Security or Liberty: A Logical Fallacy


“If you love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”

~ Samuel Adams speech at the Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776

Since life is never binary, slicing and dicing political views into distinct philosophical serving bowls is usually a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, I will play the fool and take a cross section of a current debate: When confronted with the security or liberty logical fallacy, two views become apparent.1

Many folks believe they can exchange liberty for security, as if security can be bought with liberty. But such a belief flies in the face of history: government, left to its own devices, provides neither liberty nor security.

Of course, government will accept payments of liberty in exchange for promises of security, but the exchange is a fraud. Government has neither the reason nor the desire to fulfill its side of the bargain. Sure, government will do what it takes to secure its continued power, yet those actions are separate from securing the property and persons of its constituents.

The folks who accept this view see government harassment and intrusion as a sign of security. To be stopped on the road by government agents and forced to defend actions and movements is proof that the strong arm of the state has the situation under control. In this view, more stops and intrusions mean a higher the level of control — in a word: safety.

But this view is in error.

To argue that the state is providing security through harassment is to beg the question. Is harassment a proxy for security? If the bully harasses me on the street, is he providing me security? Consider this: How many times has someone accosted you, hand on gun, who was not an agent of the state? For me, anyway, the answer is never.

Yes, armed agents have stopped me at roadside checkpoints, but no one else, locked and loaded, has harassed me on the roads. And there is something to consider about that truth.

To believe that the more the state threatens my person, and the more that the state invades my property, the greater my security is to believe the lie central to the state. And to watch fellow countrymen harassed, only to assume that the state must have reason for its harassment is to turn backs on the very same rights expected to protect us in the end.

Rights foregone are rights no more.

The other view of the security or liberty logical fallacy is much better, but it is still false. Here, folks see government as nothing other than an evil beast; a beast with an insatiable appetite for power. These folks believe that since liberty is a greater desire than security, security must give way to liberty. However, they miss half the picture. Yes, government is to be feared, always. But there is never a need to exchange liberty for security, ever. In fact: the greater the liberty, the greater the security.

Liberty provides security, not government. Oh, sure, some will say that we need a strong government to keep us safe. However, you have to ask: Does government really keep us safe? My biggest concern in the near term is the likely action of the incoming administration to expand our endless war and, in the end, waste the lives of my children. This is a real concern and a real possibility, more so than any assumed threat my neighbors pose absent the intrusive state.

In addition, when one considers areas under private control (Disneyland, etc.) to areas under government control (city streets, etc.), it becomes apparent that private lands are safer than public lands. Will I have a better chance of being mugged on Main Street, Disneyland, or on my local Main Street? The answer is obvious and telling.

I love the quote above. Adams puts the whole question of security or liberty into perspective. Yes, there is security when the hound under the table licks the hand of its master, but the security belongs to the master since he knows the hound will obey his every command.