Arthur Miller poses his question on the balance between order and freedom in America through “The Crucible.” During the Salem witch trials and the Red Scare, hysteria horribly skewed the balance away from freedom in reaction to the perception of dire circumstance. Arthur Miller points to such instances as proof that American society is far too quick to sacrifice liberty for the sake of safety. In modern day America the same question applies, especially in light of the 9/11 attacks and heightened security surrounding terrorism. Events like 9/11 elicit overwhelming support of liberty limiting measures, but this support often dissipates at a quicker rate than the policies enacted in the midst of the crisis. Once the emotion has calmed, the people are split on whether or not to keep the procedures in place. This split, being relatively even along political lines, illustrates that balance has been struck in America.
In the wake of 9/11, the nation was nearly unanimous in its resolution for increased security. The steps of the Homeland Security Act and the USA PATRIOT Act in securing our nation’s civilians proportionally decreased the freedom of the American people. Initially, the ‘war on terror’ merited all of the government’s actions. Slowly, however, some people began to resent the encroachments on their liberty. The Transportation Security Administration, formed by the Homeland Security Act, received criticism for its implementation of full-body scanners in the name of more thorough screening.
The National Security Agency, developed during a different time of crisis known as World War II, garnered criticism for eavesdropping on the telephone calls of thousands of American citizens. The figurehead of the NSA controversy, Edward Snowden, was both praised and denounced for his leaking of NSA documents to the general public. Those who praised him craved revenge for their loss of liberty, and those who denounced him feared for the disorderly society he helped to enrage. The same mixed reaction to the TSA’s screening measures illustrates the differing views on the balance between order and freedom.
During a new administration, the Ferguson riots have caused many to question the role of the police in maintaining order. Some would argue that military tanks should never be pointed at the nation whose tax dollars built them, while others would defend any measure of maintaining order. The dichotomy between those who favor order and those who favor liberty often falls along political lines in the United States, where any action of the opposing party is subject to scrutiny.
The quick and easy reversal of many supporters of order under Bush to liberty promoters under Obama shows that no actual principle underlies these convictions. Whenever a plethora of supporters can be rallied to opposing views of an issue, as unsatisfactory as it might be, it is likely the case that the current state of affairs is a middle-ground. Although nothing is perfect, and our nation experiences oscillations between unbalance in the favor of order and unbalance in the favor of liberty, our vocal democracy is quick to correct these mistakes and usually pushes the pendulum too far in the other direction. These oscillations will likely continue forever, and guarantee our ultimate balance between order and freedom.