Prescience on National Security

In the Federalist No. 8, Hamilton stated:

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

Federalist No. 8 was written in the context of warning against hostilities between the states, but Hamilton makes a compelling, highly relevant point about what people in society are willing to give up in order to protect our security in times of danger.  I have been thinking about Hamilton’s statement a lot in the context of the Edward Snowden/NSA domestic spying story.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a detailed guide to how the NSA Domestic Spying programs works.  Under the program, the Government can monitor every American’s call history and internet activity without a warrant.  Different aspects of the program are continuing to come to light, but Hamilton’s observations on the effect of a state of alarm on the value of liberty remain extremely prescient.

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