H.L. Menken, an American journalist and cultural critic, once wrote that “the average man does not want to be free; he wants to be safe.” This sentiment is outdated and inapplicable in our modern day, as such dangerous thinking can lead to the institution of totalitarian governments and stripping citizens’ most basic rights in the name of “security.” Throughout history there are numerous examples of nations who followed beliefs and ideologies such as Menken’s, to unfortunate results.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Piece by piece a citizen’s individual freedoms are chipped away and replaced by false promises and agreements, creating the false sense of security that allows the individual to fall victim to government manipulation. Freedom and restrictions are interconnected, and as individual freedoms are restrained, one’s ability to recognize the morality of the restrictions becomes clouded. Danger is exaggerated through various forms of media, and the restraints create a population too oblivious to recognize what is happening. The sense of danger is then amplified, further encouraging the population into submission. Even the smallest steps can lead a nation onto this slippery slope of totalitarianism and a population, governed by fear and false security, that is solely dependent on its government.
Government’s purpose has changed throughout history. At the turn of the 20th century, World War I and II had an incredible impact on the ideologies of what a “proper” or “ideal” government should do and how it should operate. Many notable totalitarian regimes have been in place since then, and it is clearer now than ever that the most just, successful, democratic, and well-received governments exist to serve the people, not control them. When sacrificing civil liberties and freedoms for personal and national securities, we often disregard the fact that a government’s capacity to protect citizens equally represents its capacity to control them.
The battle between security and freedom still exists today, and it is becoming more and more relevant. Apple Inc. made headlines when it objected to orders to provide the FBI with the technology and software to decrypt and unlock iPhones. CEO Tim Cook responded in an online statement: “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand. This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.” Like many others, the multi-billion-dollar company realized the potential threat that submission to government requests poses to the future of technology and digital content encryption. Apple nobly refused to set a precedent of allowing the government to force technology companies to undermine the security of their products. Apple is a modern example of an independent entity that recognized the dangers of relinquishing individual liberty for “security.”
Security is a tempting promise that has lulled many nations into ruin through the centuries and continues to make its impact in our everyday lives. Even the smallest sacrifices of liberty and freedom can blur the line between protection and control. As author Anita Krizzan put it, “A golden cage … is still a cage.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.