“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” – Alexander Hamilton on the tension between safety and liberty
Most of Alexander Hamilton’s quotes are about finance or ambition. Because those areas consumed so much of his political life, his famous quotations are mostly about those topics. However, I think this quote might be his most important one. If we allow our passions to override our reason, then we will lose our freedoms. In fact, I recently wrote about that lack of reason in an article about gun control called “Blame Criminals, not Guns.”
People in democratic societies, and really all societies, often allow their passions and emotions to override their reason. The gun control debate is an excellent example of that. Because of fear, many in America would allow their 2nd Amendment rights to be stripped away in the name of safety. They don’t seem to understand the immense danger inherent in that.
I think that is what Alexander Hamilton was trying to say in this quotation. Safety is a blanket that might be comforting, but is also restricting. It is comforting because it allows people to forget about their fear. Fear seems more pressing than liberty, so people are often willing to give up their liberty to assuage their fear.
That is dangerous because safety comes at a cost. Its cost is often a destruction of any liberty we might have. We need to push back against any impulse of the masses to take away our liberty. Read and understand this Alexander Hamilton quotation. It is a crucial one for understanding the tension between safety and liberty.
Image at top from: AZ Quotes