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...

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 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.”

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not agree with Benjamin Franklin’s statement. In the United States today, we always give up some of our freedom in exchange for safety. We agree to speed limits to help keep us safe on our roads. We accept that we cannot say anything we want at any time in any place. It is illegal to shout the word “fire” in a dark movie theater. We allow our luggage to be screened when we travel by air. We consent to go through metal detectors when we enter a sports arena or some public buildings. We do this because we want to increase the likelihood that we will remain safe and not be subjected to attacks by terrorists. By giving up some of our freedom, we are not saying that we do not want to be free. We are saying we are willing to sacrifice a little freedom to increase the likelihood that we will remain safe.

Our world is a much more complicated world than it was in the 1780s and 1790s. We need to take more steps to help keep us safe today, even if that means a loss of a little freedom.