11/07/2008 (10:45 am)
Since the nation, with the help of the public schools, is turning toward socialism, a system of government that has failed everywhere it’s been tried, it behooves us who recognize this as a bad thing to equip ourselves to explain, as succinctly as possible, why it’s a bad thing. We must become evangelists of human liberty, and we must be as effective as possible in our evangelism. We must hone our ability to explain why socialism fails, why free markets work… indeed, why men should be free in the first place.
In that spirit I want to recommend some good, meaty background reading that I encountered this morning. It’s an argument by a fellow who calls himself Thinking Man, apparently a student of philosophy. It says it’s about Global Warming, but in fact it’s a very basic argument for the liberty of man. He follows his brief lecture with a link to another article of his, explaining how industrialization produced the science, cleanliness, and civility from which we all benefit today. Both are essential reading.
I dispute his argument only where he draws individuality from evolution. My own thought is that if individuality evolved in that manner, then there is no particular reason for anything, let alone for caring whether man is free or not. Individuality comes from the love of God, who created us, like Himself, as sentient, choosing beings. But aside from that quibble — and it really is a quibble in the overall argument — he’s got it nailed, and we should ingest and internalize this argument, and repeat it as often as we can.
Rationality is choice.
And choice presupposes the freedom to choose. Ultimately it is only the individual who can exercise the power of volition, or not. Government bureaus cannot. The state cannot. The collective cannot. Only the individuals who make up these entities.
If humans did not possess the faculty of choice, humans would be neither moral nor immoral but amoral, just as animals for this very reason are amoral.
But human action is chosen.
This, then, is what finally gives rise to the fact of human freedom as an epistemological necessity.
It’s also what it means to say that humans are free by nature: we are born with a cognitive faculty that gives us the power of choice; since this faculty is the primary method by which we thrive and keep ourselves alive, we must (therefore) be left free to exercise that faculty – and leave others likewise free…
Please note that this is not just some esoteric theory on how human freedom could conceivably be defended: the rights of each individual are demonstrably rooted in man’s cognitive quiddity – and for this precise reason, human freedom without an accurate and thorough understanding of man’s epistemologic nature can never be fully understood.
Liberty, said the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, is the soul’s right to breathe.
The American Revolution took place during an era where the liberty of man had been being discussed by major philosophers for at least 200 years. That men should be free was controversial but forward-thinking and liberal. Today, freedom is taken completely for granted; we in the US call what we have “liberty” by tradition, but don’t really know what liberty or slavery look like. This is partly why the nation can now accept a neo-Marxist leader uttering neo-Marxist and socialist formulations and not cringe; what they’re sacrificing does not loom in their minds as anything essential. “Liberty” has been robbed of any meaning aside from “I can have sex with whomever I like.” They don’t realize what they’ve already lost, nor what they’re about to lose. Once they lose it, it may take quite a while for them to discover why they’re so miserable. We need to be able to tell them, and tell them succinctly.
8 Comments »
Comment by Thinking Man
Thank you for the compliment you pay me, friend. I was plumb flattered — and I mean that very sincerely. If you and your readers are at all interested in knowing how I address your polite and good-natured quibble above, I’ve written about it many times. Click on my handle (so to speak) to read one example.
I’ve recently touched upon it here as well:
As Thomas Jefferson said: “Our rights have no dependence on religious opinions.”
Thank you again.
Best of all possible regards.
Comment by darkhorse
This is really, really good stuff. Believe it or not, you really help Christians divorce themselves from the idolatry of “Christian Nationalism” through that writing.
I haven’t gotten a real good reaction here when I have brought this up in the past, but I am not so eloquent and well-read as you are.
Comment by NevadaDad
Our founders got it right:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that man is endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights…”
Evolution cannot possibly provide such a foundation upon which to build any “rights” in the true sense of the word.
Frankly, this is a major problem for atheists in general. From whence do we derive rights and authority? Is it merely an agreement among mankind that certain social structures are more mutually beneficial and thus just a form of evolution in which the best ideas survive, and the best ideas are those that preserve the species in some manner?
Our founders did not think so.
Comment by darkhorse
“Our founders did not think so.”
Apparently you did not go and read Thinking Man’s post he linked to – your universal statement is incorrect.
Some of the founders deeply believed in God’s active hand in the nation; some believed as Deists, that God was not active in the world, and a few believed that religion was a burden to mankind.
Regardless of what they all believed individually, the document they produced, with nearly no mention of any basis in God for the nation, showed their true intentions…Thinking Man is right: the foundation of our nation is in individual rights, whatever their source.
I will now go and worship my Creator in peace, knowing that worship is not somehow knotted up with the burden of preserving the Christianity of our nation.
Comment by Phil
Guys like NevadaDad, and like me, are all too painfully familiar with posts like the one ThinkingMan linked to. Sadly, I cannot give that post the same endorsement I gave to the ones I mentioned in my article here. The ones I linked to are correct, except for the small item ND and I objected to. The one ThinkingMan linked to is profoundly incorrect.
The article TM linked to is an incorrect historical analysis buttressed by a flood of mined, out-of-context quotes. I could produce a similar list of quotes from the same authors (and a large number of others) insisting on the central importance of religion to the American experiment in self-government (like this guy does), but that would be to commit the same error TM commits. We can’t understand history by mining quotes that fit our preconceptions; we have to embrace all that the historical writers said, and where they appear to contradict themselves, we must try to understand how they could say both and remain consistent. This, sadly, ThinkingMan has failed to do; instead, he keeps the quotes that match his preconceptions and discards the ones that don’t, and the result is a conclusion that’s far removed from the facts.
The two categories of quotes from the founders — the pro-religion ones and the anti-religion ones — turn out to be easy to reconcile. The US Constitution was written by men who felt the teaching of Christianity was essential to public morals and discourse, but that the political influence of religious institutions like the Church of England was corrosive. Nearly all the quotes about the insidious influence of “religion,” understood in context, refer actually to the influence of organizations like the Church of England; nearly all the quotes about the importance of religion, refer to the public and intellectual conduct of individuals or to foundational principles. (There are some exceptions, those which express Thomas Paine’s atheism and Thomas Jefferson’s skepticism about miracles.)
An example of how these ideas were balanced by the colonials appears in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written originally by George Mason and amended by James Madison and others in the Virginia legislature. The final version reads as follows:
That Religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other.
Notice that this clearly names the role of religion in the public square. Government had a limited role that did not include any right to speak to the general conduct of men, other than to keep the peace. The conduct of men was governed by religion.
Notice how that formulation is backward of what ThinkingMan claims about religion. The question, to the colonials, was not whether religion was permitted in government; it was whether government was permitted in religion. To them, religion addressed the whole of life, and government only a very small part of it. They felt no need to mention God or theology in the Constitution because to them, government was limited, and had nothing to say about the conduct of men or the service of God. The place where religion is actually mentioned in the Constitution is the 10th Amendment: anything not explicitly named in the Constitution as a role of government, belongs to the people.
Notice, especially, that this limited role for government logically forbids government from any active role in doing good. Government lacks the right to demand men to behave well; it lacks the right to demand giving charity; it lacks the right to insist on treating all men equally; it lacks the right to command public service for the common good, except as specifically mentioned. All of that belongs to the states and to the individual. They left it up to the various churches to teach men how to do these things.
For those who, like you and ThinkingMan, believe (irrationally) that the fact that the colonials did not mention religion or God in the Constitution means they didn’t think religion was essential to liberty, I recommend reading chapter 17 of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America, where he says this:
The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren, traditionary faith which seems to vegetate rather than to live in the soul.
De Tocqueville explains at length that to the colonials, “liberty” and Christianity were the same thing. By contrast, government’s only role was to do those few things individuals could not do for themselves.
It’s not really all that hard to understand. A deeply religious people, drawing on their religious teaching and conviction, envisioned a complete system of living in which men were free to serve God as their religious consciences demanded, unmolested by a tiny government with a tiny and clearly delimited role. Religion wasn’t mentioned in their definition of government because government’s role in the total picture was so inconsequential. This is very different from what we face today.
To understand the theology underlying the deliberate choice to leave religious talk out of the Constitution — a deliberate, theological choice supported by Christian clerics — I recommend you go on a hunt for a fine, little book by L. John van Til entitled Liberty of Conscience: The History of a Puritan Idea, which explains the difference between liberty of conscience and government toleration of religious differences. However, you can get the same idea in brief from this article on George Mason and religious liberty in Virginia, from which I lifted that portion from the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
Comment by Tom
It constantly baffles me why so many conservatives associate socialist and social-democrat policies with loss of personal freedom. Even Marx said that ‘socialism is nothing without democracy’. If anything, recent times should have made it clear that countries with completely laissez-faire economies can be the worst where freedoms are concerned. Look at Russia, now an unashamedly capitalist country, yet one where voicing your opinion results in arrest and oppresion, or china, now the powerhouse of the east, but infamous for its arrest of dissidents and massacres of protestors. A free market does not equate to a free people.
But more to the point, Obama is not a socialist. He has never expressed a desire to nationalise major industries or introduce any sort of direct government control of the economy. When he talks of ‘spreading the wealth’, republicans erupt in accusation, but in reality any tax plan that taxes the rich more than the poor is redistributive, in that wealth is moved downwards. Furthermore, trickle down economics has been thoroughly discredited over the last eight years, as middle class income stagnated even while the economy grew.
And where personal freedom is concerned, perhaps you should look a little close at the man who has been running the country for the last eight years, a man who has made it acceptable for the government to pry into the lives of oridnary Americans without so much as the consent of a judge, a man who abolished the law of posse commitatus, allowing direct executive control of US troops on American soil, contrary to 170 years of contraints on executive power, a man who has presided over the biggest increase in government spending for years and a 72% increase in national debt, a man who thought it acceptable to create a database recording every communication by every American anywhere for his cronies to pursue at leisure, and a man who agrees with torturing men and women who have never had a trial, nor a lawyer, and many of whom do not even know their charges.
But hey, at least he’s not a socialist, right?
Comment by Phil
It constantly baffles me why so many conservatives associate socialist and social-democrat policies with loss of personal freedom.
Socialist policies do affect economic freedom of choice somewhat when the government steps in to regulate a market, and somewhat more when the government takes it over. So socialist policies do equate to marginal loss of freedom.
However, that’s not where the serious loss of liberty is coming from. That’s where we’ve lost liberty from 1935 until today. The serious loss of liberty from here on in comes from totalitarian policies, policies established by a political movement that more resembles a religion than it does a political party. I’m speaking, of course, of Progressivism.
Your analysis of Obama’s politics is simply too ignorant for words, being based on public pronouncements that were aimed at fooling the voting public, but have no connection whatsoever to Obama’s past or core beliefs. Click on Barack Obama’s name on my topical index and read some of the things we’ve discovered about him. Obama is not a Democrat, and he’s not a Socialist; he’s a neo-Stalinist, and those are authoritarian to the core. Even while pretending to be a centrist, Obama’s campaign was practicing thuggish suppression of opponents and abusing the power of government, a pattern that will only get worse as he takes office.
Your analysis of the Bush administration is, again, too ignorant for words, but is certainly consistent with — nay, obedient to — the Progressives’ Big Lie about the Evil Bush Empire. Bush’s actions to defend the nation rest on existing precedent, and have been repudiated only when overseen by judges committed to the Progressive practice of inventing law out of thin air to implement Progressive ideals. As to expansion of executive power, I have yet to see anybody from the left demonstrate a single area where the Bush administration has increased it one iota; the Bushites simply defended against a grotesque, unconstitutional incursion by Democrats in Congress, while complying with literally hundreds of superfluous and irrational investigations and turning over literally millions of documents. The level of “oversight” (read “witch hunt”) is unprecedented in American politics, and along with the invented-out-of-thin-air laws from unrestrained Progressive jurists, illustrates clearly the reason why I believe the left has abandoned any notion of libertarian principle in favor of gaining political power.
Progressives are authoritarians to the core. Bush, for all his faults, was not. And frankly, I’m already damned tired of your demented hysteria, shoddy logic, and arrogant tone. Why don’t you go back to Huffington Post, where you’ll find lots of people who project the same faux intellectual front you do (while making the same elementary logical errors and reciting the same lies,) and who will accept your self-posited superiority as the normal posture of a Progressive?
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