The Shift towards an Authoritarian Future: Why the West Slowly Abandons its Civil Liberties
By Werner de Gruijter
January 02, 2014
Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who construct an image of toughness – tough on crime, on terrorism, on humanistic-inspired idealism etc. – are tapping into a sensitive spot that blocks critical thought among the public. Obama’s brute and harsh reaction on Edward Snowden’s revelations is just another example. Somehow it seems like “We, the people…” lost track of ourselves. Four main reasons why we abandon our once hard fought civil rights.
Many countries in the West, like Britain, France, Spain the US and the Netherlands have experienced in recent years an exponential increase in technological surveillance and a resolute decline in parliamentary and judicial control over state police and secret service.
Issues like the ban on torture, the possibility of detention without charge, privacy and freedom of speech were in the public debate reframed in favour of state control. And everybody accepted it. To be fair, there was some opposition – but it lacked intensity. Why is this happening?
To give an example, under former British Prime Minister Tony Blair 45 criminal laws were approved creating 3000 new criminal offences. British writer John Kampfer argues that in the past ten years more criminal offences were made in his country than in a hundred years before. All this was legitimized by the idea that a ‘terroristic’ virus attacked Western civilization. Of course, there is some truth in it – but these risks were grossly exaggerated. Still, we fearfully went along with the proposed measures.
This cultural shift towards perhaps a more authoritarian future for the West is no coincidence of nature. It is manmade. If the opportunity is there, top down induced shifts happen only if politicians, corporations, media pundits and other cultural icons are able to find the right symbols and techniques to get a new message across.
But first, besides these techniques, famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow is probably aware that there is also something else which stimulates our apathy in this respect. He signified the importance of leisure time for our own personal well being as well as for the well being of the community as a whole – it creates so to speak the possibility to make well informed decisions. Currently our leisure time is under assault. Thirty years of income stagnation in the midst of rising prices – people have to struggle to earn a living – meant that for most of us there is less time for critical thought.