I found Federalist No. 8 to be simply prophetic about the dangers a country faces when subjected to the intersection of human nature and the constant perception of external threat.
Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. . . . the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.
This is exactly the danger that libertarian minded pundits have been vocally warning against since September 12, 2001. Though Alexander Hamilton is speaking about real external dangers the truth is that the public perception of external danger can be used to these ends with equal effect.
. . . weaker States or confederacies (or even nations) would first have recourse to [standing armies] . . . They would, at the same time, be necessitated to strengthen the executive arm of government, in doing which their constitutions would acquire a progressive direction toward monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority.
This is precisely the effect that we have seen throughout the Bush administration with the constant harping on the dangers posed by terrorists from around the world. To be sure, the technological advances of the last century have reduced the geographic cushion that had contributed to our national safety for the earlier part of our history. Despite the greater range available to anyone who would threaten us, we must stand vigilant against attempts to reduce our freedom in the name of safety when the safety being offered is against a threat more imaginary than real.
I don’t mean to say that the events of 9/11 were imaginary but those events, devastating as they were, did not constitute a real threat to our national survival except insofar as we respond to them by changing our society so that we become a different nation than the one which has been a beacon of liberty to the world. That idea cannot be killed by terrorist acts, and that idea is the American that is enshrined in our constitution.