An Alarming Sign

In a recent column, I referred to the “Prussianization of American political culture.” That means, in other words, the growing tendency of ordinary civilians to defer to people in uniform as persons superior in status or authority, rather than as simply functionaries who get paid to perform a task.

For example, I mentioned the evolution of professional law enforcement officers from being a sort of permanent civic militamen or town watch, salaried officers who got paid to exercise full-time the same posse comitatus rights possessed by ordinary citizens, to possessing an order of authority entirely different from that of the ordinary citizen (hence the popularity in the press of the gag-inducing term “the authorities”).

This is a reversal of the progressive development celebrated by Henry Sumner Maine in “Ancient Law,” the evolution from societies governed by status to societies based on contract. The Prussianized deference to anyone in uniform is a regression to society based on status, with titled nobilities whose aura of authority ultimately derived from conquest by the sword. When those in uniform possess status as a caste, and not as individuals, it’s a sign we’re returning to a society of stations or estates, rather than of free and equal individuals whose obligations derive entirely from voluntary agreement.

Lest anyone think this is hyperbole, Keith Taylor (a PhD student in community economic development at the University of Illinois) has this interesting anecdote from his trip back from a cooperative conference in Washington:

There were two soldiers on the plane. When we landed and “parked,” this dude behind me says in a loud voice “I was hoping that the cockpit crew would ask everyone to remain seated so you gentlemen could get off the plane first and reconnect with your families right away.” Myself and others acted like we didn’t hear his pandering. He then utters audibly “I guess no one is going to respect these guys.”

Then, as if he can’t handle it, he shouts out “would y’all please stand aside out of respect to the returning soldiers to let them get to their families as soon as they get off the plane?”

At least the guy wasn’t snatching food off the trays in-flight to feed “our hungry heroes.” Classic example of showing one’s belly to ingratiate oneself to the alpha male. “I, for one, welcome our new uniformed overlords.”

I cringe when I hear the words “thank you for your service.” I’m sure that many people in military uniform joined out of a sincere, albeit misguided, belief that that the wars they were fighting were in some sense to defend American lives and freedom.  But it’s utterly nonsensical.

Every time I hear someone say the troops in Iraq are “fighting for your right” to do this or that, or “fighting for our freedom,” I have to restrain myself from going ballistic.

Gary Trudeau even (even?) got into the act. In a recent Doonesbury strip, the wounded Iraq vet kid with the stutter told one of the open-carry people at Starbucks “I spent two years behind an M-60 defending your right to be a moron about guns.” No kidding? How exactly would those guys’ rights to pack heat at Starbucks have been threatened if Bush hadn’t invaded Iraq?

I think “freedom,” among the “100% Americans” set, is about like “Freiheit” in Nazi propaganda: devoid of content. “Freedom” is just whatever the government’s “protecting” by its wars, by definition.

As Bush said after 9-11, every time we go shopping we’re proving that we’re still a free society. Excuse me? I must have missed the place in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich where Hitler tried to discourage good Germans from going shopping. Real freedom isn’t about doing the kind of stuff government wants us to do. Real freedom is about doing stuff the government doesn’t like, without being wiretapped or herded into a “free speech zone.”

I guess all foreign wars are about the “defense of our freedoms” in one sense: by definition, there aren’t as many troops still at home to threaten our freedoms (unless the government hires some folks from Blackwater or Pinkerton to do it instead).

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