Political Scientist Argues the U.S. is a Police State

The United States is a police state.

Not in danger of becoming one.


And it’s too late to restore democracy.

That’s the stark message of Andrew Kolin’s brave, lucid and important book “State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush.”

Kolin comes out swinging like Joe Frazier. Illusions and delusions about America as a democracy, much less one that is benevolent, don’t stand a chance.

The U.S., Kolin says, shares all the major attributes of a Third World police state: a constant state of emergency in which security always trumps civil liberties; sidestepping of laws by the government; excessive secrecy; the use of preventative detention and holding enemies of the state without filing formal charges; the manufacturing of reasons to go to war.

“The expansion of state power over the course of U.S. history came at the expense of democracy,” Kolin begins. “As state power grew, there developed a disconnect between the theory and practice of democracy in the United States. Ever-greater state power meant it became more and more absolute. This resulted in a government that directed its energies and resources toward silencing those who dared question the state’s authority.”

Some will find Kolin’s more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger deadpan delivery disconcerting or depressing. I think it refreshingly honest. Notice his use of the past tense to describe this country?

The U.S. is over. It’s always been over.

Creeping authoritarianism, Kolin says, began “not long after the end of the Revolutionary War, starting with the conquest of North America and by the start of the twentieth century, continuing with the expansionism outside of North America.”

That’s halfway down the first page.

A hundred pages in, you’ll either be stuffing rags into Molotov cocktails or slitting your wrists. You’ll definitely check the expiration date on your passport.

I was surprised to learn that Kolin is a political science professor at Hilbert College in upstate New York. His methodical walk through U.S. history and the struggle between increased state repression and popular democratic movements, a tug-and-pull in which government and its big business allies won the important battles, feels like a tight legal brief.

As Kolin argues, the fix was in from the start.

“The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] needed to establish a government that could promote and protect property, regulate the economy, create an elaborate infrastructure, and acquire native Indian lands, adhering to the policy of North American expansion, while allowing the democratic surge from below to be both expressed and contained,” Kolin writes.

Obviously, the legal status of most Americans has improved since 1789. For example, “the Abolitionists prove that political movements can disrupt repressive state policies and advance democracy.” However: “The success of the Abolitionists suggests that the government can accommodate reformism, provided its core interests [namely, to enlarge state power] remain unaffected.”

Anyone who has read Zinn or Chomsky will be familiar with the long litany of criminality and ultraviolence which expose the claim of exceptionalism as a ridiculous hoax. These are all here: the Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, the Red Scare, dirty deals with dictators. Where the book becomes indispensable is its last third, focusing on the Clinton, Bush and early Obama administrations. This, the author argues beyond any sane ability to disagree, is when Americans citizens lost our basic freedoms and civil liberties once and for all. Habeas corpus, an 800-year-old right held by the citizens of all Western nations, gone without so much as a broken window. A president-king who orders the execution of American citizens without a trial—nay, without evidence of wrongdoing, with barely a harshly-worded newspaper editorial to complain.

For Kolin the USA-Patriot Act, passed in haste by a cowed and cowardly Congress that hadn’t had time to read it after 9/11, marks the final end of formal democracy in the United States. If nothing else, sneak into a bookstore (if you still have one in your town) and read pages 142 to 152.

Here you will find the most thorough and clear dissection of this horrible law in print. Describing Title I, for example, Kolin explains: “Due process is not mentioned in the part that grants the president the authority to freeze assets at the start of, or even prior to an investigation [into terrorism], instead of after it is completed. All property seized can be disposed of according to the president’s wishes. There is no legal requirement to have a court order prior to a seizure, creating the possibility that mistakes may be made and, in most cases, won’t be corrected.”

Unfair confiscation may seem like a minor concern for an innocent man or woman arrested, tortured or assassinated on the order of a president. For conservatives who believe property rights are sacrosanct, however, the symbolism is unmistakable: a government that can steal your stuff with impunity is the enemy of the people.

I can imagine one logical objection to Kolin’s thesis. The government may have the right to oppress. But it is not impelled to do so. So long as government officials are well-intentioned men and women, stout of heart and full of integrity, they will refrain from abusing the rights they claim against us.

However, recent history proves that our government is not run by such individuals. And even if it were—a purely theoretical supposition—who would want to live in a nation where the difference between democracy and dictatorship relies on the whims of a coterie of elites?

Though “a glimmer of hope seemed to appear after President Obama took office,” Kolin shows how the Democratic president “merely modified police state practices.” Furthermore, the transitional nature of the brutal authoritarian tactics enacted by Bush into the next presidency indicates that they are not anomalous but structural. “The Obama Administration’s position that amnesty should be granted to those who tortured [under Bush] as well as those who authored the torture memos, itself violates national and international law; it also ensures that such policies will likely be repeated.”

Attorney General Eric Holder said: “We don’t want to criminalize policy differences.” Kolin replies: “Since when is support for a police state a policy difference?”

If you’ve somehow managed to ignore Obama’s record over the last few years, and you’re still thinking of voting for him next November, this book will change your mind.

Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is



  • “A government derives its right to govern from the consent of the governed.”

    Which, it would seem, makes the US government legitimate, unlike those countries where the US President says the elections are illegitimate. The US President represents the Will of the American People, so he cannot lie. Whatever the President says is, a fortiori, the TRVTH, since it is the Will of the American People, a sacrosanct position. He defines the English language: if he says what he did with a young intern was not sex, then it was not sex. If he says applying electrodes to the genitals of the enemies of the US is not torture, then that is not torture (NB: The President IS the US, so his enemies are the enemies of the US, and the enemies of the US are HIS enemies), and If the President says bombing Libya is not War, then it is NOT WAR!!!

    And US law is International Law, so the President IS NEVER, CAN NEVER be in violation of US or International Law. The Constitution specifies separation of powers, meaning neither the Legislature nor the Judiciary is allowed to question the actions of the President.

    But the US voters approve by a large majority (unless you’re a conspiracy birther who thinks all US elections are as fraudulent as the President assured us Saddam’s Iraqi elections were). So he governs with the consent of the majority of the governed (Mr. Rall and myself notwithstanding). So the US is a democracy.

    Kind of like Athens at the time of the Peloponnesian Wars.

    But I understand that turned out just fine.

  • $70 !

    Ouch 🙁

    Guess I’ll wait for the paperback

  • “The U.S., Kolin says, shares all the major attributes of a Third World police state: a constant state of emergency in which security always trumps civil liberties; sidestepping of laws by the government; excessive secrecy; the use of preventative detention and holding enemies of the state without filing formal charges; the manufacturing of reasons to go to war”

    He forgot to mention paranoia by state-security goons:

    And, of course, I see no reason to give the Secession War (as your “Civil War” is know elsewhere) a pass in the long string of military aggression by the US central government.

  • Oh, please. Have you SEEN the crazy on the Republican side of the isle? Obama’s record would have to be a LOT worse before I’d vote for one of those nuts, either directly or indirectly (by not voting or voting third party).

    Everything you complain about Obama doing, they would do on steroids. And they’d do a lot worse and/or utterly crazy stuff as well.

    At least Obama wont abolish the minimum wage. Or back the Supreme court with utter loons.

    • Don’t fall for the two-party trap. Both parties’ candidates are assholes.

      I plan to call for a voter boycott next year. It’s the only real way citizens of an autocracy can express their disapproval. Do. Not. Vote.

  • All not voting is going to do is give the Republican crazy free reign. Thanks, but no thanks.

    We’re going to hit the wall regardless, but at least with the Democrats in charge we might hit it at a survivable speed. If we put the teahadists in charge, we hit the wall at 1000mph and only the top 1% survive.

    I’m not going to empower the tehadists and assist them in creating the fascist theocracy they long for just because Obama falls short. He’s still orders of magnitude better than his opponents, and that’s really all that matters.

    • Both we and the world would be better off if this evil regime were to crash sooner rather than later. I’d rather have a lot of pain for a short time than less pain over a protracted decline.

  • Ted, I understand (though respectfully disagree and strongly) your opinion that third party voting is useless, but how is it any more useless that simply not voting? The autocrats don’t give a rats ass if all the independent thinkers don’t show up to vote because then only their mindless followers or cowed minions show up to vote and they win by an even bigger landslide. Thus the only message not voting sends to autocrats is “you are winning and we surrender”. Meanwhile if a significant portion of the population, one that grows with each election, shows up and votes for third parties the only possible response of the established powers is “uhoh… the poeple are upset and we may loose if the trends continue ” This is true even if the votes are distributed across dozens of different third parties such that no single one gets more then a barely noticeable fraction of the vote.

    Honestly I have never seen a solid argument from you or anyone else as to why not-voting is superior to voting for third parties. The usual argument given basically boils down to “it just does [because I say so]” or “third parties are meaningless [because I say so]”. If I bought arguments like that, then I would watch Glenn Beck (back when he was on) and vote for Sarah Palin early and often for whatever she might be running for at any time. In such a situation I certainly wouldn’t be on this blog trying to have intelligent discussions because clearly I would be too dimwitted to be capable of them.

    • The problem with voting for a third party now, in a pre-revolutionary situation, is that it tacitly endorses the electoral system itself. It rejects the two major parties while de facto accepting their hegemony–a status quo that, ironically, quashes third parties.

      Not voting says: fuck you, system, you are dead to me.

      Voting for a third party says: I approve of the system in principle, just not the two major parties.

      Even if the Greens were to be in charge, the US would still be imperialistic and vicious. It certainly would be after they get defeated in the future.

      The system is the problem, not those in charge of it.

  • Ted, how do you differentiate a “fuck you, system, you are dead to me” revolutionary non-vote from an “I just got a new game for my XBOX” lazy/apathetic non-vote?

    And if you don’t believe in an “electoral system”, what do you propose as an alternative? Direct mass voting on all issues? A benign dictatorship? Anarcho-syndicalism?

    • I’ve explained what comes after the US in my last book.

      Analysts will know the difference by the numbers. The increase in “apathy” reflects anger.

  • Ted: okay, I can see that point of view. It is similar to Marx’s concept that simply adding pro-proletariat social policies to society is a bad thing because it reduces the pain necessary to provoke the masses into revolting and establishing the communist societies that Marx is sure they need. But if that is how you feel, why go with the no voting? Shouldn’t you be advocating the voting for the craziest most screwed up Repbulican that has some possibility of winning as to speed up the rotting and collapse of society necessary to provoke the revolution you dream of? Even then not-voting is still a bad idea and indistinguishable form Russell’s suggested “I just got a new game for my XBOX” lazy/apathetic non-vote” which sends no message to anyone even if it was intended to.

  • What Ted is talking about (not voting) is part of a wider strategy of withdrawing your consent. Government only exists through the assumed consent of the governed, and there’s no better political action the American people can take than saying: no, not in my f#cking name!
    On an unrelated note (well, not really, since this is the last mischief of the US regime), it seems that the whole harangue about Kadafi’s troops commiting Viagra-fueled mass rape is really what it smelled like when we first read about it, a load of horseshit:

    This also highlights the difference between a real journalist like Pepe and the awful busybody hack, Nick Kristof. Let’s see how the MSM spins the irony of the first Black POTUS lending a helping hand to lynchings of Black Africans by Lybian “rebels.”

  • michaelwme Actually an alarming number of Americans do not vote in most elections, so ummm… legitimate? not so much. I have to give Mr. Rall some credit on that, it has been believed that if during a Presidential election less than 50% of eligible voters voted, it would be a big turning point, and a sign that we were not a true democracy, granted I read that in the 90’s when some people actually believed we were one… but the point would be huge if less than 50% voted, I think voting for a third party is the same as not voting so in that sense I guess it could work. Problem is, your just as likely to get a Hitler voting third party for kicks as you are to prove a point.

  • I’d argue an increase in perceived “apathy” more often then not reflects an increase in actual apathy, and the analysts both believe this, and those that don’t will find no one cares when they talk about a trend of increased voter discontent. Ted, if you and ten or even one hundred thousand other people who used to vote get together and not vote, no one will notice or care. If you all go out and vote for third parties, or hell, even just write yourself or each other in on the ballot, it will cause more notice.

    I probably can’t vote anymore as an ex-patriot, but I would be more convinced I am sending a message by writing in “Ted Rall” on my ballot then by not voting at all.

    @patron002: if I manage to vote in the next Hitler (Ted Rall?) I will personally and publicly apologize. It is a risk I am willing to take. Currently I believe most of the Hitler-esque megalomaniacs are probably residing in the republican party, not the third parties. I would argue that the failures of previous German democratic action are not really a good indication of the current state of the American political system, even though one can draw many parallels between the socio-economic situation of the Weimar Republic and modern America.

  • Wow. Just Wow.

    First, you need to go spend some time living under an ACTUAL evil regime, so you can understand the difference between evil and ineffectual.

    Second, who says the fascist theocracy that they’re going to put in place if they get put back in power will only be a lot of pain for a “short time”? Id bet money on it lasting at least as long as the original American experiment- 10 generations or so.

    I’d much rather go down fighting over a slow decline that leaves us in a position to help pick up the pieces afterwards than hand over the reigns to the theorcats and doom everyone until my great-great-great-great grandchildren to intense pain and suffering.

    Third, the ACTUAL message not voting sends is “You have broken me. I am so whipped and pathetic that I cannot muster even the slightest effort at resistance, token or not. Do what you will to me and my country.” It signifies tacit approval of the greater evil.

    What happened to you, Ted? You used to be relevant. Hell, you used to be funny. Now you just put out this crazy stuff that would be more at home at Redstate, and wonder why you’re increasingly marginalized and irrelevant to the American left.

  • Susan Stark
    June 30, 2011 8:02 PM

    Dear Whimsical,

    As hard as it is for you to accept, you are essentially voting for two slavemasters. The only difference between them being that one will whip you harder and faster and the other will whip you lighter and slower. And you know this, because of the statement “At least with the Democrats . . .” that you’ve made above.

    If you don’t like Ted’s ideas, at least come up with some of your own.

  • Dear Susan,

    I believe whimsical is discussing voting in favor of non-two parties such as third or write-in as opposed to not voting, and thus he has proposed, or at least backed, an idea as an alternative. Ted, however, has suggested everyone back the same idea that the large legions of the laziest and most ignorant have put forth, and makes claim that because he is not among the laziest and most ignorant it will suddenly mean something when he does it.

    • I am taking a cue from residents of other countries with oppressive regimes. Voter boycotts are a favorite tactic. Remember when Sunnis boycotted the Iraqi elections? The US and their puppet regime were very concerned about that. Similarly, dictatorships in Central Asia always promote high turnout even though there’s only one candidate. Why do you they care?

  • Dear Susan-

    Despite your amusing condescension, I have no problem accepting that we are living under a slavemaster either way. However, the proper response is not to weakly give up and allow the harder slavemaster to whip you to death; the better response is to play along with the lighter slavemaster while at the same time secretly plotting rebellion.

    Or, to avoid using overblown metaphor: I’ve known the country is (eventually) doomed since I first learned about entropy; which coincidentally was around the time of the first Mondale/Reagan debate. That said, simply because the car you are in is heading for a brick wall is insufficient reason to jam the drivers foot down on the gas. All that’s going to do is make sure no one survives.

    You have a moral obligation to do your damndest to slow the car down, if not change its direction. Only a coward gives up and dies without a fight.

    Or, speaking non-metaphorically, the answer is the complete opposite of what Ted is calling for. Not less, involvement with the system, but MORE, more at every level. It is possible to take over the system from the bottom up, while at the same time, keeping the Republicans from acquiring the fascist theocracy they long for.

    However, it requires patience and strategy, something that seems to be badly lacking in the fringe left these days.

    Dear someone:

    Thank you, but no. Voting third party (in anything other than exceedingly local elections) is only slightly less useless than not voting at all. You’re still jamming the drivers foot down on the gas as the car heads towards the wall, but you’re just closing your eyes.

    However, your last sentence is right on target. Not voting is both ignorant and lazy, as well as damaging to the country. And the results of not voting aren’t going to change just because someone who is neither ignorant nor lazy does it.

    • Patience is no longer a luxury we can afford. Maybe we can take over the Democratic Party in 40 years. But how many species will have gone extinct between now and then? How many people will have been murdered by the US military?

  • The fact that this discussion is even taking place – whether to vote or not (and I think reflects the sentiments many liberals are now struggling with) says volumes about how crappy the Democratic party is, how low they have sunk.

  • ted said:
    “Both we and the world would be better off if this evil regime were to crash sooner rather than later. I’d rather have a lot of pain for a short time than less pain over a protracted decline.”

    This has always been my position. Not voting will cause the repugs to win, and that is exactly what we want. In fact, if this movement is not organized, with media and all the trimmings, it may not be enough to not vote.

    We will have to vote for the worst possible candidates. No moderates. We need to vote for the candidates that want to slash the budget. But there is the problem of electability. If we are too zealous, we could cause a democrat to win…or an overly moderate repug. Here are some thoughts / rules:

    1) Opt out or vote the dominant republican candidate only if you are in a swing state. The repugs must win.

    2) If you are in a solidly republican district, vote libertarian to send a message to the beltway repugs that they better not act moderate. Vote for the most extreme libertarian you can imagine. We want the budget d e c i m a t e d. Public parks turned into golf courses, privatized transportation system, privatized police and fire, monument management, roads, post office, corn subsidy…you get the idea.

    No more bread and carnivals. It’s time to bring the pain.

  • So, we should give power to people who will destroy the world now, because we cant afford the damage the world will take until we can take charge and fix it?

    That’s crazy talk, Ted.

    How many species will have gone extinct between now and the time we take over the Democratic party? How many people will have been killed by the US military? I guarantee you the answer to both those questions is: LESS than the amount that will happen if we give power to the teahadists now.

    As for your question about actual oppressive regimes, the answer is: because it would be bad PR to be seen on the world stage dancing up and down, rubbing ones hands and going “Yay! The stupid sheeple gave us EXACTLY what we wanted!”

    And in the US, a voter boycott wouldn’t even make the news. Oh you might get one sentence or so about how turnout was the lowest ever, but that would be quickly driven off the air by the new Teapublican administration crowing about their mandate.

    You naively say “bring the pain” without having any idea how bad the pain will be, how long the pain will last, and how many people will suffer unnecessarily, because you’re having a snit with the Democrats.

    Utter foolishness.

    Is a ten generation fascist theocracy causing billions untold suffering really the price you’re willing to pay to get back at Democrats for being less than they can be?

    • “Less than they could be”?

      The problem with the Democrats isn’t that they’re falling short of our expectations or desires.

      What they’re actively doing–assassinations, new war (now Somalia), etc.–is the problem.

  • “I am taking a cue from residents of other countries with oppressive regimes. Voter boycotts are a favorite tactic.”

    Yes Ted, but in those countries, more then 51% of the population (the 2000 turnout in the USA) tend to vote. making the absence of votes more noticeable. Also while I am a firm believer in active non-violent resistance, not voting, even in countries with 90+% voter turn out doesn’t accomplish anything, because it is not active resistance, it is passive.

    At one point in his life, someone told Gandhi “I don’t believe in passive resistance, it accomplishes nothing” Gandhi responded to this by saying (paraphrased) “I agree and neither do I, but I believe in active non-violent resistance.” In conclusion because you are choosing not to vote, even Gandhi is calling you a pussy from beyond the grave.

    @Whimsical: Sorry about misinterpreting your statement earlier. I was so fired up at the time that I made the incorrect assumption that your argument was pro-independent voting instead of just pro-voting. My bad.

  • Ted, Ted, Ted: Are you SERIOUSLY trying to argue that we should give power to the people who will cause a MILLION deaths, just to protest a THOUSAND deaths? Are your ideological blinders that strong?

    Your position isn’t justifiable. Or at least you have yet to provide adequate justification for it.

    Someone: NP, man. Believe me, I wish we lived in a country where third parties were viable choices and not only useful as spoilers. But unless and until we get massive changes in the way we hold and fund elections, that’s not going to happen here. Plus, you’ve done a good job on nailing Ted to the wall with the utter foolishness of not voting.

  • I agree with Will (have to wait for used ones to come on—go no 7- dolla!) and Ted (Do. Not. Vote.) Don’t encourage the basterds any further

  • “non violent resistance” against a police state is a fool’s game. I won’t play it.

  • gavbrown…”Liberals” are always struggling because they stand for nothing. They need to grow a pair and become Socialists. Or sat least Labor Activists. Democrats. I would laugh if it didn’t hurt.

  • Kdelphi – Struggling to come up with answers is not a sign of standing for nothing, it is a sign of intelligence and a realization that the world is not black and white, but sometimes nuanced. I would like to see the Democrats grow a spine and stand up for their principles, and in some cases there is more clarity than others – it is clear to me we should: help the weakest people of the society stay out of povery and rise if possible – tax the wealthiest more than others, particularly in the arena of income and inheritance taxes – stand with the unions with new laws and amendments to protect working families – speak out against militarism. I wish the Democrats would be better and I have a hard time going as far as Ted on the issue of how we should react to our crappy leaders.

  • Anybody have an idea where I can get Prof. Kolin’s book for les than $70-80?

  • Its like the old episode of the simpsons where aliens take over America because Americans are too stupid to not vote for one of them, as one is running for each major party. At the end while everybody is getting whipped, Homer says, don’t blame me I voted for (the other aliens name).

  • The flip side to Whimsical’s tirade about a “ten-generation theocracy” is the conservative’s harangue about the “Marxist” Obama administration. The purpose of each reason deprived excuse for an argument is to keep the voting public in fear, and to obediently vote Republican or Democrat, as may be the case, lest all those awful consequences befall the US if the other, evil side, wins.
    Guess what, the evil side always wins, be they Democrat or Republican, and the military-industrial complex goes on unabated. All the while, normal people, who don’t care either if their neighbour is a lesbian or into S&M or if she’s a successful businessmen who make 100 times more than they do, are left frustrated.

  • This is sort of a side note. But I think it’s interesting that Kolin is from upstate NY as am I and as is Morris Berman (who holds a similar view and how I found out about your web site.) I wonder if New Yorkers are just more aware of corruption. Not that our state is especially corrupt or anything…

    BTW, there’s a web site for used books at I just checked and Kolin’s book was still listed at over $80 but that site changes over time as more ppl buy the book then resell it used. In a month or so, the price might go down. Of course, there’s always the library (if the Repubs haven’t budget cut yours out of existence yet…)