… Lincoln saw an unresolvable tension between the Constitution of a democratic republic and the policies of aggrandizement and intemperate self-interest that lead from the manners of freedom to the slavish love of power. He spoke of the difference between the work of establishing a constitutional republic and the longer task of maintaining it. But maintaining it against what? Lincoln’s answer was always the same: against the internal pressure of greed, and the external pressure of war. The predicament of the country in 1861, he said, “forces us to ask: ‘Is there, in all republics, this inherent, and fatal weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?'”

We are now ten years into a policy shared by two successive administrations to plant a new understanding of the spirit of the laws in America. That policy has pretended there is a “trade-off” between liberty and security, and that in a time of crisis, security ought to have the upper hand. The Cheney-Bush and Obama administrations have accustomed us to laws and language concerned above all with the “protection” of citizens — as if there were something higher or more worth protecting than the liberty that is guaranteed by our laws and the framework of laws, the Constitution. […]

To Maintain a Republic, by David Bromwich