Two-hundred 20 decades ago these days, Va became the 11th condition to ratify the Expenses of Privileges to the Structure. Those changes were was adamant on by the anti-Federalists as their cost for assisting the Structure. They scary that without a make sure of rights, a powerful administration might devolve into tyranny.
The Expenses of Privileges symbolizes something incredible and new in the historical past of authorities. Democracy was nothing new. The Greeks had it almost 3,000 decades ago, but Athenian democracy in Athens' wonderful age was often as tyrannical as monarchies. In Portugal, in The capital, and in Carthage, democracy was often intense and consistently damaged, providing the way either for fall or for business.
What happened 220 years ago for the first time in the world was that basic rights were enshrined as a foundation of government. It wasn't perfect - those rights didn't extend to black slaves, Indians and women - but it was a start, and it was an idea that has exploded, fizzled, and exploded again across the nations of the world.
On this anniversary of ratification we're faced with two bits of news, one good, one bad, that emphasize both the power and the fragility of that idea. The good news comes from Phoenix, where a Justice Department report has blasted Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio's zealous embrace of the law has led his office to disregard civil rights. States and local governments don't have the option to put law and order above the Constitution, and the news from Phoenix is good because it shows that many people still care about that.
The bad news comes from Washington. It turns out that if Joe Arpaio can't put law and order above the Constitution, Congress believes that the U.S. government can.
After making some small changes in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Senate and the House are prepared to pass it and send it to the president, who has indicated that he might sign it. One of the provisions of the act allows the military to arrest and detain, indefinitely and without hearing, American citizens on American soil.
That's extraordinary on several counts. The Act makes the entire world, including the United States, part of a war zone. The war is the "war on terror," an undeclared war that has no well-defined lines or combatants. Anyone can be a combatant, in any place and until the war is over. But this is a war that has no logical end. It will continue as long as our leaders find it expedient to make it continue.
The military has been forbidden from operating against Americans on American soil. But that's in time of peace, and this is a time of war. As you read this article wherever you are - in North Dakota, in Louisiana, in Canada, in Yemen or in Tahiti, you're sitting on a battlefield of that war. And if it isn't convenient to arrest you for your participation (real or suspected) in that war, the president has the right to order you blown to smithereens.
And so our rights are much more fragile than we like to believe. The Bill of Rights guarantees you (if you're in America) the right to a trial, the right to peaceable assembly, the right to worship as you please, the right to be secure in your person and in your home. It protects you from Joe Arpaio if you're Hispanic in Maricopa County, or if you're one of Joe's political enemies. But it doesn't protect you from a fearful people who value security above liberty, and a judiciary that always defers to the executive on matters of national security.
Security is important. It's been said that the Constitution is not a suicide pact and that we shouldn't be overly fastidious about its provisions when the nation is in imminent danger. But against terror, the nation will always be in imminent danger. The Bill of Rights is about liberty, not security, and liberty is inherently risky. Only a free people can be secure in a dangerous world. If we're afraid of the risks of liberty, we don't deserve its blessings.
We should take some time to ask what it was the Founding Fathers and the framers of the Constitution fought for. What kind of nation did they want to build? Is that the kind of nation we still want today? We have a choice - an Arpaio-NDAA national security state, or the Bill of Rights. If you choose security under the theory that only criminals have anything to fear from ever more tightly circumscribed rights, remember: The tighter that circle gets, the more likely you are to be outside of it.