No opposition between security and freedom

Eric Lanser

According to Benjamin Franklin, “Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty.” What they don’t know is that they will get neither. Freedom and security are not opposing interests, but different aspects of the same relationship: the proper relationship between civilized men.

Freedom does not mean “freedom from the facts of reality.” No such freedom is possible. Such a freedom would require the freedom of man’s consciousness from reality. Or rather, the freedom to have one’s wishes rule reality.

However, A is A; reality won’t conform to wishes. It is man’s consciousness that must submit to reality. In the words of Francis Bacon, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

In a political context, freedom means freedom from other people. This does not mean that one needs to be isolated on a desert island in order to be free. Your interactions with your grocer, professor, or friends are not a detriment to your freedom.

In these situations you are free to deal with people on your terms, by your consent and by theirs – if they are willing to offer it. The only way to violate such consent is to interact with them or their property by physical force.

Stealing the grocer’s produce, changing your professor’s grade book or plagiarizing his work, and sneaking away your friend’s video game are all instances of force. They are examples of acting without consent, of violating individual freedom – of using force, even if no violence is involved.

Buying a product from a grocer, learning from a professor, and discussing philosophy with a friend do not hinder one’s freedom because you and they are free not to trade, not to communicate, and not to converse.

Security means safety from force. It means that one’s freedom from force be protected. When and if someone violates your freedom, the government retaliates against those who initiated force.

Security means freedom not to interact with the thief next door, the marauding army across the border, nihilistic terrorists who care only for destruction, or arbitrary police power. It means that one’s person and property are secure from the initiation of force.

Freedom and security, then, are intimately related. Either is meaningless without the other. “Complete freedom” in a state of anarchy is no freedom at all. The biggest gang is “free” to force you to do their bidding.

“Complete security” in a totalitarian state is no security at all. You are not secure from the initiation of physical force by secret police that will make you do their bidding.

Security is necessary for freedom and freedom is necessary for security. Each simply addresses a different aspect of the same relationship: the voluntary relationship of man to other men.

Properly construed, security and freedom are never opposed, in either theory or practice. The requirement of freedom and security is the same: rule of law. This means that the power of the government, the power to use legal force, is restricted to retaliation against those who initiate its use.

Such retaliation must be delimited by objective laws in order to keep individual police officers or would-be tyrants from using the coercive power of the government to violate individuals’ freedoms and hamper their security.

For instance, police must have a reason to search your property or to arrest you. This is the basis for the legal principle of “probable cause” and the necessity of search warrants.

However, this is no impediment to security. It would be a waste of time for officials to arrest someone without any reason for doing so. Police power, under such a system, is not arbitrarily used but subject to objective laws and standards of evidence.

These principles apply to every imaginable area of the supposed conflict between security and freedom. Surveillance of e-mails should require a warrant or at least probable cause. No one should be made to report to the INS or any other government agency without proper evidence linking one to a crime.

The government has the unique responsibility of administering the use of force. Its use must be constrained to retaliation according to objective principles of law. Only under such circumstances are security and freedom possible.