PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL LAW: Explaining Franklin’s Quote on Liberty and Safety

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

— Benjamin Franklin, comments as a member of the delegation to the Crown

Most of us probably believe that this quote means something along the lines of:

If you give up your rights for a promise you will be kept safe, you don’t deserve rights or safety and you will loose both.

Some people claim that Franklin actually meant something close to the opposite of this, but it doesn’t matter.  No matter what Franklin originally intended, it is still true.  We know this because it is a Principle of Natural Law.

Our rights are God-given.  As such, we do not truly own them, we are just a steward of the Creator’s gift.  Furthermore, our rights are inherent and inalienable.  This means they are an inseparable part of ourselves.  You cannot give away your rights because they are a part of you: they cannot be separated from who and what you are.  It would be like trying to give away your thoughts, all of them, forever.  You can’t do it.  So the whole notion of being able to surrender your rights is absurd.  We can willingly restrain the exercise of our rights.  Our rights can be trampled upon by another.  But we can never give them away.

Nor can another person promise to keep you safe.  Even if they are the most noble and pure of heart, that is a promise that they simply cannot keep.  What if someone comes and kills your protector?  Who would keep you safe if your protector were no longer present?  Or what if ten men come to rob you?  Even if your protector can handle nine of them, who is going to stop the tenth?  Or what if you encountered a situation where your protector has to choose between saving you or saving their own family?  A person has a duty to their family first, so how could you be able to rely on your protector if they were ever faced with such a choice?  You couldn’t, and that’s the point: no one can promise to keep you safe because it is an impossible task.  The best a person can do is promise to guard and watch over you, but not keep you safe.

But what if you trade your rights to the government for a promise of safety?  The same thing applies.  The government is just a group of people.  As a group, they might have more resources to help watch over and guard you, but they also have more people to guard and watch over.  This means they still cannot make a promise to keep you safe for the same reasons I explained earlier.

Finally, what does it say about a person that they would demand you surrender a God-given gift in return for a promise they know they cannot keep?  How can such a person be considered honorable or noble?  They can’t.  They are not only willing to make such a demand and promise, they are showing they are comfortable with the idea by making such a demand.  This means that no one willing to take your rights in return for protecting you is of good enough character to trust with your safety.  Else, how could they summon the nerve to make the deal at all.  Anyone who demands you give up your Natural Rights for a promise of security is a tyrant at heart.  How long do you expect such a person to not trample on your rights?  Such a person is essentially asking you — the chicken — to let them — the fox — guard your house and promising not to do you any harm.  Well, it is in a fox’s nature to eat chickens, and likewise, it is in a tyrant’s nature to trample rights (and the people to whom they belong).

Now let’s apply a little Natural Law to this equation.  Let’s suppose — for the sake of argument — that you can give your rights away.  You give your rights to me in return for my promise to keep you safe.  I take your weapons as part of our deal.  Now you have no means to resist me, so I tell you I need to keep your money — so I can control how you spend it.  I have to make sure you don’t spend it on anything that might hurt you.  That was our deal, remember?  Same thing for what you eat.  I have to control that, too, and for the same reason: I can’t let you eat something that could harm you.  That was our deal.  Next, I have to make sure you don’t go anywhere, do anything or see anyone who I do not approve of first.  Your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend?  Nope, not anymore, sorry — it is part of keeping my promise to keep you safe.  Do you see where I’m going with this yet?

OK, so you get tired of my tyranny and you go to the government and ask them to do something about me.  The government makes the same deal: they will get rid of me and promise to keep you safe, but you have to surrender your weapons.  Guess what?  Now you have many people watching over you, and they not only want to control your money, but they decide you have to start working two jobs.  You see, you don’t make enough to pay for everything they need to make you safe.  They also want to tell you what and how much to eat, who you can and cannot marry, where you can and cannot go or live.  They demand that they be allowed to listen to your private conversations (so they can make sure you are safe).  They take your children away (to make sure they are safe from you).  See where I’m going again?  Only, who are you going to go to this time to get protection from the government?  There’s no one left, at least no one strong enough to stand up to the government.  Heck, you don’t have a weapon, and neither do I.  You agreed to give my rights away as part of your deal with the government, so now we’re both slaves to tyrants (thank you, very much).

This is the inevitable outcome: whenever a person or group of people tries to surrender their rights to another person or organization in return for a promise of being kept safe, they eventually end up as the slave of the person or organization that promised to protect them.  It’s simple human nature.  If there is no risk to exploiting another person, the average person will exploit them — especially if they are in government.  If government has a monopoly on the use of force, and they decide who goes to jail and who doesn’t, then who is going to stop the people in the government from doing whatever they want to whomever they want?  No one!  That’s the point: you can’t trust the person or persons who demand you surrender your rights before they will promise to keep you safe.

Our founders tried to warn us about this:

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild, and government to gain ground.”

–Thomas Jefferson

Our Founders also warned us about why we should never trust the government with our rights or safety:

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence,—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

–George Washington

This is why those who are willing to surrender their Natural Rights in return for a promise of security will loose both.  They are making themselves slaves to a tyrant, and tyrants never honor their promises, let alone the rights of those over whom they rule.  Though it may come in different forms, and it may take more or less time, sooner or later, those who surrender their rights for the promise of security will eventually lose both — every time!

However, this problem doesn’t end with the individual.  The same people trying to give away their rights for safety are usually offering up the rights of others, as well.  No matter how lofty their goals or sincere their intentions, no one has the right to offer up or demand the surrender of another person’s rights.  This is an assault on that person, as assuredly as if they physically attacked them, and under Natural Law, that makes such a person an enemy of Liberty!



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