By Johannes P.
I am not a particular fan of Bill Clinton’s politics, and find his legacy as a President to be mixed at best. But I am willing to give the former president credit when he is right, as when he famously said, “The era of big government is over.” I immediately thought of those words when I heard the news about the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo . . .
When Clinton made that pronouncement, he meant solely that the American welfare state, as it was then constituted, couldn’t meet the goals of promoting economic prosperity for the many, and at the same time providing an effective safety net for everyone who doesn’t participate, at a level of taxation that the American people find politically acceptable. While that statement may have been a tad premature (government has since grown to an extent Clinton would have thought unthinkable 20 years ago), the 21st century has shown that in another aspect, era of big government may be well and truly over – that of personal security.
Big government as represented by a large standing army, a blue-water navy with aircraft carriers, hundreds of air- and sea-launched nuclear weapons, and an annual budget of over 50 billion euros, did not protect the victims at Charlie Hebdo. Big government as represented by strict and complicated gun control laws designed to weed out anyone considered ‘undesirable’ by the state did not protect the victims at Charlie Hebdo. Big government as represented by a national police force with over 100,000 members who were tasked with specifically protecting editor Stephane Charbonnier and his staff from death threats did not protect the victims at Charle Hebdo. The big government idea that puts its faith in technology for security did not protect the victims at Charlie Hebdo.
The solutions of big government (or big-anything) are effective only to the extent that the problem facing it is big. France (yes, even France) could prevail against many nation-states in the world. The enemy in this case, however, was a small group of people who may have been French nationals (they reportedly “spoke fluent French”) armed with weapons that most of us could purchase with a few months’ pay.
Further, this kind of attack was one with serious emotional consequences. This wasn’t some criminal gang seeking to score some cash. They were determined religious ideologues who wanted to silence critics in the most violent way possible, to make sure that anyone who thinks about critiquing their pathetic ideas would think twice in the future. To borrow Voltaire’s phrase, they did it not just to silence Charlie Hebdo, but also pour encourager les autres.
The terrorists’ message is: big government and big technology cannot stop us. All we need is a few dedicated followers and we will get you. The whole point of the attack was not to change French government policy, it was to change the behavior of people in France and around the world just like you and me.
Once we get past the initial wave of outrage, once everyone is done shouting “Je suis Charlie!”, once everyone is done changing their internet avatars to the tricolors and posting angry messages on Twitter, how many will stick around to offer a serious intellectual critique of Islam? How many stand-up comedians will be willing to tell a few jokes about it? How many television cartoons will be willing to openly mock its excesses?
The constitutions of France, the United States, and other countries may enshrine the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, but what good are those documents if people are simply afraid to exercise those rights because they fear physical attack? When faced with an enemy that walks among us, from some scattered individuals who take inspiration from a common ideology, but who work autonomously in small cells embedded in the larger society, big government can’t protect all of us all the time.
The right to speak your mind against violent people like those who perpetrated this atrocity in Paris comes with the price of being ready to defend it. Not just ‘defending it’ by posting a few messages on the internet and changing one’s avatar. Not just ‘defending it’ by joining the service and serving a tour in an expeditionary force in some foreign locale. Instead, the price is to be prepared to execute a plan of personal self defense – in workplaces, on the streets, in schools, at home – with the equipment available. If the enemy invisibly walks among the people, only the people can defend themselves in extremis.
The victims at Charlie Hebdo were disarmed by big government promises that gun control laws equate to safety, by societal expectations that only police and security services can be trusted to carry firearms at the ready, by the hope that technology would provide a ‘magic bullet’ solution. Thankfully, in (most of) America, we do not have those kinds of limitations.
So don’t hesitate. Start today. Get the equipment, training, and (most important of all) mindset to protect yourself and your loved ones. Your rights and your lives may depend on it.