By amba | Related entries in History, Smart Things Said By Smart People, The War On Terrorism

Senator Pat Roberts: “I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead.”

What the Senator is saying is that saving lives trumps all else. And I cannot disagree more.

Saving lives trumps much. And how much it trumps is a valid area for discussion and disagreement. But there are things worth dying for. Our Founding Fathers seemed to think civil liberties are among them, since they fought a bloody revolution for them. Patrick Henry wasn’t hyperbolizing when he said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” [ . . . ]

Sometimes [security and liberty] do conflict. And we civil libertarians discredit ourselves when we deny it. The important point is that freedom is more important than safety. Just as our soldiers risk their lives to defend American freedom, we all accept risks in return for freedom. [ . . . ]

Liberty may be no good to those who lose their lives, but life may become no good to those who lose their liberty.

Thank you, Seth Chalmer! God, what a bunch of pussies we’ve become!

Seth is not being reckless; he does acknowledge that “A balance between liberty and security can be argued and changed. Privacy rights aren’t fundamental human rights like the right not to be killed or enslaved.” But he is bringing up a fundamental point: Freedom takes courage, and it cannot be had without risk.

The next time you’re feeling really scared of another terrorist attack, think of yourself and your loved ones as warriors for freedom. That little thought experiment works wonders. Courage is not instead of fear, it’s in spite of it.

UPDATE: Check out this post on “terror management theory” at ThoughtTheater, linked in the comments. [I'm quoting irresponsibly and indiscriminately both from the text of Daniel DiRito's post and from the sources he quotes. Go over there to see who's who.]

Research has shown that people, when reminded of their own inevitable death, will cling more strongly to their cultural worldviews. The data appears to show that nations or persons who have experienced traumas (e.g. 9/11) are more attracted to strong leaders who express traditional, pro-establishment, authoritarian viewpoints. They will also be hyper-aware of the possibility of external threats, and may be more hostile to those who threaten them. [ . . . ]

When looking at the fact that nearly two thirds of Americans polled seemingly accept a program of widespread domestic surveillance, the theory offers a plausible explanation. Essentially, anything that helps assuage the fear of death can potentially be seen as an acceptable situation [ . . . ]

According to the theory, Americans traumatized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks turned to Bush in part because, subconsciously, his clear and values-driven message helped assuage their fear of death. [ . . . ]

“Psychologically terrorized people are attracted to clear vision of where evil lurks in the world and clear vision of how to obliterate it,� Solomon says. And in our post-9/11 world, he continues, Americans are, in some ways, a psychologically terrorized people, with thoughts of death a hazy but ever-present reality.

This doesn’t weaken my point, it buttresses it. If we are awakened to how insidiously we’ve been terrorized, it may galvanize us to defy it.

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 20th, 2006 and is filed under History, Smart Things Said By Smart People, The War On Terrorism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Word!”

  1. Daniel DiRito Says:

    Read about how the psychological concept called “terror management theory” impacts the individual and voting considerations here:


  2. Peter Says:

    It is a balance of liberty and security that we are struggling with. I believe, and espouse at The American Moderate Party that I would prefer to sacrifice some security to liberty.

    Yes, as Sen. Roberts said -what good is liberty if we are dead? But I really wonder is it worth living if we have no freedom?

    I do not believe that a life in chains is better than being dead. I know my final destination and am very comfortable with that outcome. I acknowledge that many disagree, but I truly believe that freedom, not security, is what makes America a great nation.

  3. Bob J Young Says:

    I definitely come down on the side of liberty. I not afraid of dieing, but living with big brother frightens me.

    And just to show I’m not talking abstractly: I work on a military base that’s considered a high priority target. At the same time, it has a demolition school on it. Several times a week I am startled by massive window rattling explosions. When the really big ones occur you have to wonder if its an attack.

  4. amba Says:

    Fireworks shows, loud thunderclaps, and planes coming in to land at LaGuardia and Newark do it for me — living in NYC. (I heard Flight 11 go right over my building, too low, too loud, something obviously wrong.)

  5. Paul Brinkley Says:

    “The next time you’re feeling really scared of another terrorist attack, think of yourself and your loved ones as warriors for freedom. That little thought experiment works wonders. Courage is not instead of fear, it’s in spite of it.”

    I keep thinking of the oppressed people in other lands that look to America as a beacon of hope, and where they could turn if America was… dead.

    We have to keep it running.

  6. Richard Says:

    You can quote-mine Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison all you like, but the above comments by our contemporaries about preserving our liberty are more poignant and timely than any of them.

    It is the “War on Terror” that is actually terrorizing us. And this trickle-down terrorism has infected the private sector, as well. Every fan at every NFL football game is patted down; every fan’s carry-in items are rifled by security at Major League Baseball games; and entertainment and other venues around the country are searching you as if you’re about to board a 747 with an unsecured cockpit door.

    I document these excesses on my Web site http://www.JuniorG-ManAward.com, and welcome your incident reports and comments.

  7. Ian Jones Says:

    Thanks for the post- I certainly agree that the issue of freedom is a contentious one. In an ideal world, complete freedom is a nice idea, but simply does not function in today’s society. In theory, total liberty would permit crime, antisocial behaviour and terrorism as presumably people would be free to act as they pleased. I think that the crucial distinction is that between freedom from and freedom to; the scenario formerly described advocates complete freedom to but neglects the concept of freedom from. Surely the right to freedom from terrorism, antisocial behaviour and crime is more important than the freedom to commit such acts. Obviously, this is something of a crude example and the actual balance between the two types of freedom requires a great deal more fine tuning. It’s clearly something that we should be aware of however; the other side of freedom needs to be considered.

  8. david Says:

    Ian is correct. This was the problem that great minds such as J.S.Mill and Rousseau struggled with throughout their lives. What is the trade off between individual freedom and the freedom of others in society. A case in point is the movement to occupy financial districts in New York and London which infringes the freedom of the majority to move around their town in favor of the minority exerting their constitutional right to protest.

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