Liberty vs. Security

An esteemed correspondent makes some good points in the following message (which I have edited lightly):

Our country is in more dire straits than it has been at any time in my lifetime [he is 85]. Maybe not as bad as when a Vice-President shot and killed a former Secretary of the Treasury or when there was an armed insurrection and each faction tried to take the other’s seat-of-government by force. I think our current divisions and divisiveness are detrimental to the continuation of the “greatest nation the world has ever known”; and I don’t think they can be fixed.

Liberty and security pull in opposite directions. More of one, less of the other. History and common-sense tells us that is so.

I’d like to start with Benjamin Franklin’s saying that is often misinterpreted. He said that our form of government is a republic, if you can keep it. That has been misinterpreted, repeatedly and emphatically by the current speaker-of-the-house to mean that Franklin was warning against a strong executive emulating a monarch. I think he was warning against the opposite, which he had witnessed in France. He also was fearful of our becoming a pure democracy with a people’s parliament becoming a law unto itself. This is similar to the tradeoffs between liberty and security. Either extreme is undesirable.

The geniuses who designed our government provided a number of checks and balances to try to keep things sort of in the middle. We are a federated democratic republic, not a democracy as is so often misstated. The Framers of the Constitution designed a government, but they neglected to explain the relationship of the government to those that were being governed. It took the first ten amendments to the Constitution to make that explicit. Those ten amendments delineate the limits that the federal government has over individuals. The 14th amendment essentially extends that to state governments. I especially like the tenth amendment. It is simply worded and says in plain English, any rights and authorities not specifically given to the federal government in this document belong to the people and/or the states.

Two constitutional issues were settled by the Civil War: slavery was no longer legal anywhere; and secondly, it was not permissible for states to secede from the union. It took later amendments to confirm that Blacks were not property; they are human beings with all rights of other human beings. Unfortunately that didn’t sit well with many Americans and we are still trying to sort out that issue in practice.

I don’t think that our current problems can be solved by appealing to the consent of the governed to be governed, namely by voting. Nor do I think secession (breakup) is feasible.

Voting: A significant fraction of those that voted in the November 2020 election think the the “results” are not honest. You can dismiss that view, but it is necessary to have a buy-in to the results of an election to have an election that conveys the consent of the governed. To me it is beside the point whether there is any evidence of “stealing an election” or not. There were enough irregularities that a demagogue can and did stir up doubts. Elections need to appear incorruptible, and today they are not. Could that be fixed? Not in our polarized society.

Furthermore, and this is more important, there isn’t balanced news coverage leading up to our elections or in analyzing the results. When there is overwhelming bias in the media, or there is no fair representation of both sides of the coin, we don’t have an environment for fair elections. Today one political party and the media are indistinguishable. The “media” is totally biased and deceitful in reporting “facts”. Remember Hamilton and Jefferson, who were arch political enemies. Each funded media that parroted his version of “truth”. But there were two sides. Add to the mix today’s “social media”, controlled by those favoring security over liberty. So the voices of liberty over security are relegated to fringe “nuts”. [The last bit is a gross error on the writer’s part, unless the millions who take my position on the matter are all on the fringe.]

Maybe even more importantly and indicative of a long-term fundamental change in America is the influence of “educators”. Uniformly, from those teaching young minds to the teachers of those teachers, in the formulators of “correct” history they favor security at the expense of liberty and are militant about spreading the “gospel”. They are children of the 1970s. Many grew up at a college their parents paid for and they didn’t have to work when they got out of college. They didn’t have any useful skills and of course the remedy for that is the old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach”.

So I don’t think there is any chance of “voting” to obtain the consent of the governed for their government is achievable. The influences wielded by the media and the educational system can’t be alleviated. There is only one perspective instead of a balance between liberty and security. I have avoided using the words liberal or conservative, or republican or democrat. I think that liberty and security are the two concepts that should be discussed more often as the heart of the country’s differences.

Secession: The possibility of secession, peaceful of not, was foreclosed by the Civil War. Since then the entanglements between the federal entity, the state entities, and the states themselves rule out out any practical solution those bindings.

Bottom Line: We’ll muck around for quite some time until it is realized that our system with all its faults is better than any feasible alternative. If and when it happens, I’ll be long gone.

I responded at length, in two epistles. Here’s the first one:

Your analysis of the present situation in the U.S. is spot-on. And, as you say, it’s not going to get any better on its own. There really are two Americas and they are irreconcilable. There are a lot of Americans — me included — who will not stand for “mucking around” that legitimates the present state of affairs or its ultimate destination: an imperial central government that is beholden to and effectively run by ultra-rich oligarchs and their lackeys and enablers in the bureaucracies, public schools, universities, information-technology companies, and media.

As for secession, the Civil War settled nothing — Justice Scalia to the contrary notwithstanding — except to underscore the fact that the North was able to muster superior forces thanks to its larger (free) population and industrial strength. If you have the time, read my analysis of the Court’s infamous ruling in Texas v. White, on which Scalia founded his baseless dictum: https://politicsandprosperity.com/constitution-myths-and-realities/. Scroll down to Section VI.F. for the bottom line about the legality of secession.

I also discuss in another section the practicality of secession or, rather, its impracticality. But there is another way to skin the cat. It is the nullification of federal edicts by the States. I refer to a new kind of nullification, which — unlike the kind attempted by South Carolina in the early 1830s — doesn’t involve formal declarations by State legislatures and governors. Rather, it involves non-compliance, acts of defiance, and foot-dragging. We saw some of that during Trump’s years, as States and cities declared themselves “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants and refused to cooperate with ICE. We are beginning to see it from the other side as GOP-controlled States bring suit after suit against various federal actions (e.g., Keystone pipeline, Biden’s immigration fiasco), and GOP-controlled cities and counties declare themselves pro-life and gun-rights “sanctuaries”. This could be the wave of the future, with effective diminution of the central government through non-compliance with federal edicts. Federal courts have no power to enforce the edicts, and must rely on the federal government for enforcement. How many brushfires can the federal government put out? Would it resort to force against a state? I don’t know the answers, but it’s not clear that the federal government will come out on top, especially if it tries to enforce things that are wildly unpopular in some States and regions, such as abortion, strict gun-control measures, vaccine passports, or (the coming big thing) climate lockdowns.

So, unlike the earlier secession and its violent conclusion, there could be a non-violent kind of secession. It wouldn’t involve the formal breakup of the U.S., just a new modus vivendi between the States and the central government. Or, rather, a return to the modus vivendi that was intended by the Framers, enshrined in the 10th amendment, and then frittered away by the central government’s “mission creep”.

There is another, complementary, possibility. It is that Americans in the center turn their backs on the radical direction the country seems to be taking. (Resistance to CRT is a good case in point.) If enough of them do it, the GOP will retake Congress. And if in 2024 the GOP were to nominate someone more like Reagan than Trump, the Democrats could be kept out of power for a while — at least until they come to their senses. In the meantime, the Supreme Court could, without fear of being packed, make some libertarian rulings. A key one would be to find that Big Tech is s state actor (because of its immunity under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), and therefore acts illegally when it censors views on the pretext that they are “hate speech” or “anti-science”, etc. In the way of the world, such an electoral and judicial turn of events could trigger a “cascade” in the direction opposite the one in which the country has been heading. And so, the “mucking around” might come to a better end than the one foreseen by you.

Here’s the second one:

A further thought about the tension between liberty and security.

It is really a tension between left and right, which is a deep psychological divide, as I discuss here: https://politicsandprosperity.com/2018/05/03/can-left-and-right-be-reconciled/. (The missing figure, which I will have to reconstruct, is derived from polling results that support the point made in the text.)

A point that I don’t make explicitly, but which should be obvious, is that compromise invites further compromise, to the detriment of liberty. The ransomware attacks, for instance, wouldn’t be happening if the U.S. hadn’t long ago abandoned the principle of unconditional surrender by the enemy. The track record of the U.S. government since the Korean War invites aggression. China and Russia know that and are playing the long game while Biden is tilting at global-warming windmills and (overtly and tacitly) endorsing a leftist agenda that will drive the U.S. economy to its knees while ensuring that the U.S. remains irreconcilably divided.

The end result of “mucking around” may well be not the kind of “social democracy” that keeps Eurpeoans fat, dumb, and happy. It may well be something far worse than that. You have been warned.

And I have been among the warning voices for many years.


Related reading on polarization: John Sexton, “The CRT Backlash and Progressives’ Big Lie about the Culture War“, Hot Air, July 8, 2021

The Culture War

“Culture war” is a familiar term, but one that I hadn’t thought deeply about until a few days ago. I read something about abortion in which “culture war” occurred. The fog lifted, and I grasped what should have been obvious to me all along: The “culture war” isn’t about “culture,” it’s about morality and liberty. Rod Dreher, in the course of a premature paean to Barack Obama’s “diplomatic” approach to ideological strife, gets it right:

The source of our culture war is conflicting visions of what it means to be free and what it means to be an American – and even what it means to be fully human. More concretely, as Princeton’s Robert George has written, they have to do mainly “with sexuality, the transmitting and taking of human life, and the place of religion and religiously informed moral judgment in public life.” Because the cultural left and cultural right hold to irreconcilable orthodoxies on these questions, we find scant cultural consensus. That’s life in America. Unless we become a homogenous country, we will continue to struggle to live together, staying true to our deepest beliefs while respecting the liberty of others to stay true to their own. But we do not live in a libertarian Utopia. We can’t have it all. If, for example, courts constitutionalized same-sex marriage, as gay activists seek, that would have a ground-shaking effect on religious liberty, public schooling and other aspects of American life. Without question, it would intensify the culture war, as partisans of the left and right fight for what each considers a sacred principle. What irritates conservatives is the liberals’ groundless conceit that they fight from a values-neutral position, while the right seeks to impose its norms on others. Nonsense. Marriage was a settled issue until liberals began using courts to impose their moral vision on (so far) an unwilling majority. Who fired the first shot there? (“Obama Won’t End the Culture Wars,” RealClearPolitics, February 16, 2009)

And it doesn’t matter whether the unwilling are a majority or a minority. Just about everyone is a loser in the war against morality and liberty. When social norms — long-established rules of behavior — are sundered willy-nilly the result is a breakdown of the voluntary order known as civil society. The liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society: the daily observance of person X’s negative rights by persons W, Y, and Z — and vice versa. That is so because it is impossible and — more importantly — undesirable for the state to police everyone’s behavior. Liberty depends, therefore, on the institutions of society — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect, through which individuals often come to the aid of one another, and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism). That is civil society, which the state ought to protect, but instead usurps and destroys. Usurping is one of the state’s primary (and illegitimate) functions. The state establishes agencies (e.g., public schools, welfare), gives them primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters, and funds them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions. Worse, however, is the way in which the state destroys the social norms that foster social harmony — mutual respect and trust — without which a people cannot flourish.  As I observed some years ago, in connection with same-sex “marriage”:

Given the signals being sent by the state, the rate of formation of traditional, heterosexual marriages will continue to decline. (According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of adult males who are married dropped steadily from 71.1 percent in the 1960 census to 58.6 percent in the 2000 census; for females, the percentage dropped from 67.4 to 54.6. About half of each drop is explained by a rise in the percentage of adults who never marry, the other half by a rise in the percentage of divorced adults. Those statistics are what one should expect when the state signals — as it began to do increasingly after 1960 — that traditional marriage is no special thing by making it easier for couples to divorce, by subsidizing single mothers, and by encouraging women to work outside the home.)

“Thanks” to the signals sent by the state — many of them in the form of legislative, executive, and judicial dictates — we now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability. The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda. Dreher calls them liberals. I call them left-statists. They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

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Related reading: Trevor Thomas, “The Laughable Liberal ‘Moral Imperative’,” American Thinker, December 1, 2013 Deborah C. Tyler, “Morality, Anti-Morality, and Socialism,” American Thinker, December 1, 2013 Related posts: Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values The Consequences of Roe v. Wade The Old Eugenics in a New Guise The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence Moral Luck Consider the Children Same-Sex Marriage “Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage Law, Liberty, and Abortion Equal Time: The Sequel Marriage and Children Abortion and the Slippery Slope More on Abortion and Crime Peter Singer’s Agenda Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty Singer Said It A “Person” or a “Life”? A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion Crime, Explained “Family Values,” Liberty, and the State Intellectuals and Capitalism Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage” Rawls Meets Bentham The Left Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage” “Intellectuals and Society”: A Review Our Enemy, the State Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism The Left’s Agenda More Pseudo-Libertarianism More about Conservative Governance The Meaning of Liberty Positive Liberty vs. Liberty On Self-Ownership and Desert In Defense of Marriage The Left and Its Delusions Burkean Libertarianism Crimes against Humanity Abortion and Logic True Libertarianism, One More Time Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism Utilitarianism and Psychopathy The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm The Spoiled Children of Capitalism Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty Libertarianism and Morality Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote Society and the State Are You in the Bubble? Legislating Morality Legislating Morality (II) Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications Liberty and Society Tolerance on the Left The Eclipse of “Old America” Genetic Kinship and Society Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism? Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians “Conversing” about Race Defining Liberty “We the People” and Big Government