France

Paris, Fear, and Freedom

It is in times of fear when we need to be most vigilant about our liberties.

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philjacq77/Flickr

The tragedy in Paris last Friday has regrettably been employed as a catalyst for renewed calls by governments in western Europe and even in the United States for more curtailment of personal liberties. Those who accept the trade of liberty for safety have argued in favor of less liberty. They want government to have more authority to intrude upon the daily lives of more innocent people. Their targets are the freedoms of speech and travel and the right to privacy. Their goal is public safety, but their thinking is flawed.

The clash between liberty and safety is as old as the republic itself. The United States was quite literally conceived in liberty. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson painstakingly listed the ills and evils of the British government's administration of the Colonies. There were no complaints about the absence of public safety; rather, Jefferson's "long train of abuses" cataloged the British government's interference with the colonists' personal liberties.

What has made the declaration so enduring and unique in world history is its unambiguous embrace of the natural law as its explanation of the origin of our rights. The British king thought he reigned by the will of God—the so-called divine right of kings.

Jefferson, influenced by the British philosopher and political theorist John Locke, turned that belief on its head. He argued that our liberties are natural, even inalienable, because they stem from our humanity, which is a gift from God. How could the same God have given us natural, inalienable personal freedoms and also have given the king the natural right to interfere with those freedoms?

The declaration's answer is the profound rejection of the moral legitimacy of any government that lacks the consent of the governed, as well as its articulation of the Judeo-Christian ethic of valuing human life and its acceptance of the belief that humans possess inalienable rights "endowed by their Creator."

Notwithstanding the values of the Declaration of Independence, big government and petty tyranny reared their ugly heads almost at the start of the republic. In 1798, the same generation—in some cases the same human beings—that wrote in the First Amendment that "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech" also enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which punished speech critical of the government. Abraham Lincoln locked people up for speaking out against the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson locked people up for singing German beer hall songs during World War I. FDR locked people up just for being Japanese-Americans in World War II. All of this was later condemned by courts or Congresses—and surely by enlightened public opinion.

It is in times of fear—whether generated by outside forces or fomented by the government itself— when we need to be most vigilant about our liberties. When people are afraid, it is human nature to accept the curtailment of liberties, whether it be with speech or travel or privacy, if they become convinced that the curtailment will somehow keep them safe.

But if Jefferson and all the history and tradition of American cultural and legal thought have been correct, these liberties are natural rights, integral to all rational people. I can sacrifice my liberties, but I cannot sacrifice yours. Personal liberty is subject only to due process, not majoritarianism. Stated differently, we can only morally and legally and constitutionally lose our personal liberties when our personal behavior has been adjudicated as criminal by a jury after a fair trial; we can't lose them by a majority vote of our neighbors or a majority vote of our representatives in government or a presidential executive order.

Moreover, the Paris killings, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Boston Marathon killings are all examples of the counterintuitive argument that the loss of liberty does not bring about more safety. It does not. Rather, it gives folks the impression that the government is doing something—anything—to keep us safe. Because that impression is a false sense of security, it is dangerous; people tend to think they are secure when they are not. In fact, the government's reading everyone's emails and listening to everyone's telephone calls is making us less safe because a government intent on monitoring our every move suffers from data overload.

Because government is buried in too much data about too many folks, it loses sight of the moves of the bad guys. Add to this the historical phenomenon that liberty lost is rarely returned—as a new generation accustomed to surveillance attains majority, surveillance seems the norm—and you have a dangerous stew of tyranny. Just look at the Patriot Act, which permits federal agents to bypass the courts and write their own search warrants. It has had three sunsets since 2001, only to be re-enacted just prior to the onset of each—and re-enacted for a longer period of time each time.

Since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January, the police in France have been able legally to monitor anyone's communications or movements without a warrant and without even any suspicion. Today they can break down any door and arrest whomever they please, and this past weekend, the French Cabinet declared that authorities can confiscate all firearms in Paris. All that gives law enforcement a false sense of omnipotence over the monsters.

Only good old-fashioned undercover work—face to face with evil, what the professionals call human intelligence on the ground—can focus law enforcement on the bad guys. And an armed citizenry strikes terror into the hearts of would-be killers and even stops them before they complete their horrific tasks. But don't try telling that to the French government.

COPYRIGHT 2015 ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO || DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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  1. I didn’t see a single question mark in that entire essay.
    Also, I had no idea the French were going so full out martial law. This is how the terrorists get the pussies to slow the statists to take our rights.

    1. I was gonna say the thing about the lack of question marks! refreshing, no? Also you can’t (well you can, it’s just stupid) to treat very very unlikely things like everyday occurrences. I don’t have any idea how you would quantify the value of someone’s life vs. the value of the government not spying on everybody all the time, but we should keep in mind what we’re actually talking about. in 2011, 8 (that’s eight) american civilians died as a result of terrorism. That’s sad, im sure their families are devastated, but are they any sadder than they would be if the deaths had been resulting from heart disease? 100% of all people currently living are going to die, most of them against their will. the government really oughta do something about that?

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  2. “this past weekend, the French Cabinet declared that authorities can confiscate all firearms in Paris.” Because we all know, a disarmed populace is so much better equipped to defend themselves from armed terrorists… Who comes up with such bullshit? I expect next, they might make it a requirement that each household house and support an armed law enforcement official, for their own good, right? I mean, how do you surmise that disarming the people who are not killing people at random makes them safer? When armies invade a country is the preferred doctrine to quickly dispose of all allied arms to prevent harm? I think we’re falling down the rabbit hole.

    1. He stated what was done. I did not see anywhere that he approved!? Most of us know what the results, of taking arms from innocent people, are. It leaves them unarmed!

      1. I wasn’t implying the writer thought this was a good idea, just ranting in general that anyone might come up with it. Sorry if that confused you.

    2. Religious France invented communism, put it in practice and guillotined all and sundry. Now another crop of religious beheaders wants to move into the hood and keep up the traditions. Just as America’s geriatric parties seek to divide freedom into personal and economic, the better to coerce us, so the French seek to also divide rights. A French right is not a moral claim to uncoerced and uncoercive action. Individual rights are by French labels “subjective,” and only collectivized rights are regarded as “objective” by their laws. The concept of collectivised rights is taken to task at http://aynrandlexicon.com/ and can be looked up under that heading. What French newsreels are showing today is the consequence of their intellectuals’ obfuscation of the principle of individual rights.

  3. Understand and agree with the Judge. However, we have to survive this kind of mayhem to discuss the issues.

    1. We survive a hundred people a day dying on the government roads, and somehow manage to live to discuss making cars safer, without banning cars.

  4. It again appears that the judge can be relied on for speaking directly, and accurately, without mincing to many words.

  5. Strikes me that the following, excerpted from the above, says it all.

    “It is in times of fear?whether generated by outside forces or fomented by the government itself? when we need to be most vigilant about our liberties. When people are afraid, it is human nature to accept the curtailment of liberties, whether it be with speech or travel or privacy, if they become convinced that the curtailment will somehow keep them safe.”

    Of course, the curtailment of liberty serves only to make us LESS SAFE

    1. Freedom by definition is absence of coercion, right? I’ve never seen an instance of looters wanting to coerce anyone without resorting to the threat of death by violence, as we see in the police videos of people killed over victimless crime laws. Yet collectivists never admit they want to coerce anyone with their laws and militarized police goons. This also makes sense; nobody expects any kind of honesty from looters. So yes, of course coercion makes us less safe! That’s the reason we make laws against theft, fraud and violence while they make laws against trade and production.

  6. In fact, the government’s reading everyone’s emails and listening to everyone’s telephone calls is making us less safe because a government intent on monitoring our every move suffers from data overload. Because government is buried in too much data about too many folks, it loses sight of the moves of the bad guys.

    A utilitarian argument to be sure, but maybe it will reach some people.

    The government reading everyone’s emails and listening to everyone’s telephone calls also makes us less safe, because bad people in government (now or in the future) can use that information against people who are no threat to public safety at all.

  7. Love the judge, but it would be nice if he could lose the Judeo-Christian “endowed by their Creator” stuff. Kings can be endowed by their creators too, and anyone can write a “declaration” of moral legitimacy for their rule. Let’s just stay with the “natural law” rational for liberty, as Hilary will soon obtain the “consent of the governed.”

    1. The whole basis for the “Creator” invocation is to prohibit kings from doing precisely what you described.

    2. The verbiage in the declaration is there, no point on post-hoc censorship. Richard Dawkins observes the edits Darwin was intimidated into placing into the Origin of Species by mystical lynch mobs frothing at the suggestion that life–as opposed to altruism and sacrifice–is a standard of value. Surely we need not emulate those!

    3. Rights stem from our humanity – our nature as humans. Whether that nature is a gift from a creator or the result natural selection is not only beside the point but moot as well. We have that humanity – regardless of how we got it.

  8. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson painstakingly listed the ills and evils of the British government’s administration of the Colonies. There were no complaints about the absence of public safety; rather, Jefferson’s “long train of abuses” cataloged the British government’s interference with the colonists’ personal liberties.

    Um, wrong: ” the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

  9. what if andrew napolitano wrote a whole article without a single question mark?

  10. American politicians love posturing about declaring “gun-free” areas. What they hate is for whack jobs and Manchurian candidates to realize how convenient it is to mow down a corral full of legally disarmed victims. French politicians, inspired by this example, now proceed to disarm everyone in Paris except government agents and terrorists. Suddenly the 1940 surrender, and formation of Vichy France under Kristallnacht gun laws, makes a lot of sense.

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