Wednesday, June 12, 2013

aphorism apolgetics

So a quote going around of late is some form of:
Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both

apparently Mr. Snowden's version of late is:
Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one
If only Ben Franklin actually said either one, it might mean what some want it to mean. Since Ben was a couple centuries ahead of digital cryptology, let alone cell phones, you just know it has a less than straighforward application to contemporary events.

To crib from a couple sources I refer you to Benjamin Wittes writing at the Brookings Institution today: Against a Crude Balance: Platform Security and the Hostile Symbiosis Between Liberty and Security. He references an earlier work: Would Ben Franklin Trade Liberty for Wiretapping?

The actual quote:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety
Close enough for government work. But does it mean what everyone thinks it does?  The deeper perversion is missing the entire original intent of the quote. Read the Wilkes pieces linked above for the full story, but in short Franklin was arguing for HIS freedom as a legislator in the Pennsylvania assembly to RAISE taxes in order to spend MORE on the Commonwealth's military budget. Just a bit different from the quote's new reworked afterlife.

The obligatory Pittsburgh connection?  Why did Franklin think more defense spending was needed? Because of a growing threat on the Pennsylvania frontier. That frontier circa 1750 was that which would soon be named Pittsburgh and environs. Of note it was a debatable point in the longitude challenged era whether the forks of the Ohio River rested within the claims of William Penn, or that of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Franklin might have been anticipating a need to defend the region against the Virginia Colonial Militia which was soon to send a young Lieutenant Colonel on a mission there.

An irony of sorts is that the next time military spending was increased to send military forces into Western Pennsylvania along abouts 1791, the enemy was us.

The lesson? Just say no to paraphrasing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lesson? Just say no to paraphrasing."

Or perhaps the real lesson is "Just say yes to doing some research"? ; )

You have the 'essential liberty... temporary safety' quote correct.

But the sentence you imply is Mr. Snowden's paraphrase - "Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one" - is likewise a verbatim quote from Ben Franklin. Although he himself was quoting its original author, that other champion of freedom Thomas Jefferson.

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