03 April 2008
Ashcroft at Skidmore: Epilogue
In the end, Ashcroft had what The Saratogian calls a "lively give-and-take" with the spillover crowd of students, which may have been larger than it would have been without the late publicity created by the swastika scandal. A local Republican leader complimented the student audience for its civility. Ashcroft himself leaves the area with this sentiment: "I think liberty is the single most important value in the universe. The purpose of law is not to have security, it's to enhance freedom." That sounds like Ashcroft was recollecting Ben Franklin's remark about the trade-off between security and liberty, and perhaps disputing it. I'm not sure I agree with either man. In some cases, security is the self-evident object of law. Security is one of the proper objectives of any civilized society and shouldn't be disparaged. Civilization aspires to secure its members from the depredations of the state of nature. Ideally, this should require no sacrifice of freedom other than that which comes with civilization itself. In civilization man trades the freedom of the state of nature to do as he pleases at all times for the freedom from constant competition for mere existence that defines civilization. Franklin's warning applies when governments ask us to surrender freedom of conscience for security's stake. In the past, John Ashcroft has disparaged those who see such a surrender in the "Patriot Act," but he's never succeeded in explaining why we shouldn't see it that way.I await a fuller record of his Skidmore talk to see if he has made any progress.