After attending the Tower Center’s conference on civil liberties versus national security, I found my mind reframing the relationship between these two important and impactful issues. The placement of the word versus between the two terms implies war, which is inaccurate. If we ever hope to reach an agreement between them, then the perspective cannot be that of zero sum. Choosing one definitely over the other solves no problems. Instead, perception can be shifted so that we might engage in more meaningful conversation about the trade offs that occur along a spectrum. A spectrum models the incremental changes that occur from absolute national security to absolute civil liberties.
Let’s take a look at the meaning and importance of both civil liberties and national security. The obvious connection in the minds of Americans to civil liberties is the founding of our country, a democratic nation in which all men and women are created equally. To abandon the inalienable rights granting us liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness is perhaps treacherous and most likely unconstitutional. But is it wrong? Before the birth of this great nation, philosophers such as Hobbes and Locke were writing on the purpose and the need for the establishment of government. In an anarchic world, law does not exist because there is no congress, judiciary or executive to enact or enforce it. Men and women can run amok. Social contract theory explains the agreement that a government inherently offers its citizens. In exchange for following the rule of law, citizens are granted certain rights as determined by the government and, perhaps more importantly, they are protected by the government. A government is an insurance policy of sorts.
Does agreeing to abide by federal law seem a small price to pay for the protection of the United States Armed Forces?
At what point does the reason for the creation of the government, security, become less important than the reason for the founding of this government, liberty?
I invite you to join MUSE as we seek to understand the answer to this question.