Your Freedom Is More Fragile Than You Think
I’m writing to you today from what is almost a fascist state.
No, I’m not visiting Cuba, Venezuela or North Korea. Instead I’m writing from the United Kingdom—which has all but embraced fascism.
The government dominates the economy, having placed huge numbers of workers on the government payroll. Public gatherings are banned. We’ve been told that we’re not allowed out of our houses except on specific conditions. The entire country is under house arrest.
Even in Putin’s Russia and socialist Cuba people can visit the park if they want. But not in the UK.
The only thing missing is ultranationalism and the UK would be a textbook example of fascism.
Even supporters of this state of affairs acknowledge how extreme it is. Member of Parliament Steve Baker said in the House of Commons yesterday, “We are implementing at least a dystopian society.”
The events of the last few days have taught me a huge lesson about how fragile our fundamental rights are and how vulnerable we are to tyranny.
I never thought Britain would respond this way. Yes, European countries have imposed draconian lockdowns. But this is Britain; we’re different. Europe’s parliaments have a history measured in decades; ours can be measured in centuries. France’s towering historical political figures are Napoleon Bonaparte and Maximilien Robespierre. Ours are John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith.
The idea that we have sacred ancient liberties is tightly bound to our national identity. We fought wars and executed kings to defend these principles. We sing about how we will “never, never, never” give up these freedoms. We are a nation that values liberty more than life itself. At least, that’s what we told ourselves—until this week.
We are now a nation under house arrest—saved from being a police state only by a shortage of police.
Our common law is meant to make this impossible. We’re the nation of the Magna Carta, habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights.
Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634) is considered one of the foremost warriors to uphold these freedoms—fighting against the Stewart kings as they tried to override these ancient liberties. “The ancient and excellent laws of England are the birthright and the most ancient and best inheritance that the subjects of this realm have,” he said. As part of this birthright, Englishmen inherited common law—which include “common rights,” explained Coke. He believed that no king, Parliament or government could take these rights away.
“The common law will control acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge them utterly void; for when an act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it and adjudge such act to be void,” he said, in a legal ruling that has been echoed down through the centuries and even played a role in the American Revolution.
Coke went on to push for the “Petition of Right,” a constitutional document detailing four of an Englishman’s basic rights, which were violated by King Charles i. Winston Churchill spoke highly of this petition. “We reach here,” wrote Churchill, “amid much confusion, the main foundation of English freedom. The right of the executive government to imprison a man, high or low, for reasons of state was denied; and that denial, made good in painful struggles, constitutes the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land.”
Yet now the government seeks to imprison the entire nation in their homes for reasons of state. On Monday, March 23, the government decided that it has unlimited power, that an Englishman’s “common right” is now null and void.
“From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: You must stay at home,” declared Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 23. Must? There is nothing in common law or precedent that says a British subject needs his government’s permission to leave his own house. There are public footpaths in England older than Parliament. There is no basis in the English constitution for the government claiming this kind of power. I thought I lived in a country where a government’s power was restricted by law.
And it gets worse. The government is pushing an Enabling Act, a new law that gives the government vast new powers.
Spiked Online wrote that this new bill “gives the government and the authorities unprecedented new powers, unheard of in a democracy during peacetime.” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said that it “leaves us with the greatest loss of liberty that we have probably ever had in this country on the back of one piece of legislation in peacetime.”
Authorities have massive powers of arbitrary arrest, an abuse of power we’ve been fighting since before the Magna Carta. Any “potentially” infectious person can be detained. Not a sick person. Not an actually infectious person. I think there is some justification for giving the state the power to enforce a quarantine and to stop sick people going out. But a “potentially infectious person” is such a loose term it could include anyone.
“There is no explanation as to how the authorities will determine whether someone is potentially infected,” wrote Carlo. “For all intents and purposes, it allows for arbitrary and indefinite detention. Any member of the public, including children, could be forcibly detained, isolated, quarantined in an as yet unidentified location.”
Laws on the books already exist that allow the authorities to declare an emergency and use emergency powers. The Civil Contingencies Act, for example, was written for exactly this kind of emergency. It allows the government to ban mass gatherings. It doesn’t need a new law to do that. The Civil Contingencies Act has more restrictions to prevent abuse: Protests and political gatherings, for example, are exempt from its provisions, so that no government can use its powers as an excuse to clamp down on free speech and political protests. The new Enabling Act contains no such protections.
It also weakens safeguards on government surveillance. UK law allows for a shocking amount of surveillance on British citizens. The new law means there’s little, if any, safeguards on how that is used.
“The potential for abuse is extreme,” wrote Carlo. “In countries like China, Iran, Israel and Russia, authorities are already tracking individuals’ phones to make sure that they comply with quarantines. … The extraordinary thing about this is, in the UK, we wouldn’t even know about it if the government was doing this because our surveillance powers are so extreme—they are completely covert and completely secret. If someone working at a telco like O2 or another network were to disclose that they were tracking us, that person could go to prison for a year.”
One of the saddest parts of Britain’s current situation is how little people care about it. Seventy-six percent strongly support the new measures, with 17 percent somewhat supporting them. Only 4 percent stand with British liberty and oppose them.
But look at what we get excited about. Thousands will shut down London to protest climate change. But ending our freedom? They won’t protest that—they applaud it.
The authoritarianism is being rationalized the same way authoritarianism is always rationalized: The ends justify the means. Yes, we’re taking away your freedom, but we’re doing it to save lives!
Never mind that coronavirus has killed substantially fewer people than an ordinary flu. The latest forecast from the doom-mongering Imperial College is that coronavirus is “unlikely” to kill more than 20,000 in the UK and “it could be substantially lower than that.” The common flu kills 17,000 a year. We gave up our freedom for something no worse than the flu.
And even if it were to kill much more, what about our ancestors who believed freedom was worth life itself. We clearly don’t believe that today.
Initially, the government “advised” people to stay home. But grabbing the power to enforce that is very different and very dangerous.
“If we are honest with ourselves, these powers are going to be here to stay. … Crisis follows crisis,” wrote Carlo. “The slippery slope might be an overused term, but it is very, very difficult to reverse the handing over of such extraordinary powers.”
My fear isn’t that we’ll be under house arrest for the rest of our lives. I don’t think the freedoms taken during this crisis will ever fully be restored, but some of them will. But it will be far easier for the government to take our freedom in the future.
We’ve already shown that we don’t really care. That we won’t fight to defend our freedom. Instead, many journalists are openly calling for more authoritarianism, begging the government to be more draconian.
A taboo has been broken, and politicians everywhere will learn the lesson that freedom is easy to take.
Look at how so many in authority have relished using these powers. You see the same thing in United States governors, glorying in their new role with absolute power within their state.
So many in the media and in politics want to get rid of all these legal and constitutional restraints on power. So when coronavirus gave them an opportunity to throw off the restraints, they seized it eagerly.
Already some are calling for the government to grab similar powers in other areas (e.g. to fight climate change).
Before Monday, British freedom was sacred. After Monday, it wasn’t. No matter how much of our freedom the government restores, that will not change.
Before Monday, the police protected liberty. After Monday, they threaten it.
Before Monday, freedom was an Englishman’s birthright. After Monday, it is something the government gives him and could take away.
I didn’t think we would ever willingly hand over our liberty like this. I thought the hundreds of years of tradition had force and weight. That any government would respect law and precedent enough that they would never do something like this. I was wrong, and I realize I’m guilty of making a mistake we warn about in our own literature.
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has repeatedly warned that America is getting away from the rule of law and its Constitution. Too many leaders want to cast aside “the foundational law of the land,” he writes in America Under Attack. They’re telling us, “Look, that is just getting in the way. We don’t need that old law. We know what justice is. You can trust us!”
This is exactly what we saw in Britain on March 23. Mr. Flurry continues, “That reasoning paves the way for tyrants!”
Mr. Flurry warns that too many respond to warnings of tyranny by saying, “Oh, please! … You know that could never happen!”
“But government tyranny is routine in human history,” he writes. “Let’s not be naive and think something like that could never happen here. Our forefathers weren’t stupid. They wanted to guarantee Americans’ freedom.”
I’ve read that. I’ve agreed with it. But now I realize that I still took freedom for granted. The idea that tyranny could actually happen in Britain wasn’t real to me.
“We have been protected in America for a couple hundred years because we are recipients of the blessings God promised,” writes Mr. Flurry. “We have not experienced the turmoil that many other nations have. … As a result, our people have kind of settled into an unreality about what is really happening around us. They don’t understand how deadly dangerous it is!”
I now realize I had settled into that same kind of “unreality”: that tyranny couldn’t come to Britain because it hasn’t come here for a long time. But there’s nothing inherent in an Englishman’s blood that keeps tyranny away. It’s been absent because of blessings from God. Sometimes God has given those blessings through men who stood up against tyranny. But it all comes from Him.
And those blessings are now being removed.
“This is not God’s world,” writes Mr. Flurry. “There’s a lot of evil in this world. It is full of tigers waiting to tear somebody apart. It has always been that way. As Winston Churchill said, the history of man is the history of war. Yet somehow we can’t come to grips with that today.
“Are you willing to face reality? Most people are not. A haze of deception enshrouds our world. It’s absolutely stunning how easily the people in this land today are duped.”
I have to admit that I wasn’t facing reality. Again, I agreed with all of this intellectually. But there was still part of me that thought, It couldn’t happen here. Now my most basic freedoms have been stripped away. The same thing is happening in many U.S. states. Tyranny is a very real threat.
“Liberals in academia, the media and in government don’t believe governing officials should be restricted by the limitations imposed by the Constitution,” wrote Mr. Flurry in his article “Saving America From the Radical Left—Temporarily.” “America’s founders imposed those restrictions to prevent tyranny! … The protections afforded by the Constitution have allowed God to bless this nation tremendously. They prevent a dictator from seizing control of the nation’s unmatched resources.”
Britain’s government threw off all restrictions against tyranny this week. Several states in America are going the same way. In Europe, leaders are setting themselves up as strongmen and putting the armies on the streets. In Hungary, the government is pushing through an emergency law that gives the government dictatorial powers for an unlimited amount of time. Left-wing academic Gaspar Miklos Tamas accused the government of “using the epidemic as a pretext to introduce an open, structural dictatorship.”
Freedom is fragile. And it is under attack.
Perhaps, like me, the idea of freedom being taken away wasn’t real to you. But this is a real threat, and one you need to understand.
Our free booklet America Under Attack exposes the fight for your freedom. It was written while Barack Obama was America’s president, and it focuses on America. But the reality it talks about is still true today, and it’s true in Britain and just about anywhere else.
There is a war against freedom, and it’s one you must understand. There is not much time left. That freedom can be taken more quickly than you realize.
Understanding this war won’t just help you understand what’s going on in the world, it will also give you a true source of hope.
It’s easy to get distressed, frustrated and angry about this attack on freedom. I’ve certainly experienced my share of all those emotions this week. But understanding the reality behind this attack also contains a sure hope—individually and for our nations. So if you want to remain sane while the world around you goes crazy, please read America Under Attack. It’s the only thing stopping me from going mad.