Mary Theroux, of the Independent Institute, offers a creative and thought-provoking solution to America’s intrusive and liberty-destroying security network.
Back in 1971, when I was ten, our whole family was glued to the TV every Sunday night, watching Masterpiece Theatre’s Six Wives of Henry VIII. It was that series that sparked my passion for British history. I suspect that, if I were to see the series today, I would find it rather primitive compared to the historic TV spectacles we’re used to today, which rely to good effect on CGI and amazingly large budgets. Back then, though, I thought the six-part series was the most lush and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Sitting here now, though, and looking back over the decades, only one thing about that show stands out in my memory. In the episode about either Anne Boleyn or Kathryn Howard, both of whom Henry had executed based upon the claim that they cheated on him (Anne probably didn’t; Kathryn definitely did), we saw spies at work. Anne or Kathryn would be in her private chamber, pouring her heart out to a confidant (or, in Kathryn’s case, perhaps locked in a treasonous embrace), and the camera would then reveal that there was a peephole behind the ornate paneling in her room through which Henry’s agents peered. Considering that this spying led to each woman’s death, I found it a surprisingly oppressive image, which is probably why it’s lingered in my memory for so long.
I mention this memory for two reasons. The first is that even a child (which I was) understands how dangerous it is when a government that has over you the power of life, imprisonment, and death, covertly watches you. The second is as a reminder that spying is as old as government. Some of the earliest correspondence from the ancient world concerns monarchs and their spies. Elizabeth I’s famous adviser Robert Cecil was also her spymaster. Cardinal Richelieu had spies throughout France to weed out dangerous Protestants. George Washington had such a good spy network that it likely was a pivotal part of his ability to fight the British to a standstill.
Governments and spying go together like brass knuckles and thugs’ fistfights. It’s not a pretty combination, but it’s pretty much an inevitable one.
Outside of America’s Civil War, during which each side spied on the other, America first set up its official spying apparatus with the Espionage Act that Wilson signed off on in 1917, when America entered WWI. No surprise there, as Wilson was an early fascist and sought to accrete as much government power as possible to create a “perfect” nation, ruled by experts. White experts, of course, as Wilson was a notorious white supremacist and the president who officially segregated the federal work force.
While the accompanying Sedition Act, passed in 1918, was repealed in the early 1920s, the Espionage Act hung around, and was augmented over the years to deal with new threats and new federal government powers. Of course, the next big change was the Patriot Act, passed follow the attacks on 9/11. And that’s where this post really starts.
I attended a talk today by Mary Theroux, the Senior Vice President at the Independent Institute. The Independent Institute is dedicated to true constitutional liberty and focuses on ways to educate the public about the virtues of extremely limited government.
The Institute shares with the late, great Andrew Breitbart the belief that politics is downstream from culture. Rather than lobbying politicians, the Institute seeks different ways to introduce Americans to the very idea of liberty. One of the best, most clever, approaches is a series of five 5-minute videos called “Love Gov.” They feature a young millennial woman, her friend Libby, and her boyfriend, Gov, who insists that he will protect her but invariably ends up making her life worse. Here’s the first episode: [Read more…]