The Public Interest

Can we be secure and free?

Thomas F. Powers

Spring 2003

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.—Benjamin Franklin


Political liberty consists in security or, at least, in the opinion one has of one’s security.—Montesquieu


HAS the war on terror breathed new life into the forces of authoritarianism in America? That certainly is the suggestion of many in today’s debate over civil liberties. But the current contours of the debate, in which defenders of liberty oppose those arguing in the name of security, are fundamentally misleading. As it now stands, the controversy is deeply confused and exaggerates the disagreement between parties of good will on both sides. The debate has also set in motion an unnecessary spiral of mistrust that may now be beyond our power to escape. But it may still be possible to clean up some of the confusion that prevails on all sides and sort out what is really at issue.

Download a PDF of the full article.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.