Faced with risks: how to choose between freedom and security?

Benjamin Franklin would one day have written that “A people willing to sacrifice a little freedom for a little security deserves neither, and ends up losing both. "

CThis beautiful quote is certainly a good encouragement to defend your freedoms ... but it is objectively false! In almost all areas, freedom and security constitute two aspirations in tension, and increasing one almost always amounts to decreasing the other.

Safety nets

For example, we can only use relatively safe roads because our driving freedoms have been reduced. 15 deaths per year in France in the mid-70s we deplore some 3 in 2012 thanks to a highway code that increasingly regulates driver behavior and that the latter's freedoms are restricted. By fastening his seat belt, limiting his speed more and more, refraining from drinking before driving, he has sacrificed a good deal of his freedom in exchange for more safety.

It was the same for the implementation of social protection throughout the twentieth century. In France and in developed countries, the establishment of the Welfare State has been a tremendous step forward, whether for the elderly, the unemployed, the sick and all people with disabilities, whether physical, mental or simply social.

But to finance unemployment benefits, various allowances and the health system, Social Security must authoritatively levy contributions; moreover, quite logically qualified as “compulsory”. Salaries and other income from activity are reduced accordingly, depriving their beneficiaries of the freedom to use these sums as they see fit.

The guarantee against economic, social and health risks put in place by the State in this imposed insurance system therefore constitutes both a safety net and a constraint for all.

What freedoms are we prepared to sacrifice in order to be better protected?

The examples could be multiplied at will, except perhaps for freedom of opinion and that of the media, where gains in terms of freedom and security can be combined.

Everywhere else, the search for more security is at the cost of the sacrifice of a part of freedom, and the desire to preserve the maximum of freedoms leads for its part to renounce certain elements of security. Everything is then a question of arbitration and political choice: what freedoms are we ready to sacrifice in order to be better protected? What dangers are we prepared to face in order to keep the maximum freedom of action, speech, etc. ?

Each has its own values, its representation of the world which leads it to choose a point of balance more or less different from that of the neighbor; and it is then up to the national representation to decide where to situate it in a practical way.

Two recent debates show that this balance is not easy to find and that the supporters of each camp do not hesitate to denigrate, sometimes harshly, the arguments of those who belong to the other.

A liberticidal state or a too weak state?

If we first examine the current debate on the bill "strengthening internal security and the fight against terrorism", we realize that the government text creates dissatisfaction on both sides. Some, unconditional defenders of individual freedoms - we think of organizations such as the Syndicat de la Magistrature, la Cimade - consider as liberticide the fact of transposing into ordinary law provisions specific to exceptional situations; the others, who say they are above all anxious to ensure optimum security for their fellow citizens (La Droite Populaire, MP Eric Ciotti…), On the contrary find the measures far too timid. According to the former we are sliding towards an authoritarian state, where fundamental freedoms are threatened, according to the latter the Power has not realized the gravity of the situation and therefore not hardened the law enough.

According to the former, we are sliding towards an authoritarian state, where fundamental freedoms are threatened, according to the latter, the authorities have not realized the gravity of the situation and therefore have not tightened the law enough.

Being vaccinated against your will

The second example is that of compulsory vaccination. There, the government decided clearly in favor of more health security.

Eleven vaccines will be mandatory for unborn children from January 1, 2018, and parents who refuse this measure will be refused entry for their offspring into nurseries, schools and other places of collective life.

They may even be sued by their child in the event that the latter has to suffer from an illness and its consequences as a result of his parents' refusal to have him vaccinated. Parents hostile to vaccination are protesting against this measure which denies them the freedom to decide for themselves how to take care of their children. For their part, the Minister of Health and her administration invoke the health security of all. The vaccine is not only personal protection for the person receiving it but also collective protection, a way to build group immunity : the higher the percentage of vaccinated, the less likely it is for everyone to encounter the pathogen.

Parents opposed to the vaccination of their children therefore transform them into a vector of disease transmission and endanger the health of all those they frequent. Public authorities seeking to minimize health risks can only deprive parents of this freedom.

The inevitable choice

If we now go further in this debate between security enthusiasts and freedom lovers, we see that, depending on the context, the same people can be found on one side or the other. Those who swear by freedom in the economic field are often very attached to a strong protection in the civil field; and vice versa.

Thus, citizens, intellectuals and politicians claiming to be on the right attach great importance to the freedom to undertake, to create value, but on the contrary ask the State for more rules and controls when it comes to civil security. They are calling for more police forces, more border restrictions and greater severity of the courts. Conversely, those who rank on the left want an interventionist state in economic matters, in order to better guarantee the rights of the weakest, but willingly hold a discourse with a libertarian connotation when it comes to internal security. One could say, going quickly, that they want there to be more labor inspectors and fewer police inspectors.

This quick overview of the tensions that exist between the desire for freedom and the desire for security clearly shows that these are two aspirations that can be described as both legitimate and difficult to reconcile. Between the two, we are often forced to choose.

In addition, depending on the nature of our values ​​and our political orientation, we may be led to arbitrate in favor of one in one area and the other in another. The liberal in the economic sense of the term may not be so in the sense given to this adjective in the Anglo-Saxon world, since a supporter of a deregulated economy, he asks for strict rules to benefit from good security. civil.

In mirror image, one can draw the portrait of the individual follower of a State regulating the economy, which ensures by its laws and interventions a high level of security to the employees, but who is ready to mobilize against any law encroaching on individual freedoms to guarantee a high level of internal security.

Herve Flanquart, professor in Planning and Urbanism, Territories, Cities, Environment & Society, Coastal Opal University

La original version of this article was posted on The Conversation.

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