04 December 2005

Timothy Garton Ash on the erosion of liberty

If you've been reading The Capital Letter for a while now, you'll have noticed that I'm a big fan of Guardian columnist, academic, political historian and analyst extraordinaire Timothy Garton Ash. Last week, he hit the nail on the head once again with a column in the Guardian entitled "Freedom has been halted." In this column, Garton Ash writes about what he sees as the erosion of liberty in "most established democracies" since the September 11, 2001 attacks. His analysis is good, and the column is definitely worth a read.
The totalitarianisms of the 20th century promised more security in return for less liberty. In liberal democracies we generally accept less security in return for more liberty.

Faced with jihadist suicide bombers, we must reconsider and perhaps adjust the balance. Irritating though they are, I assume that tighter security controls at airports, railway stations and public buildings are necessary. Unlike many liberals, I also think identity cards may help, provided they work properly and we have effective controls over the information stored on them. When I read that MI5 are recruiting 800 more spies to combat the threat of Islamist terrorism, I am disturbed - but I can see the argument for it. But in every case we need to be convinced that the reduction of liberty will bring a commensurate increase in security.

What is unforgivable is the measure that makes Britons at once less free and less safe. Lately, they've been getting too many of those: actions designed to prevent suicide bombers that end up creating more of them.

Read the whole column here.

Personally, I couldn't agree more. Garton Ash has articulated (much more eloquently than I could have hoped to) a concern I've held for some time now. I don't have the answer to exactly where the balance between liberty and security ought to lie, but I'm pretty certain that it's not where Western governments have been looking for it in recent years.

On a totally unrelated note, you'll have noticed it's been a quiet around here lately. It's not that the Bear has gone into hibernation for the winter, but rather that real life and work and visits from friends have conspired to reduce my blogging output considerably in recent weeks. I hope that I'll be able to find a bit more time to blog next week. Do keep checking back, though. This blog is very much still alive.