Staatsicherheit

Glancing through Creveld's book again tonight, my eyes alighted on this passage that I had underlined a few years ago:

To compare the security forces run by the likes of Lavrenty Beria, Arturo Boccini, and Heinrich Himmler with the police apparatus maintained by the democratic countries of the West is less than fair. Yet it should be kept in mind that, however great the differences that separated them, in the end they were all offshoots of the same tree whose roots had been so firmly planted by Napoleon. All sought to achieve the same end, namely to make sure that no person and no institution should be in a position to resist any "lawful" demands made on it by the state. The torture chamber and the concentration camp merely completed the work that the classroom had begun…

Certainly in the English-speaking world, the past century has seen a revolution in the public's thinking about police powers, which are now accepted as highly pro-active. That the police should be able to stop someone who is driving erratically is one thing, but the idea that the police can set up checkpoints to stop drivers and subject them to breathalyzers and other tests without specific grounds for suspicion is entirely another. It used to be that the state had to justify itself to citizens; now citizens have to justify themselves to the state (as Peter Hitchens notes in an article about the growth of police powers in the UK in the current issue of The American Conservative).

Here in the U.S., few people seem to be much worried by this development — "Both recent surveys and polls throughout the 1980s show that 70-80 percent of those polled are in favor of more sobriety checkpoint use to combat drunk driving," according to the police department where I live — possibly because they don't know just how much liberty they have lost. One of the benefits of a book like Creveld's is to show them.

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