When you hear some pundit or historian compare the loss of democratic republican rule currently taking place in the United States with how it happened in ancient Rome, you may be tempted to shrug it off as hyperbole or over dramatization.
When you hear a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and other top government officials use the comparison, it should alarm you tremendously because they are, in essence, firing a warning shot.
In a recent Q & A with students of the University of New Hampshire, former Justice David Souter made the comparison above, along with several other observations that he says all add up to a potential loss of democratic government – and freedom – for Americans at some point in the future.
When a former Supreme Court Justice is worried about our loss of democracy…
Souter made his comments during a lengthy response to a student’s question: “My question tonight is really around where we started this conversation, which was really around the schools… And, I’ve heard a lot this evening about democratic principles, civic engagement, and I guess I’m wondering…if you could share with us your thoughts about what the appropriate role and, probably, responsibility as well of our schools to produce civically engaged students?”
Here are some excerpts of that response:
I don’t believe there is any problem of American politics and American life, which is more significant today, than the pervasive civic ignorance of the Constitution of the United States and the structure of government. (This response earned Souter a round of applause)
We know, with pretty reliable evidence, that two-thirds of the people of the United States do not know that we have three separate branches of government. I remember…a survey back four or five years ago in which a substantial percentage of Americans believed that the Supreme Court … was a committee of the Congress. It didn’t used to be this bad.
Starting about 1970, the teaching of “Civics” went into decline from which it has never significantly recovered… The reason I said it is the most significant problem that we’ve got is that I think some of the aspects of current American government that people on both sides find frustrating are in part a function…of the inability of people to understand how government can and should function. It is a product of civic ignorance.
And what worries Souter the most about America’s future?
I don’t worry about our losing a republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because of a coup by the military, as has happened in some other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed people will not know who is responsible, and when the problems get bad enough – as they might do for example with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown – some one person will come forward and say: “Give me total power and I will solve this problem.”
That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor not because he arrested the Roman senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.
Others are equally concerned, and with good reason
Souter’s not the only former Supreme Court Justice to warn of a coming dictatorship. In a 2006 speech at Georgetown University, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the right wing of U.S. politics was endangering the country’s future, following a warning by then-GOP House leader Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who said some justices could be impeached:
We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary. … It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
Former Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, who chaired the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee and convened the famous “Church Committee,” which scrutinized an unlawful counterintelligence operation run by the FBI, said this in 1975:
The [National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.
It should be noted that, as Natural News has reported, the NSA is currently completing a massive $2 billion facility in Utah that will give the agency the capacity to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store incredible amounts of data gathered from the world over, grabbing communications as they beam down from satellites and race through underground and undersea cables domestically and overseas. (http://www.naturalnews.com/035386_NSA_data_center_spying.html)
That program, codenamed Stellar Wind, was described as patently unconstitutional by a former NSA official, William Binney, who left the agency in 2001, shortly after the NSA launched its warrantless wiretapping program.
“They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he told Wired.com in an interview. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.”