Friday, March 09, 2007

Question Authority

The bumper sticker "Question Authority" was prominently displayed during my college years at Berkeley. It should have been the title of a mandatory course.

Over and over again we fall into the same trap, apparently never learning the historical lesson. Without checks and balances, even good intentioned people (in fact, especially good intentioned people!) can and will eventually abuse power.

The most recent example - the FBI abuse of "administrative subpoena" power granted under the Patriot Act. Did the agents think they were fighting terrorism and crime? I'm sure most of them did. Did they get overzealous at times? Sure - it was a good cause, right? Would independent judicial review of these subpoenas have helped? Almost certainly.

Unchecked power is always wrong. Always. Not because it's being wielded by a bad person - often it isn't. Not because the power wouldn't get the job done faster - it almost certainly would. Not because the goal is wrong - often the goal is agreed to be "just."

But because of human nature, it will inevitably end up going bad.

Authority should always be questioned. If the goal is just, the process is checked and balanced, and those wielding the power are lawful, then the authorities should never have a problem answering the questions.

It's only when something is questionable do authorities get on their high horse and try to avoid scrutiny.
Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience and rebellion that progress has been made.
- Oscar Wilde

[Side note: Attorney General Gonzales needs more regular questioning. It's amazing what slime starts showing up once the light is turned on (like ideological sniff tests for our defenders of the constitution and rule of law...). I doubt history will judge the integrity of the current White House crew very highly.]

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