Real Enemy, Real Freedom

 

Why is America eroding? Why does it seem like we can’t get “unstuck” from the inevitable cycle of decline? I believe it has to do with what we might not yet identify as the real enemy of our Republic. The truth might be uncomfortable. And what we might fail to remember is real freedom.

Os Guinness’s 2012 book, A Free People’s Suicide, takes St. Augustine’s basis for politics as the starting point for freedom. Augustine suggested “loved things held in common” are the basis of freedom. Guinness goes one step more with the saint. We may use loved things held in common to diagnose the health of our nation.

What do we hold in common? Is it enough to sustain our freedom? Or is our freedom eroding because our loved things held in common have been debased—or are vanishing?

When a free people “love things held in common,” they gain enriched, unified identity. This higher way of life spelled the doom of lesser things, like tribalism—identity politics—in which nothing is loved or held in common.

Victor Davis Hanson notes, historically “ancient tribal loyalties slowly eroded” in the face of the onset of freedom and free citizens. “City-states of stationary peoples insisted on demarcated borders. Inside them, unique laws, customs, and traditions for generations united the citizenry, made them distinct from their neighbors, and ensured civic solidarity and security.” The key, therefore, to “loved things held in common” are the customs and traditions that unite a people and empower them to live in harmony. Customs, therefore, have moral content.

American customs and the traditional morality of the West more generally has certainly eroded.

Os Guinness presents his view on three enemies that erode freedom. First, the external menace of superior military forces, of course. Invaders can alter a society overnight. (Might we add in pandemics?) His third menace is time. Guinness quotes Abraham Lincoln: “The silent artilleries of time are ruining the ramparts of the republic.” I focus on his second enemy to freedom, “the corruption of customs,” an observation by Greek historian Polybius.

Customs, tradition—those loved things held in common that give center, identity—are threatened by corruption. The corruption of custom, in turn, erodes freedom. Now, customs include a lot of things, but surely the heart of it is the moral code that does two things. First, it answers How ought we to live? Our precious traditions reveal the purpose of human life and human death and the meaning of human existence. Religion most especially gives these answers and is marginalized in the public square.

The second thing moral tradition does, based upon the first, is enable a pluralist society to live in harmony and peace. This is not trivial. I think Jordan Peterson said once that tradition keeps each individual from needing to reinvent the wheel for how one ought to live. Morality sustains a free society. This is not trivial. Only a virtuous people has the capacity to hold on to freedom.

The greatest sustainer of freedom is custom and its inherent moral guidance for how we ought to live. If freedom is eroding, then our customs have eroded. And if our customs have eroded, so has our moral compass. And if moral guidance has decayed, then we must expect deeper questions of the purpose of human existence to go unsatisfied. We expect disputes over bioethics. We expect rises in suicide, abortion, euthanasia, mental illness, and crime. These are all the surface symptoms of a dying heart. Our “loved things held in common” are vanishing or debased.

But what has caused this? What exactly has eroded freedom? The answer is the paradox of freedom itself. It is a cautionary—and uncomfortable—tale. Os Guinness points out that the greatest enemy of freedom—is freedom.

The deepest level of analysis here is on the moral and spiritual dimension. Guinness is not inventing the idea that freedom is its own enemy. This paradox has long been recognized.

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that “Ancient authors from Plato and Aristotle to Petronius and Tacitus have suggested that affluence combined with leisure paradoxically creates a laxity that leads to the kind of societal and institutional disintegration we are currently seeing.”

Guinness explains that freedom requires not only ordering in the political sense, but the ordering of the heart, starting with self-restraint or self-discipline. Now there is self-restraint imposed by political (i.e., governmental, police, legal) forces from the outside. This is the inferior type. The superior type, moral self-restraint, is a virtue that cannot be legislated or coerced. It is won as a type of spiritual victory. It is won from within by personal effort. Speaking more deeply, self-control is gifted by divine grace in response to our effort.

These matters indeed trade in the philosophical and religious. Those are two areas that are dissolved or debased among our “loved things held in common.”

The heart of the freedom paradox is this: It is precisely moral self-restraint that becomes endangered when freedom flourishes. This is the Paradox of Freedom. This ties into “the corruption of customs” that our ancient fathers warn is the vulnerability born from prosperity, affluence, luxury, inflamed desires, and political and financial power.

The Paradox of Freedom is that freedom undermines itself as it moves away from moral self-restraint, down to permissiveness, and finally nose dives into rank licentiousness. We may recognize rank licentiousness in the actions of others. It is easy to criticize. If we are honest, we recognize it in the tendencies and inclinations of our own hearts.

Perhaps that which we fail or refuse to identify as the real enemy of our Republic is entertainment, indulgence, luxury, and out-of-control desires. That cultural observer of early America, Alexis de Tocqueville, was afraid government dependency would result in the perpetual adolescence of its citizens. He feared adult infants would be incapable of self-reliance. Of course, he was right. If you make more money staying home on the government dole, why work? This is the weakening of moral resolve. In like fashion, perhaps we have become a nation with the moral maturity of toddlers. The entertainment-luxury version might be: If I get to binge-watch shows (or porn), eat whatever I want, and buy everything on credit, why live differently?

I said the truth might be uncomfortable.

Why live differently? Because corruption of customs erodes freedom. And this corruption is fundamentally a corruption and decay of resolve that occurs in the human heart. As an effect, corruption of the heart spells doom for collective civic freedoms in physical space. During the many unpleasant affairs of 2020-21, we have seen the rapid advancement in our physical spaces what has already necrotized in our collective hearts for decades.

We have even gotten to the point of not being able to agree on basic facts of a public event—even if the entire event is captured on video. This disagreement over facts and not just interpretations should alarm us. Our five senses are no longer in touch with reality, and that spells doom. Heraclitus observed long ago, however, that “Eyes and ears are terrible witnesses for those with a barbarian soul.” Again, decay in the heart is the issue.

All this demands that we revisit what freedom means in the first place.

I like Guinness’s definition of freedom: “Freedom is not the liberty to do what you like; freedom is the power to do what you ought.” Freedom is not the liberty to stream porn or purchase brand-name handbags or buy pricey vehicles we do not need or stay home from work on excess welfare. Those are symptoms of freedom eroding. And notice, liberty to do what you want just might be a form of slavery. Slavery to compulsive behaviors, debt masters, social image, depression, and so on.

Rather, real freedom is the power to live as a human being ought to live. Freedom is a moral way of life. It calls us to divine summits of what it means to be human. Freedom is costly first of all in the personal struggle to live rightly. Only a virtuous people has the capacity to keep the Republic.

We must reconnect with our historic customs. Our religious traditions and historic American civic responsibilities guide us into how we ought to live. It is easy to say that person on the Blue Team is the enemy of the Republic. It is easy to vilify our neighbor as the problem. But the moral decay of the heart is the deeper enemy of the Republic. And all of us are culpable. I certainly am. Every time I lie or cheat or steal or lust in thought, word, or deed, I am the enemy of freedom. My participation in the corruption of customs is the real enemy of own and my neighbor’s freedom.

And just like I can, that member of the Blue or Red Team over there can repent and take up the mantle of our customs once again. Hearts can change, thank God. That is good news. We are each of us culpable, and that means we are responsible. Responsible means we have agency. We have the innate power of choice. We can choose to change wherever we find ourselves in life. We alone oversee our speech and behavior. We alone can turn the dial of our own thoughts. We alone can labor to discipline our sinful passions.

We alone are free in the soul. Real freedom is the power to do what you ought.

You might ask, How does this translate into those who refuse to live properly? How do I change or influence those who refuse to live as they ought? Well, first things first. We must inventory our own hearts to have the capacity to deal with others rightly. Our participation in moral customs is, frankly, nothing short of a form of spiritual enlightenment. It clarifies what public or civic action to take with others. An ascetic of the Orthodox Church put the case succinctly: “Acquire the Spirit of peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” (St. Seraphim of Sarov)

So let us set aside the luxuries and indulgences we know drag us down and drown us in a sea of corruption. Let us steel our resolve and renew the highest loves we must hold in common for the survival of our Republic.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    :) you have literally taken the words out of my mouth. I have a few remarks that I started and have not returned to that expand on something I posted about a week ago and was intending to continue with a look at who our real enemies are, the enemies of our culture and our Liberty. I may well have to put them aside since you have done just a good and complete job of stating the same thing ! Excellent

    • #1
  2. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Ole Summers (View Comment):

    :) you have literally taken the words out of my mouth. I have a few remarks that I started and have not returned to that expand on something I posted about a week ago and was intending to continue with a look at who our real enemies are, the enemies of our culture and our Liberty. I may well have to put them aside since you have done just a good and complete job of stating the same thing ! Excellent

    Hey, thank you. I appreciate your remarks. It is encouraging for me since I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. It is very difficult to consider how much our private moral lives are interconnected with broad civic freedoms.

    There are other “real enemies,” too, and I’d love to read your thoughts. Write your piece!

    • #2
  3. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Tikhon Olmstead: Augustine suggested “loved things held in common” are the basis of freedom.

    You have many excellent points to ponder and probably have some application to explain the progressive loss of freedom in America. I really like the above as a starting point and basis to explain what is happening.

    For humans the strongest form of things loved, other persons for this discussion, is the family. Perhaps the most prominent physical feature of the family is locality. This then is followed by extended family and community. So locality still applies. But remember the word “common” in Augustine’s suggestion. “Diversity” does not appear.

    America was just the thirteen colonies that had gained independence from Great Britain but there was already obvious diversity in their cultural makeup and the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists spent much time and effort to debate how a union of these now independent nations could be formed and succeed. They understood that the nation was being formed on a small portion of a land mass that was not yet settled in the way the states being united were and that potential unified nation would exist with many differing cultural attributes in local settings. So, a Republic, if you can keep it.

    We are not doing well. I could list a host of matters where we have failed to keep things at a state or local level of government but this is well known.

    You cover several other points that merit separate discussions but I think the above is basic for individual freedom.

    And welcome!

    • #3
  4. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Tikhon Olmstead: Augustine suggested “loved things held in common” are the basis of freedom.

    You have many excellent points to ponder and probably have some application to explain the progressive loss of freedom in America. I really like the above as a starting point and basis to explain what is happening.

    For humans the strongest form of things loved, other persons for this discussion, is the family. Perhaps the most prominent physical feature of the family is locality. This then is followed by extended family and community. So locality still applies. But remember the word “common” in Augustine’s suggestion. “Diversity” does not appear.

    America was just the thirteen colonies that had gained independence from Great Britain but there was already obvious diversity in their cultural makeup and the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists spent much time and effort to debate how a union of these now independent nations could be formed and succeed. They understood that the nation was being formed on a small portion of a land mass that was not yet settled in the way the states being united were and that potential unified nation would exist with many differing cultural attributes in local settings. So, a Republic, if you can keep it.

    We are not doing well. I could list a host of matters where we have failed to keep things at a state or local level of government but this is well known.

    You cover several other points that merit separate discussions but I think the above is basic for individual freedom.

    And welcome!

    I appreciate your remarks. I agree with you. I’ll respond in full when I get to my desktop. 

    • #4
  5. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Welcome aboard!

    Outstanding article – thanks!

    • #5
  6. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Interesting post.  I’ll have to come back tomorrow and read it in more depth.

    For now…regarding “When a free people “love things held in common,” they gain enriched, unified identity. This higher way of life spelled the doom of lesser things, like tribalism—identity politics—in which nothing is loved or held in common”

    …C S Lewis noted that people who believe that they are *above* some kind of emotion are actually *below* it.  And in America today, there are a lot of people who believe they are Above nationalism/patriotism, whereas actually they are Below it, stuck at the level of tribalism.

     

     

    • #6
  7. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Great post.  Thank you, and Happy New Year.  I have a few thoughts.

    Might it be a mistake to consider freedom, rather than virtue, to be the supreme value?

    I worry that the rhetoric of liberty and freedom inherently undermine any arguments regarding limitations.

    Tikhon Olmstead: The second thing moral tradition does, based upon the first, is enable a pluralist society to live in harmony and peace. This is not trivial. I think Jordan Peterson said once that tradition keeps each individual from needing to reinvent the wheel for how one ought to live. Morality sustains a free society. This is not trivial. Only a virtuous people has the capacity to hold on to freedom.

    It’s not clear to me that a pluralistic society can live in harmony and peace.  We’ve been experimenting with this, and the result seems to be decline into decadence and immorality, and increasing conflict.

    How does one restore morality in a culture in which the highest virtue often seems to be non-judgmentalism?

    • #7
  8. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Great post. Thank you, and Happy New Year. I have a few thoughts.

    Might it be a mistake to consider freedom, rather than virtue, to be the supreme value?

    I worry that the rhetoric of liberty and freedom inherently undermine any arguments regarding limitations.

    Tikhon Olmstead: The second thing moral tradition does, based upon the first, is enable a pluralist society to live in harmony and peace. This is not trivial. I think Jordan Peterson said once that tradition keeps each individual from needing to reinvent the wheel for how one ought to live. Morality sustains a free society. This is not trivial. Only a virtuous people has the capacity to hold on to freedom.

    It’s not clear to me that a pluralistic society can live in harmony and peace. We’ve been experimenting with this, and the result seems to be decline into decadence and immorality, and increasing conflict.

    How does one restore morality in a culture in which the highest virtue often seems to be non-judgmentalism?

    These are all great points when addressing the American way.

    Free agency allows for personal responsibility to join with liberty and freedom to bring balance and limitations and thus morality into the culture. Some Founders saw Christianity as the source for this. But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Perhaps we have misapplied the American ideal concept in the effort to be culturally pluralistic.  The American ideal welcomes those from all walks of life in the world to come to America and adapt to living as free and responsible citizens of the American Republic. There is no invitation to come and change it to the ways of their abandoned culture. 

    • #8
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this?  It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    • #9
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Tikhon Olmstead:

    It is easy to say that person on the Blue Team is the enemy of the Republic. It is easy to vilify our neighbor as the problem. But the moral decay of the heart is the deeper enemy of the Republic. And all of us are culpable. I certainly am. Every time I lie or cheat or steal or lust in thought, word, or deed, I am the enemy of freedom. My participation in the corruption of customs is the real enemy of own and my neighbor’s freedom.

     

    And just like I can, that member of the Blue or Red Team over there can repent and take up the mantle of our customs once again.

    Folks on the red team may commit adultery or use up welfare resources but they are hypocrites when doing so. Red team people say that adultery and excess welfare use are immoral. Many do these things but they promote virtue at least outwardly. Blue team people advocate for the destruction of family life and Christian morality. 

    To quote William F. Buckley in a different context, “It’s not that they are the bad guys and we are the good guys. It’s that we are trying to be good guys.”

     

    • #10
  11. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    God seemed to think free will was a good thing.  

    • #11
  12. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    For the ultimate come to Jesus moment, yes, it is an individual choice.

    • #12
  13. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    There is great wisdom here, passed down through the ages and observed by great minds in humankind, but what the article misses is the antidote.  Our founders knew these things, that the tyrant is always lurking, promises and believes his motives to be pure.  That the tyrant benefits from his authority, a perk he considers a part of the bargain; betters get better, it is only fair.  (It is not.  It is the absolute definition of a conflict of interest.)  Supporters, whether sincere or coerced,  are to be relieved of pain, suffering, want, jealousy and can live a life of the pursuit of perhaps not happiness, but of the satisfaction of desire.  This is the utopia the tyrant always promises.  Your enemies will suffer, the world’s wrongs will be righted and you will be elevated; all you need to do is elevate me (us) and provide me (us) with enough authority to assume the power and resources required to accomplish a reimagination of this “better” world.

    This is the truth surrounding the struggle of humankind.  We are forced, at the point of a knife, the muzzle of a gun, the march down the revolution steps, the cold gulag, the atomic code or the cruel digital eraser, to accept tyrants. Tyranny’s power is all taking and retribution.  When promises prove elusive, when progress halts, when human effort is confiscated, wasted and prosperity and the human condition declines to dismal levels, tyrannical panic ensues.    Tyrants must aggressively protect their positions with crackdowns.  They destroy all indications of history and progress not attributable to their authority.  They attempt to break the souls of the populace.

    But the truth is, no matter how many times this is repeated in the history of the world, tyrants never succeed.  But this does not stop the recurring theme; decline, poverty, misery, pain and death.

    Thus far in history there is only one country that has not yet suffered from the reign of tyrants: the United States.  Tyrants have tried, many times, but these efforts have never quite succeeded.

    The antidote: the US Constitution, the founding document our elected leaders all pledge to support and protect.

    • #13
  14. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    I’m no authority on the Bible. Here’s what I believe in my own simple way. God created man and endowed him/her with free agency. Much of the law of the Old Testament is in the form of a mandate, e.g. The Ten Commandments. The tone in the New Testament is less of mandates.

    • #14
  15. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):
    Our founders knew these things, that the tyrant is always lurking, promises and believes his motives to be pure.

    The antidote: the US Constitution, the founding document our elected leaders all pledge to support and protect.

    This is why the founding document, although it is subject to amendment, requires the approval of a majority of the people within each of three-fourths of all the states. The founders knew that a federal legislature with a majority of a single vote would try to legislate changes to the Constitution and we are seeing that now.

     

    • #15
  16. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    For the ultimate come to Jesus moment, yes, it is an individual choice.

    You sure it wasn’t Lucifer the bringer of light that liked individual choice?

    • #16
  17. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    There is great wisdom here, passed down through the ages and observed by great minds in humankind, but what the article misses is the antidote. Our founders knew these things, that the tyrant is always lurking, promises and believes his motives to be pure. That the tyrant benefits from his authority he considers a part of the bargain; betters get better, it is only fair. (It is not. It is the absolute definition of a conflict of interest.) Supporters, whether sincere or coerced, are to be relieved of pain, suffering, want, jealousy and can live a life of the pursuit of perhaps not happiness, but of the satisfaction of desire. This is the utopia the tyrant always promises. Your enemies will suffer, the world’s wrongs will be righted and you will be elevated; all you need to do is elevate me (us) and provide me (us) with enough authority to assume the power and resources required to accomplish a reimagination of this “better” world.

    This is the truth surrounding the struggle of humankind. We are forced, at the point of a knife, the muzzle of a gun, the march down the revolution steps, the cold gulag, the atomic code or the cruel digital eraser, to accept tyrants. When their promises prove elusive. When progress halts. When human effort is confiscated, wasted and economic prosperity declines, it is all taking and retribution. Tyrants must aggressively protect their positions with crackdowns. They destroy all indications of history and progress not attributable to their authority. They must break the souls of the populace.

    But the truth is, no matter how many times this is repeated in the history of the world, tyrants never succeed. But this does not stop the recurring theme; societal devolution, misery, pain and death.

    Thus far in history there is only one country that has not suffered from the reign of tyrants: the United States. Tyrants have tried, many times, but these efforts have never quite succeeded.

    The antidote: the US Constitution, the founding document our elected leaders all pledge to support and protect.

    Thanks for your remarks and insight. We agree in the main. :-)

    I suppose I could have said “Constitutional Republic” instead of just “Republic,” and then the Constitution would have been included. I am going for a deeper antidote. As you said, Tyrants have tried, many times, to reign in the U.S. How is it they’ve tried unless there is a something wrong the Constitution can’t address?

    That is not a ding against the Constitution—far from it. It is only to recognize the Constitution was not intended to replace Scripture, God, repentance, the transformation of human nature, and so on. The Founders of our country did not consider their project to be totally infallible and error-free since it was a human endeavor. And they believed virtue to be necessary. Virtue is traditioned human-to-human. The Constitution establishes the national space to do so. 

    • #17
  18. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Tikhon Olmstead: Augustine suggested “loved things held in common” are the basis of freedom.

    You have many excellent points to ponder and probably have some application to explain the progressive loss of freedom in America. I really like the above as a starting point and basis to explain what is happening.

    For humans the strongest form of things loved, other persons for this discussion, is the family. Perhaps the most prominent physical feature of the family is locality. This then is followed by extended family and community. So locality still applies. But remember the word “common” in Augustine’s suggestion. “Diversity” does not appear.

    America was just the thirteen colonies that had gained independence from Great Britain but there was already obvious diversity in their cultural makeup and the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists spent much time and effort to debate how a union of these now independent nations could be formed and succeed. They understood that the nation was being formed on a small portion of a land mass that was not yet settled in the way the states being united were and that potential unified nation would exist with many differing cultural attributes in local settings. So, a Republic, if you can keep it.

    We are not doing well. I could list a host of matters where we have failed to keep things at a state or local level of government but this is well known.

    You cover several other points that merit separate discussions but I think the above is basic for individual freedom.

    And welcome!

    I totally agree. Just to reflect on and extend what you said: Family is one of the fundamentals of a free society. This is partly the case because family is a fundamental of society, period. It is also the case because values and virtues are best traditioned within a family, human-to-human. The family—or family group, even clan; it needn’t be the nuclear family—is where people grow up, mature. When family breaks down, we see the ill effects and can reason back toward the ideal purpose and goal of the family. Dads that make their boys mind and respect mom and sisters grow up to be good men toward women. Examples abound. This is love in action at the font of the family.

    Thank you for the welcome!

    • #18
  19. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Welcome aboard!

    Outstanding article – thanks!

    Thank you!

    • #19
  20. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Great post. Thank you, and Happy New Year. I have a few thoughts.

    Might it be a mistake to consider freedom, rather than virtue, to be the supreme value?

    I worry that the rhetoric of liberty and freedom inherently undermine any arguments regarding limitations.

    Tikhon Olmstead: The second thing moral tradition does, based upon the first, is enable a pluralist society to live in harmony and peace. This is not trivial. I think Jordan Peterson said once that tradition keeps each individual from needing to reinvent the wheel for how one ought to live. Morality sustains a free society. This is not trivial. Only a virtuous people has the capacity to hold on to freedom.

    It’s not clear to me that a pluralistic society can live in harmony and peace. We’ve been experimenting with this, and the result seems to be decline into decadence and immorality, and increasing conflict.

    How does one restore morality in a culture in which the highest virtue often seems to be non-judgmentalism?

    @bobthompson

    @HenryCastaigne

    I think it is a mistake, yes, to consider freedom the supreme value rather than virtue. The relationship between the two, at least for me, is difficult to put into words with total satisfaction.

    Freedom is supported by virtue, but virtue is not possible without freedom, a native freedom in the soul. There is a reciprocity here, or perhaps “circular causality.”

    I used Os Guinness’s definition of freedom: the power to do what one ought vs. the liberty to do what one wants. In theological terms, this corresponds to the two types of “free will”: the natural will vs. unnatural will, respectively. The natural will is congruent with reality as it is (rather than as we wish it were), and is integrated with God’s will and commandments. It is the power to live as one ought. The unnatural will is, in fact, slavery to sinful passions, inordinate desires, and so on. There is undeniable liberty to do what one wants, but what one wants may not be congruent with reality or human nature. Addiction is a good example. So is tyranny.

    The deeper analysis of our situation—which is always the analysis since Cain killed Abel—is what type of “free will” are we engaging? Collectively as a people, what is the net free will we pursue? Individually with our leaders, which is it? What motivates them to run for office? To vote for that bill, or against it?

    How one restore morality in a culture in which the highest virtue often seems to be non-judgmentalism is exactly the question. I don’t have the answer for this reply.

    This also touches on the question of the ability to live in peace or not. There has never been perfect peace or harmony, agreed, but “good enough” might be the standard. Just like families need to be good enough, not perfect.

    Thank you for your remarks!

    • #20
  21. Tikhon Olmstead Coolidge
    Tikhon Olmstead
    @TikhonOlmstead

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    For the ultimate come to Jesus moment, yes, it is an individual choice.

    You sure it wasn’t Lucifer the bringer of light that liked individual choice?

    There are two basic types of individual choice or “free will” according to traditional theology. I mentioned this in my reply to Bob Thompson. 

    • #21
  22. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    This is a little off from Augustine’s apparent thinking (not much), though it may depend on the translation.  The one I have puts it more as the method he was using to determine if a group of people is actually a commonwealth (nation) and he states the better the objects (things loved), the better the people, and the worse the objects,  the worse people.  My take is “loved things held in common” could also be the basis for a commonwealth of thieves if thievery were what they held dear. 

    The Augustine chapter (and book) is very applicable from a standpoint of are we a nation and if so what kind of nation are we.   I’d have to think based solely on this criteria, as a whole, we are not a nation of one people unless we can find a common interest we the people and every one of us, all hold dear. 

    We’re a little bit splattered in regard to the common interests.  The thing is, it has to be common interests in which people voluntarily come to an agreement.  It can’t be what I think or we think.  It has to be what an overwhelming majority think.  Otherwise, there is no single commonwealth.  There is no undivided nation.     

    The US is a unique country in that it has the ability to heal self-inflicted wounds of character.  If you consider all the right progress we have made toward a better world in our short history, it’s rather amazing.

    Very good stuff to think about and it needs much discussion and more people thinking.

    Welcome to the fray. 

    • #22
  23. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    We’re a little bit splattered in regard to the common interests.  The thing is, it has to be common interests in which people voluntarily come to an agreement.  It can’t be what I think or we think.  It has to be what an overwhelming majority think.  Otherwise, there is no single commonwealth.  There is no undivided nation.     

     

    Doesn’t sound as if you think we should shift who makes our rules governing elections from each state legislature to the Congress, and so effectively the Bureaucracy, in Washington by possibly a tie-breaking vote by the Vice-President. 

    • #23
  24. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    Tikhon Olmstead (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    There is great wisdom here, passed down through the ages and observed by great minds in humankind, but what the article misses is the antidote. Our founders knew these things, that the tyrant is always lurking, promises and believes his motives to be pure. That the tyrant benefits from his authority he considers a part of the bargain; betters get better, it is only fair. (It is not. It is the absolute definition of a conflict of interest.) Supporters, whether sincere or coerced, are to be relieved of pain, suffering, want, jealousy and can live a life of the pursuit of perhaps not happiness, but of the satisfaction of desire. This is the utopia the tyrant always promises. Your enemies will suffer, the world’s wrongs will be righted and you will be elevated; all you need to do is elevate me (us) and provide me (us) with enough authority to assume the power and resources required to accomplish a reimagination of this “better” world.

    This is the truth surrounding the struggle of humankind. We are forced, at the point of a knife, the muzzle of a gun, the march down the revolution steps, the cold gulag, the atomic code or the cruel digital eraser, to accept tyrants. When their promises prove elusive. When progress halts. When human effort is confiscated, wasted and economic prosperity declines, it is all taking and retribution. Tyrants must aggressively protect their positions with crackdowns. They destroy all indications of history and progress not attributable to their authority. They must break the souls of the populace.

    But the truth is, no matter how many times this is repeated in the history of the world, tyrants never succeed. But this does not stop the recurring theme; societal devolution, misery, pain and death.

    Thus far in history there is only one country that has not suffered from the reign of tyrants: the United States. Tyrants have tried, many times, but these efforts have never quite succeeded.

    The antidote: the US Constitution, the founding document our elected leaders all pledge to support and protect.

    Thanks for your remarks and insight. We agree in the main. :-)

    I suppose I could have said “Constitutional Republic” instead of just “Republic,” and then the Constitution would have been included. I am going for a deeper antidote. As you said, Tyrants have tried, many times, to reign in the U.S. How is it they’ve tried unless there is a something wrong the Constitution can’t address?

    That is not a ding against the Constitution—far from it. It is only to recognize the Constitution was not intended to replace Scripture, God, repentance, the transformation of human nature, and so on. The Founders of our country did not consider their project to be totally infallible and error-free since it was a human endeavor. And they believed virtue to be necessary. Virtue is traditioned human-to-human. The Constitution establishes the national space to do so.

    We are a nation of laws precisely because we can’t rely on virtue as a practical matter.  We have a republic in which limited federal authority is further diluted by three separate branches who must cooperate to govern.  Further, we have separate autonomous states with similar structures and limitations. along with county and municipal elected authorities.  All elected officials are regularly held accountable at the ballot box.  We have all this precisely because we can’t rely upon virtue.  Still, corruption and rot finds its way in, tyranny’s toehold.

    I’m no fan of Rousseau and believe his ideas regarding noble man’s nature to be ridiculous and dangerous.  Virtue is learned, no doubt, and culture bears on virtue, but laws, fairly and evenly enforced, keep the peace and bridge the culture gap among diverse societies.  Mothers still teach their young to be kind and helpful.  Our combined culture still stresses and reinforces hard work, advancement and perseverance as the means to happiness, security and contentment.

    I don’t buy the idea that we have collectively gone wicked.  But it isn’t likely that we’ve become more virtuous either.  There are just more of us around.

    Our republic, on the other hand, is definitely challenged, first by the expansion of the federal government’s authority and the administrative state and then by entrenched legislative interests and corruption.   Term limits will help.  The rest must rely on a desire to reverse years of federal expansion.  That is what is corrupting our republic and leaving us to the whims of tyrants.

    • #24
  25. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Tikhon Olmstead (View Comment):
    The unnatural will is, in fact, slavery to sinful passions, inordinate desires, and so on. There is undeniable liberty to do what one wants, but what one wants may not be congruent with reality or human nature.

    This is the naturalist fallacy. Men are naturally promiscuous. and naturally enslaved by passions. We are made poorly.

    • #25
  26. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    We’re a little bit splattered in regard to the common interests. The thing is, it has to be common interests in which people voluntarily come to an agreement. It can’t be what I think or we think. It has to be what an overwhelming majority think. Otherwise, there is no single commonwealth. There is no undivided nation.

     

    Doesn’t sound as if you think we should shift who makes our rules governing elections from each state legislature to the Congress, and so effectively the Bureaucracy, in Washington by possibly a tie-breaking vote by the Vice-President.

    A good common interest to have would be the preservation of the republic and its constitution which I think would keep states’ rights where they should be and even give rights back to the states that have been sold to the federal government.  I don’t know that this has much of a chance of being a common interest.   It will be tough to find the common interests that unite and define the future because it is not a matter of what is right, though right would be ideal.  It is a matter of what the overwhelming majority have as common interests.  There may not be any. 

    • #26
  27. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    There are just more of us around.

    I think this is the thing, though the founders realized there would be growth, the numbers of today would have been hard to consider.  It makes it hard to find meaningful common ground and other is a lot of noise. 

    Our republic, on the other hand, is definitely challenged, first by the expansion of the federal government’s authority and the administrative state and then by entrenched legislative interests and corruption.   Term limits will help.  The rest must rely on a desire to reverse years of federal expansion.  That is what is corrupting our republic and leaving us to the whims of tyrants.

    I agree except for term limits.  Term limits usurp the power of the people to choose and therefore is a restriction of rights and liberty.  We need to talk more about what it means to represent properly and encourage the people to limit the terms when they need to be limited.  I like the idea of lower pay and easier recalls.  They need to have the same fear they may not have a job tomorrow as most everyone else. 

    • #27
  28. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    God seemed to think free will was a good thing.

    Free will is ordained, but without consequence, it seizes resembling goodness. God placed boundaries upon those who chose to be his people (and those born to it and did not leave).

    There is nothing wrong with placing boundaries that reflect our commonly held ideal of goodness. Being convinced otherwise may have been ground zero of our destruction.

    • #28
  29. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    But we know Christianity requires true individual free agency and moral behavior cannot be mandated but judgement will prevail.

    Do we really know this? It seems to me that moral behavior is often mandated, quite effectively, though not perfectly.

    I’m no authority on the Bible. Here’s what I believe in my own simple way. God created man and endowed him/her with free agency. Much of the law of the Old Testament is in the form of a mandate, e.g. The Ten Commandments. The tone in the New Testament is less of mandates.

    Their focus is different. The old is preserving a nation and the new is individuals becoming a new creation.

    In governance (until God rules the earth on his throne), you need both. We need a shared set of morals for those who choose to be in our nation to abide by, reflected in our shared law.

    But true freedom can only be found in the fundamental, internal transformation of each individual found in Christ.

    • #29
  30. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    Though I agree that further accountability would help (as in recall), we also don’t want never ending election campaigns.  Further, recall can be a tool of the corrupt.  Think of the  Russia, Russia! impeachment hoax as a recall initiative.  No, the best way to govern is to allow a winner to serve, but a congressional seat should not be forever.  The Presidency is limited.  Congress can be as well.  Here in AZ we have legislative term limits (four 2 yr terms for representatives and senators).  You can be term limited out, wait out a term, and then run again.  The gaps dissuade the grifter, professional politician, then again, so does the limited compensation

    • #30
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