Paradise Lost: Paranoia Has Undermined US Democracy
Part 2: Need for Enemies, at Home and Abroad
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States experienced a relatively relaxed decade, until hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and destroyed parts of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The men at the controls were belligerent Islamists, whose ideas also formed an antithesis to American society.
They were foes of a liberal and individualistic way of life, and they yearned for a paradise where credit cards would be worthless. They were also the first to severely wound the United States in its own "homeland." They were the ideal enemy for the next wave of paranoia. The hour of the Carrie Mathisons of the intelligence world had arrived.
The Nazis are unparalleled in this art of hysterical governance. Their declared internal enemies were Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, the Sinti and the Roma, homosexuals and anyone who told jokes about Adolf Hitler. The external enemies were all the countries that Germany attacked, which was a large number, as well as the overseas democracies, especially the United States. For the Chinese party dictatorship, dissidents are the internal enemies, often people who express their criticism with a paintbrush, pen or laptop. Although China lacks an external enemy, it does have an aversion to Japan.
The United States cannot be compared with Nazi Germany or with China. Unfortunately, however, a paranoid democracy tends to use tools that are beneath a democracy, the tools of a dictatorship, and they include as much surveillance as possible.
US No Longer a Model of Democracy
Information is the most valuable thing in a paranoid world. Those who feel threatened want to know as much as possible about potential threats, so as to be able to control their fears and prepare preventive attacks. Even in the days of covered wagons, alertness was an important protection against attack. Before Sept. 11, the intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel and overlooked many of the clues the attackers left behind during their preparations. One of the reasons agent Carrie Mathison is traumatized is that she let her guard down once, and she is determined not to let it happen again, even if it means breaking the law.
Now the intelligence services have developed a giant information procurement machine, which is also useful in industrial espionage. To ensure that nothing escapes their notice, they violate the privacy of millions and millions of people and alienate allied nations and their politicians.
Another form of paranoid information procurement is torture, used by American intelligence agencies to gain information about terrorists. Torture is the negation of democracy, freedom and human rights. If a democratic country allows itself to sink to the level of torture, it must already be extremely hysterical and anxious.
While paranoia legitimizes a dictatorship, it can achieve the opposite effect in a democracy. The United States is no longer a model of liberal democracy. That much has been made clear in light of mass surveillance, torture, the extralegal detention camp at Guantanamo and an isolationist ideology that leads to author Ilija Trojanow being denied entry to the country, presumably because of his criticism of American policy.
Other nations also have their fears, but they lack the power to turn the world upside down. Power and paranoia are a dangerous mix.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Paranoia Has Undermined US Democracy
- Part 2: Need for Enemies, at Home and Abroad
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
Click on the links below for more information about DER SPIEGEL's history, how to subscribe or purchase the latest issue of the German-language edition in print or digital form or how to obtain rights to reprint SPIEGEL articles.
- Frequently Asked Questions: Everything You Need to Know about DER SPIEGEL
- Six Decades of Quality Journalism: The History of DER SPIEGEL
- A New Home in HafenCity: SPIEGEL's New Hamburg HQ
- Reprints: How To License SPIEGEL Articles