Chattering away on the road to serfdom
Free speech and tyranny



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According to the Founders, a government that attacks or fails to vindicate the natural rights of man, a government that refuses to submit to a higher law, a government that is injurious of the common good and treats men like slaves, a government of arbitrary whim and rapacious self-aggrandizement — such a government is tyrannical. According to that understanding of tyranny there can be no doubt that the U.S. government, at least in its dealings and intercourse with other nations, is tyrannical.

The millions of innocents slaughtered and maimed, the billions in property damage, and the ruined lives of countless souls, all by the direct or indirect action of the federal government, provide ample evidence of the government's tyrannical foreign policy. Tragically, what's less obvious is the creeping tyranny here at home. That is to say, despite the heroic efforts of numerous and respected scholars, pundits, public men, and lawyers, all across the ideological spectrum, who warn of the creeping tyranny, too many of us refuse to accept that which is clear: a tyrannical government abroad, left unchecked and unreformed, must become a tyrannical government at home. [1]

No doubt there are a number of factors impinging on the will and intellect that interfere with one's ability to recognize the coming tyranny. The purpose of this essay is to identify and deal with one such intellectual impediment, a major one in my experience, that prevents people from perceiving the tyranny that is descending upon us. It is this: the inability to recognize that a government that seemingly honors political free speech can still be tyrannical and that, paradoxically, such a government can actually use political free speech to advance its tyrannical constructions. Of course, over the last few years the government's attacks on political free speech have become increasingly brazen such that my writing this essay might land me in jail in the near future, rendering this essay essentially moot. But for now at least I take it as obvious that the vast majority of Americans can write and speak without being molested by the government. Paradoxically, that calls for vigilance, not complacency; for as I hope to show in what follows, the sacred right of free speech can be twisted and disfigured to serve the nefarious ends of tyrannical government.

It is a simple matter to show that a tyrannical government can also tolerate political free speech, for, ceteris paribus, the governments of Hitler and Stalin would have been no less tyrannical had they tolerated or even actively encouraged political free speech. Thus, political free speech can, at least in principle, co-exist with tyranny. Put simply, a government can qualify as fundamentally tyrannical without being tyrannical in all its policies and actions. The Nazis, after all, let people smoke and eat meat, even though Hitler was anti-tobacco and a vegetarian.

It is more difficult to show that a tyrannical government can actually benefit by refusing to embark on an overt program to stamp out free speech or that a tyrannical government can actually benefit from free speech. Nevertheless, in what follows I will attempt to do just that.

First, we must recognize that political free speech, as exercised by non-Establishment organs, is usually of little immediate consequence and fails to influence Establishment political decision-making, at least over the short term. Practically speaking, from the vantage point of government people it simply doesn't matter if a handful of folks, even a very large handful, have the goods on them. Hence, for the most part non-Establishment media types can be ignored.

Take the Iraq war as an example. It was obvious to many, arguably most, non-Establishment commentators that the Bush administration was manipulating and lying us into an immoral, illegal, and senseless war of aggression. Indeed, many millions were in agreement with us. Yet in the end it made no practical difference. Iraq was attacked, and it is business as usual in Washington, as the usual suspects plan the coming immoral, illegal, and senseless war of aggression against Iran. Thus, from Washington's perspective everything is on track; why risk derailing everything by launching a war against political free speech when that speech is of zero practical consequence?

Second, through the use of various incentives and disincentives, or through a carrot-and-stick approach, and without passing any laws infringing on political free speech, the government can easily manipulate much of the Establishment's licensed corporate media to actively disseminate its propaganda or at least passively acquiesce in it. Moreover, the government can always plant favorable stories, provide self-benefiting leaks, surreptitiously funnel money and provide support to media projects deemed beneficial, and even buy or plant favorably disposed reporters to achieve its propagandistic objectives. Sometimes government officials' simply repeating lies to a compliant media is enough. [2]

And the more concentrated the corporate media get — arguably the current industry trend — the easier it all becomes. Similarly, the larger the government's role in child rearing and education — clearly the trend today — the easier it is to propagandize and deceive the people. Bill Moyers's documentary "Buying the War" details some of the results. Especially revealing is the scene of Establishment media types laughing as Bush jokes about not being able to find WMDs.

Fake journalism at the White House: www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/arts/20rich.html
The CIA's operation "Mockingbird": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird
Moyers's "Buying the War": www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/btw/watch.html
"America's Ministry of Propaganda Exposed": www.rense.com/general44/minis.htm
"The Return of PSYOPS": www.fair.org/index.php?page=1983
"Neoconservatism: a CIA Front?": www.informationclearinghouse.info/article3700.htm
Gloria Steinem, feminism, and the CIA: www.savethemales.ca/180302.html
Hillary and the planted question: www.slate.com/id/2177886/?GT1=10636
"Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War": www.independent.org/events/transcript.asp?eventID=70
Third, in our corporate, mass-consumer economy, and in the age of political correctness, the government can often count on private and quasi-private groups or individuals to censor or attack dissenting voices and with great effect. In this case the government obtains the desired result — silence — without getting its hands dirty. All it takes is a handful of iconoclastic professors being denied tenure for the chill to set in: free speech exercised can mean professional and financial ruin. That often suffices to stop dissenters, even the most intrepid ones, from speaking out. Clearly a government bent on tyranny can surreptitiously work with "private" groups to silence critics, without ever enforcing laws against speech.
The Zionist attack on academic freedom: www.counterpunch.org/makdisi10182007.html
The attack on James Watson: www.vdare.com/sailer/071028_watson.htm
The feminist attack on Larry Summers: www.theatlantic.com/doc/200502u/nj_taylor_2005-02-08
"The War on Academic Freedom": www.thenation.com/doc/20021125/mcneil
Fourth, should the above options fail, agents of the government can take an active but graded and targeted approach to squashing free speech that threatens the status quo, while at the same time appearing to tolerate free speech. Consider a non-Establishment voice that starts influencing the national debate. At this point the government can start attacking political speech, but in a way that obscures its role and gives it plausible deniability. For example, the government can leak a story or launch a smear campaign to try and discredit the dissenter.
The Valerie Plame Affair: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plame_affair
"Target: Scott Ritter": www.antiwar.com/justin/j012203.html
If that doesn't work, it can start twisting arms and start putting pressure on Establishment media outlets to limit the dissenter's media access. If that fails, the government can order the IRS, FBI, or some other national police agency to investigate, dig up dirt on, and possibly indict the person, however trumped-up the charges.
"Clinton's IRS Gestapo": http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=14702
Nixon's IRS abuses: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1996/12/08/NEWS16113.dtl
John Kennedy's IRS abuses: findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_2003_Sept_16/ai_107543543
"Past Dirty Tricks": www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,907771,00.html
"The War on Telephone Privacy": www.lewrockwell.com/hornberger/hornberger137.html
Finally, the government can always resort to the use of naked force to prevent the speech in question. That sends a clear warning to other would-be agitators and, so long as the overt use of force is scattered in space and time, still gives the government and its apologists plausible deniability.
The death of Pat Tillman: www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=11367
The death of Kathleen Willey's husband: www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=58533
The death of Dr. David Kelly: www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=397256&in_page_id=1770&in_a_source
The death of Frank Olson: www.frankolsonproject.org/Articles/LondonMail.html
No doubt there exist countless other "dirty tricks" that government can employ to limit or manage free speech and destroy political opponents, while at the same time appearing to tolerate or even defend free speech.
Watergate: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal
Nixon's COINTELPRO: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO
By now it should be clear that tyrannical governments can employ a number of tactics to limit and manipulate speech and that those tactics enjoy greater effectiveness when the government appears to tolerate political free speech. That is because state propaganda is more effective when it doesn't appear to be state propaganda; sneak attacks are often more effective than open attacks; the stealthy con is always more effective than the blatant con; deliberate confusion can be a very effective tool of control and manipulation. Remember, no one took the old Pravda seriously, but almost everyone takes the New York Times seriously, and that can have enormous implications.

Using the methods described above, the government can propagandize the people and manipulate speech without appearing to do so, all the while providing its agents and apologists with the beneficial cover of the free-speech mantra. And while this approach may require more time and patience than a more conventional brute-force approach, Soviet style, it seems ultimately to be a more effective one.

A tyrannical government, in principle and in practice, can tolerate political free speech. Indeed, as I have shown, a government can actually be aided in its tyrannical impulse by the very free speech that is supposed to prevent it. Hence, the person who refuses to accept that tyranny is upon us, by appealing to our right of political free speech, is in error and should seriously reconsider his position.

So the next time someone tells you everything is fine and not to worry, because after all "you can say what you want in America," you might want to reply, firmly but charitably, that comments such as that are why everything is not fine, and that there's plenty to worry about. As the links I've scattered throughout show, this essay is not an exercise in mere conjecture — and that, indeed, should be deeply unsettling to us all.

Posted November 21, 2007

© 2007 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

Related article
Ronn Neff's "Polite totalitarianism"

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1. Among traditional conservatives and libertarians few have done more to expose and warn against the coming tyranny than Ron Paul, Robert Higgs, Jacob Hornberger, Sheldon Richman, James Bovard, Paul Craig Roberts, and William Norman Grigg. Among liberals, Naomi Wolf, Chris Hedges, John Nichols, and Glenn Greenwald have done excellent work on the same topic. I would strongly encourage all friends of liberty to Google these people and heed their collective warning.

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2. See "Bush's Favorite Lie," by Robert Parry, Consortiumnews.com, November 9, 2007.

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