Essential? Little? Temporary?


I wrote here, “I’m willing to give up some freedom to have fire protection and paved roads…”; one of my Twitter correspondents chided me: “He who would sacrifice liberty in the name of safety deserves neither.”

I don’t think that’s right. We give up liberty (the freedom to do what we want with our money) by paying compulsory taxes in exchange for things like firefighters, and unless we are anarchists we consider it reasonable to do so.

(Even the anarchocapitalists think it reasonable to give up some of their freedom for safety by voluntarily exchanging their time (in the form of money) for security services provided by private companies.)

The Ben Franklin quote that my correspondent was thinking of is this one:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

When we exchange money for an improved chance of protecting our property from fire, we are not giving up essential liberty (we can do without that money) and the safety we are hoping for is more than “little,” and more than “temporary.”

If we give up essential liberty (say, the freedom to be left alone by the government, or to travel freely around the country) for transient (or worse, illusory) safety, we deserve exactly what we get, which is nothing.

A later philosopher conveyed the same idea more bluntly than Franklin:

Never give a sucker an even break.


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