The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Liberty and the Flavors of Freedom

Yesterday, most Senate democrats and a few libertarian Republicans refused to block a filibuster of a vote on the continuation of the Patriot Act. Those writing and speaking against the Patriot act often reference Benjamin Franklin's famous statement, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety."

Ben Franklin was known as a man with uncommon common sense. If nothing else, his view of the world and those of us who inhabit it was pragmatic … almost to a fault. I suspect that were he alive today, he would clearly understand the threat we face and have deep insight into the motivations and mindset of Islamists. I further submit that he would favor any reasonable measure that would protect his beloved country from those who want to destroy it. He would not view avoidance of a nuclear blast in a major city as “a little temporary safety.” He would not suggest that those who work to crush sleeper cells within the USA are in some way undeserving of “liberty or safety.”

He would recognize that to have “liberty” we also need freedom, and that freedom comes in two flavors that are often in conflict. The first is ‘freedom to’ live our lives without oppressive government intervention. The second is ‘freedom from’ danger and external attack. Both are critically important.

In the case of the Patriot Act, these freedoms come into conflict with one another. Although Ben Franklin has been dead for centuries, he would have clearly understood the dangers on both sides of the issue and, in my view, decided that ‘freedom from’ trumps ‘freedom to’ every time. Not because he feared the risks that we want to avoid with ‘freedom from,’ but because he would understand that should those risks become real (e.g., a tactical nuclear weapon destroying a large part of a US city), many of our ‘freedoms to’ would disappear as the government reacted with truly draconian measures to hunt down and destroy every terrorist cell. He would also understand that should a WMD attack succeed here, it would open the door to a response by this country that would kill millions in other countries, many of them, innocent.

If those who oppose the Patriot Act think it's bad law, I truly hope they don’t have to experience what will happen if a deadly WMD attack occurs because they’ve prevented its continuation.