A Philosopher's Blog

Is the NSA a Fascist Tyranny?

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 20, 2013
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, G...

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As anyone who follows the news knows, the NSA has been engaged in a massive spying program that seems to involve activities that are both immoral and illegal. However, it is interesting to consider whether or not the NSA is more than just a violator of the law and ethics. As such, I will endeavor to address the question of whether or not the NSA is a fascist tyranny.

While the term “fascism” gets thrown around loosely by both the left and the right in America, it seems best to defer to one of the experts on fascism, specifically Benito Mussolini. Mussolini claims that “fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation…” The NSA nicely fits into this model—it has operated without the approval or even the knowledge of the majority of the citizens of the United States.

It can be objected that the approval of certain elected officials and secret courts suffices to preserve the core democratic values of majority rule and consultation of the governed.  After all, there are many activities that are handled by representatives without the citizens directly voting.

This reply does have some merit: the United States is primarily a representative democracy and the will of the citizens is, in theory, enacted by elected officials. However, the NSA certainly seems to be operating largely outside of the domain of public decision and informed agreement. The extent of its intrusion into the lives of the citizens and the scope of its power certainly seems to demand that the NSA be subject to the open channels of democracy rather than allowing decisions to be made and implemented in the shadows.

One key aspect of fascism, at least according to Mussolini is that the “Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone….”

The NSA seems to, sadly enough, fit this concept of fascism. The NSA is literally organizing the nation and it is clearly denying citizens key liberties by its intrusions. Fittingly enough, these grotesque violations are defended in terms that Mussolini would appreciate: no important liberties are being infringed on…but it they were, it would be to protect the state from harm.

Rather importantly, the way the NSA has been operating shows that the deciding power has been the State (that is, secret courts and officials in the shadows of secrecy) and not the citizens.

Thus, it would seem that the NSA is fascist in nature. This is hardly a surprise given that this sort of police state surveillance system is a hallmark and stereotype of the oppressive fascist state. What remains to be seen is whether or not the NSA is tyrannical in nature.

As with “fascism”, people on the left and right throw around the term “tyranny” without much respect for the actual meaning of the term. To ensure that I am using it properly, I will go back to John Locke and make use of his account of tyranny. Given his influence in political philosophy and the American political system, he seems like a reasonable go-to person for this matter.

Locke defines “tyranny” as follows:

Tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to.  And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage.  When the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.

While the extent of the wrongdoing by the people at the NSA might never be known, it is clear that the power handed to them has generally not been used not for the good of the people. Those in charge have made their will and not the law their rule—despite being basically let off the legal leash by compliant courts and public officials, the NSA still engaged in illegal activity and thus acted tyrannically.

Some folks at the NSA even abused their power on the basis of “irregular passion.” One rather pathetic example is that some NSA personnel used the resources of their employer to spy on those they were romantically involved with or interested in.

As such, it would seem evident that the NSA is tyrannical—or at least a tool of tyranny. What remains is to consider the proper response to tyranny. Locke, not surprisingly, had a clear answer:

Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another.

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34 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 8:58 am

    “it is clear that the power handed to them has generally not been used not for the good of the people.”

    I disagree with this statement. The NSA has to be reeled back in, but I cannot say that it has not been used mostly for good. After all I believe more terrorists are dead or in jail as a result of the NSA than are innocent people.

    TJ posted a very adequate argument against NSA activities, that concerning general warrants. In college, I was made to learn the 4th Amendment by heart. As a police officer I was bound by it. A general warrant seems to offer “fruits of the poisoned tree”, that is, evidence collected via the illegal intrusion of “homes and papers”. As a police officer, if I illegally enter a person’s home, and find evidence that the owner is collecting the skulls of people he murdered, that evidence is inadmissible.

    I do hope these general warrants are done away with.

    Let’s also consider the fact that Obama is in charge, and he’s responsible for the actions of major national agencies. He should be impeached.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I frankly think the huge buildup in Homeland security since 9/11 has largely been a waste. The TSA, for example, cannot point to even one terrorist incident that it has stopped. And most of the terrorist cases we read about–if you read closely–seem to be orchestrated by the government, in that government agents seem to be talking people into a terrorist act, and then arresting them when they go along with it.

    • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

      Homeland Security should be done away with. Still, people should be well screened before they get on airplanes. The reduction in attacks on planes is undeniable.

      • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:35 am

        Luggage, yes. People, no.

        • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:37 am

          My wife had her knitting needles confiscated not long ago. How is this not ridiculous?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      You are starting to sound like me. Perhaps a trip to the doctor is in order? :)

  3. T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:16 am

    The best defense against terrorism is a self-reliant public. If people had been taught to resist hijackers instead of going along with them, 9/11 would have been avoided. Likewise, if people were taught to resist school shooters instead of cowering in a corner and waiting to be shot, many fewer casualties would result.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:18 am

    As citizens of a free society, we have the right to know what information the government is routinely collecting on us. The NSA has been caught lying several times now. I no longer believe anything they say, and can only assume the worst.

    • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:24 am

      TJ, Do you think the Soviet Union would have beat the Germans in WWII if it were a democracy?

      • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:28 am

        Sure, why not? Democracies have shown themselves capable of waging war.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 20, 2013 at 2:07 pm

        Sure. We did just fine in WWII.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      They did eliminate their credibility.

  5. magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Let’s consider that Western Civilization was preserved by Fascists: The Spartans. Just throwing a wrench in the gears. Per usual.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Have you read “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War” by VDH?

      The Athenians nearly won that war. A good example of how democracies can deal with even extreme situations.

      • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:03 am

        I haven’t read that, but I read Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War. They didn’t win. It was the Spartans at Thermopylae. Of course, the Athenians won at Marathon.

        Let’s also consider that Athens had rules that got Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” labeled as a fascist book. An Athenian could not vote unless they served in the military.

        The Romans suspended democracy and appoint one man to defend the city,. This was not considered an honor, but a burden and a duty.

        The Germans suffered far more casualties on the eastern front than in the West. They let the Brits off easy at Dunkirk, crushed the French. Only the Americans gave them a tough time in the West, a country many Europeans consider fascist.

        You yourself have stated that you had no problem with the US government seizing property in times of war. This is fascist. It’s also the right thing to do. “fascist” is not always bad in my mind. Almost all states through history required their citizens to put more into the system than is required of Americans and Europeans. But the sense of civic duty, an irreplaceable ethos, is largely absent now. This is largely due to the modern definition of democracy, which is to say, ” I have to sacrifice nothing to get the benefits of the State, but I can complain about the State failing me”.

        Mike does a good job here, because he separates fascism from tyranny. The difference between the fascist states of Rome and say WWII Germany or Italy, is the rule of law. Mussolini and Hitler could do anything they wanted. Even Roman emperors could not.

        Ive thought a lot about this in the past, and concluded I have some fascist beliefs. But I’m not a totalitarian. Just like Heinlein.

    • WTP said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:04 am

      While you have a point in the short term, I’m not sure one could say that such would have been the last battle. A retreat to Syracuse or such and an eventual rise of the Roman Empire would likely have followed. Western civilization survives because, relative to other civilizations, it’s values and philosophies work the best. Fascism, like Communism, eventually fails when it runs out of other people to conquer. Much like how Socialism/Communism fails when it runs out of other people’s money. They’re basically not much different. Hence the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact pact. Such societies cannot live-and-let-live, thus they eventually turn on each other, either outwardly such as when the M-R was broken, or inwardly when they run out of viable external boogie men to focus on.

      • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:07 am

        Rome was fascist. Every farmer dropped his tools and picked up a sword in time of war. It was the law. That’s fascist. i believe in this.

        • WTP said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:36 am

          But that was the extreme circumstance of war. It was not SOP. Yes, extreme circumstances require such measures. But that does not make, to my mind, a fascist state. A fascist state is one where all industry and effort are focused on the dominance and servitude of the state as a matter of SOP. Again, I retreat to Webster:

          a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

          The government resorting to extreme measures in the circumstances you describe re WWII, Republican Rome, etc. the supremacy of the individual was still acknowledged. By “individual” in the Roman Republic sense I mean the smallest entity which the Republic recognized, that being land-owners or such. Obviously not all Romans were considered equal. Nor all Americans in WWII era either, at least from a practical standpoint. Yet in the US WWII scenario, more equality and rights were achieved postbellum compared to antebellum. Nor was Roosevelt a dictator at that time. Though some R’s may say he was already close, I would still disagree.

          Just because a cat has kittens in the oven, it don’t make them biscuits.

          • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

            Liberals and conservatives alike rant against a draft. A draft is fascist. A draft in times of war is good. People should defend what they believe is good. Not sit back and lazily talk about war being evil, which in reality means they don’t want to suffer the evils of war, they want someone else to suffer them . Sometimes the blood of patriots is needed. Invading various countries, throwing homosexuals and jews in concentration camps, and the warping of science are not necessary aspects of fascism.

            • WTP said, on December 20, 2013 at 11:31 am

              Sure, if you need men for the war. I know it was close there for a while, either that or political fodder, but is there a man power shortage or a tactical/use of resources problem? If the former, fine do a draft. But I think our real issue in winning any recent war is in not fighting to win and win convincingly. Iraq I was a success, Iraq II not so much due to a failure to overwhelm the enemy. It’s like we learned from Vietnam and then decided to go the other way. I also recall “liberals” calling for the draft under Bush as a tactical measure to undermine the war effort, then when obummer got in they floated the idea again during talk of the A’stan surge.

              As you state, Invading various countries, throwing homosexuals and jews in concentration camps, and the warping of science are not necessary aspects of fascism.. Spain was Fascist under Franco (he’s still dead, right?), but avoided getting into WWII and other aspects of which you speak. But much of that was due to the temperament of Franco. Once someone with enough worms crawling through their scull gets into power, the Fascist state collapses. The benign-ish dictator is a rara avis. Franco, Tito, had their problems as well. I would argue that they stunted the growth of their respective countries after their passing by usurping the individual’s sense of personal responsibility.

              Yes, militaries are fascist-ish, but the success of the American soldier in WII, and I presume other wars as well, has often been attributed to an ability to act on his own perceptions and observations. Granted within the parameters of a chain of command, but American soldiers and junior officers did not sit around waiting for orders from central command. I think this point was even applicable to Sgt. York in WWI…don’t recall exactly.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      The Spartan values were indeed fascist, but their values are not those that are supposed to define the West. For that, we are supposed to turn to Athens and democracy.

  6. magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:13 am

    The US government’s use of industry in WWII was fascist. Good on us.

  7. magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Here’s one Mike, though I hope its political incorrectness will not get you in trouble: Some aspects of fascism are good.

  8. T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I’m happy to stipulate that extreme measures are often needed in time of war. I think we all agree that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

    But–seriously–did we really need to fundamentally change our society in response to 9/11? Isn’t that really the “Pajama Boy” response–to expect the government to provide total safety and security at all times?

    • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:32 am

      “did we really need to fundamentally change our society in response to 9/11?”

      No, we didn’t. Except, remember, that society had fundamentally changed for the worse before 9/11. Because of the Left and their incessant rantings about fascists, and saving the whales, we became a country of wimps and Pajama Boys, spaghetti-armed metrosexuals (SAMs). So those SAMs took aim at the easy targets: Law abiding Americans, whites, men, those who believe in honor, apple pie, Christmas. All easy targets compared to a Taliban jihadist.

      Take solace in the fact that along with most other government agencies, the NSA in incredibly inept.

      My favorite, Mark Steyn:

      http://www.nationalreview.com/article/356034/idiot-big-brother-mark-steyn

  9. magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Ok, so freedom is great. What about people who’s intent is to take away our freedom by using the freedom granted them, like some Muslims in England and Belgium? They use the political and democratic process to take away freedom.

  10. magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I like Carl Poppers “Negative Utilitarianism”. It states that we should strive to minimize suffering, not maximize pleasure. That should be the role of the government.

    • WTP said, on December 20, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Do you realize how close to totalitarianism that statement is? Pleasure or suffering are not the state’s business. The state’s responsibility is to keep the peace and thus allow people to do for themselves. Simultaneously, the individual has a responsibility to take care of himself, his family, and his community. To give something back because he understands that this is good. Otherwise you are legislating morality which is no morality at all. This is what has separated successful societies from their neighbors.

      • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

        We should differentiate between the pain of average life and the pain caused by bad choices. I have soldiers that think something is “wrong” because it hurts to run 5 miles. My response: Yeah, no kidding.

      • magus71 said, on December 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm

        Are liberal policies meant to enable more pleasure or get rid of pain? I say pleasure is the main target of feminist policies, such as the stance on abortion. KJids aren’t that much of a pain, they just hold back the pursuit of pleasure.

  11. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Leviathan says: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

    NSA is part of DoD. Is DoD a tyranny, too? DoD routinely conducts foreign (and domestic) military operations without the consent of the People. DoD has sold (and given away) military hardware to police departments around the USA, which has created a militarized police force (=state) throughout America. Is this a tyranny too?

    The problem isn’t the state per se, the problem is the people who work for the state and the corporations that profit from the militaristic state. Why do these people work for Satan? and not for the People? Power? Money?

  12. Anonymous said, on December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    There’s a dispute as to if Alexander Tyler really said this, but I don’t know why someone would come up with it, and attribute it to someone else. It’s spot on. Democracy is too new to be able to say what its capabilities really are, and America is a very big outlier. Using it as an example of why democracy is a good thing falls short of sufficient samples.

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of
    government. It can exist until the voters discover that
    they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury.
    From that moment on, the majority always votes for the
    candidates promising them the most benefits from the public
    treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses
    over loose fiscal policy….

    The world’s great civilizations have progressed through
    this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from
    spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty;
    from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness;
    from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to
    apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back
    again into bondage.”

    We have to be ready to accept that all forms of government may have a fatal flaw, even if those flaws are not necessary aspects. Looking at history and ourselves, it may be that the candle that burns brightest also burns shortest.

    • Anonymous said, on December 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Magus above

  13. apollonian said, on January 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    NSA Fascism/Tyranny: Merely Latest Measure Of Same Old Fed Criminals

    This was great blog article w. excellent comments. But now let me go a little bit further: so of course NSA is fascist tyranny, hands-down, by any measure–duhhhhhhh. Violation of 4th amendment is blatant, in-ur-face. But here’s the kicker: the excuse is “security,” right? But guess what?–it was CIA and MOSSAD, among others too, who did 9/11, and this is what gets by so often, too easily.

    After all fascism/dictatorship was the object; hence TERROR event was perpetrated by same folks who wanted the dictatorship and overthrow of US Const.–does this take rocket-science? Indeed, it was all pre-announced w. the PNAC documents–see http://killtown.blogspot.com/2006/01/pnac-behind-911.html.

    Be assured it simply isn’t possible for any serious, large-scale Arab/Muslim “terrorism”–it’s all funded, supplied, directed, and run by CIA, MOSSAD, MI6, etc.–magus, u should know better.

    So u see folks, how the criminals at the top have everyone so brilliantly diverted?–lost so pathetically in these abstract discussions. “Is NSA fascist tyranny?”–actually a comedic redundancy. What happened was the fascist tyranny merely worked to consolidate in the continuing “Decline of the West,” by Oswald Spengler.

    Thus the criminals are fascists, and fascists are criminals, and what they did was simple: TERROR which was then further treated w. psy-ops and propaganda to get folks to stand-by for treasonable overthrow of US Constitution. Note this treason continues w. gross violation of 2nd amendment, and executive fiat, etc.

    The irony is this fascist conspiracy is/was sooooooo successful, which could only have happened as the people were still “secure” within a false “prosperity.” The present tyranny will only be threatened more seriously as the economy continues to collapse, US Dollar steadily collapsing as we speak.

    Cui Bono? (who benefits)–the criminals again, including Israel, don’t overlook. So then who are the TOP criminals?–who are of necessity and nature, FASCIST, for such is the very essential nature of criminality. These top criminals then are the powers behind the US Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) COUNTERFEIT scam, this COUNTERFEITING merely “legalized”–and it’s been working brilliantly, so far, for over a hundred yrs(!).

    Note it is said paper & fiat money schemes go bust on average every 27 yrs or so, but this one in USA has been working now for over a 100 yrs. These Fed powers are the people who arranged and staged the Lusitania sinking and resulting prop. for war (in the US), then later manipulated the Pearl Harbor attack, who perpetrated the “Gulf of Tonkin” hoax, who killed JFK and RFK. Did u know it’s now acknowledged matter of law that Martin Luther King was killed by gov. conspiracy?–see http://www.worldpublicunion.org/2013-03-29-NEWS-jury-finds-mlk-was-killed-by-government-conspiracy.html.

    So the real task is opposing the present empire-of-lies built upon that basic money & banking fraud, the Fed., and people will be more receptive to seeing the truth as adversity closes-in upon them as US economy continues its on-going collapse. Basic issue then is the old TRUTH vs. lies, lies always succeeding upon that “good-evil” fallacy/delusion/heresy so attractive to, or at least successful upon children and people terrorized out of their wits and better judgment


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