For a number of years, I have been writing, as have many others in the US and around the world, that democracy in the US has been slipping toward the road of a quasi-police state in the name of security and the war on terror. Given that the Cold War is no longer in existence to be used as a vehicle for sociopolitical conformity, the war on terror is just as good, until a new threat is defined and institutionalized. Not only was there a recent revelation that the US is spying on its own citizens via telephone and electronic media, but FBI Director Robert Mueller revealed that his agency has deployed drones to conduct surveillance on its own citizens. Privacy and civil liberties groups are alarmed, but they are now getting a very small sample of what it means to be on the receiving end of spying technology. At its worst, drone warfare has been used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Africa where it does not only spy in the name of freedom and democracy, but its kills, often innocent people, including children. However, these killings, like the spying on US citizens, is all for the good cause of freedom and democracy that that US wishes to spread to the rest of the world, at gunpoint if necessary. One of the famous quotes of Mahatma Gandhi about those trying to spread democracy at gunpoint is: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
This is not to suggest that the US is totalitarian, but it uses militaristic and police state methods inside its own nation as well as around the world that are characteristic of totalitarian regimes. Nevertheless, the US is pluralistic in many other respects, from cultural diversity issues to social choice matters. This kind of social and cultural diversity under the cloak of police/militaristic methods justified in the name of security account for a complex situation that confuses people who believe that only a truly democratic regime could allow gay marriage and permit religiously offensive art works to be displayed, let us say. On the other hand, there is a regime of denying due process under certain circumstances, torturing, spying and assassinating by using drones, wholesale phone and internet tapping everyone indiscriminately under the PRISM program, and violating human rights and civil rights, all in the name of democracy!
Clearly, the state under the leadership of Republican and Democrat parties has institutionalized the 'illiberal' and quasi-police state methods. For example, the entire established media is following the example of the state with regard to preserving democracy at any cost, including spying on US citizens and killing innocent children in Muslim countries where terrorism thrives. Apologists argue that while the mainstream media follows the lead of the government, there are other voices from television to internet available to all people, thus proving that US practices pluralism and it is not authoritarian. It is indeed a testament to the strength of the state and the institutional structure that shapes public opinion that the US is able to permit dissenting voices, given that their impact is minimal in society. Mainstream media that has a grip on forming public opinion does not have to worry about a small percentage of people who are consumers of news from non-establishment news outlets on TV, radio and web. The vast majority of the population follows and has faith in the government and mainstream media and institutions that justify the PRISM spying program and assassinations carried out by drones, because it is all for a higher cause, namely, freedom and democracy.
Democracy evolved in ancient Athens during the fifth century B.C. when adult male citizens opted for a system of direct participation in government. In essence, the "radical democracy" of Athens permitted a small percentage of the population to participate because women, slaves and 'metics' (non-Athenian citizens) were excluded from government. Moreover, of the adult male citizens that had the right to participate only those who had the means to leave their work and go to the center of the city-state (near Acropolis) to take part.
Even then, it was difficult to have any influence unless one had the gift of rhetoric and a general education that permitted him to rise and speak with authority to convince the rest. Education was the privilege of the wealthy - middle class merchants and large landowners. Therefore, the democratic system was limited to the very few who came from established families. Finally, it is interesting to point out that ancient Athens had an economy that thrived owing to slave labor as well as metics, a social structure that obviously appears inconsistent with what modern thinkers would consider 'democracy'.
The concept of democracy in the modern Western World evolved from the Enlightenment era and its precursor John Locke. Besides the Industrial Revolution that shaped the social structure, the political revolutions also helped to shape the evolution of the political system of democracy uniquely in each country based on its own culture and traditions as well as global events such as the wars, and after 1945 the Cold War, and more recently the 'war on terror'.
Capitalism in its current phase under globalization and neoliberal policies has altered democracy as it existed during the 1930s, 1960s, or even during the transitional Reagan-Thatcher decades of the 1980s. In the early 21st century, we have a form of authoritarian democracy that finance capital and the political ruling class is practicing in the name of economic growth and development. The ruling political class is no longer in the service of protecting the rights of all citizens in order to protect a democratic society as the constitution dictates, but rather to make certain that capital expansion advances for it is equated with the 'national interest'. Therefore, modern society operates under the definition of national interest that runs counter to the collective interest of society and in favor of financial elites. Authoritarian methods in a democratic society are intended to suppress dissent mostly by indirect methods that include domestic spying and massive propaganda that convinces people there is freedom and equality, although the facts illustrate gross social, economic and political inequality intended to preserve an elitist social structure.
One of the most important propaganda tools of democracy slipping toward authoritarianism is that elections translate into democracy. To carry out elections one needs enormous sums of money, media backing and a party structure network, including the support of key elite players in society, from military to business. In short, electoral politics is subject to institutional conditions, therefore legitimizing electoral results with the political philosophy of democracy that people equate with equality and social justice is misleading. Open and covert manipulation of the electoral process is no secret whether in Russia, or the US, and all of it with the ultimate goal of safeguarding established interests from military to financial.
Should the citizens of the US or any other country operating under the label of democracy be concerned about the future of this regime? The answer is in the reality of eroding social justice issues, everything from rising socioeconomic gaps to government spying on its own citizens and justifying it in the name of freedom and democracy. The infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made a career in the 20th century spying on 'the enemies' of the US, everyone from leftists and mafia bosses to mainstream politicians and government bureaucrats. So why should anyone raise an eyebrow today about the drone program? One reason is that today the program is ll-encompassing , partly because technology permits it, and because communications and web corporations provide all the data the government demands.
It should be a source of concern when Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has thrown people in jail for exercising freedom of expression, calls the US spying and drone operations acceptable. However, it should be even more troubling that the US domestic spying operations, linked to foreign spying operations, had the approval of congressional and judicial elements, and were not simply the work of the White House acting alone. In short, there is a broader consensus that society must remain under a quasi-police-state mode for the sake of freedom and democracy.
Considering that the US is practicing a unique type of democracy that includes quasi-police state methods, what moral authority does it have to lecture other countries around the world when they violate human rights? Was Turkish President Erdogan wrong to accuse the West of hypocrisy when Western governments, media and pundits criticized Turkish police of using brutal tactics to suppress protesters in Istanbul and other cities? How can the US defend its unique brand of democracy when Putin becomes a defender of American-style quasi-police state methods? What example does the US set for the world as a leader claiming to be democratic?
Excerpt from E. J. Snowden. Moscow, 12 July 2013
"The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law."