Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Related to NSA Listening Issue 

Here's a great article that considers the tension between the freedom of a republic and the need to protect that freedom. Lincoln faced it and explained himself quite well. Bush did a pretty good job also on Saturday. Vigilance and Responsibility sum things up nicely. Read the whole thing, as they say (and I say).

Here's a great quote by Lincoln that's worth repeating, along with a little followup analysis:
"I can no more be persuaded that the Government can constitutionally take no strong measures in time of rebellion, because it can be shown that the same could not lawfully be taken in time of peace, than I can be persuaded that a particular drug is not good medicine for a sick man, because it can be shown not to be good for a well one. Nor am I able to appreciate the danger apprehended by the meeting [of the New York Democrats] that the American people will, by means of military arrest during the Rebellion, lose the right of Public Discussion, the Liberty of Speech and the Press, the Law of Evidence, Trial by Jury, and Habeas Corpus, throughout the indefinite peaceful future, which I trust lies before them, any more than I am able to believe that a man could contract so strong an appetite for emetics during temporary illness as to persist in feeding upon them during the remainder of his healthful life."

The means to preserve the end of republican government are dictated by prudence, which according to Aristotle is, the virtue most characteristic of the statesman. Prudence is concerned with deliberating well about those things that can be other than they are (means). In political affairs, prudence requires the statesman to be able to adapt universal principles to particular circumstances in order to arrive at the means that are best given existing circumstances. For Bush, as well as for Lincoln, preserving republican liberty requires the executive to choose the means necessary and proper under the circumstances.
A very wise man, Lincoln was. We should trust in some of that wisdom now, I think. (and most of us probably do, although unfortunately not many Congressional democrats or management at the NYTs).

Like I said, make sure to read the whole thing. Any article that references Lincoln, the Federalist Papers, Aristotle, and John Locke normally doesn't disapoint, and this one is no exception. Here's the great conclusion to the article that contains a great piece of wisdom:
Today, once again we face the perennial tension between vigilance and responsibility as the United States is the target of those who would destroy it. In all decisions involving tradeoffs between two things of value, the costs and benefits of one alternative must be measured against the costs and benefits of the other. At a time when the United States faces an adversary that wishes nothing less than America's destruction, President Bush is correctly taking his bearing from Lincoln, who understood that in time of war, prudence dictates that responsibility must trump vigilance. In response to criticism of his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, Lincoln asked, ". . . are all the laws but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?" Lincoln's point is as applicable today as it was during the Civil War. If those responsible for the preservation of the republic are not permitted the measures to save it, there will be nothing left to be vigilant about.

Also, here's an editorial from the WSJ that explains why the president was well within his authority to authorize the NSA to listen in on international phone calls, and why the President having and exercising this power is a very good thing.

UPDATE: The first article contains an apparently famous quote by Justice Jackson in which he said "the constitution is not a suicide pact". Very wise words. Very wise words that made me crack up several times over the course of ten minutes. I'm not sure why exactly, but that wise statement is just freaking hilarious.

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