What must we as individuals sacrifice to facilitate public order?What is public order?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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You will receive many different viewpoints to this question.  I think that the issue of "public order" is a very challenging notion.  There is a line of thought that says that we must sacrifice some level of personal rights and privacy to ensure that the public order is maintained.  Thinkers from this particular viewpoint suggest that ensuring public order is critical and individuals might have to sacrifice some level of privacy and convenience in order to enjoy the benefits of public safety.  In this light, collectivity and the strength of the collective body supersedes that of the individual.  This can be seen in its purest form in the thinking of Rousseau from the French Political Theory, and in another form through Hegelian thought. Thinkers who suggest that sacrifice is needed would argue that individuals should be willing to sacrifice some notion of individual rights to privacy.  Government has to ensure that public safety is first and foremost and has an obligation and duty to protect the citizens' well being.  The Preamble to the Constitution suggests that a primary function of government is to "promote the general welfare."  This would mean that the idea of keeping the public safe and ensuring another goal, "domestic tranquility," requires that individuals might have to sacrifice some levels of freedom, privacy, and/ or comfort in order to faciitate public order and safety.

The opponents of this line of thought are individuals who suggest two premises. The first is that if we, as citizens, give government the authority and power to be able to take away individual rights in the name of "public order," it creates a dangerous precedent and a "slippery slope," meaning if rights are violated in one instance, there is little to stop an onslaught of rights violations.  To give government the credence to be able to act in such a way also gives government a liscense to take away our rights with the public's consent.  These individuals will argue that examples from history prove this.  The Salem Witchcraft Trials, the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, and the rise of the Nazis were all examples of moments in time when the government or the social order said that the public must sacrifice rights to privacy in order to facilitate "public order."  Some might even suggest that this was the same logic that prompted passage and little in way of opposition to the Patriot Act in the days following the events of September 11th, 2001.  In these settings, individuals were asked to make sacrifices in the name of public order.  Many would argue that in doing so, individuals lose their ability to check the acts of the government, in the event that the social and political order oversteps their bounds.  Building off of this would be the line of argumentation that suggests that nothing should ever compel individuals to sacrifice their rights to be free and to be left alone in order to facilitate public order.  This would be most present in the philosophy of Libertarianism, and, most recently, the campaign of Ron Paul.  The early political framers in American History also conceived of this.  Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were most vocal in suggesting that any violation of individual rights, no matter what the justification cannot be tolerated in a democratic form of government.

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