Like or not, the notion of civil liberties may not survive another generation, even in the countries that benefited socially from the concept. Because human needs remain in constant evolution, new issues constantly arise, providing the conditions or justification for more government interference in the lives of the citizenry. Moreover, the experiment was somehow slated to fail since its success depended on a symbiotic understanding between governments (the eternal oppressor) and citizenries (the insatiable and troublesome beneficiary), which has remained elusive since the advent of modern states. Historians will no doubt consider the experiment as well-intentioned but impractical because of the conflicting raison d’être of the protagonists, i.e. government and citizenry.
In 1776, when Thomas Jefferson wrote that humans are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the quote was commensurate with an era of idealistic thinking during which precepts such as civil liberties and human rights meant to protect the individual from the excesses of a constituent state were paramount. Appropriately the concept developed into an essential feature of representative government and a testament to humanity’s fervent hope of attaining the commendable goal of a symbiosis between governments and subjects. However, its emphasis on government’s responsibilities rather than those of the individual creates the perception of the former as the incorrigible villain and the latter the perpetual victim, the premise upon which lays the misunderstanding.
Naturally, the adversarial stance or rather deep-seated mistrust between the two precludes the materialization of the dream of a peaceful and orderly society despite two centuries of incremental progress toward achieving it. Are humans running out of time or do they need to lower their expectations on ever seeing a society bereft of divisive social issues that require arbitration by the government which effectively increases its power to the detriment of the individual? Most importantly, is government really the culprit or are humans responsible for the stalemate?
Human psychology and all that it implies, a determining factor in the whole process, was somehow overlooked or not taken into account in the experiment. As a result, the individual feels immune of responsibilities and sometimes blames the government for his or her mistakes. For example an individual, wanting to double in 90 days an asset he or she had taken years to accumulate, must have known that it was a gamble, therefore unequivocally and exclusively responsible for any adverse outcome. However the Ponzi-schemes of Bernie Madoff and others and the subprime mortgage debacle that dragged the U.S economy to the gutter inferred that the government is ultimately responsible for bad financial decisions made by these individuals. In an ideal world, the government should not only prosecute the perpetrators for their criminal deeds but also the victims for their stupidity, because the common denominator in both instances is greed. If the average yearly return on an investment is 7%, any investor expecting more is clearly guided by greed, hence ultimately responsible for the outcome and undeserved of state compassion and protection.
Being a product of his era, Thomas Jefferson apparently did not consider the government’s awesome responsibilities toward the citizenry and the ever-changing challenges that propel it to operate out of its constitutional framework. This unintended consequence with placing the burden of political correctness on the government’s shoulders inevitably negates the feasibility of a modicum of understanding between these two pillars of a constituent republic: the people and the rulers. Granted the government has become self-serving as opposed to being the guardian of the people interests, many of its controversial actions, particularly those straddling constitutional boundaries, remain indispensable to the functioning of society nevertheless. Many government actions attest that even mass protests and civil disobedience are not enough to dissuade anti-constitutional predispositions of those in charge, hence reevaluating the Jeffersonian idea has become a necessity. It may not need to involve capitulation before arbitrariness, but a sensible and rational approach to what is in the best interests of everyone.
As we are entering a delicate period in human history where dwindling resources, overpopulation and a host of other issues are constantly testing the limits of civility and tolerance, can a government combat terrorism without curtailing on civil liberties? Can a government, constitutionally vested with the supreme authority to arbitrate, address social inequalities without alienating another group? Is a smaller government really possible, considering its ever-expanding role in the lives of the citizenry brought forth by new issues that were unthinkable a generation ago? These are questions that committed libertarians would have trouble answering without demonizing the government and its purposes.
Although the concept of participatory government is noble and should never be discarded in favor of dictatorship or totalitarianism, it could not withstand the challenges facing our world. In the U.S and Europe, the balance is tipping toward more government interventions and many recently enacted social policies are the antithesis of the concept of individual and civil liberties. How will the courts and judges interpret these changes in an ever changing environment dictated by new waves of social issues (terrorism) that challenge the notion of civil liberties? A consensus is needed to untangle these complicated social/civic/civil/conflicts and the current system cannot be counted on to provide the answer. We are in a race against time and civil liberties, humanity’s most cherished accomplishment in the last two centuries, is slated to be the first victim.