Is Ben Franklin’s Quote About Giving Up Liberty for Safety Still Valid?
Some ideas just stand the test of time, or as least should. The idea that we Americans shouldn’t give up our rights for temporary safety is one of those. God help us if we continue to decide otherwise. We’ve been doing it a lot in recent times.
The actual quote from Benjamin Franklin is, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
The quote is often brought up to oppose the Patriot Act. Lately, it’s come up a lot as our rights are suspended by government officials trying to keep us safe from COVID-19.
Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution said in a 2015 NPR interview, “It is a quotation that defends the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security. It means, in context, not quite the opposite of what it's almost always quoted as saying but much closer to the opposite than to the thing that people think it means.”
The Ben Franklin quote came about during a dispute between the elected legislature in Pennsylvania and a wealthy family. The lawmakers wanted to tax them to pay for frontier defense during the French and Indian War. The family had the governor of the state quash the legislature’s intentions.
There are many in our society today who have the misguided belief that the US Constitution and Bill of Rights are no longer valid. They’re old documents of a bygone age. Others rightly claim that they are the basis and foundation for our free society, a society that many have died to preserve.
Unfortunately, old words like tyranny and liberty don’t seem to resonate with the “enlightened” and “progressive” people in our society. Instead, the buzz words are “equity” and “inclusion.” Don’t get me wrong. These things are important too but need to be achieved under the rights and freedoms granted us, not at their expense. We need to do things because they are right, not because someone will take away our livelihood if we don’t.
- Tyranny is defined as “oppressive power exerted by a government; a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler.”
- Liberty is defined as “the power to do as one pleases; freedom from physical restraint; freedom from arbitrary control; the power of choice.
- Draconian is defined as “excessively harsh and severe” about laws or their application. Rules that are too restrictive or just plain unfair are called Draconian.
Do those words really sound obsolete in 2020?