John Gorentz (johngorentz) wrote in democracyreader,
John Gorentz

Edmund Burke on the Patriot Act

It may have been as long ago as my high school days (in the mid 1960s) that I last spent any quality time with Edmund Burke's writings. Tonight I continued where I had left off back then, so to speak. I was reading the excerpt from his "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol" and thought it was very relevant to some of issues with the Patriot Acts and the way the Bush administration is dealing with terrorism.

While googling to see if this letter is on-line anywhere (I haven't found it) I learned that I am not the first person to see the relevance.

Anyhow, below are some snippets, along with my comments.

He explains here the proposal he is arguing against:

...The main operative regulation of the act is to suspend the Common Law and the statue Habeas Corpus (the sole securities either for liberty or justice) with regard to all those who have been out of the realm, or on the high seas, within a given time. The rest of the people, as I understand, are to continue as they stood before.

It sounds as though it was feared that some people who had been out of the country might have gotten contaminated with ideas from the American Revolution, etc., or might have gotten involved with it.

I confess, Gentlemen, that this appears to me as bad in the principle, and far worse in the consequence, than an universal suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act...

OK, that got my attention. But shortly I saw what he meant. In a way it's similar to some of my reasons as to why we should not have such things as tax exemptions for churches and property tax abatements for businesses. The people whose taxes are exempt basically go AWOL in the debates over tax rates for everyone else. His thinking is also similar to that famous Niemoller quote, "They came for the Communists, and I didn't object..."

...Partial freedom seems to me a most invidious mode of slavery...People without much difficulty admit the entrance of that injustice of which they are not to be the immediate victims. In times of high proceeding it is never the faction of the predominant power that is in danger; for no tyranny chastises its own instruments. It is the obnoxious and the suspected who want the protection of law; and there is nothing to bridle of the partial violence of state factions but this -- "that, whenever an act is made for a cessation of law and justice, the whole people should be universally subjected to the same suspension of their franchises." The alarm of such a proceeding would then be universal. It would operate as a sort of call of the nation. It would become every man's immediate and instant concern to be made very sensible of the absolute necessity of this total eclipse of liberty. They would need carefully advert to every renewal, and more powerfully resist it...But the true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts....Other laws may injure the community; this dissolves it.

Well, it's getting late and I need to stop already. But I'm thinking about how Bush-Ashcroft-Gonzalez think that it's OK to hold terrorist suspects without arraignment, trial, or bail, and without making known any information about their being held. What is extremely disheartening to me is how so many conservatives have abandoned the Burkean principles and gone along with this.
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