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Guest Dispatch: What is Freedom?

Our latest Guest Dispatch comes from Arthur Freyre, an attorney and conservative political activist in Miami, Florida. Arthur takes a second look at freedom and what it means to the future of our country.

This Guest Dispatch reminded me of Cast Away, that odd Tom Hank’s movie where his character, Chuck Noland, was stranded on an island, alone, for several years. Noland was accompanied by his imaginary friend, Wilson the volleyball. After his rescue Noland has to confront many things, including that cold reality that life went on without him.  But Noland also learns that he had impacted the lives of many people. He was not alone. He was no longer on that island.

As Bill Buckley penned in his 1959 work, Up From Liberalism,  “…I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free.” Indeed. — Jason Poblete

What is Freedom

Arthur Freyre, Esq.

It sounds like an odd question to ask in the United States, but a vital one. In fact, it does not matter if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the election this November. As a society, every now and then we need to address this question. I have recently finished reading A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness. Overall it is a good book to read. It will make you ponder about freedom and what it really means to all of us. Here are some of my thoughts about the book.

Each country’s history contains three stages. The first stage is winning freedom. This is the fight for independence. The second stage is ordering freedom. This is the stage when in defining freedom a nation must be careful in replacing an old tyranny with a new tyranny. Paul Johnson in A History of the American People called our Constitutional Convention as the “Second American Revolution.” How appropriate. Nations that master this stage will provide the framework on which it can transition to a republic. Those that fail this stage will trade one tyranny for another, for example, the 1789 French Revolution. A more recent example,  think of Egypt or Libya this past year.

The third and final stage, sustaining freedom. This third and final stage is essential because its exercise is perpetual. It requires vigilance and an honest appreciation of our freedoms. If we or future generations fail, our country is transformed to something different and not recognizable.

Asking people today to define freedom, one would not find a consistent answer. One popular response would be to define freedom as unlimited choices — “We shall do as much well please.”  Another likely response is that we define freedom based on what is written in the U.S. Constitution. Both are partially right, but miss the bigger picture. You see, freedom is defined in three parts. All parts are integral.

The first part is that freedom is a gift. It is a gift that comes from God. Our Declaration of Independence says “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Our Constitution explains that our rights are inalienable. Inalienable, cannot be destroyed. Our government is not the source of our freedoms. It comes from above. This concept of our inalienable rights is what motivated the abolitionist to abolish slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King to press for civil rights.

The second part is that freedom requires relationships. In his book, Os Guiness quotes a South African proverb, “A person becomes a person through other persons.” Those who say that freedom is about choices, seems to fail to recognize that there are consequences to those choices. True freedom requires us to recognize that there are limits and boundaries.

As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 63, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.” If we continue to define freedom only as my choices, we will create a society that will become narcissistic. It will be reflected in “leaders without character, economic enterprise without ethics and trust, and scientific progress without human values.” Something is wrong when it literally takes an act of Congress to pass ethics. Look at the Enron scandal and Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 that regulates corporate governance and financial services; and many more regulatory laws. If we continue in this direction we will be fitting ourselves with chains.

Finally, the third part is that freedom is truth. Truth does exist. The notion that your truth is not my truth is the refuge for the intellectually lazy. My truth is either true or is false. There is no in between. Truth needs to be vigorously questioned and tested. But when truth passes the test, then the questioner must accept it. In addressing this final point, the author states that “freedom requires truth and virtue.” It recognizes that our Constitution is, in the words of the Puritans, a covenant.

For a covenant to be effective, both parties have to be in agreement. Our government recognizes its limits, while we recognize ours. Or at least it should. It requires that we recognize, as John Dunne penned, no man is an island. It requires us to recognize that character and morality does play a major role in not only choosing our leaders, but in the way we conduct ourselves. For those who disagree with this last point, think of the times we have been told that this person is “electable” over the other and that “His private morality is not relevant.” Then think of the scandals. We get the leaders we deserve.

My only criticism that I have for this book is the author’s attempt to include criticism from abroad in making his points. An example of this would be the following quote, “…it is hypocritical for Americans to pride themselves on checks and balances at home, but to ride roughshod over international opinion, institutions, laws, check and balances abroad…”. There are several examples such as this one throughout the book. The author fails to be specific in pointing out the criticism. Unless you live in the beltway, people would not know what he is referring to.

I encourage you to purchase a copy the book and join in the conversation.  This is not something that will be answered in a day. It will take time. It will begin when we have an honest assessment of our history and learn the lessons of it. When asked about the U.S. Constitution, Benjamin Franklin stated we were given “a republic, if you can keep it.” History and the rest of the world are waiting for our answer.

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