Emmanuel Goldstein was a character in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Throughout the novel, the totalitarian state uses the feared and hated image of Goldstein to justify all manner of abridgements to personal freedom and increasing governmental power, militarism, surveillance and erosion of civil liberties. Goldstein makes for a convenient scapegoat and enemy.
For those who plan to exert durable power over free people, such enemies are necessary. It is amazing what otherwise intelligent and freedom-loving people will agree to when they feel threatened. Fear is one of man’s most basic emotions, and as psychologists have found, a great motivator. When people are afraid they do not think about the ramifications of their decisions. Those seeking aggrandizement in power know that one of the most effective ways to establish that power is to make the voting populace afraid of some nebulous outside force while you miraculously appear with the solution to those fears. Free people are lured into the bonds of their own enslavement.
In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the citizens of the United States, driven by fear, allowed Congress to enact the Patriot Act. With it the Federal government was and has continued to be authorized to conduct extensive surveillance of its own citizenry. The government has been empowered to perform roving wire taps, search bank and utility records and monitoring electronic communications of anyone who they decide is a potential terrorist. Fear and terror have faded into memory in the 10 years since the vicious attacks on our nation, but the effects of the power grab have not. On May 26, 2011, President Barrack Obama signed into law an extension of the Patriot Act.
Too many people do not realize the ramifications of entrusting government with power. When catastrophe occurs, people are tempted to do this for the sake of expediency and efficiency. However, even if those who are empowered today are well-meaning and good people (often not the case), those who unscrupulously seek power will scheme to acquire it. Power given to another is extremely hard to get back. Those who have a lust for power will fight to keep it; and, as we are learning with the Patriot Act, governmental and psychological inertia make it difficult to reverse.
In the novel 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith, is told that Emmanuel Goldstein, if he ever lived at all, would never be allowed to die. He was a symbol that allowed the government to increase its power and that removing that symbol might endanger the status quo. It appears, our reality turns out to be stranger than fiction. With the death of Osama Bin Laden, I would have hoped that the death of our real-life version of Emmanuel Goldstein might have allowed us to retire the Patriot Act. Instead, the death of Bin Laden has only strengthened the arguments of those who have gained the most power from the law. Democrats or Republicans, both have reveled in the exercise of their new power. Civil liberties be damned. They are protecting us after all.