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.