Liberty and Security

Attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"
This quote is being applied to the current discussion regarding both the Patriot Act and to the NYT report regarding wire tapping by the National Security Agency.

Firstly, lets look at the quote. Did Franklin actually say it? From Wikiquote, companion to Wikipedia.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

This statement was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. (1759) which was attributed to Franklin in the edition of 1812, but in a letter of September 27, 1760 to David Hume, he states that he published this book and denies that he wrote it, other than a few remarks that were credited to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which he served. The phrase itself was first used in a letter from that Assembly dated November 11, 1755 to the Governor of Pennsylvania. An article on the origins of this statement here includes a scan that indicates the original typography of the 1759 document. Researchers now believe that a fellow diplomat by the name of Richard Jackson to be the primary author of the book. With the information thus far available the issue of authorship of the statement is not yet definitely resolved, but the evidence indicates it could well have been Franklin.

Many variants derived from this phrase have arisen and have usually been attributed to Franklin:
"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security"
"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither"
"If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both."

So even if Benjamin Franklin did not originate it, is it still true? I must respond with an emphatic No! In any society can there be liberty without security? no and this is self evidently true. There is no single society, there are numerous societies that vie with each other for prominence, and conflict, not necessarily war, is the norm. All societies thus develop means to provide security against another competing societies. The absence of security is anarchy, a turbulent and likely violent environment, given the human conditions, drives, and desires, rather than a peaceable kingdom of freedom and liberty. How then thus a society acquires the means of security? By limiting the liberties of its citizens, most commonly through an attempted monopoly of force and standardization of exchanges. The freedom to commit violence is remove or prohibited to the individual and are held by the state in the form of law and justice, as well as policemen and the military. Standardization of exchanges entails language, customs, moneys, and expectations. As individuals we willingly relinquish our freedom such as our "liberty" to kill, for the protection and security against others wishing us harm by being a respectful member of a lawful society.

Would we sacrifice essential liberty for temporary security? Hell no, but again that is not what is being discussed with either the Patriot Act or the NSA "scandal". What we do instead, especially in times of war is to temporarily sacrifice non-essential liberty for durable security. Remember the quote "loose lips sink ships?" Are we not talking about a limit of freedom of speech there?

The concern for civil liberty is valid. The striving of absolute civil liberty is foolish and misplaced in times when the security nesisary to protection of essential liberties are threatened.

Related reads:
All Things Beautiful
Atlas Shrugs
Little Green Footballs
Roger L Simon


Alexandra said...

All Things Beautiful TrackBack 'The President's Week From Hell (OPEN THREAD)'

Jesse said...

I'm guessing you enjoy the sounds your keyboard makes as you type. What a psychotic-Nanny-State apologist you've proven yourself to be.