Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 13, 2008

Liberty vs. Secruity - Dimensions Vary

Picking up from Tangerine's comment:

In the Supreme Court decision on Boumediene vs. Bush (pdf, 134 pages) the majority opines (page 78):

The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.

Tangerine mocks the words I highlighted:

The opposition between liberty and security is in any case a false one and rests on the presuppositiion that being submissive to jackboots is for one’s own (the nation's!) good. The law can either accept this nonsense, or refute it. Here it is openly accepted

Well - no. There is opposition between liberty and security. It is not "in any case a false one".

Do I have the liberty to spend all money I earn now, or some guarantees of a social security program that will repay in my old age?

Do I have the liberty to drive as fast as possible wherever I am, or some security to cross the road unharmed that comes with speed limits in midtown?

It is not deniable that, in a general sense, there is usually some payoff between liberty and security and I believe that Scotus, in the closing words of a long important opinion, is refering to that general sense.

The whole war-of-terror scheme is not a liberty vs. security question with the law being the judge. It rests on a different goal. It emphasises insecurity, makes up threats to security, to justify taking away of liberties and security.

Usually the liberty vs. security balance is seen along a line of positive choices.

To the left-top is security and to the right bottom is liberty. A social group entity, a free nation, can find its balance position somewhere along the green line and put that into law. You can gain a bit of liberty by giving up a bit of security.

But the 'new reality' the Bush/Cheney neocons introduced is different. They widened the 'playing field'. The real intent is now neither security nor liberty determined in some democratic balance but control - along the way of the black arrow. This is a new dimension they introduced and we have to consider. They have moved the realm of public discussion.

The II quadrant at the upper right with the green line is the one we are supposed to live in. Quadrant I is a benevolent dictatorship - lots of security but little liberty. Quadrant III is a revolutionary anarchy - lots of liberties, but anyone may shoot you right now, IV is pure fascism.

There you may choose between keeping your mouth totally shut and still be on the no fly list, or to argue pure scientific facts, i.e. be neutral in liberty, and still getting fired or jailed for daring to do so.

Bush/Cheney have moved the U.S. discussion space from the green line towards the brown line. There are still choices, positions along that brown line, but the line has moved.

The Scotus decision is trying to pull the nation back from the brown line to the green one. Liberty and security can be reconciled if the line is in the right quadrant.


Posted by b on June 13, 2008 at 20:11 UTC | Permalink


Nice. The idea of negative liberty? Less than zero? So what...not only are you totally restrained, but your jailers are inflicting pain upon your restrained body. I get that. Negative security? Not only are there no guarantees of safety, but you are assured that there *will* be a terrorist attack and that most assuredly you will fall victim to this attack. Right, well that goes hand in hand with the givens of negative liberty. So I think that quadrants I and III just don't exist, really. They are theoretical constructs of Ron Paul and Laruche types.

Posted by: Geoff | Jun 14 2008 4:59 utc | 1

Again, shuffleboard on the Titanic.

Read Evolutionary Games and Population Dynamics Hofbauer and Sigmund.
This tome deals precisely with x-y predator-prey liberty-security modeling.
If for nothing else, the pure discipline of slogging through it will absent
you from your daily doze of libation, and away from de jeur pop psy-politics.

Thumbnail cliff notes version: there are always two meta-states between any
population of prey (wage workers) and predators (capital managers), one the
crueler version, oppressed workers and boom-and-bust corporate die-off, but
another more moderate, more prey (union wages) and stable managed predation.

In other words, a "Maker-Taker" capital investment law enforced at every level.
The argument then isn't about II -v- IV, but the twin modalities of II, and
how to achieve the more moderate of the two. IV just doesn't exist in nature,
but I'll leave that up to the brilliant minds of MoA, after they read EG&PD.

Pour a beer on the ground for Tim R.

Posted by: Shawn Michaels | Jun 14 2008 5:04 utc | 2

Fascinating, thank you bartender.

I might add that the diagram shows the possibilities of any one of us in our current circumstance.

To wit: Top left is how we feel when we are in the shopping mall or for another example renewing our driving license. Liberty is circumscribed however we endure this for the necessary good. For us that remember it, quadrant 1 is like the downtown NYC motor vehicle branch office with its red, yellow and green "lights." Wait in line, get your license.

Top right is the realm of safe streets and well-lit buildings. We navigate this world fully recognizing that things change from area to area but in general it is safe -- the security component is positive.

Bottom left -- Bernhard's fascist quadrant. This could be a state of mind.

In this mode one feels unsafe and at the same time afraid to exercise one's freedoms. Persons who legitimately or through circumstance are concerned about apprehension, being caught rightly or wrongly, inhabit this area. It's not a good place but psychically it is home to street people, criminals, the non-sane and insecure.

That leaves quadrant four, the "temporary autonomous zone." This is termed anarchy, but could easily be interpreted as a party where you don't know the other guests. They may have rituals that seem obscure and possibly dangerous, but this is also a zone where one's senses are attuned and you can learn a lot, gain validation, discover the primal thrill of risk.

Does anyone else relate to the diagram this way? It is really provocative I think.

Posted by: jonku | Jun 14 2008 8:08 utc | 3

I too find this fascinating, unfortunately I have little to contribute and can only hope that some of the smarter people that hang out here will weigh in.

it would seem at first glance that we have indeed entered a different place in that protection is now a sadistic pleasure of the rulers and liberty is accepted as something reserved for the rich and powerful.

I know that I have gone from being outraged and bitter to more resigned and amused. It is quite easy to spot the things that are not right but much more difficult to envision a solution. One thing is certain, people offering solutions most often do not have your interests at heart.

Posted by: dan of steele | Jun 14 2008 11:20 utc | 4

In my opinion the loss of liberty is not particularly surprising given the American people worship of the "risk free" entelechy. It is astounding that the possibility of a risk free society is bandied about constantly. Security is an imaginary condition. Only cemeteries are risk free for the dead though not for the survivors. Only the absolutely poor is risk free even for them to a certain degree. Society that bases its freedom in property is always fearful, always ready to yield and become a slave in order to preserve its lifeand its property. Only the suicide is completely free and ceases to exist but creates for the dominant power an insoluble problem. How can the dominant power enslave those that prefer to die rather than to be slaves?

Posted by: jlcg | Jun 14 2008 15:40 utc | 5

No prob. It is all fine.


I started to compose a reasonable response and gave up. Too complicated, too long.

Cooking dinner for 8.

Maybe Germans like to think their security is a police matter? A delicate balancing of straight lines on fanciful charts?


Best, Tangerine.

Posted by: Tangerine | Jun 14 2008 17:33 utc | 6


i would like to see yr written response - simply because these notions - whether they be of liberty, of security, of truth or of justice have been so defiled & degraded by the facts - that in this argument i feel i am a little in both houses. yrs & b's

the scandinavians seem to be the only nations capable of meeting their socila contracts. & as people pointed out this week here - that is not a perpetual guarantee

cuba & venezuela have been more audacious with their social contracts but in a world drowned by the sins of consuption they are very fragile indeed

i think fundamentally i am an hegelian but there is no state to worship - - the magistrates who fight against injustice & corruption in italy for example are a state wiithout a state or in direct confrontation with the state

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Jun 14 2008 17:59 utc | 7

Negative security... when the cops are not merely nonexistent, but are predators. when the firefighters loot your burning home. when the undertaker steals the gold teeth from your Mom's corpse. when the parish priest molests your kid. in other words, when the people you are supposed to be able to trust -- people who are supposed to provide security -- are in fact predators, thieves, liars, opportunistic exploiters. which is worse than if they didn't exist at all. another instance of this might be those 3w disaster/drought scenarios where, repeatedly, aid workers are found to be coercing sexual services or extorting personal possessions from hungry people in exchange for "free" food aid. negative security?

another definition of negative security: utter dependence on an indifferent or hostile system, rather than on commensally-networked neighbours or one's own wit and ability, for basics like food and water. poor people in NOLA found that they had negative security. USians have negative food security: the institutions that are supposed to produce and guarantee a food supply are instead dedicated to making less and less edible "food-like substances" using more and more tenuous and unsustainable practises and longer and longer supply lines... placing the abjectly dependent client at greater and greater risk of systemic collapse. but I guess this is just a refined, institutional case of the first case: the system which is supposed to provide security, collective guarantees of safety, is instead predatory (profit seeking) and is in reality geared to capital accumulation instead of e.g. feeding people, providing basic medical care, housing, etc.

security is having friends. zero security is having no friends. negative security is being prey?

Posted by: DeAnander | Jun 14 2008 18:15 utc | 8

interesting comments all around. i think there is definitely a close relationship between security and property. those in quadrant II have a paid off home and enough capital to secure food and fuel on a regular basis, whether from income or interest from abstract property, stocks&bonds, etc. obviously less and less people can claim the luxury of that kind of debt-free security and capital liberty.

quadrant I is what our benevolent dictator calls our post 9-11 world, where trading in liberties for an increase in the illusory projection of security is accepted by a fearful public, but those of us in the know understand quadrant IV is the ultimate goal.

quadrant III is where it gets a little sticky for me. jonku: it's great to see you mentioned temporary autonomous zone, because that's how i would like to think of it, because i'm afraid generally applied anarchist principles, if ever tried on a larger scale than a taz, will probably always fail from the human condition being what it is: we are animals and we need rules to protect us from each other.

Posted by: Lizard | Jun 14 2008 18:35 utc | 9

Nice chart as a starting point. I would like to see it taken to three dimensions with corporate control/work time and economic social relations as well. I have worked this all out but unfortunately there is not enough space in the margins to write it all down...

Posted by: fermat | Jun 14 2008 19:35 utc | 10

@Tangerine - Maybe Germans like to think their security is a police matter? A delicate balancing of straight lines on fanciful charts?

1. Certainly not, though there is a national tendency for "orderly" and "efficiant" with these German folks. More or less than in Switzerland? I don't know.

2. Charts are always abstractions. I thought this up as an abstraction of a complicate issue. Maybe a typical MBA exercise - one part of my education. The engineering side of me would prefer some 2nd degree differential equations. But those are much harder to communicate.

Security is a social good and often positive. But it can go negative. DeA offered good examples. Liberty is a social good. But it can go negative too. An anarchic society is good for the strong. But what happens to the weak?

A dictatorial society is good for security, unless you demand some freedoms. See Musharraf, Saddam, the Saudis and other dictatorships.

The fascist society is suppressive - it robbs liberty while sawing insecurity. I sense some of that in the Bush U.S. The TSA has no other task than to make you feel insecure and to infringe on your rights. Security it doesn't deliver at all.

I am still mulling about two things in these charts I thought up yesterday.

I provided lines. These probably should be more like oval areas. The lines can move from convex to concav. The green line may not be plainly linear in real occurance.

I am unsure yet of how the lines should be in qI and qIII. Parallels to green and brown? I'll think about that.

Anyway. I'll welcome you for dinner anytime. Even with 8+ other people. Have a good evening.

Posted by: b | Jun 14 2008 19:46 utc | 11

How can the dominant power enslave those that prefer to die rather than to be slaves?

yes slavery is alive & well. House negro or field negro, no matter, we are all negro's today. Finally, we are all negro's

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Jun 14 2008 20:27 utc | 12

we are living in time - when - the public good has been so diminished, so degraded - so confused with notions of the motherland

althusser spoke of ideological state apparatus & the repressive state apparatus - what we witness today is a merging of those apparatus enabled by cultures that are completely colonised

education health & logement - clearly questions close to the heart of most europeans are threatened daily by the thatcher/blair formulations which are a pornaghrapic micing of the notions of liberty & security. the anti social orders are a perfect example of their perverted jurisprudence

the questions tangerine & b are interrogating are large questions

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Jun 14 2008 21:32 utc | 13

The American Ideal is one that Thomas Jefferson conceived for his country at its outset: a wilderness nation where every family lives independently, is self-sufficient in all its basic needs, and only engages in dealings with neighbors or enters into contracts on a voluntary basis out of self-interest.

If that were the case, then the neoliberal maximum freedom/minimum regulation model would be the ideal.

But that was an idealized view even for America at the start of the XIXth century and it certainly has little to do with America today - and it applies even less to most of Europe, Africa or Asia.

The European model is based on the fact that most people enter into contact and contracts out of necessesity or compulsion: they have to work to feed their family, they have to live in close proximity, not just out of convenience, but out of necessity.

They used to live together in walled cities for self-defence, now they live closely due to their high population density.

Their political systems arose from the need to arrange themselves with power structures that came into being long before the rise of democracy and nation-states: the church, the landed gentry and various professional/trade organizations, not to mention the small-scale political matters of extended families, village or town life.

Whenever I hear Americans complaining about socialistic euroweenies, or hear Europeans whining about those "wild west" Americans, I just point out that if America tried to apply European solutions, the economy would collapse and there would be rioting in the streets.

And if Europe tried to apply American solutions, there would be rioting in the streets and the economy would collapse...

Posted by: ralphieboy | Jun 14 2008 21:58 utc | 14

DeAnander #8--


Negative security well defined.

And seemingly where we are heading. Counter-strategies are needed. Not that I think systems can be corrected--I don't think that--I just mean evading the worst.


Posted by: Gaianne | Jun 14 2008 23:49 utc | 15

Here's some security/liberty for ya...

Campaign Puts New Strain on Secret Service

"And while the 2008 campaign gets going, the [Secret Service] is also gearing up for January 2009, when President Bush is set to leave office ... The service has begun training agents to fill 103 full-time slots as to be part of the current president's retirement detail."

Remember this kids, when they pop a hole in Obomba, and then declare a full on police state...

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Jun 15 2008 2:25 utc | 16

And more from the Security Culture -- I kid you not:

Prohibited Items

Please note that the following items are prohibited inside the U.S. Embassy/Consulate and we have no facilities for storing these items, so please leave them at your home, your hotel, or in your vehicle:

  • Food and beverages
  • Weapons, including mace or pepper spray
  • Tools, including any sharp or bladed objects
  • Any oil or chemical-based sprays, liquids or lotions
  • Backpacks, bags, luggage, or purses
  • Electronic or recording equipment of any kind, including, but not limited to:
    • Laptop computers
    • Mobile phones
    • MP3, CD, or cassette players
    • Pagers
    • Keyless remotes
    • and oversized strollers

From the>online resource page for the US Consulate in Vancouver Canada.

I suppose you are not allowed to carry a cell phone into the consulate so that you can't call family or a lawyer if they arbitrarily bundle you off to Gitmo in mid-interview.

Personally, I don't want to step over the threshold of the place. It sounds way too much like the Lubyanka somehow. Prohibited items. No recording devices. No purses. How are you supposed to carry in your required documents and fees? in your jacket pockets or a plain manila envelope, I suppose.

How long before they force visitors to strip and change into prison coveralls in the vestibule, confiscate all your personal possessions (sign here please) which you may or may not get back when you leave...

Posted by: DeAnander | Jun 15 2008 4:26 utc | 17

Red Five

Driving home from the grocery tonight, a sea of empty stalls in the parking lot, the empty aisles, most people browsing just enough for a meal, the detritus of impulse grabs abandoned in other aisles, everywhere, like confetti. My full grocery cart drew stares, and an ebullient thank you from the store manager ... an old habit from the days of communal monthly bulk shopping, dividing up the groceries in an after party.

Those days are long gone. All that, barter fairs, gone, warm sun lost in dark ashes.

Driving home from the grocery tonight, lost in hippy daze at the red traffic light, a WWII jeep roared through the intersection, olive drab with Army star, a trim old guy in colonel's uniform with a grey buzz cut, and a attractive Dorothy Lamour gal beside him in her WAC outfit, with a green Army blanket over her silk stocking legs, both faces gleefully abandoned in the thrill of speed, riding in an open vehicle, headed towards America's Great Leap Forward ... the chosen.

Got home, it was dark. My kid ran out to bring in the groceries, then ran back in, snapping his fingers, ipod headphones on, "flashlight? flashlight?" I pantomimed, flashlight was somewhere here, look around. He grabbed my cell instead, laughing, "Iranian flashlight," its glowing screen guiding him into our heart of darkness.

Posted by: Ome Mann | Jun 15 2008 5:40 utc | 18

Maybe I was too abrupt, or am sometimes, really I’m only trying to be brief. I read college essays occasionally for my work and the style, specially in French, even worse in Italian (as I can’t speed read that but have to pay close attention - might miss the nugget, not grasp the tone, etc.) sometimes grates.

Long library shelves of philosophy have been written about the notion of Liberty. Considering it with Security on the opposite pole, the relation is nowadays (as by the Judges and in the top post) seen as a pair that total up, and more of one gets you less of the other. In a limited way, that is so of course.

Forbidden to drunk drive, I lose liberty, but augment my own and other’s security - actually, exposure to risk, and a whole screed might be written about adverse effects or results and their anticipation, coupled with degrees of intent, types of responsibility, willing deception, etc. These are on the ground issues, lawyers deal with them all the time.

My first objection is that the entity taken into account is the individual and his/her presumed hedonistic and other desires and intents, such as ‘criminal’ ones, or, today, the ‘right’ not to be pissed off, bothered, coerced, policed, etc. (Do I actually want to drink and drive?) This is a rather ‘modern’ image of man, seen from this point in time back a few hundred years. (Or see the library...) It is social Darwinism at its most bleak.

Not long ago, man’s proper relations to man where were formulated in terms of handed down convention which took into account the common good in some way; or in function of some other relation, as in Man to God, which accomplished the same thing. I think the entity to be considered should not be the individual and his ‘desires’, but the contracts or agreements made between ppl (keeping the individual in the picture), or better yet, group functioning, explicit or implicit. Seen in either of these two ways, Liberty remains a topic, but Security washes away in a muddle of values like comfort, ease, an enjoyable life, respect, help when needed, dignity, upholding group values such as those against torture, etc. etc., all of which rest on interaction, not the individual, depending on the society and the time.

Security from what? Theft, cancer, a road accident, poverty? Enough of my potted stuff..the deep issues are there though...

I will add that the ethos of competition and individualism destroys societies, that is obvious, one needs to look in depth at certain groups to understand it.

On a different register, and I will limit myself to these two extremely different points, talk of ‘security’ in the past 10 years, seems to uniquely refer to protection from terrorist attacks, that is, unexpected violent events instigated by evil outsiders. It has been used by Gvmts. to control, oppress, investigate, spy, on people; to legitimize and further wars (Chechnya, Iraq..), torture, internal control and sadism (the paperless in France, etc.)

Hyper classical scape-goating and scare-mongering to make ppl submissive, afraid, and thus pliant, controllable, nothing new under the sun there. Uncle Scam has posted a lot about it...All the security measures don’t make people ‘safer’, and stating they are ‘needed’ and sadly necessarily! impact ‘liberty’ is a deception, a scam, that serves some.

much more could be said i tried to keep it simple - maybe too simple -

Posted by: Tangerine | Jun 15 2008 18:59 utc | 19

It is interesting that the original post, meant to be provocative, is.

For some reason tangerine comes out of the blackness to discuss a point of view clearly made with respect to a body of practical knowledge in the social field.

Likewise Bernhard wishing to be able to express the diagram more formally with applied mathematics, another poster mentioned adding a third dimension [difficult on a website] yet displaying an interest in ideas that are difficult to express simply with words.

After reading this thread, I think that the bottom right quadrant, with negative liberty and positive freedom, is where we are at.

This is not a comfortable scenario especially when there are ppl depending on you, or when you are responsible for them, however this attitude engenders the solid contract where both parties are aware that there is nothing that can enforce the deal except simply honoring the bargain.

Color me cynical, but this is not about security or freedom, it is about life in general.

Welcome to the third quadrant, allow me to introduce you to our fellow residents!

Posted by: jonku | Jun 16 2008 5:56 utc | 20

is there a question of perception in regards to street kids and others who choose a life ideologically divorced from property and ownership in general? is life at this level quadrant IV, devoid of security and liberty, or does quadrant III come in to play: can a non-capitalist sense of liberty arise from annexing the burden of property and the servitude of a capitally oriented proprietorship of communal space? isn't it good that capitalism right now is caught with its pants down and this insatiable appetite for growth appropriately castrated? the diagram needs new coordinates. the diagram needs new coordinates.

Posted by: Lizard | Jun 16 2008 7:19 utc | 21

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