Liberty for Security

I keep seeing this Benjamin Franklin quote, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” or its concise variant, ”Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither”—usually on a bumper sticker (next to the Gadsden flag) on some pickup truck.

It’s surprising (but maybe it shouldn’t be) how a quote from a Founding Father can be asserted as if it’s an obvious fact without the slightest unpacking of what it’s actually saying. I think if someone is about to harm or kill you, and you waive some kind of right—like, say, by locking yourself in your house, thereby restricting your freedom to move about—in order to achieve temporary safety, then you not only don’t deserve to be unsafe, i.e. harmed or killed, but rather you deserve the temporary safety you bargained for. Even if you can never leave your house again, isn’t it better then walking outside and getting murdered?

I know that the quote is supposed to be some kind of Second Amendment bedrock, and I am at the same time open to entertaining the idea that it’s possibly better to have an unsafe society than to have an overly restricted one (that’s why kids don’t play outside anymore, which is in my estimation a categorically awful thing), but should it be true (without demonstration, no less) that if someone wants to restrict gun ownership, they deserve to be shot? Isn’t that the opposite of what they deserve?

Yes, if society becomes too padded, the overprotection often causes more problems than it solves (see: War on Drugs), but if someone wants to give up some freedom to be safer, I think the worst we can say about them is that they haven’t thought through the endgame. Surely, they don’t deserve to be restricted and simultaneously unsafe—and to wish that upon someone just seems cruel, if not egomaniacal.

Thinking about the quote even for a further two seconds should also force one to think about all the times throughout human history when people have done just that—sacrificed liberty for security—and have been shown in hindsight to have been right to do so. In fact, what ostensibly is a military, if not a cohesive group of individuals who have sacrificed personal liberty for the protection of themselves or others?

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2 thoughts on “Liberty for Security

  1. For better or worse, my first thoughts upon hearing that quote have always regarded post-9/11, Patriot Act-era, terror-threat-level America and the weighty phrase “war on terror.” By the way, that five-color threat index thing lasted nine years! Absurd.

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