English 9 Honors
Benjamin Franklin S/R
In 1759, Benjamin Franklin expressed his view on personal liberty and security by stating anyone who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. One can interpret the “essential liberty” Benjamin Franklin talks about as privacy. Benjamin Franklin believed that anyone who would sacrifice their privacy or liberty for a temporary state of security, like the supporters of the English, did not deserve either privacy or security.
Benjamin Franklin correctly identifies the relationship between privacy and security because privacy is strongly tied to individual freedom, one of the most highly valued principles held by humans for all time. In North America, during the French and Indian War in the 1750’s, the freedom and privacy of the English colonists was being challenged by the British crown. The lack of equality in the form of taxation without representation impelled the oppressed colonists to resist and eventually fight for an independent state. The colonists were discontent with the lack of equality and were faced with a choice to acquiesce their privacy and conform to the wishes of the crown or resist the crown. The conformists gave up liberties to support the crown and the non-conformists fought the British and refused to cooperate. Since all people value freedom and want to maintain the ability to self govern, Benjamin Franklin’s argument is still valid today. People are no longer sovereign over their own body and mind when they acquiesce their thoughts, their money, their individual freedoms, or give undue power to any state or governing body. John Stuart Mill stated in On Liberty “that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty). Over the last 15 years, the debate between security and individual liberty has been at the forefront because of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks around the world. Civil libertarians argue that the government’s added security not only infringes on individuals freedom, but more importantly violates personal privacy. Many other people argue that it is a small sacrifice to make in order to gain more safety and security. In reality, one is not required to give up personal liberty to gain security; these two are not inextricably linked. It is possible to have security and yet not give up any individual liberties. It is the people that ultimately determine the degree to which an authoritarian state may exert any unchecked power. Ideally, the power that a state has should be enough to keep individuals from harming others and nothing more. Moreover, Benjamin Franklin’s argument is easily challenged because all people value security. Since the state has the power to protect the people, some people believe that each person should be willing to give up a small degree of individual liberty in order to live in a safer and more secure society. The condition by which people give up some liberty to gain security or self-preservation is identified by Thomas Hobbes as the “Social Contract”. Hobbes defines this contract as “the mutual transferring of right.” In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes states, “For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body;” (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan). Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, rigorously argues that civil peace and social unity are best achieved by the establishment of a commonwealth through people giving up certain natural rights and transferring them to the state. The head of the artificial man, or Leviathan, is the sovereign. The state is comprised of contracts made by the people that give power to representatives of the state; the primary reason of which is to protect people from those that wish to abuse power and harm other individuals. One purpose of the Leviathan is to protect the people from the abuses of one another. In other words, if all people give up minute amounts of liberty, the head of the Leviathan can rule over, protect, and provide security to the people.The catch about the Leviathan system is that essential liberties must be forfeited to gain security. Many believe that it is necessary to give up personal liberty to gain security. Some people hang on to this belief because they so greatly value security and also falsely believe that they can increase their security if they compromise their individual liberty. The strength of this argument is that it appeals to the natural instinct of self protection. However, the argument assumes that one must give up personal liberty in order to increase security. To reject the claim that a trade off must happen between liberty and security, it is sufficient to show that security can be maintained without compromising individual liberty. Suppose that it is not possible to have security without giving up liberty. Then it must be true that complete individual liberty only exists when there is no security and complete security only exists when there is no individual liberty. However, since all people have freedom of thought and expression, all people have some individual liberty in even the most secure of situations. Therefore it is possible to have security without compromising liberty so Benjamin Franklin’s claim that a person that gives up liberty to gain security presumes that personal liberty should be valued above all. The colonists ultimately agreed with Franklin and opposed the crown in order to maintain individual liberties and personal security. The fact that the colonists were able to maintain their security without giving up personal liberty or privacy proves that it is not necessary to give up personal liberty to gain security.
Mill, John Stuart, and David Spitz. On Liberty. New York: Norton, 1975. Print.
Hobbes, Thomas, and Richard Tuck. Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Print.