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Society applies minimal constraints on individual freedom. The rule of law safeguards our liberty. George Orwell observes, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Many quote Benjamin Franklin when condemning government overreach. In correspondence from the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor during the French Indian War, Franklin writes, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Wittes shows Franklin’s intended message from letter’s context. When saying “essential Liberty,” Franklin means representative government. With “purchase [of] a little temporary Safety,” he urges taxation for financing the war. He’s not discussing tension between government power and individual liberty, but alignment of liberty, security and safety.

The arrival of COVID-19 sparks debate on balancing individual freedom and public safety. Refusing vaccinations and not wearing masks endangers life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Irreconcilable differences over personal liberty and safety calls Abraham Lincoln’s words to mind, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Avoid reckless actions precipitating dire health consequences. Take privileges from those not adhering to public safety measures. Give those intent on toddler freedom a timeout.

Roger Combs


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