Writing for The Cressent, Hougton College professor Peter Meilaender discusses Americans’ response—or lack thereof—to the recent revelations about NSA surveillance. While sacrificing liberty for the sake of protection may be necessary at times, Meilaender warns that we must not let our desire for safety lead to an acceptance of “democratic despotism.”
“[S]ince the beginning of the world,” Luther warned in his essay on “Temporal Authority,” “a wise prince is a mighty rare bird, and an upright prince even rarer. They are generally the biggest fools or the worst scoundrels on earth; therefore, one must constantly expect the worst from them and look for little good….” With our system of separated powers, checks and balances, and federalism, we have taken more precautions against these fools and scoundrels than Hobbes did. But this may lull us, as Tocqueville feared, into a false sense of security. We would do well to remember that political rulers exercise, first and foremost, power. They are—Luther again—“God’s executioners and hangmen.” If these executioners and hangmen want to know the details of our private lives, perhaps we should make them work a little harder for it than the NSA appears to be doing these days.