If the Constitution created the federal government, then a reasonable question to ask would be, “What is the purpose of that government in the first place?” What do you think the purpose of government is? Look at what the people ask the government to do and what do you see? They want government to protect them. Protect them from criminals, terrorists, poverty and, sometimes, the consequences of their own decisions. But is that the purpose of government? Is it even possible for government to protect us from anything?
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men
Declaration of Independence
When our forefathers declared their independence from Britain, they also said that governments are instituted to protect the rights of their citizens. When you read the Declaration of Independence you see 27 specific grievances related to the king’s violation of the colonists’ rights as British citizens. These grievances are evidence of the British crown’s violation of their rights, and by extension, the primary purpose of government.
So what about those who want government to protect them? I suppose it’s natural for some to want to be taken care of and to hand over their freedom in exchange for a little security. I also suppose there are many who would be quite happy to dictate others’ lives with the promise of a good and peaceful life for themselves. But what did our Founding Fathers think?
We have taken every Step in our Power, consistent with the just Rights of the Freemen of Pennsylvania, for their Relief, and we have Reason to believe, that in the Midst of their Distresses they themselves do not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, Deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Benjamin Franklin – 1755 Letter from the Pennsylvania Legislature to the Pennsylvania Governor
I’m sure most of us have heard the last sentence quoted often. I put it in context because I’ve read several articles lately stating that what Benjamin Franklin said doesn’t mean what it says. During the French and Indian war, the Pennsylvania frontier was being attacked and the people there needed protection. As Franklin states in his letter, the legislature had taken every step that was within their power, and they did not believe the frontiersmen wished them to go farther. Why would a people in the midst of a war request their government do no more to protect them? “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, Deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Nothing is free. Government isn’t free, safety isn’t free, and certainly liberty is not free. We all want safety and liberty, but are we willing to pay the price? The cost of safety is not only the money it takes, but the freedom we must sacrifice for it. When you give someone the power to protect you, you give them the power to order your life. Look at the President of the United States; everywhere he goes he is followed by a security detail. His movement are coordinated and even determined by his detail. Even his most private and intimate moments are accompanied by security. Do you not think the President pays a price for his safety? It’s the same for ordinary Americans as well. We live under surveillance, our communication is monitored, and even innocent banking transactions are tracked, all in the name of keeping us safe. Air travel now involves intrusive and unreasonable searches of our persons and property, all in the name of keeping us safe. Our rights that are protected by the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments are routinely violated, all in the name of keeping us safe. And guess what, they don’t keep us that safe!
So, if the purpose of government is to protect our rights, why does it seem to spend most of its time violating them in the name of keeping us safe? Because Americans, as a whole, have become lazy and dependent. For 80 years government has promised they will take care of things for us if we just give them a little of our liberty. And we believed them. They said they will protect you from criminals, provide for your old age, take care of you when you’re sick, make sure you get an education, that your house is built right, that your medicine will work, that your air is clean, that your car is safe, and that nothing bad will happen to you. All you have to do is limit your right to protect yourself, give up your right to provide the best education, medical care, and retirement you can find, turn over your right to privacy and property, and to not be harassed by government officials. And did it work? We turned over most of our liberties for a promise of safety and what did we get? We get law enforcement that will investigate the crime after you’ve been hurt or killed, substandard education, healthcare, and retirement that only the well-off can afford to bypass, laws and regulations that make it harder to build that home or start that business, make your car more expensive, and protect government actors that fail to keep our air and water clean, not to mention dictating what you can or cannot do with your property. In short, government provides substandard services at an exorbitant price while taking away your freedoms every day. And what do a majority of Americans seem to want? They want more of the same. Just keep them safe, wipe their runny noses, and tell them what to do.
I think Benjamin Franklin was right. We have given up our essential liberties for the promise of safety and those promises have failed. We do not deserve either liberty or safety unless we are willing to provide them for ourselves. Stop looking for government to provide something it was never designed to do. Governments are formed to protect our rights, not our safety. Perhaps, if we defended our own rights a bit more vigorously, then our safety would not be in so much jeopardy.