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In the era of global terrorism, can the United States remain a free and democratic society as envisioned by the Founding Fathers?

Or are we destined to lose liberties and freedoms in return for greater security and strength?

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There is, of course, no way to know if this will happen.  However, the likelihood of this happening is receding in today’s world.  It would take more terrorist attacks to make it a greater danger.

If we lose our liberties and freedoms, it will be because we are much more afraid of the consequences of keeping them.  This does not appear to be anywhere close to happening.  As an example of this, we have already seen the removal of backscatter x-ray technology at major airports.  An important reason for this was that people had privacy concerns about the degree to which this technology allowed TSA agents to see the passengers’ bodies.  If we are willing to risk more terrorist attacks simply because we do not want same-sex agents to see the shapes of our bodies, it is unlikely that we will stand for more serious incursions on our rights.

Of course, events could cause this situation to change.  There has been no successful terrorist attack on the US in over ten years.  This means that we feel less urgency about terrorism than we might.  If we were to be hit with a string of major attacks, we might change our minds.  For the time being, however, it is clear that we are not willing to countenance serious infringements of our rights for the sake of anti-terrorism.

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In the era of global terrorism, can the United States remain a free and democratic society as envisioned by the Founding Fathers or are we destined to lose liberties and freedoms in return for greater security and strength?

Although many Americans are worried about the idea that we might lose our liberties because of the war on terror, it does not seem likely that this will happen.  We have faced dangers that seemed to be graver in the past without having lost our freedoms and so there is no reason to believe that we will lose them today.

In the 1950s, we faced a threat that was at least as great (at least in people’s minds) as the threat posed by terrorism.  At that time, there was a strong fear of communism and this fear was even more widespread than the fear of terrorism is today.  Rightly or wrongly, we in the US today only real fear terrorism from a relatively small group of Muslim extremists.  In the 1950s, by contrast, people felt that anyone could potentially be a communist.  This is why there was the desire to have teachers sign loyalty oaths and to blacklist Hollywood types who might be communists. 

Today, we are more suspicious of the government than we were in the 1950s.  Many people would be much more reluctant to give up their rights than people were in the ‘50s.  This combination should reassure us.  We are more resistant to government taking our rights away and the threat of terrorism does not require the same sort of domestic vigilance that the threat of communism did.  Therefore, it seems unlikely that we will lose our democratic freedoms now when we did not lose them 60 years ago under worse circumstances.

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