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Two broad purposes of American government–insuring domestic tranquility and securing...

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kristenmarieb... | Student, Grade 10

Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:07 PM via web

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Two broad purposes of American government–insuring domestic tranquility and securing the blessings of liberty-sometimes come into conflict.  Considering this, do you agree or disagree with Benjamin Franklin's view: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"? Explain.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:18 PM (Answer #1)

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I do not really agree with this statement largely because I think it depends completely on how one defines the terms.

Let us think about it this way.  We Americans give up freedoms all the time.  For example, I do not have the freedom to go around threatening to kill people even if I would like to.  I also do not have the freedom to drive my car as fast as I might want to.  There are many other freedoms that we do not enjoy. 

The problem with Franklin’s statement comes in defining words like “essential,” “little,” and “temporary.”  Are the freedoms I have mentioned above “essential?”  Most people would say they are not.  But what about the liberty to own a semi-automatic weapon with a huge clip of bullets?  Some people do believe that that is an essential right and that we should not give it up.   If we were to ban such guns or clips, would we not deserve to be either safe or free?  It is very hard to say.

The same issue arises for the concepts of “little” and “temporary.”  If we ban such guns and clips, are we getting a lot of safety or a little?  Is it temporary or is it permanent?  There is no way to say.

So, the problem with what Franklin is saying is that it depends completely on how we define things.  Therefore, it really doesn’t tell us anything.  It doesn’t tell us what liberties are essential and it doesn’t define “little” or “temporary.”

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