Safety and freedom

At the end of The Practice last night, district attorney Richard Bay (Jason Kravits) gave a speech to remind his colleague Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle), about why they do what they do – something about DA’s being the “crusading knights” in our day’s fight against crime. He ended the speech with a remark that I can’t quote exactly (I didn’t tape the episode), but basically was “unless he is safe, a man can’t be free.” This seemed to be the exact opposite point of view of what is usually expressed as “those who would trade their freedom for their safety will have neither.” My own view is that the latter expression is correct, yet about this DA’s remark I couldn’t help thinking, “damn, that was well said.” I didn’t then jump to “it must be true” but I can imagine that some people might. Given the interest in freedom issues here, I am wondering if anyone saw the episode, or even if not, what they think about that DA’s point of view.

Just a nitpick:

That’s the opinion of the writer.

What else would you expect.

A short story I once read (Larry Niven?) had a character hypothecate that:

I.e., freedom times security is a constant…as one increases, the other decreases.

I think it depends on what you mean by freedom. If freedom is a license or permission, then yes, safety and freedom are mutually exclusive.

But if freedom is the absence of coercion, and I believe that that is what meaningful freedom is, then safety and freedom are synonyms.

So, I think that means that safety has to be defined too, because meaningful freedom does not make you safe from yourself or from risks ex populi. If you are forced to be safe against your will, then safety in that sense displaces freedom even of the libertarian kind.

Yeah, Poly, I believe it was Niven. Maybe “Flash Crowd,” but I’ll try to find a cite. No reason besides my own “ooh, ooh, I know this!”

Lib, seems to me you’re talking freedom from and not freedom to, right?

I mean, freedom from coercion (read: harm, in this case)wouldn’t include my freedom to coerce others. But in order to keep me from coercing others, to keep them safe, my absolute free will must be curtailed.

I know we’re dealing with theoreticals here–if by choice no one were to coerce anyone else, we’d be perfectly safe and free. But is there a real-life compromise?


In the particular episode, the “safety” referred to, was “safe from crime”; safe from coercion by others, and not safe from anything that could possibly happen to you.

I should have mentioned in the first post what brought about the DA’s remark; sorry about that. Without going into all the details that aren’t necessary to the general idea: a suspect’s confession is ruled inadmissable due to the way it was obtained by a DA. The other DA justifies her actions as providing the public with “safety from criminals”.

Here’s the original quote as I have it:

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
—Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.


I think a more elegant way to say it is that freedom is inversely propotional to sfatey. F=1/S.
Society is a compromise that we are all bound by. We must sacrifice some things in order to secure others. One of these trade offs, perhaps the biggest, is this topic. The amounts traded are constantly being modified. If we didnt’t agree to this, we might as well all be hermits, and who benefits from that?


It’s not how you pick your nose, it’s where you put the boogers

If all are restrained from coercing others who are peaceful and honest, or from committing fraud upon them to bend their will, then there is not a loss of freedom, but a gain of it for everybody.

Like Gilligan says, meaningful freedom is not freedom to do something, but freedom from something (coercion). If freedom were freedom to do, then there would be one and only one free man — the strongest one.

This libertarian view of freedom seems to reconcile the paradox between freedom and safety. A man who is free from coercion and economic fraud is truly safe from all except himself and nature. If he is protected from those against his will, then he is never safe from Sartre’s Hell.

At least a man, left free, can improve himself. At least nature is dispassionate, without a grudge or agenda. But other people, given power to enforce your “safety”, are just like you — people moved by their own motives and understanding. And the harder they squeeze and shelter you, the harder it becomes to breathe.

Watch out for catch phrases like, “the common good”, or “the will of the people”, and obfuscations like, “the needs of society”, or “the greater good”. When you hear these, run for your life.