Schoneker: The freedom to fear



Jake Schoneker

Ben Franklin famously said, “Any society that would give up liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” In its youth, America was united under the common ideal of freedom. It began as a motley mix of states and colonies, but the pursuit of liberty united us under one flag. We fought for freedom, we died for freedom and when we won it we created a system that embraced it – but today, times have changed. Take a look around: our American ideal is fading.

Today, we pursue liberty not as the united society of our forefathers but as mere individuals – fragments of the historic whole. We are essentially suspicious of political power, having been beaten down by its empty rhetoric and partisan games for so many years.

We have become content with being politically powerless, our idealism slowly giving way to a loss of faith in our own political capacities. Rather than taking our ambition to the public arena, we have instead turned inward, retreating into our private lives.

Of course, we go out in the world to make money, but only so that we can come home, sit in our comfortable living rooms and watch the world turn on TV. This is where we feel most like ourselves – secure and detached from a dangerous world.

We prefer it this way. Out there in the public eye, we’re always judged. The world is scary and it’s hard to change. Even if you try – even if you succeed – you never really win. There will always be more problems. Besides, the rewards of the private life are much more tangible. Driving around in a shiny new convertible makes you feel like a million bucks. Devoting your life to eliminating poverty – and inevitably failing – only makes you feel poor. Appearance is everything in America, and you always want to seem rich, even if you’re not.

All this personal posturing is supposed to make us feel secure – but underneath our expensive masks, there are deep insecurities that drive a new American ideal of fear. We are afraid of feeling inferior to our neighbors, so we buy bigger cars with borrowed money, which makes us feel powerful. We buy big homes with big mortgages and hide in them because inside their walls, we are kings of our own domain. We are attached to these feelings of private power, and we dread losing them.

We are not free, but fearful and insecure – dependent on the status quo so that our investments don’t collapse and take our affluent illusions away.

But the world is a dynamic place, and Americans have a lot to lose. We are the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of the world. Our economy is under siege by illegal immigration and outsourcing. Major American companies are falling prey to foreign competitors, and the U.S. dollar is quickly losing its power in the international market. Worst of all, we are under constant threat from radical terrorist groups that instill fear in the hearts and the wallets of Americans. Terror level red, America is under attack.

While the external threats that face our nation are very real and certainly important, the most dangerous threat of all is internal. We have responded to threats of terrorism by cracking down on freedom. The liberties we hold are subtly being rendered meaningless by a system that rewards conformity and discourages freedom.

After all, acting against the political grain could result in losing the economic stability that we depend on. We are no longer a free and idealistic people – not because we are not allowed to be free, but because it seems to be in our own best interest not to be.

We think that we’ve traded our freedom for security. All we’ve really done is become dependent on the status quo and insecure about change. But the world today is a dynamic place, and to position oneself against progress is to invite disaster. Our economic security is a complex, fragile house of cards – and if Franklin’s prophecy comes true, it may soon come crashing down.


Jake Schoneker is a senior political science and humanities major from Lansdale, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].