Category: Individual Liberty

The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and LeftI recently read Yuval Levin’s new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, and found it remarkably rich and rewarding. Though the entire book is worthy of discussion, his chapter on choice vs. obligation is particularly helpful in illuminating one of the more elusive tensions in our social thought and action.

In the chapter, Levin provides a helpful summary of how the two men differed in their beliefs about social obligation and individual rights. How ought we to relate to our fellow man? What preexisting obligations do we have to our neighbors? How do those obligations come to be? What role ought the State to play in guiding or intervening in the social order?

For Paine, Levin explains, society is a “means to enable choice, or the freedom to shape our own future uncoerced—a means to the radical liberation of the individual from the burdens of his circumstances, his given nature, and his fellow man.” “The right to choose,” Levin paraphrases, is “the end toward which we aim in politics.” Or as Paine himself puts it: “The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me, and those who violate the duty justly incur a forfeiture of the right.” We choose our obligations, and y’all best let Paine choose his.

For Burke, however, this lopsided emphasis on choice amounts to “a fundamental misunderstanding of the human condition,” as Levin summarizes: “The most essential human obligations and relations—especially those involving the family but also many of those involving community, the nation, and one’s religious faith—are not chosen and could never really be chosen, and political and social life begins from these, not from an act of will.” We may think we can escape or subvert certain obligations, but for Burke,  they are “nevertheless binding.” Therefore, in structuring our society and acting therein, we ought not pretend otherwise. (more…)

levipFew summed up the American Revolution for Independence better than Lord Acton when he declared, “No people was so free as the insurgents; no government less oppressive than the government which they overthrew.” I’ve written about Patriots’ Day on the Powerblog before, but it’s essentially a forgotten holiday. Only officially celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine and observed on the third Monday in April, Patriots’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19 of 1775. The Boston Marathon is run on Patriots’ Day and the Boston Red Sox play the only scheduled A.M. game in Major League Baseball.

It’s an important holiday. Unrest in the colonies towards the British Crown had been escalating for sometime. On April 18 1775, Thomas Gage, who was the British Commander in Boston, received orders from London to seize arms and powder being stockpiled by colonial rebels in Concord, Mass. As the Redcoats marched towards their objective, Paul Revere and others sounded the alarm through the countryside. For the first time, blood was shed between the colonial militiamen and the British Regulars. It is known in history as the “shot heard round the world.” The best book on the skirmishes is Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. This is a must read for those interested in American history and the roots of our liberty.

As liberty in America dissipates, and as we become servants not masters of our government, Patriots’ Day should not be a forgotten holiday, but one that increases in significance. Remember, while a chief complaint was “no taxation without representation,” a tax rate of 2 to 3 percent galled the colonists.

Martyrs of Uganda Church, Detroit, Mich.

Martyrs of Uganda Church, Detroit, Mich.

Are you confused about religious liberty? Can I do this or say that without losing my job, a friendship, my freedom? Will I get my kid taken away from me? Is there a difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship? Yeah, we’re all a little confused.

At least we’re in good company. Peter Lawler is confused as well, and he shares his confusion at The Federalist. Of course, everyone agrees that church and state should be separate, says Lawler, but then things get wonky. At one point in American history, we could say that the majority of Americans shared some common religious values, especially regarding marriage and family, regardless of our faith. That’s clearly not the case any longer. In fact, Lawler claims, there are more and more Americans who believe that religion is a spoiler: it gets in the way of freedom.

More and more Americans—although still a fairly small minority—agree with our “new atheists” that “religion spoils everything,” that almost all of the repressive pathologies that have distorted the world can be traced to religious authority. A great number of Americans have proudly moved from the conformism of organized religion into an allegedly more spiritual or privatized realm of personalized belief, which skeptics call the “religion of me,” just as some have moved away from personal religion altogether in the direction of pantheism and kinds of Buddhism.


If you visited a florist would you immediately walk out if you found out it wasn’t licensed by the state? Would a florist shop still know how to perform their job without a state certificate? In most instances occupational licensing laws serve to protect commercial interests and not the consumer. Far too often these laws work directly against the entrepreneur. Melony Armstrong, who owns “Naturally Speaking,” fought back against the cumbersome and archaic cosmetology licensing laws that tried to prevent her from opening up a braiding and weaving business in Tupelo, Miss. She was barred from opening up her business because she didn’t spend multiple years training in cosmetology schools that would have cost her $10,000.

Small businesses are the backbone of America’s economy and unnecessary licensing laws severely limit the opportunity to start a business or simply find work. It is irrational to require licensing for some professions, and it puts an unfair burden on the poor. It blocks their access to markets, squashes human flourishing, and limits their ability to provide for their family. The fact that some states require professional licenses for certain professions and other states don’t require a license for that same profession, highlight that it has little to do with public safety. Honest Enterprises has produced an excellent video chronicling Melony’s story to fight against damaging and needless regulation and the impact it has had in her community.

Blog author: ehilton
Monday, April 14, 2014

pants on fireRoss Douthat of The New York Times (and plenary speaker at Acton University 2014) talks about diversity and dishonesty, focusing on the recent resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla and the decision by Brandeis University to withdraw an honorary degree from human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Douthat’s problem isn’t so much that these things happened; it’s that those charged with publicly discussing the issues seem so bent on lying.

In both cases, Mozilla and Brandeis, there was a striking difference between the clarity of what had actually happened and the evasiveness of the official responses to the events. Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage; Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture. But neither the phrase “marriage” nor the word “Islam” appeared in the initial statements Mozilla and Brandeis released.

Instead, the Mozilla statement rambled in the language of inclusion: “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. … Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions. …”


Blog author: ehilton
Monday, April 7, 2014

not fairLiberal: not bound by traditional ways or beliefs.”

A “liberal” then, would be a person who is open-minded, ready to listen to another point of view. “I’m not bound to any traditions; I’m open-minded. I am liberal.”

Yet, recently, liberals are showing they are as close-minded as the “conservatives” they claim have it all wrong.

For instance, Mozilla’s Brendan Eich was forced out as the company’s leader (despite the company’s strong stance on tolerance) because he had contributed to a pro-traditional marriage movement in California a few years back.

There’s more. At Swarthmore College (a liberal arts college that prides itself on its “diversity of perspectives“), a student complained about a political debate between Dr. Robert P. George, a conservative, and Dr. Cornel West, a liberal, who also happen to be friends.

In reaction to the debate, one student told the student newspaper that she was “really bothered” with “the whole idea … that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.”


Last week was one of mixed blessings for those engaged in the U.S. political process. On the positive side, the U.S. Supreme Court – by a 5-4 margin – struck down overall limits on campaign contributions. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction for Brendan Eich, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mozilla, who resigned after the Los Angeles Times disclosed his $1,000 contribution in support of California’s 2012 Proposition 8.

Eich’s unfortunate circumstances bring to mind the many proxy resolutions submitted to a plethora of companies each year by so-called religious shareholders such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. These resolutions bleat endlessly of the need for transparency in corporate lobbying, political expenses and donations to the American Legislative Exchange Council and The Heartland Institute. The call for transparency, however, is a ruse – what’s most important is shaming the companies publicly so they’ll give up fighting for their First Amendment rights. (more…)