Written by Jolynn Remus – January 2024
The world is crippled with war and disasters everywhere, and people suffer from dangerous conditions in all places. A life of safety and happiness is a privilege that many people do not have. Many people would give up their personal rights to be ensured security and freedom from danger. This is evident in both the 1799 rule of Napoleon and the reactions of the then French people as well as in modern day American society.
At the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, France was in a very unstable and uncertain state of fighting and political troubles. People were afraid and anxious, and sought after a strong leader that they felt could provide them with safety and bring peace. Napoleon realized this and responded by taking the crown and becoming the French emperor. With his immense power, Napoleon made several changes to the government and one of which was the creation of the Napoleonic Code. This code influenced many laws and compromised with the French Revolution’s notion of personal individualism and liberty. For example, the code abolished some of women’s former rights, such as not allowing a woman to sign contracts without her husband’s consent and removing parts of family property from her ownership. The code also imposed more regulations on occupations such as booksellers, publishers, doctors, and attorneys. Napoleon believed that the government and the state authority should be the leading factor in peoples’ education and work. He believed that society should obey its leader and not question its decisions. Whether or not the people of France agreed with these actions and statements, they were regardless willing to live under Napoleon’s way of rule in turn for the peace that they expected he bring. People were weary and tired of living in fear and were more inclined to accept a reduction of personal freedom in exchange for something they valued more, which was a calm life and protection from both external and internal threats.
Even in today’s modern society, people are still willing to give up certain freedoms and privileges for the simple promise of safety and security. On September 11th, 2001, a tragic terrorist attack occurred that caused both of the World Trade Center towers to fall and kill thousands of Americans. This act shook the nation and caused many people to fear for their safety. A large percentage of Americans became more afraid to fly in planes, lost confidence in the security of airlines, and became more adamant about taking steps to prevent violent terrorist attacks. Many people became more afraid of the possibility that either themselves or their family members could fall victim to a terrorist attack and reported feeling an increase of stress in their daily lives. In an effort to restore a sense of safety in the country, certain adjustments and regulations were more willingly accepted and supported by Americans. Such things included allowing the government to access people’s mail, telephone, and e-mail conversations more readily, the requirement of some kind of identification or citizenship cards for residents, and the enforcement of obtaining the smallpox vaccine. Facilities such as airports experienced a dramatic increase in security checks and surveys. Peoples’ political views also changed, as did their core beliefs regarding personal freedom and liberty. After the major events of September 11th, 2001, Americans became much more willing to sacrifice small freedoms and acts of independence in exchange for the strengthening of a government that would keep them safe and provide security against such disastrous attacks.
Such events can also shift a government’s control over people to a greater amount. A society driven by fear may allow the government to impose more regulations and increase its involvement in their daily lives in the hopes that extra safety would be ensured. The government can then, in turn, become too domineering and authoritative and use its power to apply more restrictions on the people for unfair reasons. Every individual has a personal viewpoint and aspects of such an occurrence can either be seen positively or negatively, depending on an individual’s moral values and what they value in life. Personally, I believe that people who are too complacent and allow themselves to be governed by an over-dominant and unjust government are worse than the over-dominant and unjust government itself. On a large scale, society’s opinions and beliefs have an effect on what the authorities and governments do. A society that is too afraid or laid-back to protest against anything they dislike can give a wrong-meaning government too much power and momentum to dominate and take advantage of the people, whereas a society that is stronger willed and believes more in personal liberty has the ability to keep the government’s intervention at bay and control how much or to what degree it really has an influence over their lives. People in the second society would have a better influence on what regulations or restrictions the government would try to impose on them, while people in the first society would be too weak to resist anything the government introduces, no matter if it is good or bad.
In conclusion, people value safety and peace. People in general will sacrifice much for an existence free of poverty, war, death, or any other type of suffering known to mankind. As seen with Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule, the French were willing to give up many of their freedoms so that they would stay safe. In today’s world, Americans are more likely to allow the government increased intervention in their lives under the guise of security and protection. People pursue these things so much because they first need to be both physically and mentally healthy in order to enjoy and live life to the fullest, and without safety and peace, such realities cannot occur.
“Which Freedoms Will Americans Trade for Security?” Gallup, 11 June 2002, https://news.gallup.com/poll/6196/Which-Freedoms-Will-Americans-Trade-Security.aspx.