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In January of this year, five terrorist attacks over a three day period struck the Paris Region, beginning with the notorious Charlie Hebdo shootings. The public response was an outpouring of support for the satirical newspaper, as ‘Je suis Charlie’ took over social media. Solidarity with the victims and a refusal to be cowed by violence naturally found their voice in the old French virtues: Freedom of the press was asserted just as loudly as defiance of enemies, in media, print, and massive street demonstrations. The voice of Paris is not so easily silenced; better villains than you have tried.

And then there’s now. In January, a score of victims; in November, 130. A state of national emergency, with with liberties explicitly suspended and the government granting itself authority to take and seize and corral and search without restraint or explanation…a government whose very legitimacy rests on the expectation that it will not do these things. When a Western democracy declares that it is within its rights to take from its citizens their accustomed Liberties, do you not see what it is doing? The citizens have accepted, and defended, their government’s existence, on the basis of a belief that it is the defender of their Liberties; it is this belief alone that separates rule by their elected officials from mere naked power. The people accept Hobbes’ bargain on faith, faith that Leviathan will protect their Liberties; and they awake in the morning to find Leviathan has declared their Liberties void.

The insincerity of the state’s claimed concern with the rights and Liberties of the public is exposed by its assumed authority to shut off these very rights at its whim, when there’s some serious governing to be done, and some doors to be kicked in. When things are calm, the rights of the citizens scarcely interfere with the business of the state, and a great show of respect for the sacred, ancient Liberties is in order. But the moment a real villain appears, and our ruler and defender is called upon to perform his function and safeguard our Liberties…well, it is no secret then what those Liberties are really worth in his eyes.

But it is not only the insincerity of the state that is exposed in such a crisis: That the president can declare freedom of speech, press, association, the sacredness of home and threshold, freedom to assemble, and the duties of fair trial to be mere trash and irrelevance “in the present emergency,” exposes him as something else than a defender of rights. It makes a mockery of the distinction between “legitimate” rulers and warlords, when legitimate rulers must assume warlord powers to execute their mission, of course. But more than this is exposed as a farce, when the citizens do not cry out in shock to see their rulers drop their mask; the pretense was two-sided. The root of the legitimacy, the faith, that regards a modern state as fundamentally better and nobler thing than mere rule by power, is the belief in the lawfulness, that is, the restraint, that is supposed to be exercised by that state. We had believed that the democratic states would not begin jailing, bombarding, or seizing indiscriminately, and that they were committed to a defense of the conventional Liberties to which we had become accustomed, and for this reason, we called them “lawful.” How then if they assault our accustomed Liberties, and we do not cry out? On the calm day, the state pretended to be a principled defender of our rights, and we, we pretended, that that is what we wanted. On the day of crisis, the state, by its actions, reveals itself to be nothing of the kind, but instead an organ of power and violence, willing to sacrifice our Liberties to save our skins; and we accepted. It revealed what it really is; but we have revealed what we really want.

The story of legitimate, of “good” government, is a comfortable fiction for comfortable times; on a normal day, we don’t want to be troubled by the knowledge that our rights are nothing but a rag in the eyes of the  powerful, and that we live in permanent, servile submission to a class of wealthy men who command standing armies and central banks. It is better to pretend that my government is noble in principle than to admit that it is what it shows itself to be when it really gets to work: An instrument for cruelty and vengeance. And it is easier to pretend I want a noble defender of my Liberties, than to admit that what I really want is an agency to make an example of somebody, to repay evil for evil, to murder civilians in a foreign land as an answer to the murder of my neighbors. And it will be important to forget this incident once it is past, and not dwell on the fact that the transformation from modern democracy to avenging warlord was so easy and so welcome.

January’s murders were on a smaller scale than November’s, that is true. January’s answer was a defiant commitment to freedom of speech and assembly, of brave contempt for intimidation and violence and those who would use them to stamp out the flower of Western freedom. How heartbreaking to see today’s answer, as every Liberty so boldly asserted to be sacred and indestructible by force is openly sacrificed by the French government, with the complicity of its people. It is a citizenry accepting a transparent lie, because it is the easy thing, just as it was in my homeland. But not a year ago it was shouted in the streets that the lie was contemptible; that violence would never overcome freedom, that Liberté would not be so cheaply sold. Where now is that French courage that so inspired? Where is Charlie?