When Edward Snowden revealed that the federal government, in direct defiance of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, was unlawfully and unconstitutionally spying on all Americans who use telephones, text messaging or emails to communicate with other persons, he opened a Pandora's box of allegations and recriminations. The allegations he unleashed are that Americans have a government that assaults our personal freedoms, operates in secrecy and violates the Constitution and the values upon which it is based. The recriminations are that safety is a greater good than liberty, and Snowden interfered with the ability of the government to keep us safe by exposing its secrets, and so he should be silenced and punished.
In the course of this debate, you have heard the argument that we all need to sacrifice some liberty in order to assure our safety, that liberty and safety are in equipoise, and when they clash, it is the government that should balance one against the other and decide which shall prevail. This is, of course, an argument the government loves, as it presupposes that the government has the moral, legal and constitutional power to make this satanic bargain.
Roman emperors and tribal chieftains, King George III and French revolutionaries, 20th-century dictators and 21st-century American presidents all have asserted that their first job is to keep us safe, and in doing so, they are somehow entitled to take away our liberties, whether it be the speech they hate or fear, the privacy they capriciously love to invade or the private property and wealth they salaciously covet.
This argument is antithetical to the principal value upon which America was founded. That value is simply that individuals -- created in the image and likeness of God and thus possessed of the freedoms that He enjoys and has shared with us -- are the creators of the government. A sovereign is the source of his own powers. The government is not sovereign. All the freedom that individuals possess, we have received as a gift from God, who is the only true sovereign. All of the powers the government possesses it has received from us, from our personal repositories of freedom.
Thomas Jefferson recognized this when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that our rights are inalienable -- they cannot be separated from us -- because we have been endowed with them by our Creator. James Madison, who wrote the Constitution, observed that in the history of the world, when freedom has been won, it happened because those in power begrudgingly permitted freedom as a condition of staying in power or even staying alive.
But not in America.
In America, the opposite occurred when free people voluntarily permitted the government to exercise the limited power needed to protect freedom. That is known as "the consent of the governed." To Jefferson and Madison, a government lacking that consent is illegitimate.
So, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the principal author of the Constitution were of one mind on this: All persons are by nature free, and to preserve those freedoms, they have consented to a government. That was the government they gave us -- not power permitting liberty, but liberty permitting power -- and the instrument of that permission was the Constitution.
The Constitution was created by free men to define and limit the government so it can defend but not threaten our freedoms. Since only free persons can consent to a government, the government cannot lawfully exist without those consents. Here is where the modern-day tyrants and big-government apologists have succeeded in confusing well-meaning people. They have elevated safety -- which is a goal of government -- to the level of freedom -- which created the government. This common and pedestrian argument makes the creature -- safety -- equal its creator -- freedom. That is a metaphysical impossibility because it presumes that the good to be purchased is somehow equal to the free choices of the purchaser.
What does this mean?
It means that when politicians say that liberty and safety need to be balanced against each other, they are philosophically, historically and constitutionally wrong. Liberty is the default position. Liberty is the essence of our natural state. Liberty cannot possibly be equal to a good we have instructed the government to obtain.
What is the only moral relationship between liberty and safety?
It cannot be balance, because liberty and safety are not equals, as one created the other. It can only be bias -- a continual predisposition toward and preference for freedom.
Every conceivable clash between the free choices of persons and their instructions to their government to safeguard freedom must favor the free choices because freedom is inalienable. Just as I cannot authorize the government to take away your freedom any more than you can authorize it to take away mine, a majority of all but one cannot authorize the government in a free society to take freedom from that one individual. So if somehow freedom and safety do clash, it is the free choice of each person to resolve that clash for himself, and not one the government can morally make.
The government will always make choices that favor its power because, as Ludwig von Mises reminded us, government is essentially the negation of freedom. If anyone truly believes that by silencing him or monitoring him or taxing him the government keeps him safe, and that those are the least restrictive means by which to do so, let that person surrender his own speech and privacy and wealth. The rest of us will retain ours and provide for our own safety.
The reasons we have consented to limited government are to preserve the freedom to pursue happiness, the freedom to be different and the freedom to be left alone. None of these freedoms can exist if we are subservient to the government in the name of safety or anything else.
Is national security more important than civil rights?
National security is first of all, a very vague and ambiguous term, as if signifying that anation will be devastated if it did not give up its civil liberties for a bit of security. The problemwith national security, or security on any level is the fact that no matter how, “secure” you try tomake it, someone will eventually crack through anyways. So, essentially, you can continuallygive up your civil liberties for a bit of personal security, “to feel safe.” Another problem is, in afree world, there will always be dangers, and ever since the world has come into existence,dangers of every kind have always existed. Dangers of every kind will continue to exist nomatter what one does to try to, “stop it.” There is no safety from danger, as human life is alwayssurrounded by danger. People can get offended over the simplest little trivial thing in life like gaymarriage, and you have. “Political correctness” to, “correct” the, “offensiveness” of criticizinggay marriage. Substitute the above example with, “terrorists” “marijuana users,” or anything elsethat may appear, “malignant” and you can pretty much politically correct anything to appease afew.But, alas, that is not what America was founded upon. America was founded upon aConstitutional Republic, America has never been a, “democracy” because the Founding Fatherswere aware of the powers of the mob over the minority. America, and the entire basis of civilization depends on individual freedoms, not on the security of a place, a region, or a country.Sooner or later, the individual would have to die out, to be replaced by the state-apparatus. Toargue that those who want to protect their civil liberties are, “selfish” is a an ad hominem attack,meaning that it is attack based on personality or the attack of the person, not the issue itself.What matters is that the individual exist, and practices his civil liberties.Ever since September 11, 2001, the world may have changed a lot, but that does notnecessarily mean that the American people or people anywhere for that matter must give up their civil liberties. Civil liberties are for everyone. Period. There is no debate that to start restrictingsomeone else’s freedoms is also the process of restricting one’s own. It is the inevitableconclusion of restriction of civil liberties for others, will undoubtedly return to the initiator. It isthe law of karma. The law of cause and effect, and there is no escape from it. We can onlyunderstand the why.Individual liberties are what define a people and a nation. National security, as a vague andambiguous term that presupposes that the people are the, “nation” is wrong. This is because noone would consider themselves to part of a big machine like a nation-state. Everyone hasdifferent dreams, desires, and a destiny that is unique from the collective nation, even if they helpto contribute to it. There is no need to give up constitutional liberties for a bit of security. AsBenjamin Franklin had stated once in his letters, “Those who give up a little bit of freedom for security, deserve neither freedom nor security.” Regardless of who Benjamin Franklin was, whathe said is definitely true. You cannot have freedom with slavery, you can only have one. Onlythen, when you are well-informed, aware, and knowledgeable, are you able to feel secure.Security will not come from giving up your divine, “inalienable” rights as an individual, becauseyou will always be an individual, because you will always have the power to choose. Freedomleads to security, not the other way around.When Bush ordered the USA PATRIOT Acts into effect, he was essentially makingAmerica a post-modern military, corporate police state. With so much video surveillance, wire-tapping, a massive military-industrial complex, a compliant media willing to echo the lies of theBush Administration, and a collective psychosis that feeds off of fear, what would you expectAmerica to become? Bush even stated that he wanted to become a dictator in the 2001 electionwhen he was in Texas.