Terror, government, and citizens

Terror, government, and citizens
: The Observer tiptoes toward an awareness of the need for government secrecy and preemptive action when terrorism threatens its citizens. Oh, they complain about other translucence of Labour’s behaviour. And they certainly don’t come near to endorsing the Patriot Act. But then again, they’re hardly going to start flying the libertarian flag. For note that once you’re in the foxhole — once we’re all in the foxhole — your worldview changes:

The grounding of British Airways flights to Washington and Riyadh because of undisclosed terrorist threats dramatises the emerging relationship between citizen and state.

Personal freedom, individual autonomy and maximum access to information have long been seen as desirable ends in themselves. But terrorism is revealing that we cannot expect total autonomy of individual action. Nor can we expect total knowledge. Our security depends on trusting governments to exercise their authority to save lives. Flights are cancelled with little or no explanation because the authorities judge that this is safer. We have no option but to trust them.

This is a rude challenge to the presumption of the age that individual judgments are always and everywhere better than those of government and state. Even the most ardent advocate of personal freedom and a minimal state would find it hard to devise a system where individual judgment should supersede that of the government over, say, the grounding of an aircraft on the basis of intercepted emails or telephone calls. Plainly, the balance of risk demands that the state plays its cards close to its chest.

Yes, we don’t want government to be our nanny. But don’t want it to be our Big Brother. But we do want it to be our bodyguard.