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Sunday, July 02, 2006

The balance between liberty and security

Americans are going to have to decide which is the greater threat: terrorists, or the Republican Party's determination to shred American civil liberties and the separation of powers in the name of executive power and the "war on terror."

Bush's Assault on Freedom: What's to Stop Him?
Paul Craig Roberts,, July 1, 2006

That's a very well-worded question. And a very pertinent one. The only part of it I might want to correct is that it is not just Republicans - it is, to be precise, some Republicans and some Democrats that applaud the fascistic expansion of the state powers that is happening in the US. To be fair, there are many politicians opposed to this power grab and various other illegalities the current administration has become famous for - including Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican.

As for the core of this question, I think one must also ask if there really is a correlation between liberty and security. It is probably true that an extreme form of illiberal society, such as what one had in Cambodia under Pol Pot, was likely immune from any sort of violence except for that perpetrated by the state. But in a country with open borders - such as the US - where business interactions are numerous and many different professional and religious associations exist it is hard to imagine that even a dictatorship - which will likely be more like that of General Pinochet than like that of Pol Pot - will serve as a guarantee against terrorism, crime and other causes of insecurity.

In fact, dictatorship founded on the premise of fighting terrorism might benefit from allowing a certain level of insecurity to persist as a continuing justification for its own existence and likely expansion. Terror warnings have already been used as a political tool by the Bush administration in the runup to the election in 2004. In a society where the central power is basically unchallenged and secrecy is widespread why would the government abstain from potentially using threat of terror, or even fake terror, to boost its popularity and marginalize dissidents? Or why is it outlandish that the government we have now has not already used that ancient trick on September 11, 2001 - an event for which the government provided only a nonsensical explanation but which it still uses as a foundation for its policy?

In short this author does not think there is a connection between liberty and day-to-day stability and security. But in a liberal society citizens get to decide, at least to some degree, how the society they live in ought to change. In a dictatorship their input is minimized. So I vote for liberty. You?

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