Is the NSA a Fascist Tyranny?

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, G...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As anyone who follows the news knows, the NSA has been engaged in a massive spying program that seems to involve activities that are both immoral and illegal. However, it is interesting to consider whether or not the NSA is more than just a violator of the law and ethics. As such, I will endeavor to address the question of whether or not the NSA is a fascist tyranny.

While the term “fascism” gets thrown around loosely by both the left and the right in America, it seems best to defer to one of the experts on fascism, specifically Benito Mussolini. Mussolini claims that “fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation…” The NSA nicely fits into this model—it has operated without the approval or even the knowledge of the majority of the citizens of the United States.

It can be objected that the approval of certain elected officials and secret courts suffices to preserve the core democratic values of majority rule and consultation of the governed.  After all, there are many activities that are handled by representatives without the citizens directly voting.

This reply does have some merit: the United States is primarily a representative democracy and the will of the citizens is, in theory, enacted by elected officials. However, the NSA certainly seems to be operating largely outside of the domain of public decision and informed agreement. The extent of its intrusion into the lives of the citizens and the scope of its power certainly seems to demand that the NSA be subject to the open channels of democracy rather than allowing decisions to be made and implemented in the shadows.

One key aspect of fascism, at least according to Mussolini is that the “Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone….”

The NSA seems to, sadly enough, fit this concept of fascism. The NSA is literally organizing the nation and it is clearly denying citizens key liberties by its intrusions. Fittingly enough, these grotesque violations are defended in terms that Mussolini would appreciate: no important liberties are being infringed on…but it they were, it would be to protect the state from harm.

Rather importantly, the way the NSA has been operating shows that the deciding power has been the State (that is, secret courts and officials in the shadows of secrecy) and not the citizens.

Thus, it would seem that the NSA is fascist in nature. This is hardly a surprise given that this sort of police state surveillance system is a hallmark and stereotype of the oppressive fascist state. What remains to be seen is whether or not the NSA is tyrannical in nature.

As with “fascism”, people on the left and right throw around the term “tyranny” without much respect for the actual meaning of the term. To ensure that I am using it properly, I will go back to John Locke and make use of his account of tyranny. Given his influence in political philosophy and the American political system, he seems like a reasonable go-to person for this matter.

Locke defines “tyranny” as follows:

Tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to.  And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage.  When the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.

While the extent of the wrongdoing by the people at the NSA might never be known, it is clear that the power handed to them has generally not been used not for the good of the people. Those in charge have made their will and not the law their rule—despite being basically let off the legal leash by compliant courts and public officials, the NSA still engaged in illegal activity and thus acted tyrannically.

Some folks at the NSA even abused their power on the basis of “irregular passion.” One rather pathetic example is that some NSA personnel used the resources of their employer to spy on those they were romantically involved with or interested in.

As such, it would seem evident that the NSA is tyrannical—or at least a tool of tyranny. What remains is to consider the proper response to tyranny. Locke, not surprisingly, had a clear answer:

Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another.

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  1. Many citizens will back the NSA. Many that see it as a potential threat will comfort themselves in their right to carry arms. Most won’t care enough, while they don’t feel a direct effect on their personal lives that bothers them, and as long as on balance they feel the NSA does some good. So, while these and other segments of the voting population choose not to care enough, this IS the will of the majority.

  2. ‘Fascism’ is such a contentious term that really I think one must look to the writings of historians, political philosophers and those in the political sciences for a working definition of it. Simply picking up on a couple of choice quotes from ‘Il Duce’ and saying the same holds of x doesn’t seem sufficient to make the case that ‘x is fascist’ – x may well have some of the necessary ‘fascistic’ features but fail to meet the sufficient conditions for it to be distinctively ‘fascist’.

    If one looks at what the NSA does it seems quite in keeping with the type of thing done by the intelligence agencies of totalitarian governments that aren’t fascist but Stalinist or what have you – all fascist governments are totalitarian but not all totalitarian regimes are fascist.

    Are the NSA doing the type of thing befitting of the intelligence agencies of totalitarian regime? Certainly it may appear so but there is nothing that has been said about the ‘signals’ specialists in U.S. intelligence that suggests they are committed to the particular ideology of fascism or acting in a way only fascists would.

  3. It seems to me that fascism is a system, which encompasses
    a entire socio-political order: a single government agency, in this case, the NSA, cannot be seen as fascist in itself.

    Another question is whether the NSA could fit into or could form part of a fascist state. Probably, it could.

  4. What does the NSA know that I care about? Do they know how to travel to the nearest galaxy in one hour? Do they know how to create a neutrino laser? Can they make anti-gravity? Wait.. Do they know my next summer travel plans? Good grief. Tyranny is a changed thing when most everyone knows everything about as fast as anyone else can know it.

    The reward anyone can recover from our evolving world is that no one has yet discovered limitless energy, or, in short, e.g., devised ways to make Si into Pu or convert matter into antimatter. Energy and directed control of nature are the only emblems of future power, not Information.

  5. Re Kevin Henderson 20th Dec
    Energy and directed control of nature are the only emblems of future power, not Information.

    Assuming we can direct and control nature, in the manner you suggest, surely for this to be beneficial, for those who are in a position to do this, they must have information, particularly in respect of those, whom the above controllers of nature, believe are lacking in this knowledge. Whilst knowledge is power, one additionally needs to know if others possess the same knowledge. If I am correct here, then information is surely still a necessary commodity.

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