Have we traded material wealth for control over our national governance, abandoning our right to question authority? John Kampfner argues so in his book, ‘Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty’. Review excerpts by George Scialabba and Peter Preston give a flavour of this stimulating publication.
John Kampfner’s book traces the rise of ‘authoritarian democracies’ that deliver growth and suppress dissent. George Scialabba contemplates the new pact between the middle classes and their governments (extracts from his review).
Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty
John Kampfner, Simon & Schuster
In this fiercely brilliant essay on the global political landscape at the beginning of the new millennium, John Kampfner – a longtime foreign correspondent, the former editor of the New Statesman, and now the head of Index on Censorship – chronicles what he calls “corrupted democracy”, “authoritarian democracy” or “controlled democracy”.
Many, perhaps most, advanced societies today, Kampfner argues, operate on the basis of a “pact,” an implicit bargain between government and society. In exchange for consumer goods and private freedoms – to travel; to marry whomever, live wherever, and read whatever they wish; to do business without interference from government regulations or labour unions; and to pay few or no taxes – the rich and the middle class have agreed to abdicate politics.
The government keeps opposition parties, the mass media, and academic or journalistic muckrakers on a very short leash. Surveillance waxes; civil liberties wane. Transparency, accountability, and citizen initiative are sacrificed to order, security and prosperity.
Freedom for Sale convincingly describes the unwritten “pact” between the middle and upper classes of most countries and their governments: the freedom to make, keep and spend money is granted in exchange for renouncing the freedom to question authority. Is this a good or bad bargain?
Government by some of the people for some of the people (the ones who matter). Election by clique, twist and fiddle. Lip service to public service. And fear rippling onwards, as rationale or excuse. Where will this cowardly new world go when the threat is real? Is there a strong man who will bust through the facade of freedom and construct a rescue pact? It’s where John Kampfner’s grisly logic takes us next, one more reason to read and flinch. Perhaps we haven’t seen anything yet.