History rhymes

I tend to collect not just news but quotes that sum up the spirit of - and threats to - personal liberty and have come to an unsurprising but nonetheless personally stunning conclusion.

To wit: Things don't change.

Frédéric Bastiat wrote 'The Law' (available for free reading at this site) in 1850 and his observations and warnings about abuse of legislative power and the rule of law are as pertinent today as when the ink was still wet.  Take this passage, for example:

"The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.... The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy."

Perhaps you would prefer this one:

"But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.

This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds."

But this theme is just an echo of prior centuries' writings.  Take any period in which thinkers felt secure - or outraged - enough to record their thoughts and you'll see the same thoughts recurring.  Go back to Publius Tacitus' 'Annals' - written in the 1st Century - and read, "And now bills were passed, not only for national objects but for individual cases, and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt."

Or, "Meanwhile there was an increase in the number of persons imperilled, for every household was undermined by the insinuations of informers; and now the country suffered from its laws, as it had hitherto suffered from its vices."

The problems we face today are not unique problems of modern culture, they are problems of human nature.  They have not changed much in over two millennia, and they will not change in our lifetimes, if ever.  No matter our passion, our efforts, or our victories, we cannot turn back the tide.

But we can build a seawall.  We can carve out - if we are willing to do the hard work of it - a small space in which to deny that ocean access.  A big enough surge could undo it all in a heartbeat but if we commit ourselves we can create a temporary haven for ourselves and our families.  And if we teach them how to maintain that wall, of the destructive power of the sea beyond....

I don't write this to discourage you.  I do it to warn you that you will be discouraged - perhaps overwhelmed - once you start seeing the scope of the threats to your ability to simply live a quiet, unobstructed life.  But it's okay.  You don't need to solve the problems of the world.  You don't need to take on the whole ocean.  You just need to stay your course and build your own seawall, however small it needs to be.

Another quote comes to mind, one that wouldn't appear at first glance to be related to personal liberty but that I find perfectly suitable to the notion of scale.

"Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe