Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Dialectic of Liberty and Security

I was reminded today of some insightful thoughts from the Maverick Philosopher:
Liberty and security stand in a dialectical relation to each other in that (i) each requires the other to be what it is, and yet (ii) each is opposed to the other. ...

Ad (i). Liberty worth having is liberty capable of being exercised fruitfully and often. Liberty in this concrete sense requires security to be what it is. My liberty to leave my house at any time of the day or night would be worth little or nothing if I were to be mugged every time I stepped over the threshhold. On the other hand, a security worth having is a security that makes possible the exercise of as much liberty as is consistent with the liberty of all. The security of a prison or of a police state is not a security worth having. A security worth having, therefore, requires liberty to be what it is.

Ad (ii). Nevertheless, liberty and security oppose each other. The security of all requires limitations on the liberty of each. For if the liberty of each were allowed untrammelled expression, no one would be secure in his life and property. Thus security opposes and limits liberty. Equally, liberty opposes and limits security. The right to keep and bear arms, for example, poses a certain threat to security, as everyone must admit whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian. The question is not whether it poses a threat, but whether the threat it poses is acceptable given the desirability of the liberty it allows.

Ad (i) + (ii). The situation is complex. Liberty requires the very security that it limits, just as security limits the very liberty that it requires. It follows that any attack on our security is also an attack on our liberty. It seems to me that this is a point that liberals and leftists do not sufficiently appreciate, and that some of them do not appreciate at all. The 9/11 attack on the Trade Towers did not merely destroy the security of those working in them, it also destroyed their liberty, while impeding to greater and lesser degrees the liberty of all the rest of us. But it must also be said that any restriction on our liberties also negatively affects the value of our security – a point conservatives need to bear in mind.


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