Benjamin Franklin has been proved right yet again

Two quotes by Benjamin Franklin have entered the lexicon of American political discourse.  Said at different times and referring to different situations, they nevertheless reinforce each other.

Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Unfortunately, too many people forget his warnings when their own or society’s safety appears threatened.  They’re all too willing to allow government to override their personal, essential liberties by promising an ephemeral and all-too-illusory ‘security’.

The otherwise eminent historian and journalist, Max Hastings, for whom I have a great deal of respect as an author, has just made this mistake in an article in the Daily Mail.  He writes:

Our principal weapons against terrorists are not tanks, Typhoon fighter jets or warships, but instead intelligence officers using electronic surveillance.

Much cant has been peddled recently about the supposed threat to liberty posed by government eavesdropping on our lives.

. . .

There may be a few mavericks within intelligence services who abuse such power, but unless we view the very existence of government as inherently wicked and threatening, I cannot for the life of me imagine what harm can result from MI5 accessing the phone calls, bank accounts, emails of you, me or any other law-abiding citizen. How much Amazon and Google know about our private lives seems much more alarming than what MI5 discovers.

Public safety demands a perpetual balancing act between collective security and the rights of the individual.

. . .

Today, we need not erect barbed wire entanglements or mount anti-aircraft guns on public buildings. Instead, and much less onerously, we all must endure airport searches, even though we know full well that we are threatened not by elderly Englishwomen, or for that matter men, but by jihadis. And we must acquiesce in electronic surveillance.

I feel a real anger towards the civil libertarians who resist this, towards the imbeciles who recently sought to raise money for a statue in London celebrating Assange and Snowden as champions of freedom — yes, they really did.

No modern intelligence officer would dare to use Churchill’s wartime words, when he appealed to the Americans for arms: ‘Give us the tools and we will finish the job’. But I am convinced that the security services must indeed be given the modern tools and increased manpower they need if Britain is to have any chance of restricting — not eliminating, because that is impossible — the havoc wreaked by terrorists.

There’s more at the link.

The grave error in Mr. Hastings’ thinking is simply this:  Such overreaches by the intelligence community have not, and do not, and will not, protect us against all such attacks.  The surrender of personal liberty to the ‘security state’ has failed to deliver what we’ve been promised in return – namely, security.  Therefore, if the surrender of our essential liberties will not deliver the freedom from attack, from terror, from fear, that it’s supposed to yield, why surrender them at all?

Anyone who says that we ‘must’ surrender our essential civil and other liberties – including our right to privacy – in order to protect ourselves and our societies against terrorism is lying through his teeth.  Such a surrender cannot and will not produce the desired result.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  We’ve seen a wholesale invasion of our liberties by the authorities since 9/11, all in the name of ‘national security’ – yet terror attacks have continued, and will continue, and there’s no way we can prevent them all (except to pretend, as the Obama administration has done, that they’re simply ‘workplace violence‘ instead of terrorism).

No, Mr. Hastings.  Since their loss can never guarantee my or society’s safety, I will not surrender my essential liberties;  I will resist anyone who tries to intrude upon them;  and given the opportunity, I will block such intrusion by any and all means at my disposal.  If you can’t understand that, then my previously very high opinion of you will take a sudden nose-dive at your demonstrated, incomprehensible lack of logic and inability to grasp reality.



  1. @Anonymous at 2:29 AM:

    In my turn, I refer you to this section of that speech:

    "58. And let me be clear – we only apply intrusive tools and capabilities against terrorists and others threatening national security. The law requires that we only collect and access information that we really need to perform our functions, in this case tackling the threat of terrorism. In some quarters there seems to be a vague notion that we monitor everyone and all their communications, browsing at will through people's private lives for anything that looks interesting. That is, of course, utter nonsense."

    Guess what? He's lying through his teeth. We know, beyond any doubt, that GCHQ in Britain and the NSA in the USA have been sweeping up every single particle of electronic intelligence they can, and storing it en masse in vast databanks, so that at any time in the future a warrant can be obtained and the relevant records analyzed. The data include such trivialities as my telling my wife I love her, through more personal information such as our online interaction with our bank (including details of our accounts, balances and transactions), all the way to our habits, hobbies and personal interests.

    This is absolutely unacceptable to any right-thinking person. Such information is none of GCHQ's or NSA's business – and it's not for them to say whether it is or not: it's for us. The information is ours, after all, not theirs. I utterly reject any insinuation that I should allow them to gather all such information by, about or from me on the pretext of some illusory security that they cannot, in any event, guarantee.

  2. @Anonymous at 12:02 AM: No, that's just a conspiracy-theorist nutcase spouting his usual drivel. The officer was, indeed, killed.

  3. Hey Peter,
    The problem with those that espouse more security and less freedom are relying on the benign government bureaucrat and the altruistic purpose of government. Both are fallacies and those ships of thought will run aground on the reality of personal ambition and reality of dealing with people. We have given up soo much as a society of our personal freedom and we have a new generation of citizens that thanks to government education believe that this is ok. With this mindset, I do fear for the future of this republic(Not a democracy) as it is taught.

  4. +1 on Mr. G Government bureaucracy is NOT benign. Once a program starts, it never ends. And a 'new' administration may use that 'benign' program for entirely different purposes depending on what 'definitions' they choose.

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