Benjamin Wittes

Liberty and Security: Hostile Allies

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” —Benjamin Franklin

They are perhaps the most famous words ever written about the relationship between liberty and security. They have become iconic. A version of them appears on a plaque in the Statue of Liberty. Every student of American history knows them. And every lover of liberty has pondered them, knowing that they speak to that great truth about the constitution of civilized governments: that we empower government to protect us in a devil’s bargain from which we will lose in the long run.

Very few people who quote these words, however, have any idea where they come from or what Franklin was really saying when he wrote them.

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(photo credit: Andrew Malone)

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