The Secret police—the NSA, the CIA, et al—are by their very nature antithetical to those ideals, because openness and transparency about rules are essential to democratic public justification, and therefore to the legitimacy of state power. What must be secret cannot be fully democratic. One may well worry whether we can afford such a demanding standard of legitimate government in such a dangerous world. Perhaps we cannot. Perhaps it is foolish to be too good. But in that case we need to be clear-headed about it, and understand that secret police are a straightforwardly anti-democratic concession we make to a dangerous world. And we ought to accept that any strengthening of the powers of the secret police—especially the secret strengthening of the powers of the secret police—is a further blow to democracy and the legitimacy of our laws. The NSA’s digital dragnet is a silent coup. The filibuster is rain on election day.
It does pose the question though, does The Economist think that the world is dangerous enough to give secret police free reign?
Surely the world can never be that dangerous and, if it is, perhaps time would be better spent working out why it is so dangerous and going someway to addressing those problems.
Would it be unusual to suggest that most people want a ready supply of food, water, shelter and human connection? That they want to do meaningful work that gives them self respect and the feeling of being a valuable member in the society in which they live? That they want freedom from persecution and torture and the right to engage and decide the things that affect them, their family and their community in a way that allows them to retain dignity and hope?
I guess I’ll never be a writer for The Economist because I just feel I don’t understand how the world really works.