Ed Driscoll

Freedom Versus Security

Back in 2000, Orrin Judd wrote:

Is it possible that the History of the 20th Century can be explained by simple reference to a change in prepositions? That is the gist of the epiphany that struck me while watching David M. Kennedy on Booknotes (C-SPAN). He and Brian Lamb were discussing the fact that this book is part of the Oxford History of the United States joining James McPherson’s excellent one-volume history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era (1988). Suddenly, the switch from “of Freedom” to “Freedom from”, in the respective titles, struck me as emblematic of the pivotal change of emphases in the Modern world. The history of America from Plymouth Rock until the Crash was essentially the story of Man’s struggle for Freedom, but Freedom in a positive sense, Freedom to do things–to worship, to speak, to gather, etc. Thus, McPherson’s book details the great convulsion of the 19th Century, the Civil War and the struggle to free the slaves–a struggle to expand freedom. But Kennedy, charting the great 20th Century convulsion, has it exactly right, the importance of the responses to the Depression by both Hoover and Roosevelt lay in their decision to elevate a negative idea of Freedom, freedom from want, from hunger, from “the vicissitudes of life” above, and against, the traditional American ideal of republican Liberty. This shift from a government aimed at protecting Freedom to one designed to provide Security is the single most important thing that happened in 20th Century America.

Mark Steyn concurs:

The story of the western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government