In pondering our national debate about the size and role of government and the associated costs, I wonder about the relationship between freedom and security. Even the most casual observer of the American mindset will see that most Americans demand security out of the government. They want protection from all sorts of risks, internal and external; and they routinely look to the government to provide the necessary means. The risks cover the complete range from financial to physical safety. Rarely does anyone denounce a government program which they perceive will reduce their personal exposure to risk.
The advocates of a reduced government role apparently object to the current model because it encroaches on their personal freedom. They profess the desire to be left alone to make personal decisions and then live with the consequences.
In my mind the goals of freedom and security are at odds with one another and reflect a confusion of terminology. Freedom denotes a lack of restraint, one form being the government regulations so frequently cited as onerous. Often the proponents of smaller government are concurrently proponents of greater security. What seems obvious to me is that a desire for real freedom has to be coupled with a corresponding willingness to accept the risk associated with being free and, perhaps even more importantly, the acceptance of the risk inherent in my fellowman’s equal freedom. Too often a call for my freedom is conditioned on a restraint of somebody else’s. Many of us claim to want freedom but inconsistently also demand an increase in security. In fact, more security always means less freedom. Thomas Jefferson is famously quoted as saying: "Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."
One need only observe how the War on Terrorism has impacted our lives to see how the relationship between freedom and security plays out. Few, if any, would claim to be more free now than before 9/11. As the cries for security have been answered, many new restraints have been initiated. The involvement in two overseas conflicts and the formation of a massive new governmental agency are perhaps the two most prominent examples. Without question the increased demand for security has been the major factor in increased government expenditure during this same period.
The current brouhaha over government cost and debt never seems to involve these added costs of security. Security costs are somehow sold as the essential price of maintaining our freedom. My contention is that security costs are money we pay to reduce freedom. Freedom and security involve an unavoidable trade-off. It is not reasonable to expect both to be enhanced by anybody’s political ideology.