Freedom is just Chaos, with better lighting. -Alan Dean Foster
Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. -Dwight D. Eisenhower
It’s important to ask ourselves what is our national identity….what does America stand for…and what makes America great? I know I say that too much… but I worry about it.
I’m reading a book…A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness. To say Mr Guinness is an interesting man is an understatement…. an author and social critic and the great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, he was born in China in World War II where both his parents and grandparents were medical missionaries. A very interesting man…and a very interesting read. His word have got me thinking….
As I study, listen, read one might think American strength is in our GDP, our military power , the prestige of our universities, the breadth of our infrastructure. Or…is it none of the above. Further…in what direction is our GDP, our military, our education system, our infrastructure heading? Increasingly influential or decreasingly?
St. Augustine maintained that to assess a nation, you must consider first what it loves supremely.
Guinness notes…America loves freedom… Both for itself and for the world, freedom is America’s heart and soul—“the land of the free.” Nothing is more daring than the founders’ conviction that they could build a free society that could stay free forever.
Yet liberty never lasts without a fight, and that fight is close at hand. For at its heart, Guinness notes… is a stunning paradox: The greatest enemy of freedom is freedom. Freedom, left unchecked by self-restraint, easily spirals into permissive license, which inevitably undermines freedom. As Benjamin Franklin asserted, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
How do we sustain freedom when its very nature poses a danger to itself? Our founders’ solution to this dilemma is arguably the most original answer to the problem in all history—and it’s an answer we have strangely neglected today.
Alexis de Tocqueville famously called it “the habits of the heart.” Guinness coins the term “the golden triangle of freedom,” because America’s founders stressed three interlinked ideals intended to cycle through each other ad infinitum. Their sustainable model looked like this: Freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom.
Today, all three themes of the triangle are under assault. The American view of freedom has shifted from positive (freedom for) to negative (freedom from). This is as true of conservatives (“Get the government off my back”) as it is of liberals (“The government can’t tell me what to do with my body”).
Whatever your political stance, the bottom line is that these contemporary views of freedom are unsustainable.
Freedom’s decline is not inevitable, but the U.S. faces a stern choice. Lincoln put it plainly: “As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
The U.S. will never be brought down by any external foe, whether that is the Nazis, the Soviets, Islamist radicals or whomever. Free people always bring themselves down. Our founders knew this…as Os says…they tried to use history–to defy history….The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor.
OS concludes each chapter with the ominous, recurring stanza, “Americans must never forget: All who aspire to be like Rome in their beginnings must avoid being like Rome at their ending. Rome and its republic fell, and so too will the American republic.” (oh how I love history).
The founders were human, and as such…made mistakes, but… we can learn much from the founders’ system for sustaining freedom.
Toward the end of his life, de Tocqueville remarked that in a revolution, as in a novel, the hardest part to invent is the ending.
I sincerely hope that we do not echo Winston Churchill, “This was their finest hour.” My HOPE is our finest hour has yet to come… and as St Augustine said. “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”