James Otis, one of the original patriots, was a man who was constantly concerned about the threat of tyranny. He was the one who coined the famous phrase: “taxation without representation is tyranny.” Otis was living in the land of tyrants, just as Americans are finding themselves today.
In the 1760s he narrowed his focus against the British government when the Writs of Assistance were universally issued. “It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.” The fear that some in power will take their power to destructive ends is no different today as it was in the 1760s.
The Global Race to Rule
The Coronavirus pandemic has created a global race for government officials to prove who cannot necessarily rule best, but who can rule most effectively. From mayors to governors to heads of state, the attempt to control the spread of the illness has induced various methods for controlling the citizenry.
It would be an understatement to say these officials, regardless of their geographic location, are in a position of envy. The task is a very tall one, and for some it has become insurmountable. This is why outrageous statements have become nearly commonplace, like that of Vincenzo De Luca, the president of Campania in Italy, who threatened to send police with flamethrowers to people’s homes if they did not comply with lockdown measures.
In Serbia, the threat is inflammatory, yet more actual. Under the state of emergency, President Aleksandar Vucic has assumed absolute authority, which has led to closing the nation’s borders, 12-hour curfews, and house-arrest for those 65 and older.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is exercising the same authority during its state of emergency. A new pandemic-related bill entails prison sentences up to five years for spreading false information about the coronavirus and up to eight years for interfering with efforts to control the spread of the illness, like disobeying curfew and quarantine orders. Opinion that does not coincide with the government’s directives is considered false information, which violates the country’s freedom of the press.
Israel’s government is using its counter-terrorism technology to track those suspected of being infected. South Korea is tracking credit card purchases and issuing a government-mandated GPS-app for the purpose of tracking and punishing those who break quarantine—all without a warrant. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, has taken the ultimate step by ordering police and military to shoot “troublemakers.”
American Officials Adopting Tyrannical Methods
Here in the States the threats have been slightly less intrusive. States and counties (and parishes) continue to shut down or highly restrict the movement of its citizens under the threat of penalty of law. Businesses have been fined or shut down. Individuals have been subject to the same. Numerous prison inmates, however, have been released due to the threat of coronavirus.
In Houston, a man charge with first degree murder was released on bond due his fear of contracting the illness.
In Florida, a pastor was placed under arrest for denying local orders and holding church services. He has since complied and closed the doors of the church. Governor Ron DeSantis responded by executive order stating that houses of worship are considered essential. Other state governors have either issued or are considering issuing the same order.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, has not only threatened to shut down houses of worship during the pandemic, but to do so permanently.
Police are, unfortunately for them, on the front lines of enforcing these orders. It has resulted in citations, fines, and arrests. Enforcing these orders that have completely sabotaged the American way of life has resulted too often in pushback from citizens, and pushback that is in itself criminal. There has been violent resistance, including citizens using the coronavirus as a physical threat to law enforcement. Not abiding by social distancing guidelines, breaking curfew, and attending church has created criminals, who would otherwise never be. This is the result of authoritarianism.
The fact is this ongoing citizen-level isolationism is soon to undergo a contraction, as the UK has begun to fear. People, not just Americans, cannot be involuntarily confined to their homes for extended periods of time, regardless of how noble the reasons may be.
Otis stated that “a man’s house is his castle,” but he wasn’t suggesting people be confined to it. In fact, his fear during this time is very relatable to today’s situation.
American Officials Should Adhere to Otis’s Worries
The writs of assistance granted power to officers of any level to conduct searches and seizures at any time, any place, against anyone, for any reason, or no reason at all. This was a sticking point when states began creating their constitutions, as well as when the Bill of Rights was written
Otis complained that each officer could become, and undoubtedly at times would become, “a tyrant in a legal manner.” And this is the worry, not just in America, but around the globe, that citizens will be subject to tyrants. Serbia, Hungary, South Korea, Italy, the Philippines, and other nations have and are conducting themselves in tyrannical manners under the guise of security and human preservation. The competition to be crowned the most effective leader has well been underway. The rules are of their own dictating. The best results, regardless of the means, could very well become the accepted method moving forward.
The American federal government, and, in particular, state and local governments are establishing their own methods, as is granted them in the 10th Amendment. Two-hundred and sixty years ago, Britain created a fever pitch against the colonists due to ever tightening restrictions. American officials are doing much the same, though it remains to be seen when it will hit a fever pitch.
“It was once a fundamental maxim that every subject had the same right to his life, liberty, property, and the law...” Otis wrote. Unfortunately, that fundamental maxim seems as uncertain today as it was in the 1760s.
This article was originally published on April 9, 2020 in The Epoch Times.