The political landscape is filled with buzz phrases and mottos meant to convey some emotion or conviction without actually saying much. These can range from campaign slogans like Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “I like Ike” to the lifting of “the right to bear arms” from the Second Amendment to fight against gun control.
That’s all well and good. Politics have always been full of cleverly succinct vernacular, like Caesar’s bold “I came, I saw, I conquered,” Marx’s Communist-unifying “workers of the world, unite,” and Patrick Henry’s courageous “give me liberty, or give me death.” Of all of these phrases, however, there is one that lights a fire under me.
“You should never sacrifice freedom for security.” Or, as it was originally written by Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
In 1755, it was a nice and very specific sentiment written as part of an appeal to the governor of Pennsylvania for a bill that would raise money to better defend the frontier from attack.
In 2015, it is one of the most ignorant things one could say in reference to the role of government.
The entire premise of government is a body of people choosing to sacrifice certain personal liberties for the collective security. If you don’t understand or agree with this concept, look at the inverse. The truest freedom would be to live in a land where no higher power exercises any limit on what one can and cannot do, where no law or armed force is there to prevent crime. Think about every “wild, wild west” movie and remove the marshal or sheriff from the plot.
By consenting to live under government rule, you implicitly agree to sacrifice some level of freedom for security. You agree to refrain from violence, to refrain from persecuting others for their religion or race, and to the possibility of jury duty. You agree to these in exchange for armed forces to protect you from violence, for protection from persecution, and for the promise of a fair trial by jury should you end up being indicted. But somewhere along the line, Americans have missed the point of our government. We’ve misinterpreted the idea of freedom.
The United States was, of course, founded out of a desire for more freedom. After fighting a bitter war to escape oppression, the founding fathers put first the idea of liberty and undeniable freedom. But the spine of this freedom that is now so overlooked is the idea of liberty and inalienable rights for all, the implied idea that your rights and freedom are protected until they impede on someone else’s. The most significant amendments to the Constitution were made as a result of someone’s inalienable rights being denied somehow: the right for people to drink what they want (the 21st Amendment), the right for women to vote (the 19th Amendment), and the right for anyone who isn’t white to be treated equally as a citizen of the United States (the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments).
Somehow, however, Americans began to believe that the backbone of American democracy is the protection of their own personal freedoms. I’m not interested in arguing for or against Obamacare — I think it is the wrong step in the right direction — but “socialized” healthcare presents a good example. There should be no denying that more accessible healthcare is a good thing for the people of the country. However, there is a prevailing backlash against the idea, because it will create new inconveniences for those who already have healthcare. Sure, your right to choose your healthcare plan is nice, but is it greater than the right to healthcare for those who can’t afford it? I believe the sacrifice of your freedom to choose your healthcare package in order to ensure the protection of another man’s health is a noble one.
Begin to view government from the collective scope of the American population rather than with only your interests, and you will see things from a new — and I believe better — perspective.