Thursday, January 26, 2006

Degrees of Liberty

My post that included a picture of the Georgetown law students yesterday drew an offline comment, that I will recount here:

The pic you show in your blog today shows a Franklin quote that has been misused quite a lot.

The quote is really: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

I would argue that there is a difference.

I believe my commenter would like to imply that the salient omission in the Georgetown version of the quote is the word "essential", and secondarily the word "temporary", and that it's an important omisison in that it implies B.F. meant something very different - that the liberty in question has to be evaluated on its own merits and deemed essential or nonessential - sort of like those venial and mortal vices Catholics are always bandying about. It's probably worth arguing that big sin or little sin, they're still sins. And big liberty or little liberty, they're still liberties, or aspects of liberty - but that leads down the whole road to what liberals feel are essential liberties versus what libertarians feel are essential liberties, and there's enough commentary out there about that very issue that I don't have much to add to the accumulated tome.

However, what I can state is that the quote probably wasn't even by Franklin at all, but by Richard Jackson. Franklin actually wrote: "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power." Which doesn't include the word essential at all and is probably more apropos of the Enron trials restarting. That quote has been misconstrued over the years, including:

  • "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

  • "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security."

  • "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."

  • "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." (Wikiquote)
In the end, with the quote hopelessly mangled over time, the issue comes down to which source you use as your attribution and, more importantly, what you are trying to state or communicate, which in this case is that the president circumvented the law to suit his own needs, even after lobbying against loosening the requirements after 9/11 and questioning the constitutionality at that time, and is now following the GOP SOP which is to go on the offensive on as many fronts as possible claiming something was necessary, regardless of whether it was legal. He is not above the law and he is not the final arbitrator of which laws he feels he needs to follow, regardless of what he feels is necessary.

She Says has some extended notes up at Unblague, including links to Bill O'Reilly badmouthing the students, the Daily Show's take on the whole thing, the webcast of Gonzales's speech, a webcast of the panel that followed it, and links to newsfeeds with coverage of the story.

No comments: