Liberalism, particularly the type of liberalism from after World War II, has advertised itself as the only alternative to chaos and barbarism. As Henry Kissinger said in order to rationalize helping the side of the liberal geopolitical bloc:
In every era, humanity produces demonic individuals and seductive ideas of repression. The task of statesmanship is to prevent their rise to power and sustain an international order capable of deterring them if they do achieve it. The interwar years' toxic mixture of facile pacifism, geopolitical imbalance, and allied disunity allowed these forces a free hand.
These words, which come from a man who's responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands and for propping up dictatorships like the Pinochet regime, betray their own hypocrisy. Liberalism doesn't necessarily protect human rights, equality, or democracy, and Kissinger knows it. Liberalism's goal is to maintain the capitalist and imperialist power structure, which in recent years has required liberalism to morph ever more into something openly tyrannical and repressive.
After the torture, mass surveillance, erosions of civil liberties, and blatant wartime censorship that appeared in the first years following 9/11, the ruling class tried to act like the U.S./NATO bloc was as "free" and "democratic" as ever. But the conditions had changed from the more stable decades of the mid to late 20th century, and the state could only respond by making society less and less free. Due to its reckless invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and its growing rivals Russia and China, Washington was experiencing a decline of its global hegemony. So its wars had to be perpetually continued and expanded, meaning that anyone who sought to expose the atrocities within those wars or counter the lies behind them had to be dealt with.
In 2010, when Chelsea Manning used WikiLeaks to expose atrocities that had been committed by U.S. armed forces, the government started a campaign to make an example of her and all other whistleblowers. They convicted her of having "published on the internet intelligence belonging to the US government, having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accessible to the enemy" even though this was essentially a made up offense. They put her into solitary confinement for the purpose of trying to get her to implicate others, an act of physical and psychological coercion that constituted torture. In 2013, they sentenced her to 35 years in prison, with Obama only having pardoned her as a way to look good while leaving office. Last year, they jailed her again for refusing to testify in a secretive grand jury, amounting to what the UN special rapporteur on torture calls "an open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion fulfilling all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." This year, Manning tried to kill herself in prison.
This war on whistleblowers has allowed Western institutions, with their supposed ideals about protecting liberties and rights, to redefine what these terms mean. In the society that the imperialist governments and their media propagandists have created, it's acceptable for Julian Assange to suffer years of medical neglect and torture through solitary confinement. It's also acceptable for Edward Snowden to be under threat of similar types of torture should the U.S. capture him. No matter how sadistic or extreme the tactics used in this war become, it's all worth it for the cause of "national security."
With Assange's treatment in this last year in particular, the fraudulence of the West's ideals have become boldly obvious. As The Intercept's Charles Glass wrote this month:
Over the 17 days of Julian Assange's extradition hearing in London, prosecutors succeeded in proving both crimes and conspiracy. The culprit, however, was not Assange. Instead, the lawbreakers and conspirators turned out to be the British and American governments. Witness after witness detailed illegal measures to violate Assange's right to a fair trial, destroy his health, assassinate his character, and imprison him in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. Courtroom evidence exposed illegality on an unprecedented scale by America's and Britain's intelligence, military, police, and judicial agencies to eliminate Assange.
How has the ruling class tried to preserve liberalism's facade of legitimacy amid these total breakdowns of civil and human rights protections? The same way they've dealt with the baggage from the 2011 NATO invasion of Libya that's destroyed the country, or the U.S.-created war in Syria, or the 2014 U.S. coup in Ukraine that's given rise to a genocidal neo-Nazi regime, or this last year's Washington-orchestrated Bolivia coup that's resulted in massacres and torture: conceal the inconvenient facts from the public.
In 2013, while the hybrid war on Syria was in full swing and Washington was quietly preparing to carry out a coup in Ukraine, the U.S. government took a large step to expand its information control heading into a new cold war with Russia. It repealed a ban on the government from covertly spreading propaganda to American citizens, which has since resulted in a noticeable increase of pro-war narratives within the U.S. media. Especially in the wake of the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine, Russia was intensely vilified, and an atmosphere of neo-McCarthyism started to creep in.
Then in 2016, when the election of Trump served as a catalyst for the further weakening of U.S. global influence, the ruling class clamped down not just through propaganda but through greatly intensified online censorship. At the end of his term, Obama signed the "Countering Foreign Disinformation and Propaganda Act" into law, creating a program for controlling information that Lambert Strether of Corrente concludes is undeniably an erosion of press freedom:
A careful reading of the "Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act" shows there is good reason to fear an impact on American independent or alternative media. As these numerous small web outlets are "non-state actors," the Act can be colorably construed to apply to them, and many of the Act's functions and funding opportunities impact them.
Throughout the last four years, there have also been numerous waves of online censorship from Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which have acted on behalf of their partners in the U.S. intelligence agencies. They've sabotaged social media accounts from anti-imperialist outlets like Venezuela Analysis, as well as purged accounts fromVenezuela, China, and other U.S. rivals for supposedly promoting "disinformation." Top neoconservatives have been in on this censorship campaign, and they've often been able to help directly orchestrate it through think tanks like the Atlantic Council. It's all served to make people less likely to notice the human rights abuses, civil liberties violations, dishonest state propaganda, and perpetual warfare that have been carried out by Washington and its proxies during these last several years.
As inequality and poverty continue to increase throughout the Western world during the pandemic, and the U.S. empire invests in increased militarism over helping the people, these propaganda and concealment measures serve to keep the population pacified. The ruling class hopes that society will remain detached from the ongoing creep towards tyranny, and that the state has already been fortified enough.