It is difficult to imagine any legislation, even in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR, more at war with the principles of civil liberty.
Jaffa was right. Nevertheless, the rulers of the Soviet Union took this perversion of law to a whole new level by turning it into a principle of the regime. Official mockery of the rule of law, and of truth, became a psychological weapon. The Soviet government not only proclaimed what everyone knew were obvious lies (about the abundance of food, for instance, when all the markets were bare) but required everyone to affirm the lies. Anyone who was seen by his neighbors to be less than enthusiastic about repeating the propaganda risked a midnight visit from the KGB. This was sometimes followed by another diabolical technique the Soviets developed: the families of political prisoners shot by the secret police often received a bill in the mail—requiring them to pay for the bullet.
The purpose of these monstrous practices was not merely to keep everyone in line, but to crush the spirit of resistance—to create, by repetition, the habit of accepting whatever the Party declared as truth and justice and as quickly as they cared to change it. It was the attempt to extinguish even the memory of freedom of the mind.
“No Evidence,” In Spite of the Evidence
Perhaps it seems unduly melodramatic to mention all this in connection with events in our country today. But consider: Christopher Wray, the director of FBI, testified to Congress on Tuesday that his agency has not found “any evidence” that Antifa or other anti-Trump agitators may have infiltrated the January 6 rally in Washington, D.C., and helped to instigate the riot in the Capitol. None!
This, despite a widely circulated video (to cite just one example) of BLM activist John Sullivan inside the Capitol telling a journalist, “We did this!” At one point he is heard saying, “We gotta get this shit burned.” If the FBI needs some other leads, it could check with the national security expert who provided a detailed account of the many suspicious activities he directly witnessed.
It is very hard to prove a negative. And law enforcement agencies are usually reluctant to rule out any possibilities in an ongoing investigation. Yet Wray was insistent that no leftist activists were involved. Let that sink in. The director of the FBI—for many years considered the world’s most respected and professional law-enforcement agency—unabashedly declared to the United States Congress something that everyone who is paying attention knows to be an obvious lie. To quote a line from Joe Biden before he was senile, that’s “a big fucking deal.”
We have reached the point where federal law enforcement is like one of those pre-Civil War runaway slave commissions. The FBI has no interest in the $5 they get for investigating left-wing looting and violence because it gets $10 whenever agents find some supposed “white supremacist” on the Right guilty of “insurrection.” The bureau’s director apparently has no problem with this perverse incentive system.
There is nothing accidental about what’s happening now. Former CIA Director John Brennan recently referred to an “unholy alliance” of “religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians” who he lumped together as suspects in “insurgency movements” properly targeted for monitoring by the Biden Administration.
Is it paranoia to note the clear pattern of psychological warfare—flaunting the rigged system—when we see it confirmed consistently with other examples?
One of the most striking of these confirmations is the demand for total, unquestioning acceptance of an almost divine purity surrounding the 2020 presidential election. It’s not sufficient to concede that there has been no solid proof of voter fraud. It is now required by America’s ruling class for everyone to deny, explicitly, there was anything suspicious or unusual at all.
Life Under Surveillance
American politics has entered a new and very dangerous phase.
Let me conclude on a personal note, with an anecdote will help drive home the argument I’ve made, and also explain why I am using a pseudonym. (Although I have written many times for American Greatness under my own name, I am reluctant to do so with this essay.)
When I was in college in the mid-1980s—while Ronald Reagan was still leading America’s battle in the Cold War—I interned for a summer at a New York organization called Freedom House. This was a moderately conservative alternative to Amnesty International. Freedom House had been created because Amnesty had a bad habit of ignoring human rights abuses by communist regimes, and there was a need to balance out the story.
While I was there, the organization held a major press event for some Afghan refugees, to recount first-hand the atrocities committed by the Russian forces that had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It was a major event that drew international attention, including many foreign journalists. Some local FBI agents came by to keep an eye on things, and later told our executive director that some of the “Eastern European” journalists were actually known KGB agents, who had discretely photographed and noted the names of everyone in attendance.
When I heard about this, I was immensely pleased by the idea that in the bowels of some building in Moscow, there was a KGB file with my name and picture! It was an exhilarating thought, which never worried me in the slightest. Today, however, in my own country, I am reluctant to publish this essay under my real name because I am worried about the FBI having a file on me. That is where we stand in the United States of America today.