Liberty & Security

How should we think about the tradeoff between liberty and security? Prof. James Otteson of Yeshiva University argues that a basic amount of security is critical to protect our lives, liberty, and property. Beyond this minimal amount, there is a tradeoff between liberty and security. Some liberty must be given up if we want the government to protect us from risks such as disease, terrorism, and economic downturns. This requires giving up control of our lives to others, which reduces our liberty as well as our human dignity.


  1. Matt Wavle

    Nice to finally know "that the purpose of government was to create security for those things that would allow for liberty."  I was starting to wonder if their only purpose was to indoctrinate our children against our values, beat the mentally ill to death and shoot our dogs.  I’m still wondering if it’s worth the trade off.  What say you?

  2. socklint

    What security do we have when our grandparents are beaten and shot to death in no-knock, SWAT raids gone wrong? What about the ripples of our security that redound to the death of our neighbors in other countries? What about those deaf and retarded that are beaten for failure to obey those that provide security (quickly enough)? Is this security, when I am more afraid of being harassed by police than by my own neighbors?

  3. Chocolate Thunder

    Forgive my redundancy, but I offered this argument, regarding the false trade-off between liberty and security, on another NSA video:

    Let us define liberty (or freedom) as the ability to choose things for
    oneself, as long as those choices do not violate the person or property
    of another. Let us define security as a gradient of how safe one’s
    person and property is (that is, the safer one’s person and property,
    the more secure he or she is). From these definitions, there is no
    trade-off between liberty and security. If I am free to choose
    arrangements for myself, I can choose to have more or less secure
    arrangements for myself, based on my preferences. Conceivably, if, say,
    airports were free to choose the level of security they offered, they
    could draw customers based on those customers’ preferences between
    security and convenience. No matter which alternative customers choose,
    their freedom is not being infringed because they are free to associate
    with which ever airport offers them the service most closely aligned
    with their preferences (assuming there is free entry and exit in the
    provision of airports).

    Thus, the real trade-off is between security and convenience, not security and liberty. 

  4. Jeremy Harding

    Nice. I would advise, though, against equating liberty with freedom. Liberty is what we are all born with. It’s a positive right. Freedom, however, is based on negative rights, or what can’t be done to us. Our level of freedom can change based on what others do, but our level of liberty changes subject only to the limits of what we choose to do. No matter how much our freedom is threatened, we can still be libertarian, and maintain through thought, action, and praxeology our liberty. The only time our liberty is threatened is when we let it be, whereas our level of freedom is dependant on how others choose to restrict us. It’s an important distinction, because it shows that we can defend liberty by living how we choose, and letting others do the same, whereas, in order to defend freedom, it’s necessary to promote others to resist restrictions at any available cost. Seriously though, great comment!

  5. taschrant

    Your insightful comment made me think.  I never asked myself this question: What is the difference between liberty and freedom?  Can you elaborate on that topic?  Thanks!

  6. Matt Wavle

    Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”  Freedom is being your own master and a slave to none.  We should never lose our Liberty at any price.

  7. Matt Wavle

    Why do I feel LESS secure when I’m being pulled over by an officer of the state than when a stranger waves me down.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been robbed, at gunpoint, many more times by the state than I ever have been by anyone else.   //  Is this Security?  No, and it’s not Liberty either.  We’ve been sold a bill of goods and been handily denied both, in the name of a “reasonable” trade-off.

  8. Anonymous

    I am more pessimistic than that.
    1. Having power does not automatically make you aware of your responsibility or require you to live up to it.
    2. The live that are lost are kept at as great a distance as possible by those with the most power.
    3. Those in power translate your 3rd sentiment into ‘do not give anyone power’.

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