Here's the Nonsense: The world is a dangerous place today. With terrorists and other dangers to our safety, it's important we understand that the government's control of our liberties is necessary so that we'll be safe.
Here's the Horse Sense: The battle between liberty and safety goes back to our nation's founding. A clear understanding of the friction between those two makes the answer crystal clear.
In his usual clear-cut, right to the point style, Judge Andrew Napolitano has written an excellent article that should give pause to Americans. In it he raises the point that Edward Snowden's revelations charge our government with violating our freedoms and, thereby, the Constitution. Then he states that the counter-charge of the government is that safety is more important than freedom, which means that Snowden was guilty of impacting the ability of the government to keep us safe by exposing their secrets. And this is Napolitano's main point: that the government wants Edward Snowden punished for interfering with their ability to keep Americans safe.
Raises an interesting debate, doesn't it?
Leaving it right there would cause all who don't do any deeper thinking to assume that the government is right and, therefore, Snowden should be punished. But Napolitano doesn't leave it there. He raises some serious points for thought.
Setting aside bringing Benjamin Franklin's famous viewpoint that "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." should be brought into the discussion, Napolitano points out that most people have heard that we should give up some freedom to assure our safety. The assumption by the government, he points out, is that freedom and safety are equal. Accepting this assumption also brings with it the assumption that the government is the one who should balance one against the other and decide which one should prevail. But, as he points out, this would mean that the government has the moral, legal, and constitutional power to make this decision.
When you think of it that way it starts to look a little different. So many of us turn to the founders of this great nation when these issues come up, throw out some quotes from them only to be countered by the left who say things like, "Well, that was over 2 centuries ago and the world was an entirely different place then." Inevitably this ends in a stalemate between the two sides because, frankly, both are right. The world IS a different place, but the founders views are timeless. So what do we do about these things?
Napolitano gives a very good answer. He points out that the problem with the idea that government should make these decisions is that it ignores the core value upon which our nation was founded. He writes, "That value is simply that individuals — created in the image and likeness of God and thus possessed of the freedoms that He enjoys and has shared with us — are the creators of the government. A sovereign is the source of his own powers. The government is not sovereign. All the freedom that individuals possess, we have received as a gift from God, who is the only true sovereign. All of the powers the government possesses it has received from us, from our personal repositories of freedom."
In other words, freedom is a gift given to every human from God and God alone. No government has the authority to determine peoples' right to freedom, even the smallest of freedoms. Any power the government has is given to them by the citizens. Therefore, it is not their decision, it is the decision of the citizens.
He goes on to say, "All persons are by nature free, and to preserve those freedoms, they have consented to a government. That was the government they gave us — not power permitting liberty, but liberty permitting power — and the instrument of that permission was the Constitution.
The Constitution was created by free men to define and limit the government so it can defend but not threaten our freedoms. Since only free persons can consent to a government, the government cannot lawfully exist without those consents. Here is where the modern-day tyrants and big-government apologists have succeeded in confusing well-meaning people. They have elevated safety — which is a goal of government — to the level of freedom — which created the government. This common and pedestrian argument makes the creature — safety — equal its creator — freedom…. It means that when politicians say that liberty and safety need to be balanced against each other, they are philosophically, historically and constitutionally wrong. Liberty is the default position. Liberty is the essence of our natural state. Liberty cannot possibly be equal to a good we have instructed the government to obtain."
Napolitano is right when he says that the government will always make choices in favor of its power. It does not forego power without a fight. But we have the authority to take it away because power is granted by the citizens. That's what the ballot box is for. That's where we make change. That's where we fight for what is right.
I cannot write a conclusion better than the Napolitano's. He wrote, "The reasons we have consented to limited government are to preserve the freedom to pursue happiness, the freedom to be different and the freedom to be left alone. None of these freedoms can exist if we are subservient to the government in the name of safety or anything else."