Liberty and Security are “Hostile Allies”, not mutually exclusive

With all credit to

Liberty and Security are not mutually exclusive concepts that must be traded against each other, with increases in security meaning decreases in liberty.Indeed, the balance metaphor is a conceit that disguises that what we are almost always really talking about is increasing one persons liberty at the expense of another’s security.

Any crude notion of a “balancing” between security and liberty badly misstates the relationship between these two goods—that in the vast majority of circumstances, liberty and security are better understood as necessary preconditions for one another than in some sort of standoff. The absence of liberty will tend to guarantee an absence of security, and conversely, one cannot talk meaningfully about an individual’s having liberty in the absence of certain basic conditions of security. While either in excess can threaten the other, neither can meaningfully exist without the other.

An individual’s liberty and security interests will almost always align rather precisely; relatively few measures will make Person X more secure but also make her less free. The far more common clash between liberty and security is that the same measure that makes Person X more secure and free will come at the expense of the liberty and security of Person Y. That is, we are not trading off an individual’s liberty against security. We are trading off one person’s liberty and security against another’s; by making Person Y less safe and less free, we hope to make Person X more so. In other words, while we often talk about liberty and security in general, this formulation is actually mischievous and tends to skate over important choices concerning whose liberty and whose security we in fact care about and whose we are willing—even eager—to throw over the side of the boat.

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