What does this quote mean: “They who can give up essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty not safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
What Benjamin Franklin is trying to say in this quote is that personal liberty is the most important thing in a democratic society.
In democratic societies, we typically say that there is a tradeoff between liberty and safety. We see this tradeoff most clearly in the areas of policing and of anti-terrorism. A recent example of this is the revelation that the government has been collecting data on who we call on our phones. We say that we have to be willing to give up some of our freedoms so that the government can protect us from criminals and terrorists.
Franklin is rejecting this idea. He is saying that no one ought to be willing to give up any “essential liberty.” When he says this, he is claiming that liberty is the most important thing. He is saying that giving up liberty in order to get safety is something that is really bad. It is so bad that we do not deserve to have either liberty or safety if we are willing to give liberty up. This means that liberty is the most important thing.