Security: The Inter-Temporal Dimension of Freedom

Security consists in the inter-temporal aspect of freedom, namely the prevalence of social harmony and the confidence that future freedom will not be endangered.

Security relates to the confidence that people will be able to enjoy their freedom into the more or less distant future. It is freedom from fear of violent interference by private or collective agents.

In a different meaning, security is sometimes equated with social justice. However, as soon as security is oriented towards the protection of acquired social and economic positions it clashes with freedom.

Security can be endangered not only by external threats, but also by domestic infringement of freedom and by unforeseen events.

Appropriate institutions Opens in new window can constrain arbitrary and violent behavior in some, and are therefore able to promote the security of others.

When we deal with security from external coercion or attack, the goal of external peace is closely related to security Opens in new window, the future freedom from violence and coercion in international relations.

Internal security and peace cover not only the absence of civil war, but also the absence of violent confrontations, such as widespread crime, violent strikes and riots, and the prevalence of social harmony.

Security and peace are defined in relation to violent and arbitrary behavior of people with power.

The transition from the normal daily conflicts and disputes, which are inevitable in any living society, to a situation of genuine insecurity is gradual.

Small interpersonal conflicts Opens in new window are the inevitable consequence of differences in human values and aspirations.

Everyone’s pursuit of happiness, of course, often has external consequences for the wellbeing of others.

The dividing line, where security and peace are genuinely endangered, lies where violent, deceptive and arbitrary means to obtain personal objectives are used, where conflicts are no longer resolved by discourse, private negotiation or the mediation of third parties and where generally accepted rules are violated.

It is apparent that violations of security and peace—not only by civil wars, but also lesser conflicts and crime—are prevalent in poor countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central America (World Bank, 2011).

When discussing security, one has to establish who assesses security — individuals personally assessing their own security, or a third party assessing someone’s or a group’s security.

As the future is inevitably uncertain, assessments of security vary greatly between individuals; some will be confident that they can master risks, others will be risk-averse and easily feel insecure.

Security assessments always require much information search and forecasting, as well as an evaluation of the capability to respond to unforeseen eventualities.

It follows then that security is impossible in a changeable world.

The only way to prevent all airplane crashes would be to ground all planes — but such absolutist approaches to security would be unrealistic and at the expense of economic welfare.

The pursuit of absolute security would thus only endanger other social values and would be unsustainable.

In an evolving world, security must therefore not be equated to rigidity.

Indeed, attempts to avert adaptive changes are only likely to produce greater insecurity in the long-term as changing reality gets further out of kilter with aspirations to secure the status quo.

Frequently, the best one can do for one’s security is to maintain a capability of alertness, flexibility and responsiveness in dealing with unforeseen developments.

As security relates to the future, it always has a time dimension, which at times complicates the definition of what it means.

As just noted, the pursuit of security for the short term can easily imperil long-term security.

Thus, if people elect political leaders who only emphasize securing material living standards for the next few years and who refuse to take longer-term considerations into account, they opt for great risks to their security in the long term.

A proper understanding of security therefore requires a variable time horizon and conscious trade-offs between short- and long-term aspirations to security, as well as deductions from maximalist interpretations of what is considered subjectively secure.

When members of societies place their security above all other objectives, they are bound to discover that—after a time—conservation replaces experimentation and evolution. Then, alertness and adaptability to change get lost and consequently, the means to secure future freedom get eroded.

When people have lost all taste for change and the capabilities to cope with it constructively, they begin to feel subjectively insecure and lose confidence. They may then try to control competition and openness, which are frequent sources of challenge to existing economic and social positions.

When their preference for imposed security then grows, this hampers the very adaptations that would guarantee long-term security—as judged by an informed, independent observer.

Dealing with aspirations to security therefore requires careful assessment and the readiness to cope with certain sources of insecurity, as and when challenges arise (Hayek, 1960, pp. 397 – 411).