What is the connection between liberty and
security? To some extent liberty requires security. You can’t be free if you’re
constantly harangued on every corner by people who might take your property, your life, your
liberty. Indeed John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government argued that the purpose of government
was to create a kind of security for those things that would allow for liberty. Specifically,
he argued that the government should provide for the security of life, liberty, and property.
Once your life, your liberty, and your property are secure, then you can begin to use your
liberty effectively. You can do the things you want in life. But what if we want the government to secure
us against other things besides just those three? There are, after all, lots of risks
in the world. Life is full of risks. Suppose we want the government to begin guaranteeing
us against other kinds of risks. Risks from terrorism, risks from disease, risks associated
with old age, and on and on. Once you begin to think about all the risky behaviors and
all the risks that life poses, there are an awful lot of things that a government might
have to do. Well, should we ask the government to protect
us against all of those? Here’s something to consider. The more security we want, it
comes at a price. What is the price? It’s not just money, although it is money. It’s
not just time and energy, it’s also our liberty. Because the more things the government
protects us against, the more things that we no longer have control over ourselves.
And we may reach a point, there may be a threshold at which we no longer have really any liberty.
If we’ve asked the government to secure us against all risks, no cost barred, then
what we’ve done effectively is we’ve handed over all of the authority, all of the discretion
over our decisions and our lives to some other entity, to the state. At that point we have
effectively zero liberty. But not only do we not have liberty then, we probably also
don’t have security, precisely because we are no longer in control of our lives, somebody
else is. It reminds us of that famous quote from Benjamin Franklin, something to the effect
of, people who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither, and
they’ll probably end up losing both. That contains some important wisdom. Liberty and security are tradeoffs. The more
security we get, the less liberty we’re going to have. Now where exactly is the tradeoff?
Where exactly is the threshold beyond which we shouldn’t go? People of good faith might
have differing views about that, but I would add one other aspect to the Franklin quote.
And that is that liberty is not just a tradeoff against security. Liberty is also the thing
that gives us dignity. We have human, moral dignity because we have liberty. So if we
are giving our liberty away in exchange for security, we’re not only losing the liberty,
but we’re also losing to that same extent some of our dignity. That’s a very high
price to pay and once we give that liberty up it may be very difficult to ever get it