Carnegie Mellon University

When Freedom Fails

May 06, 2020

When Freedom Fails

By Thomas A. Anderson

The civil liberties granted to citizens by the United States constitution are the hallmark achievements of one of the world’s largest democracies, however Americans need to realize when protecting their cherished freedoms ultimately does more harm than good.

During major global events, life within the US will inevitably change drastically. This is evidenced by our current situation. Our once lively city plazas are barren, gathering places only to flocks of oblivious birds. Our homes have transformed into classrooms and corporate offices. Restaurant tables and chairs are stacked in corners and back rooms. Global emergencies, like COVID-19, and existential threats to the US mandate that the way in which we live adapt alongside US domestic and foreign policy.

Temporarily sacrificing some of our civil liberties may come along with this necessary change in living. Whether it be obeying stay-at-home orders or ceasing to run non-essential businesses, adhering to new government regulations, even when civil liberties seem infringed upon, can aid in the effort to overcome national obstacles.

I am not saying that Americans should always be willing to sacrifice civil liberties when the US faces an emergency. In fact, certain situations deem it necessary for Americans to hold those liberties closer to their hearts and minds than ever before.

Post WWII, the United States faced an existential threat in the form of communist ideology stemming from the Soviet Union. During the Cold War and the resulting Red Scare, Americans suffered a harsh and morally unjustified repression of their civil liberties. McCarthyism instigated a vociferous hunt for communists within US borders, repressing freedom of speech nationally. Racial backlash spiked as anti-semitism and violence against African Americans proliferated.

Mitigating how easily the United States government can revoke civil liberties is essential for safeguarding these liberties during times of crisis. The constitutional guarantee of civil liberties to all US citizens is just that, a guarantee. Protecting these civil liberties should be any democratic nation’s top priority.

Political influence and decision-making power should not be solely vested in the hands of a few individuals, as the case with Senator Joseph McCarthy. Encroaching on the civil liberties of Americans must come out of rational and morally justified necessity rather than hysteria and dictatorial control.

The question ultimately comes down to this: will protecting civil liberties propel American life and democracy forward, or will it hinder progress and undermine our nation?