In my world of problem solving there are four classes of work, puzzles, mysteries, rabbit holes and black holes. Puzzles are those problems where you have all the pieces and you know what the end result will look like. All you have to do to a puzzle is solve it. Puzzles are just a matter of time and effort. Mysteries are tougher. You don't know all of the pieces and you might have to build some of them to get the solution, so you know what things are supposed to be, but how to get from point A to point B is, well, a mystery. Mysteries unravel as time goes on and soon become puzzles, if you're crafty or lucky.
A rabbit hole is a problem whose solution begets more problems. When you begin to address it and solve one part, you create new parts. These new problems may be puzzles, they may be new mysteries. There may even be rabbit holes within rabbit holes. Often the wisest course of action when faced with a rabbit hole is to avoid it altogether. Alternatively, the wisest course is bravado, overkill and simplification. Don't even pretend that you can solve the problem with any finesse, just jump in and get busy.
The black hole might sound like an infinite rabbit hole from which there is no escape. But it's actually worse. It's a rabbit hole that you didn't know you were already in. In the argot of the intelligence business, it is the unknown unknown. Not only do you not understand the class of problem, you don't know if you have it, how long you've had it or what you've been doing all this time to make it better or worse. A black hole is where people in the Matrix live, who've never heard of the Matrix. One might equally call a black hole a black swan, but I'm trying to be original here and there is this subtle difference. Whereas a black swan is necessarily a future event upon which much or little might hang, a black hole is a present condition - one whose origins and ends are unknown. Leave it at that.
Threats to freedom are, to most Conservatives like me, mostly a puzzle. We can be fairly confident that we know what freedom is, what the absence of freedom is and how to get those things that make us unfree. That is because we in America are steeped in the history of freedom struggles. We recognize the puzzle pieces. But even without an educated guess or acquaintance with any such history, human beings have an innate sense of their own conditions of unfreedom. In that way, when we look at the question of 'threats to freedom' we do so with the presumption of interposing our will. After all, no American slave needed Frederick Douglass to know they were not free. Slaves had all the puzzle pieces right in front of them every day.
Sometimes, however, dealing with threats to freedom is a mystery, but that's generally because we don't have perfect understanding. Frederick Douglass was needed by the Abolitionists in order to flesh out their vague sentiments about the conditions of slavery. To the many in Douglass' day, the condition of slavery was a mystery. Douglass gave them the pieces to the puzzle. They could, informed, therefore take action - or at least fortify their lofty ideals. Likewise today sometimes there's a communications problem surrounding a mystery of freedom. And so as putative protectors of Liberty, we Conservatives cast about for some such testimonials, pampered as we are in a more or less stable situation of our own freedom. In that we are very much like the Abolitionists peeking at the Others. Are women free to have abortions? Are gays free to marry? The answers are yes and no, and so it's a mystery until we craft all the right tools to make such things clear. The right book perhaps. The goodly pamphlet. The stirring essay. The proper Google search. If we can gather the right communicators we can clear up the mystery. But not every Limbaugh is a Douglass. Not every communicator is great.
What about freedom for Iraqis? Well that turned out to be quite a rabbit hole. Solving one problem, like arresting potential insurgents off the streets, caused another problem, overcrowding of prisons like Abu Graibh. Solving one problem, the legal theory of 'enemy combatants' caused another problem, the political fallout of GTMO. In the larger world, the burdens assumed by certain nations and factions within those nations in the West, the pursuit of freedom for larger slices of humanity sometimes fails. While we can always claim some high moral ground by our intentions, it's even more difficult to change regimes, and communicate what we know to be true about freedom across barriers of religion, culture, geography and language.
The black hole class of threats to freedom can be predicted by theory, but cannot be observed directly. By definition they are an unknown unknown. They are an anomaly to everything we normally expect. They might already be a present danger but they are not clear. And so we have to speculate about where the threat might arise so that we may have the energy to get us out of the rabbit hole, and the tools to turn mysteries into puzzles.
Since we know what freedom is, and as participants in a constant dialog about liberty and its defense, we Americans have a leg up. However there is a fine line between the reasonable and unreasonable preparedness. In a world full of potential black holes it's impossible to tell which is which. What we then have to do is use another kind of thinking. The best way to describe it is containment, or as Mr. Spock (or was it Sherlock Holmes (Hmm a puzzle)) might say, when you have eliminated all of the false possibilities whatever remains, however unlikely, must be true.
So to handle the unknown unknowns, you handle the known ones first. Focus on the facts in the puzzle of freedom. Find great communicators to bridge the gaps to where freedom is a mystery. Be undaunted and give your best efforts for the sake of freedom, knowing full well that it will cause problems and unintended consequences. That is enough work.
When the black swans appear on the horizon, or the black hole reveals itself it will take us all by surprise, and so I would suggest that we focus on what we know. This is where I think there can be a particular advantage of being epistemologically modest, as proper conservatives are. We should not be so bold as to think we can take immediate or predictable advantage of crises and unprecedented events. After all, the conservative is happy making sense of what history has proven thus far - not in saying that there is an inevitable march of history but that in the untold trillions of possible universes, there is a good straight and narrow path.
So yes, there are certainly new threats to freedom. But there are also a lot of old recognizable threats as well and many of them are posing as something new and we believe it because we don't know our history. So let us not concern ourselves so much with new threats, but focus on the puzzles for which we have pieces, the mysteries for which we have clues, and the rabbit holes for which we have energy.