“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” – James Madison
James Madison is one of my favorite founding Fathers. He basically crafted the Constitution and was a huge proponent of liberty. I do not claim to know much about the situations in Venezuela and Turkey, but this post is more about the general concept of governments abridging the liberty of the people. In Venezuela, the socialist policies of the government have led to shortages of food toilet paper and other goods, resulting in protests that have led to some violent clashes with government security forces. There is also discontent over the fact that the government has been abridging the general freedom of the people such as censoring the press and eliminating independent media outlets. Like I said, I am not an expert on Venezuela but the fact that socialist policies such as price controls and the nationalization of industries have led to shortages of the most basic goods does not surprise me one bit. The only thing that surprises me is that people still advocate for these types of policies in the name of “helping the poor” and “fairness/equality”, even though they always lead to economic disasters that hurt EVERYBODY (hey, at least we can all be equally poor!). In socialism, people wait in breadlines. In capitalism bakeries have shelves of bread waiting for people to buy them.
Turkey is another situation I don’t know much about, but the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan (who seems to be a wannabe dictator) just shut down Twitter in his country caught my eye. Turkey has had many issues lately, and some may remember that there were massive anti-government protests there this past summer. People are upset about rampant corruption and lack of freedoms, especially freedom of the press and speech (Turkey jails a lot journalists), and they use Twitter to organize protests. Erdogan knows this and figures that shutting down Twitter will weaken anti-government forces without creating enough backlash to threaten his power.
So how do these things tie into Madison’s quote?
Neither Venezuela nor Turkey are quintessential, old school dictatorships. Venezuela’s current socialist government rose to power though elections that the US State department deemed legitimate, and Turkey has been a candidate for European Union membership for years and is technically a secular democracy (despite Erdogan’s best efforts to change that). In other words, both countries are relatively “good guys” compared to North Korea and Russia. Yet today they find themselves in fights against an approaching tyranny. This is because Madison was right. A country does not just go to bed a liberal (i.e. free) democracy and wake up the next morning as slaves. Losing your freedom is a gradual process that happens over time (sometimes a long time), bit by bit. One law mandating this, another law banning that, and soon these things add up. America has the benefit of the fact that this encroachment on liberty is often times done without evil motives, but it still happens. For instance, I believe that the contraception mandate is an abridgment of religious liberty and could set precedents for future abridgments of liberty. But I do not think Obama WANTS to hurt religious liberty, he just sees his mandate as not that big of a deal. There is danger in this sort of “unintentional tyranny”, but it can easily be beaten in my mind because at the end of the day the people who are imposing don’t really have any ill intent against liberty (most of the time at least).
In contrast, people like Erdogan seem to WANT to destroy freedom in order to consolidate more power for himself. This is very dangerous, yet all too common reality of our world. It is the situations like those in Venezuela and Turkey that make me not only proud, but also thankful to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.