The Times, They are a-Changin’

While riding the tram home one night from the centre ville, my friends and I went silent as five police officers awaited us and the other passengers at the station. Each rider was sized up by the officers until one unlucky and oblivious Montpellierian was spotted. Blearily enjoying his Super 63, (a cheap Belgian beer with a reputably high alcohol content) he staggered to his seat in a common routine for most tram riders: transit to and from their weekend plans with zero enforcement of public alcohol laws — that is, until now.

Our public transit friend was approached by the officers, moved to the back of the tram, frisked, ticketed and deposed at the next stop. The officers eventually exited, causing my friends and I to exchange wary and knowing glances. This type of enforcement had been in play ever since returning from our blissful Christmas vacations, over a dozen victims were murdered by extremism.

After learning about the mechanisms of control in London put in place to reduce the extraordinarily high crime rates, I felt a certain sensitivity towards the changing attitude of European governments and authority towards crime and minor-rule breaking alike. For example, in London, restaurants or pubs that remain open after 11 p.m. must pay a hefty tax. As a result, most London restaurants close right before the dreaded hour and once raucous city streets have grown silent. For some, this form of control is a benefit. For example, philosophy of science masters student, Karin Fliesswasser feels much safer walking home late after studying at the London School of Economics. However, others feel it takes the character out of the city.

Meanwhile, in France, a recent security surge has occurred, caused by the attacks. I have seen more policemen and women in the last week than my entire first six months in France. Professor of constitutional law at Paul Valèry, Stephen Bolle, thinks this is demonstrative of a reshaping of European and French governmental roles. He stated that the lines between control as a reaction to safety versus blatant control are being blurred: “What is a totalitarian system? A dictatorship? A democracy? Be careful which words you use, because things are changing.” He stated further that under the intensive immigration issues that Europe is struggling with, “there are many that dream of a sixth republic.” This notion is in reference to the ever-evolving French definitions of democracy. The current fifth republic is indeed struggling with how to define the beloved French motto: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” As conservative European powers gain control of internal and external organizations such as the EU Senate and the National Assembly within France, these changes are of dire importance.

This calls into question basic issues of compromising the freedoms enjoyed by the many to minimize the abuses of the few. Even small freedoms I have taken for granted in Montpellier have been reduced. For example, for the first time since arriving in Montpellier, I was not allowed on to the train platform to see a friend off at the station. Something so small appears indicative of a strong reaction of enforcement towards the recent violence and breaking of the social contract by a handful of extremists. More petty crime is being brought into the spotlight as the government reacts to the violence of the Hebdo attacks. Either restricting the rights of a stereotyped few, or sacrificing the freedoms of the general public is the manifestation of this dangerous dichotomy being debated by the French government.

In Montana, we constantly struggle with enforcing and creating restrictions of this nature. It would be blatantly fallacious to compare the borderline libertarian state of Montana to the vastly socialized France, but there are certain underlying notions that concern any member of a democracy; namely, what freedoms should be sacrificed on behalf of greater security. For example, the bank robbery that took place in Missoula last March, or through the controversial trial of the Missoula man who shot and killed a German exchange student for trespassing, questions of how guns should be controlled are imperative following these events. The basic cost-benefit analysis is growing thinner as a method for making hard calls in light of political partisanship and continued violence.

As our state remains open to future legislation and rulemaking, questions of libertarianism are constantly at stake when someone violate the social contract. Hopefully our home state, and the recently provoked country of France, can preserve and broaden liberties without sacrificing general security.