Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom:
It is the argument of Tyrants. it is the Creed of Slaves"

William Pitt the Younger, 1793, arguing against the Fox/North government's bill to "reform" the East India company so as to provide that government with more powers of patronage. Fox had argued that the bill was necessary to save the East India Company from bankruptcy - Pitt responded with this resounding denunciation of actions taken in the name of necessity.

An excellent modern illustration of the point William Pitt was making, which refers to this quote at the end, was the speech given by Dan Hannan MEP in the European Parliament on 4th July, arguing for a proportionate response and against the wholesale removal of liberties when there is a terrorist attack.

You can see most of the speech at

And the full text in the EU's equivalent of Hansard reads as follows:

Mr President, there is a measure of hypocrisy from everybody on this issue. In the aftermath of some terrorist event the cry goes up from all the newspapers and all the politicians that something must be done: we need to intercept the data and we must not allow these people to get away on account of our namby-pamby concerns over civil liberties. Then, of course, the same newspapers and the same politicians complain furiously a few weeks later about privacy.

Let us try to be consistent. There should only be a proportionate reaction on the basis of an identified threat to security. Much of what has been done in the name of national security, particularly in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks, would not have had any impact either on that occasion or on subsequent ones. It is legislation passed for the sake of showing that we are doing something; it is legislation passed in proportion to public outrage rather than the need to solve a specific identified threat. We are told it is necessary. Necessity, said Pitt the Younger, ‘is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.’

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