Untimely Observations

Obama's Enabling Act?

As if it were some kind of brazen insult to the Founding Fathers, on the 220th anniversary of the codification of the Bill of Rights, President Obama signed into law an act that, according to most civil libertarians and Constitution-thumpers, negates those hallowed guarantees of individual liberty.

Writes one LewRockwell.com columnist:

The National Defense Authorization Act will make it official. It will confer upon the executive branch and the military (increasingly, the same things) the permanent authority to snatch and grab any person, U.S. citizens included, whom it decrees to be a “terrorist” – as defined or not by the executive or the military - and imprison them, indefinitely, without formal charge, presentation of evidence or judicial proceeding of any kind. These “detainees” will have neither civilian rights in the civil court system, nor – crucially – even the minimal rights to due process and decent treatment conferred upon prisoners of war. 

The writer claims that the U.S. has “crossed the Rubicon,” that is, become something akin to the “20th century horror shows,” Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.

But has anything really changed? I don’t mean in terms of day-to-day operations of the government but fundamentally.

Most Americans are actually quite familiar and comfortable with Raison d’État (or what Alex Jones might call “black ops”), which has been around since time immemorial. Espionage, international intrigue, and state assassinations have, indeed, always captured the public’s imagination—from James Bond to GI Joe to Obama’s murder of Osama bin Laden. People of all levels of sophistication feel in their guts that the government should do things—bad things . . . illegal things . . . secret things . . . dangerous things—to “keep us safe.” 

Put in more scientific language, Raison d’État trumps legal and constitutional considerations. Only systematic libertarians and anarchists are much troubled by this fact. There are, of course, limits to what the public will tolerate in terms of the use of force, and actions must be justified in some way. But the key is that the state—and the state alone—is allowed to do such deeds.

The German jurist Carl Schmitt placed these “exceptional” moments at the very basis of his political theory. The first line of his “Definition of Sovereignty” reads, oracularly, “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” In other words, the state determines when it can break its own rules. (The AltRight staff, for instance, would be arrested if we decided to install a “black ops” division to deal with our critics and competitors.)

Schmitt’s view is that the core of leftist political thinking—which includes the political thinking of most people who today call themselves “conservative”—is the image of a social order in which there is no exception—that is, a perfectly functioning legality or economic-distribution mechanism. The Left is anti-political, in the most basic sense of the word; it dreams of the state withering away.

But in Schmitt’s view, there is no escape from the political—someone or something must be sovereign. It is an eternal, anthropological fact of life.

With this in mind, let’s return to today’s Authorization act.

A key component of the act is that the power to detain citizens is vested in the executive branch (which will certainly frighten Obama-phobic conservatives.) Of greater importance is the fact that the state has decided to make its Raison d’État powers explicit and legal (yes, it’s all “un-Constitutional,” but then most everything the government does is un-Constitutional.)

But does anyone really believe that the government—and the executive branch in particular—has not been engaged in extra-judicial, violent actions within its borders before Obama signed this recent act?

So, why does the government need this act at all? Why does it want to put its authority in writing and grant it an aura of legality?

One answer amounts to Alex Jones’s worst nightmare—that Obama doesn’t have in mind isolated actions that stay out of the papers (“black ops”) but wholesale round-ups of thought-criminals, to be put in FEMA camps or re-education centers. The government would need authority like this to pursue such large-scale attacks on its enemies.

This might be the case...whereupon everyone reading this website should consider fleeing to Canada . . . but I seriously doubt it.

My view is that today’s law actually expresses the state’s weakness—its unwillingness to act forcefully on its own behalf—its rosey-cheeks—its inability to define its enemy—its wishful thinking that Raison d’État can be “legal” and “democratic”, etc.

If the state is preparing itself to act violently against its enemies, why would it want to let them know its coming?