Who’s Watching Whom?

In this tweet, Barbara Walter seems to propose that we allow the CIA to create a task force that would “try to predict where and when political instability and conflict is likely to break out” domestically, just as they do around the world now. I would like to assume that Professor Walter, a political scientist at UC-San Diego, meant this tweet ironically. But, given the rest of her intellectual profile, I think it wasn’t meant in jest. Instead, it represents a new comfort level that people, especially those on the left, now have with the apparatuses of government. Insofar as the so-called “deep state” did seem to work to help stabilize and, critics would say, undermine the Trump Presidency, the left is alarmingly comfortable with the same apparatus used on a more regular basis in domestic politics. As long as Professor Walter is confident that this CIA task force will be looking for Trumpey types, she isn’t much worried about this power.

First of all, this assumption that the state will always be on your side is foolish. And the hope that you can use the state to predict and root out sources of instability and conflict is dangerous.

Most importantly, the very notion that the state should be in the business of predicting sources of instability and monitoring them is fundamentally anti-constitutional. A constitutional order allows the people to monitor and control their government. It allows the government to punish crime. As such, a constitutional government can predict and attempt to prevent crimes from occurring. But political instability and conflict arise not from crimes, but from politics. A political rally could be a source of political instability and conflict. One hopes that it won’t be, but the very nature of politics makes it always a possibility. In fact, if the government is abusing its power, then these rallies should be a source of instability and conflict.

Predicting that it might cause conflict, should this CIA task force prevent political rallies that might become violent in the same way that the FBI would prevent a crime? To allow this is to reverse the constitutional order. A constitutional government exists to preserve order, but not to control us. Its legitimacy depends on our ability to object to it. As citizens, we can and should keep tabs on the government. Although the government can attempt to control crime, it has no business keeping tabs on our political behavior. Citizens control their government; government doesn’t control its citizens, except insofar as they are acting in a criminal or non-political way. A governmental task force to predict and prevent domestic political instability is about as Orwellian a concept as one can imagine. Not only will it inevitably be abused to attack one’s political enemies, but it also shows a shocking disregard for the proper structure of the relationship between citizens and their government. The fact that so many blithely accepted Professor Walter’s chilling tweet worries me as much if not more than the January 6th insurrection. Both the insurrectionists’ unwillingness to accept a lawful election and this disregard for the proper function of constitutional government point in dangerous directions.

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