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Give Me Liberty

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… In 1922, as a foreign correspondent in Budapest, I accompanied . . . a police raid…. We set out at ten o’clock at night, leading sixty policemen who moved with the beautiful precision of soldiers.

They surrounded a section of the workingmen’s quarter of the city and closed in, while the Chief explained that this was ordinary routine; the whole quarter was combed in this way every week.

We appeared suddenly in the doorways of workingmen’s cafes, dingy places…. Their terror at the sight of uniforms was abject. All rose and meekly raised their hands. The policemen grinned with that peculiar enjoyment of human beings in possessing such power.

They went through the men’s pockets, making some little jest at this object and that. They found the Labor cards, inspected them, thrust them back in the pockets. At their curt word of release, the men dropped into chairs and wiped their foreheads.

In every place, a few cards failed to pass the examination. No employer had stamped them during the past three days. Men and women were loaded into the patrol wagon.

Now and then, at our entrance, someone tried to escape from back door or window and ran, of course, into the clutch of policemen. We could hear the policemen laughing…. Everything was perfectly done; no one escaped….

When a domestic servant had been several days without work, the police took away the card that identified her as a working girl and permitted her to work; they gave her instead a prostitute’s card. Men who had not worked recently were sentenced to a brief imprisonment for theft. Obviously, the Chief said, if they were not working, they were prostitutes and thieves; how else were they living? …

This is the only police search of workingmen’s quarters that I saw in Europe. I do not believe that regimentation elsewhere went so far then as to force women into prostitution, and it may be that it no longer does so in Hungary. But the systematic surrounding and searching of workingmen’s quarters went on normally everywhere in Europe, and that unemployment was assumed to push them over the edge of destitution into crime, I do not know….

Nevertheless, I question whether there was less crime in police-controlled Europe than in America. Plenty of crimes were reported in brief paragraphs of small type in every paper…

The terrible thing is that the motive behind all this supervision of the individual is a good motive, and a rational one. How is any ruler to maintain a social order without it? …

… [T]he Constitutional law … divides, restricts, limits and weakens political-police power, and thus protects every citizen’s personal freedom, his human rights, his exercise of those rights in a free, productive capitalist economy and a free society …

… [N]othing whatever but the constitutional law, the political structure, of these United States protects any American from arbitrary seizure of his property and his person, from the Gestapo and the Storm Troops, from the concentration camp, the torture chamber, the revolver at the back of his neck in a cellar..

This piece is taken from her Lane’s “Give Me Liberty” which first appeared in 1936 in the Saturday Evening Post. (c) 1977 by Susan Moflison.

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    Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968), was the author of "The Discovery of Freedom".