Liberty, Death, or Safety?
“Give me LIBERTY or give me DEATH”
– Patrick Henry
This chant, coined by Virginia Politician Patrick Henry, became the battle cry of the British Colonies. The phrase embodies the cornerstone of the American Revolution: That it would be better to die fighting for freedom than to suffer living in tyranny. Men and boys alike left their homes and died on the principle that it is better to be free or dead than ruled by a single, powerful monarch.
This belief is a direct antithesis to Hobbes’s theory on governance. According to Hobbes, humans should be willing to give up their liberties and self-governance for protection from the harsh state of nature. Hobbes believes life is best lived when under the protection (which also leads to constrictions) of a powerful sovereign.
This got me thinking: How could two influential thinkers come to two completely opposing views?
After pondering their differences, the largest factor I found was the environment that both men were exposed to. For Hobbes, his environment was a chaotic one, caused by the English Civil War. To Hobbes, the world was a violent, unstable place. This undoubtedly shaped Hobbes faith in human nature. Scarred by the civil war and fear of more bloodshed, Hobbes adopted the theory that it is better to live a simple, sheltered life than to fend for oneself in the cruel, lawless realm of human nature.
Patrick Henry, on the other hand, lived in a time when a powerful monarch was something to be feared. Henry, along with all supporters of the colonial revolution, suffered under the overbearing rule of King George III. In this case, when taxes and military presence became unbearable, the colonies rallied against the sovereign. Fighting with an unorganized army of under-trained and under-armed soldiers, the colonists risked nearly certain death for their civil freedoms.
The most interesting aspect of this comparison is that both forfeit what the other gains:
Hobbes, the ultraconservative, is willing to forfeit freedoms in order to feel safety.
Henry, the freedom fighter, is willing to sacrifice safety in return for civil liberties.
This poses the question: Is it better to be SAFE or FREE?
Below is a poll where you can express your opinion. While a combination of the two would be ideal, you will notice the poll only offers two choices. This is to force voters to make a decision, instead of riding neutrality and preventing any real results. I’m interested to see which holds more value in current society: freedom or protection. Also, feel free to post your reasoning in a comment. I’m interested to hear what you think about the topic and what aspects of our environment enforce these opinions. 🙂