The Team Against the Committee: Fighting Tyranny and Terrorism Without Losing Our Liberal Soul

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Here is an excerpt from an article by David DeRosiers, “The Team Against the Committee”: Fighting Tyranny and Terrorism Without Losing Our Liberal Soul” (The Political Science Reviewer, Vol 2., No. 1, 2003). The article is a few years old but I just discovered the existence of this journal. DeRosiers examines how liberal societies can confront violent groups through the ideas of political scientist Bertrand de Jouvenel. The essential problem, “It is very difficult for liberal regimes, which proclaim that the building of a group and the pressuring of the government are essential freedoms, to act against any group—even those animated by what Jouvenel calls ‘bellicose intent.'”

Jouvenel’s position is the very opposite of the civil libertarian who judge political liberty by the freedom that the public Authority allows to those groups and individuals that are committed to its elimination. For example, the radical Islamist, who uses the liberal hedges of civil liberties and liberal public opinion to actively and openly subvert his host is a perfect example of the “dangerous texture” that continues to surround even liberal politics. In contrast to the ACLU’s insistence that the existence of such groups testifies to the strength of liberal societies, Jouvenel insists that it points to liberalism’s inherent vulnerability. These are the “clouds, no bigger than a man’s hand from which the tempest will come.”

Jouvenel understands the practical difficulty of trying to control and eliminate such groups. And one can easily picture-because life affords us with many examples-the public Authority taking action against a faction, only to find itself undermined because the subversive group casts the attack on its bellicose intention as an attack on political liberty itself: “Sure, today it’s the Nazis in Stokie [sic] or the Branch Davidians in Texas, or the Mullahs in Patterson New Jersey-all of whose values challenge us-but if we say it is legitimate to go after them, what will stop them from one day coming after us.” This is the “slippery slope” argument of civil libertarians who always take the permanence of liberal democracy for granted and forget, or never learned, the lessons of Weimar.

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