Friday, July 17, 2020

Individual Freedom Above All Else

In response to Mitt Romney's defeat in the 2012 Presidential election conservatives emerged from the fog of depressed bewilderment casting blame in every direction. Many of my conservative friends believe the path to victory for the GOP is as simple as abandoning the party's social platform and think that Democrats edge out Republicans on abortion, gay marriage, and legalized drugs.

One friend said we need to be the party of "individual freedom and fiscal responsibility", her take, "We are shooting ourselves in the foot when we take the position that government should play a role in prohibiting personal behavior because we determine the behavior to be immoral." She asked, "Who are we to determine what is moral? And, why should the government have any part in personal private behavior?"

I just had to respond to this Libertarian friend who values individual freedom above ALL else and is willing to abandon the duty of our nation to uphold time tested morality in our institutions, public life, and law.

Laws against the destruction of property and acts of violence against persons, remains an unquestioned responsibility of government, but beyond that confusion has settled into the national discourse. The moral compass that in the past left no room for tolerance of abhorrent immoral personal conduct has lost its bearings.

The days of chivalry that protected virtue are vestiges of the past, so rare today are the champions of virtue, that many people question whether the white knight and fair lady ever existed at all. Modesty, Soberness, Virtue, Fidelity, and Innocence were protected by both law and cultural norms, it was widely viewed that traditional values were the bedrock of the family and therefore society. 

Legalize Drugs, Legalize Prostitution, and Legalize Gay Marriage are but a few of the public calls made in the name of freedom and democracy. Have we sunk so far that we can no longer see that “freedom” without moral constraint is certain bondage? The moral character of our nation has been transformed in a few generations and we are only a few years from the total rejection of laws that deal in matters of personal morality.

Voices on the left of the political spectrum call for “Freedom of Choice” with no constraint or consequence, in fact, they argue that social safety net programs should never discriminate against personal choice and therefor they believe in subsidizing dysfunctional and dangerous personal conduct that tears apart the fabric of our republic. They despise the laws that have governed society for thousands of years and think that we need to evolve. 

On the other hand there are voices on the right call for “individual freedom” as the highest virtue, turning a blind eye to the pornification of our culture, supporting legalized prostitution, drugs, and recognizing alternative lifestyles by awarding the privileges of marriage to any union. At least they argue that the government should not subsidize these lifestyle choices or the social impacts of these choices, which would surely reduce the presence of such morally destructive behaviors; in the end though this stance is only slightly less destructive and still threatens freedom at the root.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency the private moral decay of our President put this question to the American people, does private conduct affect public life? Should people pay a public price for what they do behind closed doors? Americans seem to have decided that what goes on in a persons’ private life has no sway on their public ethos. I avow that there can be no separation between private morality and public character. What goes on behind closed doors sends shock waves through our families, culture, and institutions. For this reason our nation needs moral law, policy making, and leadership.

Why has the discussion of law and morality become so taboo? 

It’s uncomfortable to be expected to govern one’s self and to rein in personal freedom for the guarantee of collective freedom. The result has been the twisting of truth and error until they are indistinguishable. What is left over, the “false truth” of relative morality. This thinking denies the foundations of freedom and peace, which are but gifts of God to his children, given with a charge that they be guarded by virtue. 

If we hunger for liberty, we must also hunger for truth. “Truth” is an indisputable fact, principle, reality; the actual state of matter and existence. There is only one source of truth and freedom can only be sustained upon principals of truth. It is incumbent upon us to spend out our lives in the pursuit of it, to sacrifice our comfort in obedience to it, and to be willing to lay down our lives in the protection of it. 

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), is rightly renowned as the father of conservatism, Burke Championed "Ordered Liberty" a philosophy which relied on the rule of law governed by the moral restraints of the individual. He did not place individual liberty as high as to be untempered by the law and the moral restraint of society. Burke argued that these abstract rights are extreme and unrealistic as they provided that men were free to act anywhere according to their pleasure, without any moral tie. He denied that such rights ever existed. 

“Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to justice.... They have a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death... But liberty is not license to act from sheer self-will.Rather, it is “social freedom." Liberty without wisdomand virtue, he warned, “is the greatest of all evils; for it is folly, vice,and madness, without tuition and restraint.”"

In an article titled, “Behold, the Enemy Is Combined”. Neal A. Maxwell asked, “How can there possibly be a disturbing loss of individual impulse control without a corresponding loss of collective freedom?” He cited historian Will Durant’s warning that “If the hunger for liberty destroys order, the hunger for order will destroy liberty.” He went on to say that “while I would not shrink the circumference of freedom, the size of that circle is not the sole measure of social well-being. Hence, to exult, as some do, over how much decadence is permissible at the edges ignores the erosive effects of such grossness upon all within that circle.” 

Those who love freedom, who desire its protection and sustenance, should be the first to call for the protections of moral behavior in our culture, in our public institution, and yes, in some cases even in our law. For example, “Pornography especially victimizes women and children. Why then the inordinate preoccupation with its protection? Pornography is better protected than citizens on the streets!” 

The world is preoccupied with the pollution of our physical environment and completely unconcerned about the harm done by the pollution of our moral environment. Which is the more pressing danger facing the sustainment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We may not be among those actively polluting our culture, but we are passively allowing its pollution when we do not defend public morality. 

Burke taught that to be fit for freedom, people need self-control and morality. “Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Defense of the family in law is key, and lovers of freedom should oppose policies that impede the family’s role as the primary incubator of character and success in life. Even with its flaws, the family is America’s “last best hope” and in Maxwell’s words, “no other institution can compensate fully for failure in the family…Why then, instead of enhancing the family, the desperate search for substitutes? Hundreds of governmental departments and programs protect various interests, but which one protects the family?” 

“Since democracy depends upon citizens’ “obedience to the unenforceable,” why then the stiff resistance to moral education which could emphasize widely shared and time-tested principles?” The calls to abolish laws that protect the foundations of our nation, whatever side of the aisle they come from, are calls to abandon the bedrock of freedom. “Only reform and self-restraint, institutional and individual, can finally rescue society!”

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