This is an entry from the old blog, first posted 28 December 2005. It makes an important point worth repeating, especially in light of such recent scandals as the harassing by the Internal Revenue Service of individuals and groups whole political views differ from those of the current administration.
In an age of terrorism, enhanced security measures are reasonable (see Liberty and Security). But in response to increased government surveillance and the civil-libertarian objections thereto, far too many people are repeating the stock phrase, "I have nothing to hide."
What they mean is that, since they are innocent of any crime, they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear, and so there cannot be any reasonable objection to removing standard protections. But these people are making a false assumption. They are assuming that the agents of the state will always behave properly, an assumption that is spectacularly false.
Most of the state's agents will behave properly most of the time, but there are plenty of rogue agents who will abuse their authority for all sorts of reasons. The O'Reilly Factor has been following a case in which an elderly black gentleman sauntering down a street in New Orlean's French Quarter was set upon by cops who proceeded to use his head as a punching bag. The video clip showed the poor guy's head bouncing off a brick wall from the blows. It looked as if the thuggish cops had found an opportunity to brutalize a fellow human being under cover of law, and were taking it. And that is just one minor incident.
We conservatives are law-and-order types. One of the reasons we loathe contemporary liberals is because of their casual attitude toward criminal behavior. (We loathe them qua liberals: the cynosure of our disapprobation is the sin, not the sinner.) But our support for law and order is tempered by a healthy skepticism about the state and its agents. This is one of the reasons why we advocate limited government and Second Amendment rights.
As conservatives know, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have no illusions about human nature such as are cherished by liberals in their Rousseauean innocence. Give a man a badge and a gun and the power will go to his head. And mutatis mutandis for anyone with any kind of authority over anyone. This is the main reason why checks on government power are essential.
The trick is to avoid the absurdities of the ACLU-extremists while also avoiding the extremism of the "I have nothing to hide" types who are willing to sell their birthright for a mess of secure pottage.
Companion post: Cops: A Necessary Evil