Gaita, Raimond: balancing security and liberty

Gaita, Raimond

Can Australia ever strike the “proper balance” between security and liberty?Guardian Australia, 28 February 2015

Honest History had collected links to many articles written over the last few months about national security issues, triggered by fears of terrorism. As it turns out, we haven’t used any of them. We had been disappointed about how few of these pieces went beyond discussing current alarums to consider broader issues, which went perhaps to our nature as a nation. Gaita at least touched upon these issues.

Tony Abbott is right: citizenship is a great good. He is also right to insist that it carries grave responsibilities. Sometimes citizens are required to risk their lives to protect the values that define their citizenship. Even pacifists have that responsibility. They should not be required to kill for their nation, but they should be prepared to die for it.

Next month we will be reminded that thousands of young Australians sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom and other values that are intrinsic to the relatively developed form of democracy we enjoy. We will be told that they died for love of country, a love that is deeper than proud citizenship, and can bestow a particular spirit on the universal values of democracy. Mateship, we will be told, gives an Australian accent to the universal value of egalitarianism.

Every year we are told such things. Much of it is true. But we are not told about the dangers of national pride and love of country. We are not reminded that love of country, like all loves, has its counterfeit, Jingoism. In our times, real love of country is marked by at least three features: truthfulness about the mixture of good and evil that is part of any nation’s history; a preparedness to be ashamed as well as proud, and a preparedness to be answerable to those instruments of international law that give substance to the idea of a community of nations.

I imagine that on Anzac day Abbott, if he is still prime minister, will remind us of those who, as he puts it, “would do us harm”, who “hate our way of life”. He will imply even if he does not say, that we should honour the dead by being firm and courageous in our resolve to resist them. I doubt, however, that he will wonder whether his praise of the courage of our fallen soldiers is consistent with his insistence that we must now weigh our commitment to human rights against the demands of national security and our desire for personal safety. Nor will those across the political spectrum who agree with him. Certainly not Bill Shorten …

[W]e must remember that national security includes the security of the values that define our political identity, which must include rendering secure the conditions that protect love of country from degenerating into jingoism. Leadership on national security will inspire us to protect what we cherish when fear, hatred or bigotry tempts us to forsake it.

If, however, we do bring out the scales, if the need to do it expresses the shared understanding of the nation, then a modest regard for truthfulness should make us careful about what we say next Anzac day.

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