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Homeland Security: The Sworn Duty of Public Officials

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Obligations of government in balancing liberty and security

The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.
Thomas Hobbes, “Leviathan”

Obligations of government in balancing liberty and security

The name of this course, terrorism and homeland security, gives us the purpose of the class.  At this point in the term, as we discuss the definitions and causes of terror, we need to begin understanding how governments respond to terror and how they should respond to terror.  What is the point of a government that does not protect its citizens?  As American students, we will move into the concepts and organization of homeland security later in the term, but it will aid us to understand those concepts more fully if we keep in mind the purposes of government as we discuss the gestalt of terrorism.

Although modern politics attempts to portray this otherwise, the primary function of the Constitution of the United States of America is to defend its citizenry.   The Preamble of the document makes providing for the common defense one of the defined purposes of the underlying law of the land.  Madison makes this duty to protect clear in explaining Constitutional framework in The Federalist No. 10; protection of man and his property "is the first object of government" (Hamilton, Madison, & Jay, 2001, p. 42).  Heyman (2001) explains the legal and philosophical background of this view in terms of English common law and Locke’s view of the social contract.

However, we should also note that the Constitution sets other principles as primary functions of our government; establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, and securing liberty are the concepts that concern us in this discussion.  The concept of protecting liberty must be balanced by the duty to protect the citizenry, and this balance must be weighed in terms of justice and tranquility.  Riley (2012) asserts that a written set of laws, as exemplified by our Constitution, is the best method of preventing tyranny.  Separation of powers is another concept that prevents tyranny.  We should remember that America is a Republic, not a democracy.  Sutherland (1951) argues that Americans must make constant calculations of risk in deciding security policy.  You should know that many laws and policies of the United Sates have been determined later to be unconstitutional and abandoned…and that the constitutionality of some of these have been restored at later times.  Politics, and not adherence to the Constitution, has created much of this law and policy.

Willis (2009) contends that here will always be tension in the balance between liberty and security.  Willis places this tension in the realm of struggle for political power, but also demonstrates that a restriction on liberty for some groups leads to an increase in security for others in the case of gangs preying on pensioners.  Lopach and Luckowski (2006) suggest several facets of understanding to study to help grasp the balance, including but not limited to: national security, liberty, separation of powers, rule of law, growth complex, and civil virtue.  We are not going to cover all of these in class, but feel free to ask!

From our earlier discussion, we have seen policy set with the purpose of protecting the citizen, but that had the actual effect of harming his liberty.  As we advance through the term, you will be exposed to specific cases debates in which this balance may apply.  Is the policy of banning Muslims from immigrating to this country an act of protecting America, or is it a case of lost liberty?  Does the PATRIOT Act harm liberty, or protect Americans?  Why was the NSA spying on all Americans rather than focusing on known security threats?   Do, or should, aliens (whether they be legal or illegal) have the same set of rights as American citizens?  What about American citizens fighting under a foreign banner?  One thing to keep in mind that any given policy may have both the results of security and liberty, neither effect, either effect, or even a balance of tensions that must be maintained.  For example, one possibility in a tension of policy may be to temporally ban Muslims from entering while fixing the systems of vetting that would satisfy both needs of America in terms of security and liberty.  For you as a student, a policy maker, or a first responder, understanding the purposes of government and the effects of politics on how those purposes are achieved is necessary to understand how to respond to terror, or for any other threat to American security and liberty.

Under our current educational standards, it is possible that many students do not have a full understanding of liberty.  Such students should not feel ignorant.  West (1965) notes that before the concept can sensibly be discussed, there must a definition of liberty, and further notes that there are two conflicting notions of liberty in the positive and negative senses.  Political actors may seek to define liberty in words that justify their own policies.  In interpretations of liberty for the American system of governance, therefore we should look to the sources that the Founders defined the terms, Hobbes, Locke, and the evolving English tradition.  Two notes here; first, it is NOT required to read this material for this course…it is hard reading, but it is also worth the time for your own understanding.  Second, Hobbes is often interpreted as being an absolute statist (a person who finds all social solutions to be found in the power of the state), but Harrington (2005) argues that it is the idea of liberty that puts Hobbes’s philosophy into full sensibility.

So we have looked at the underlying function of government, the stated purposes of the Constitution in American government and the reasoning behind those purposes, the inherent tension between security and liberty, some possible examples of that tension in the war on terror, and sources of information to explain the idea of liberty.  We have touched upon, but not gone into detail, the implication of political influences upon these subjects.  As we discuss terrorism, it’s effects upon our country, and how to counter the threat of terrorism, we can keep these concepts in mind.

References and Suggested Reading:

Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (2001). The Federalist Papers. Hazleton, PA: Pennsylvania State University.

Harrington, R. (2005). Hobbes and liberty: the subject’s sphere of liberty in Leviathan. Retrieved from http://www.artificialhorizon.org

Heyman, S. J. (1991). The first duty of government: protection, liberty and the Fourteenth Amendment. Duke Law Journal, 507–571.

Lopach, J. J., & Luckowski, J. A. (2006). national security and civil liberty: striking the balance. The Social Studies, 97(6), 245–248.

Riley, C. J. (2012). Constitutional law as a bulwark against tyranny: The American experience. Moreana, 49(189/190), 89–116.

Sutherland Jr., A. E. (1951). Freedom and internal security. Harvard Law Review, 64(3), 383–416.

West, E. G. (1965). Liberty and education: John Stuart Mill’s dilemma. Philosophy, 40(152), 129–142.

Wills, M. (2009). Language and the politics of liberty and security. Public Policy Research, 16(1), 34–37. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-540X.2009.00552.x

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