By Jacob G. Hornberger
No doubt many American statists celebrated the
ouster of Hosni Mubarak as dictator of Egypt in the
belief that freedom had arrived for the Egyptian
people, given that the country was now experiencing
the "order and stability" provided by military rule.
But the truth is that military dictatorship isn't
freedom at all; it's as much tyranny as what the
Egyptian people experienced under Mubarak for 30
What about democracy? American statists feel that
if the Egyptian people are able to achieve democracy,
that will mean that they will then be free. That's in
fact why American statists honestly believe that
people are now free in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since
there are elections (even if a bit fraudulent) in both
countries, the argument goes, that means that the
Iraqi and Afghan people are now free.
Actually, democracy and freedom are two entirely
different things. In fact, as America's Founding
Fathers understood so well, democracy can be one of
the gravest threats to freedom. That's why the Framers
placed the federal government within the straitjacket
of the Constitution and why our American ancestors
demanded passage of the Bill of Rights as a condition
for agreeing to call the federal government into
existence — to protect people from the grave threat to
freedom posed by democracy.
So, what good is democracy? Actually, the only
benefit of democracy is that it provides the citizenry
of a country with the ability to change political
regimes peacefully. As we are seeing in the Middle
East, when people desire to change directions in a
country ruled by a non-democratic regime, oftentimes
the only way to do that is with violence. With
elections, people can oust public officials from power
without resorting to violence.
But what's important to keep in mind is that simply
because people have the ability to vote people out of
office and vote new people into office does not mean
that the society is free. Freedom turns on external
(i.e., constitutional) limitations on the powers of
public officials who are elected to power.
For example, suppose the Egyptian people enact a
new constitution that says that the people shall have
the right to elect anyone they want to the presidency
but that whoever they do elect shall have all the
powers that were exercised by Hosni Mubarak or his
successor military dictatorship.
Would that be a free society?
Of course not. It would simply be a democratically
This raises the notion of fundamental, inherent,
natural, God-given rights to which Jefferson referred
in the Declaration of Independence. No government, not
even a democratically elected government, has the
legitimate authority to infringe on such rights. Thus,
freedom turns on whether government is restricted from
infringing on people's fundamental, inherent, natural,
God-given rights. That's what constitutional
constraints are all about.
Can a democratically elected regime engage in
tyrannical acts? Of course. The United States provides
two good examples. The first is the drug war, one of
the cruelest, most brutal, and tyrannical measures
that any government could engage in. Yesterday, I
blogged about a young mother of four who was recently
sent to prison for 10 years for selling $31 worth of
marijuana to a police informant. How's that for
cruelty, brutality, and tyranny? What business of
government is it to jail people for buying and
consuming marijuana or any other drug? What business
of government is it to jail people for providing
marijuana or anything else to consumers? The
government's decades-long drug war strikes at the
heart of a free society — the fundamental right of
people to live their lives any way they choose so long
as their conduct is peaceful.
Another example: the extensive anti-terrorist
legislation that came into existence 10 years ago
after the 9/11 attacks, including the Patriot Act, the
NSA spying, the telecom spying, the enemy combatant
doctrine, torture, kidnapping, assassination,
indefinite detention, denial of due process, denial of
trial by jury, denial of speedy trials, and military
tribunals. Those are essentially the same measures
adopted by the Mubarak dictatorship as a temporary,
emergency measure after the president of Egypt was
assassinated 30 years ago.
The Egyptian people rightfully view such measures
as an attribute of tyranny, which is why they are so
insistent that the Egyptian military dictatorship lift
the anti-terrorist legislation.
Here in the United States, however, U.S. officials
continue to refer to such measures as temporary,
emergency pro-freedom devices designed to keep the
American people safe. They are wrong. Tyrannical
measures are tyrannical measures, whether embraced by
unelected Egyptian dictators or elected American
Did I mention that the Mubarak dictatorship
justified its anti-terrorist legislation by both the
war on terrorism and the war on drugs?
When it comes to freedom, the world is desperately
in need of leadership. Who better to lead the way than
the American people, whose heritage of liberty was
born in centuries of resistance to tyranny? A good
place to start would be by demanding the end of both
the war on drugs and the war on terrorism.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The
Future of Freedom Foundation.