"The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe."How much merit does Henry Louis Mencken's interpretation hold? To what extent does Mencken's conclusion pertain to modern...

"The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe."

How much merit does Henry Louis Mencken's interpretation hold? To what extent does Mencken's conclusion pertain to modern society?

Expert Answers
alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another famous quote which you may want to bring in to your paper is Benjamin Franklin's assertion that

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.


The quote is interesting in this context because it suggests that "essential liberty" is something very important. It could even be argued that essential liberty is part of safety-- safety could be an illusion, something temporary but essential freedom is something people truly need. 

Or, it could be argued that Menken is right and that Franklin is describing the common man, who  both may believe does not deserve the safety he craves. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The connection that anyone sees between this and modern society is a function of their political beliefs.  For example, a Ron Paul supporter would argue that we Americans do not care enough about our freedoms.  Such a person would argue that we are allowing the government to take away our freedom because we are all just "fat and happy."  We feel safe and so we don't care about freedom.

A more liberal person might say that this is how dictatorships in places like Germany (Nazi era) come about.  People care mainly about being safe and so they'll accept someone like Hitler as long as they feel that they are being kept safe from chaos.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've seen that quote attributed to Mencken, but I've never seen it in its context. Certainly the 1930s, when he was a very active writer, were a period when many were questioning what freedom meant- the New Deal, after all, was one expression of FDR's conviction that people had a right to live free from fear. Many of the policies enacted in response to the Depression were attempts to provide basic security. Most of the responses above have to do with physical safety from attack, but if you put it in economic terms, what good is freedom without some kind of security? Are they mutually exclusive? 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would tend to agree with the quote. I would certainly give up some freedoms to insure the safety of my family and self. On the flip side, I would have to say that losing freedoms, in order to be safe, can backfire. People who assume power based upon their "followers" can tend to abuse the power they are given. In time, one who abandoned their freedoms for safety may lose the safety due to the "protector" needing to protect too many people.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

People have been giving up freedom for security for a long time.  It is one of the reasons we have the Patriot Act.  To a certain extent, this is true.  People just want to be safe.  They will follow whoever makes them safest.  However, eventually it grows up.  Lack of freedom will almost always result in revolt.  Otherwise, the United States of America would not exist.  To some people, freedom is everything.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very controversial saying, as actually what is being debated is the value of freedom and whether people are willing to trade in that freedom for an illusion of safety. The quotation is really all about politics and liberties. Are we willing to trade in our freedom for being controlled by some kind of Orwellian government? Many would consider this a price that is too high.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The increase in airport security in the last few years seems like a good example. I know that this is more true for some countries than it is for others, but in the last decade many nations have chosen to limit individual freedoms of movement by creating new security/safety measures.

The value comparison seems to be a direct one in this case with safety trumping freedom. 

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous post makes several good points, and Americans should be aware of the dwindling personal freedoms we face as the Federal government grows stronger. Americans believe that a Hitler could never come to power in the USA, but some of the ideas spouted by recent Presidential candidates are not completely dissimilar. 

Zac Egs | Student


My answer would be as follows:

"The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe" is an interesting sentence since it raises many fundamental questions.
Then we have two pivotal notions : freedom and safety. The principle of freedom can be construed as a whole process of liberation but what kind of liberation ? Is it a kind of elevation or an irretrievable loss of our eidetic faculties ?
Therein lies the problem. Thus I want to highlight the fact that freedom can have several different meanings. But we can assert that freedom, if controlled, can be very useful. And that is why I think that this quote is correct i.e. most people want to be safe since it is easier than trying to reach a true ideal, a true philosophy.


Zac Egs

loraaa | Student

Yes, everyone wants to have safe.
BUT I will speak in a different way,,,
America's war on "terrorism", will never make us live safely,
Because in truth, there are no "terrorism".