The War on Our Freedoms: Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism Edited by Richard C. Leone and Greg Anrig, Jr.
“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety,” Benjamin Franklin once observed, “deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And in the midst of September 11′s aftermath and an ongoing war on terror, we as citizens must carefully consider Franklin’s insight. For the past two years Americans have become increasingly willing to sacrifice personal liberty in order to guard against the atrocity of another massive attack. While we have certainly been successful in doing so thus far, it is critical that we ask how much essential liberty we are willing to risk.
In The War on Our Freedoms: Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism, editors Richard C. Leone and Greg Anrig, Jr. assemble a compendium of 14 writers to do just that. Covering topics from the administration’s limitation of biotechnology to its now infamous infringements on domestic privacy, The War on Our Freedoms paints a political, historical, and moral defense of liberty. It also attempts to unify freedom-loving people in intelligent dissent. However, while the work as a whole is thought-provoking and informative, the alienating rhetoric of several authors and the occasional redundancy of their topics ultimately undermine both the work’s efficacy and legitimacy.
The concept of The War on Our Freedoms is sound, and several essays brilliantly illustrate the “liberty versus security” debate. From the outset, Richard C. Leone and Alan Brinkley lay the foundation for the argument by providing us with an historical context–something they do with striking intelligence and objectivity. Rather than inflate the dire state of our current crisis, they trace the poor history of liberty through its progression and peak. Moreover, they argue that our current situation is simply one in which this progress is threatened. Other essays bolster this positive rhetoric by presenting the moral argument for individual liberty in crisis, and several authors like Ann Beeson and Anthony Lewis fortify their own positions with principled pleas and heartfelt calls for liberty. Engaging those on the left, right, and center, they find those unifying bonds of freedom and hope and attempt to ignite discussion on the heels of this passion.
Unfortunately, however, throughout The War on Our Freedoms, this passion, unity, and objectivity are undermined. Forgetting that half of the audience is the conventional “right” (both libertarians and conservatives), several authors continuously exclude this group with their liberal bias. Foundationally sound arguments are undercut by authors’ unwillingness to abstain from character assaults and the use of partisan rhetoric. Writers like Joseph Lelyveld (“‘The Least Worst Place’: Life in Guantanamo”) and Christopher Edley, Jr. (“The New American Dilemma: Racial Profiling Post-9/11″) have reasonable positions, but they undermine these positions with stray partisan remarks that destroy their objectivity. In what seems a moment of editorial weakness, one essay, which is ironically entitled “The Go for Broke Presidency: Can National Unity and Partisanship Coexist,” strays from the argument for individual liberty with a partisan attack on, among other things, President Bush’s tax policies. As a result, the right-of-center reader may feel alienated from the larger discussion. Any coherent, transcendent message concerning liberty in crisis quickly falls victim to these divisive and tangential statements.
The book also suffers, if only slightly, from its very construction as a collection of essays. Compilations are generally better at promoting principles than outlining the progression of a methodic, logical argument. Consequently, The War on Our Freedoms suffers from the foreseeable redundancy of any collection of essays on such a narrow historical topic. Many arguments are repeated throughout the work, and the casual reader is likely to become bored with the repetitious treatment of some subjects and skeptical of the often-used stock examples.
Ultimately, The War on Our Freedoms is a quick read crammed with information and argumentation. It is likely to be enlightening to anyone with an interest in the “liberty versus security” debate, but it also suffers from several avoidable flaws. Stray comments that alienate conservative readers and extraneous arguments that deviate from the core discussion undermine the credibility of an otherwise well-constructed work. Furthermore, redundancy often neutralizes the persuasiveness of those examples and arguments regurgitated in later chapters. Despite these flaws, however, many of the essays are undeniably engaging, and the seriousness of the topic itself warrants a read if only to stay current on this crucial debate.
John Coleman is a senior majoring in economics at Berry College, where he is a contributor to several campus publications and an editor of the Honors Review.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Jacob Hayutin