In Defense of Liberty
The great struggle in America today - between two formidable forces.
I see a great struggle in America today between two formidable forces. This struggle is not new. In fact, it is as old as government itself. I’m talking about the struggle between order and liberty.
Neither order nor liberty is inherently our enemy. Liberty is an essential part of our national identity. It is mentioned in that classic line of the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the most famous line of text in American political history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It is no accident that “Liberty” and “the pursuit of Happiness” are placed in such close proximity. Liberty unleashes Americans to create a better life for themselves and others. The liberty we have to pursue, happiness, is a sacred right that should never be subdued.
In his The Farmer Refuted, Alexander Hamilton boldly declared, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” The idea of America is essentially meaningless without liberty. Yet, personal liberty is not without limits.
Order may not be as common a theme in political discussions, but it has just as much historical relevance as liberty. The Preamble makes clear that our greatest founding document was created in part to “insure domestic Tranquility.” This is a goal any sensible American should get behind.
Many patriots are naturally leery of the order that government provides, and rightfully so. If history has taught us anything, it is that governments will always use crises to try to expand their own power. Yet, we cannot allow ourselves to deny order in its entirety. After all, the very reason we have our Constitution today is because Americans needed a government with sufficient power to protect its citizenry, something that the Articles of Confederation did not provide. We all want order, but it too should not be without limits.
Though order and liberty are both necessary, they stand perpetually at odds with one another. Alexander Hamilton spoke of this phenomenon in his June 25, 1788 speech before the New York Ratifying Convention as they were considering the adoption of our current Constitution. Hamilton said, “Good constitutions are formed upon a comparison of the liberty of the individual with the strength of government: If the tone of either be too high, the other will be weakened too much.”
From this, we can glean that liberty must be balanced with order, but order cannot impose itself without understanding how it affects the liberty of individuals. Finding this balance is a challenge, but that does not mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Life is not tidy, nor was it meant to be. In life, you must do everything you can with everything you’ve got because you only have this one life to do so.
I believe two principles can help each man and woman demarcate appropriate boundaries between order and liberty. Please note that both of these principles are to be applied by the individual. These are not lost societal virtues to be bemoaned, but personal action steps that each patriot should apply to his own life before stepping foot outside his door each morning.
The best way to keep liberty from running rampant is personal accountability. The great conservative President Calvin Coolidge wrote about this in a newspaper column dated October 17, 1930. He wrote, “We demand entire freedom of action and then expect the government in some miraculous way to save us from the consequences of our own acts. … The only way to hold the government entirely responsible for conditions is to give up our liberty for a dictatorship. If we continue the more reasonable practice of managing our own affairs, we must bear the burdens of our own mistakes. A free people cannot shift their responsibility for them to the government.”
Silent Cal was spot on as always. Liberty is a sacred trust that should not be abused. Each of us must use our liberty to better ourselves and others. Exercise your right to peaceably assemble to affect positive change in your community, not to disrupt, distract, and destroy. Employ your right to exercise your religion by teaching others about the eternal truths of Scripture, not to divide people into warring factions. By all means, use your freedom of speech to expose wrongdoers, but do not be hateful just because you have the liberty to speak freely. Each patriot must be held personally accountable for the sacred trust liberty invokes.
While personal accountability is the best way to keep liberty in check; vigilance is the best way to keep order in check. There is much truth to the quotation often attributed to Thomas Jefferson that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” The slow creep of government into the lives of citizens is portrayed as inevitable, but that is only because no one is willing to stand watch.
The first step to overcoming an enemy is detection. That is why the Bible warns us in 1 Peter 5:8 to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walkers about, seeking whom he may devour.” God warns us that we cannot defeat the powers of darkness if we don’t see them coming. That goes for government overreach as well as Satan.
Obviously, keeping up with current events is one way to stay vigilant, but it is far from the only way. The best way to stay vigilant is to stay personally involved. We don’t just need someone watching the federal bureaucrats. We need someone watching your community. America has a total of 3,006 counties, large and small. Every county has a place on the patchwork quilt of America. Make sure yours is covered.
The balance between liberty and order may be a gargantuan struggle spanning millennia, but the key to victory is in the hands of every American. Personal accountability and vigilance must be crucial parts of your credo. Take action wherever God has placed you. Each of us has a role to fill, a talent to employ, and a task to execute. The lifeblood of America is “We the People,” and that includes you. Live each day with the knowledge that the balance between order and liberty rests on our shoulders.