catchphrase in every debate thus far. Equally alarming is that most of us eat it up. So many of us get behind increased surveillance, gun control legislation and screenings of people of a certain race or ethnicity. Most presidential candidates are spreading disinformation, inferring that they as would-be president elect, are both responsible and capable of bolstering our personal safety–effectively bubble-wrapping our society from any nefarious individual or group that would do us harm. It’s a nice idea.
Nowhere in our founding documents can I find that phrase or concept, as a federal responsibility or otherwise. Interestingly, the word ‘security’ is used in the Constitution only once, in the Second Amendment, non-coincidentally referring to the people’s right to protect ourselves by keeping and bearing arms (“the security of a free State”). Also interesting, the word ‘secure’ is used twice in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and twice in the Letter of Transmittal of the Constitution to the President (of Congress), George Washington:
1. The Preamble.
“and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
2. The Fourth Amendment.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”
3. Letter of Transmittal:
“It is obviously impracticable in the Federal Government of these States to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest
and safety of all.”
“that it may promote the lasting welfare of that Country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness…”
In each case, the term secure or security refers to the retention and protection of personal rights and common freedoms. However, in popular political jargon today it is reinterpreted to mean safety, or a lack of exposure to perceived risk. It’s a classic Orwellian definition swap. (“War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” – 1984) Please, be mindful of this. Each time you hear a presidential candidate using the term ‘secure’ or ‘security,’ interpret their statement in light of its Constitutional use.
The obvious follow-on question: If the federal government isn’t responsible for our personal safety, who is? Is it reasonable to completely outsource personal safety to the government? To local law enforcement? History says no. Should we grow accustomed to living in dangerous times and accept personal responsibility for our own protection? This has been the status quo in world history until recently. History is both cyclical and on a pendulum; what has been will be again and the changes are typically drastic. The massive and catastrophic wars that ravaged the world in the first half of the 20th century enabled the relative peace of the latter half. But we’ve atrophied in the last seventy years. Are we still rough enough men to keep our liberty intact?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz:
“To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.”
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