Posts tagged with: liberty

Machiavelli’s succinct and semi-diabolical advice to the prince is one of the most enduring works of political philosophy in the world. This man, writing in a time roughly contemporaneous with the Reformation, was less concerned with seeking the will of God than with winning at all costs. I wrote about him in my book The End of Secularism.

He is famous for advising the prince that it is important to appear honest, humane, religious, faithful, and charitable, but that it is equally important the prince be ready to abandon any of those attributes when opportunity presents itself. The prince should not worry about whether he will gain a bad reputation for deception, because, as Machiavelli suggests, there are always ordinary people willing to be deceived and the world is FULL of ordinary people.

The primary thrust of the book is advice about how to gain principalities and to maintain control of them. Many things work to a prince’s advantage, such as traditions of servitude and customs that reinforce the reign of a prince. But there is one thing that puts sand in the princely engine and grinds things to a halt. That thing is a tradition of liberty. If a people are accustomed to liberty, Machiavelli writes, then they will never stop trying to regain it. Even if they haven’t had it for a hundred years, the ancestral memory of liberty will be overpoweringly strong. It may be so strong that no manipulative device of the prince will be able to defeat it and he may have no other option than to destroy such a city.

Might I suggest to you that on Tuesday night we saw Americans in New Jersey and Virginia issue notice that they are not prepared to trade their liberty for hyper-statism and that they are not ready to become Europeans, always more subservient to the state than we have been, instead of free citizens of a great republic? The tradition of liberty is one of the greatest weapons we have in this struggle.

When William F. Buckley thought about the possible triumph of the United States in the Cold War, he imagined that American children would someday be thankful that “the blood of their fathers ran strong.” Let our blood, too, run strong with the cherished memory of our past and present liberty.

Light for the CityIn connection with the worldwide celebrations of the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth in 2009, the Acton Institute BookShoppe recently made available a limited stock of the hard-to-find Light for the City: Calvin’s Preaching, Source of Life and Liberty (Eerdmans, 2004). In this brief and accessible work, Lester DeKoster examines the interaction between the Word proclaimed and the development of Western civilization.

“Preached from off the pulpits for which the Church is divinely made and sustained, God’s biblical Word takes incarnation in human selves and behavior, creating the community long known in the West as the City. Calvinist pulpits implanted the Word even now flourishing in the great democratic achievements of the Western world,” argues DeKoster.

And in the wake of Reformation Day this past weekend, check out some reflections at Mere Comments, which include even more recommended sources for study of the Reformation.

Finally, while it’s often the case that the blogosphere breaks news before the official announcements are made, I can report that the Meeter Center’s Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL) is now publicly available. The PRDL is a select bibliography of primary source documents focusing on early modern theology and philosophy, spanning publicly-accessible collections from major research libraries, independent scholarly initiatives, and corporate documentation projects.

The PRDL editorial board includes representatives from institutions from North America and Europe: Dr. Richard A. Muller (Calvin Theological Seminary); Jordan J. Ballor (University of Zurich/Calvin Theological Seminary); Albert Gootjes (Calvin Theological Seminary/Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Geneva); Todd Rester (Calvin Theological Seminary); Lugene Schemper (ex officio/Calvin College & Seminary); and moderator David Sytsma (Princeton Theological Seminary).

Several writers have exposed the alarming decay of important military history programs on college campuses. Two great articles worthy of mention are John J. Miller’s “Sounding Taps” and Justin Ewers “Why Don’t More Colleges Teach Military History?” David J. Koon at The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy has contributed an important piece titled “Retreat, But No Surrender for Military History,” which takes the view that military history might be poised for a comeback. Koon explains:

Just as surrender seemed imminent, military history has gathered unconventional reinforcements—less well-known colleges and, of all things, war and violence. These, along with broad student interest and an academy that now listens when military historians speak, may have positioned military history to climb out of the trenches and regain the field.

In his article I was glad to see him quote Dr. Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi. I had the privilege of sitting in on a few of Dr. Wiest’s classes on Vietnam during a trip to Hattiesburg, Miss. a few years ago. One of things I really enjoyed is that he brought in veterans of that conflict to tell their stories. On the PowerBlog I have often made contributions on the important relationship between the U.S. Armed Forces and the strong tie to liberty. Additionally, I have told the faith stories of courageous veterans like Robinson Risner and Donovan Campbell.

The story of America and its freedom is intertwined with our first defenders, the farmers, merchants, and even clergy who took up arms in defense of liberty on the road to Lexington and Concord. Indeed, continued study of military history is important in a free and virtuous society.

Speaking to the Grass Roots

Speaking to the Grass Roots

This weekend, I had the pleasure of joining dozens of Michiganders in Grandville to protest big government and big spending. The Hudsonville TEA (Taxed Enough Already!) Party, a grassroots group of Americans concerned for the sake of liberty, put on the event immediately following the Grandville 4th of July Parade.

Commemorating America’s independence, the people at the rally were treated to a recitation of the Declaration of Independence, a lesson in the history of American liberty, and the reading of a letter from an auto dealer shut down as part of the government’s bailout of the big three carmakers. I spoke on behalf of the Acton Institute about the balance between virtue and limited government.

Virtue makes limited government possible. There is evil in the world and there is good that needs to be done. We have governments to make it possible for us to live together, and we do need the law to protect us from chaos, but we are able to live free of tyranny because virtue tells us to live up to our responsibilities.

Aristotle once said, “I have gained this by philosophy: to do without being commanded that which others do only from fear of the law.” Philosophia means the love of wisdom. When put into practice, this is virtue. Virtue lets us care for our families and neighbors, respect the wellbeing of other people, and live within our means without being forced to do so by the law.

Virtue is a potent force. The more that we are virtuous, the more we can be free. Limiting government from an institutional angle might be difficult for the time being due to politics. We can take actions now, though, that limit the need for government by doing good, avoiding evil, and encouraging others to do the same.

If we can do that, then America can see another 234 years of being known as the land of the free and the home of the brave, the just, the virtuous.

Liberty is something we have valued for years in the United States, and the recent events that have occurred in Iran and Honduras demonstrate there are many people throughout the world who wish they were blessed to live in a country that protects and values liberty.  As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, Kevin  Schmiesing, research fellow at the Acton Institute, writes a very timely commentary on liberty.

Schmiesing explains the delicacy of freedom and how it can only set its roots down and bloom in a mature civilization that has a virtuous culture.  Furthermore, Schmiesing also reminds us to be wary of those who use liberty as camouflage to deceive us into supporting certain issues and policies.  Schmieising states:

Such deceptive allures permeate our policy debates. The promises of government-run social security, having undermined the duty-in-freedom to provide for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, are perched on an increasingly unstable base of a shrinking proportion of workers. Abdicating our responsibility to provide for and direct the education of our children, a government system has raced to a lowest-common-denominator approach devoid of moral or religious content–and often enough not very effective in conveying skills or knowledge either. Faced with the daunting prospect of taking charge of the cost of medical care for ourselves and our families, many are willing to cede control over value-laden health care decisions to government agencies.

According to Schmiesing, we must not forget the link between freedom and goodness.  This Fourth of July is a great time to appreciate the freedom and liberty that we are blessed to have every day.

A version of this commentary also appeared in the Detroit News on June 30.

Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.

When the Pope said these words at Vespers on Sunday, perhaps he had Bernie Madoff in mind.

Today, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for defrauding his investors of nearly $65 billion over the course of 20 years. His corruption and crimes ruined the livelihoods of thousands of businesspeople, charity workers, and families that trusted his sterling reputation to protect everything that they had worked to earn.

Unfortunately, Madoff is not the only man to have betrayed his financial responsibilities to others. The last few years saw financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom shake the public’s trust in corporations. Just two weeks ago, Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was arrested by the FBI on charges that he used a bank in Antigua to mask his $8 billion fraud, stealing from his investors.

When Pope Leo XIII published his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, he wrote that “A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.” The global economy has come a long way since then, with the rise of laws designed to fight white-collar crime, the expansion of opportunities for Third World entrepreneurship with the removal of tariffs, and the creation of enough wealth to eliminate most of the horrific working conditions of the Victorian Era. (more…)

Writer Andrew Klavan, picking up on a theme he addressed at Heritage Resource Bank, posted an essay titled “Toward A New American Culture” on his Pajamas Media blog, Klavan on the Culture. Excerpt:

We need to build a New American Culture, and turn our backs on the culture of the state. We need to stop according respect or credence to reviews and awards that are used as social engineering tools to force the culture into anti-American state worship. We need to build an infra-structure of funding, review attention and awards to give praise, purpose and prestige to those artists who stand outside the MSM’s climate of opinion.

It would be wrong to say too much about what such a New American Culture would look like. Individualism is the very essence of both conservatism and art. But I think we can say that such a culture would reflect and uplift the values and perspectives that made the west and America the greatest and freest places on the globe; it would put forward an image of man as our founders knew him to be, flawed and sinful yet capable of striving toward dignity and salvation through self-reliance and sacrifice. It need not be—it should not be, in my view—squeaky clean or restrained by some new Hays Office production code of what the audience should be allowed to see. Sensationalism, sex and violence have been part of the arts since art began. Artists are entertainers, after all, not policy wonks.

In truth, there is only one essential principle our new culture needs to remember and embody and it’s this: liberty is better than slavery. This principle alone implies a moral order and a human purpose. It makes a small state better than a big one. It makes America better than, say, Saudi Arabia. It makes a religion based on “love thy neighbor,” better than one based on submission. This principle alone will guide us away from mealy-mouthed self-abasement to balanced self-criticism and praise amidst our search for the dignity, strength and morality befitting free men and women.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, April 20, 2009

patriots-day Patriots’ Day commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. It is officially celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine, and is now observed on the third Monday in April to allow for a three day weekend.

Patriots’ Day is also the day upon which the Boston Marathon is held and the Boston Red Sox are always scheduled to play at home with the only official A.M. start in Major League Baseball.

My Patriots’ Day post last year references an excellent book that studies the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord titled Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. This is a terrific account that can’t be recommended too often. I can think of no other book that does a better job of capturing the intensity, seriousness, and overt bravery of the men who took up arms against the British Crown.

The history of colonial American militias is in fact unique. All the men who took up arms that day may not have been able to envision a final outcome or even a final political solution for their grievances, but they knew they were living in a historic time of change. The idea that rights were bestowed not by man but by God had already taken root in the colonies. Furthermore, if government was empowered, it’s purpose in empowerment was to protect the people not to subject them. It’s important to remember Patriots’ Day and ask ourselves about its relevance today.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nathan Hale has long been enshrined as a patriotic American icon for his last words before his hanging by the British, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” M. William Phelps, who is the author of the new book The Life and Death of America’s First Spy: Nathan Hale, believes Hale never uttered those exact words. But in Phelps’s view, that wouldn’t in any way take away from the significance and importance of Hale’s legacy. One of the defining projects of any Hale biographer would be to make an attempt at separating the folk-lore from reality, and Phelps does a fine job in this account.

Phelps also focuses on how defining Hale’s Christian faith was in his brief life asserting “even at a young age, he put Christian values before all else.” Phelps describes Hale as a man who enjoyed his scholarly pursuits and friendships at Yale. The picture that is drawn of Hale is a young man who is committed to his faith, to his family, and serving others. In fact, after his graduation from Yale he went on to serve as a teacher in order to better prepare young minds for the world. One of the many moving accounts of Phelps’s book is the wonderful things people say about Hale as a teacher, as a Christian, and as a man of character. An acquaintance noted, “His capacity as a teacher, and the mildness of his mode of instruction, was highly appreciated by Parents & Pupils; his appearance, manners, & temper secured the purest affections of those to whom he was known.” Phelps also makes note of how he impressed people with his ability to express and explain the importance of liberty, and the oppression of the English Crown. His words were magnified even more because he chose them carefully and spoke from the heart.

Hale decided to take a leave of absence from teaching to join Washington’s Army. He was commissioned a lieutenant, and he wrote to his father to say, “A sense of duty urged me to sacrifice everything for my country.” Hale’s father already had five of his eight sons taking up arms against the British. Hale distinguished himself on the battlefield just as he did as a teacher by being focused on sacrifice, service, and his commitment to being a professional officer.

With Washington’s Army in New York, more information was needed about the British troops in the area. Hale enthusiastically volunteered to go undercover to obtain the necessary information. Fellow officers tried to talk him out of it declaring the mission a “death sentence,” and declared that spying was unbecoming of the character of an army officer. Phelps notes:

I.W. Stuart described a spy as a ‘companion of darkness.’ There was no way of dressing the job up to appear less dishonest than it was. ‘If he moved in the light,’ Stuart wrote, ‘it is behind walls, in the shadow of trees, in the loneliness of clefts, under the cover of hills . . . skulking with the owl, the mole, or the Indian.’ One of the problems Nathan faced as a spy was that, on his best day, Nathan Hale was none of those. He embodied the spirit of that compassionate man Asher Wright described: the one who knelt by the bedside of a fellow, a devoted Christian who prayed for a soldier dying next to him in the marsh. He was not an impostor, an actor. However, Nathan’s commitment to the cause overrode any of the hazards. He had made a decision and saw it as his duty as an American soldier to follow through with it.

Phelps in his account also reinforces the fact that a well educated man was needed for the mission in order to procure the proper sketches and notes for General Washington. Hale went behind enemy lines disguised as a Dutch school teacher in farm clothes.

Phelps tries to put to rest the often cited account that Hale was spotted and turned in by a loyalist cousin named Samuel Hale, arguing instead new evidence favors that he was tricked into admitting his spying by a ruthless and savvier British Colonel, named Robert Rogers. In any event, on his way back to the American line, Hale was caught and disclosed the details of his mission and was sentenced to death by hanging the next morning for espionage. Hale was refused the presence of a chaplain and a bible before execution, which he had asked to be granted to him. Several British accounts testify to the immense courage Hale displayed and faced even with the certainty of his earthly demise. He warned the onlookers “to be prepared to meet death in whatever shape it may appear.” A captain in the Continental Army, Hale was only twenty-one when he was executed. Phelps declared of Hale:

Nathan accepted his sentence. He stood proudly, head tilted skyward, posture firm, hands tied behind his back. Then, in a phrase that has been misquoted throughout the centuries and turned into a slogan for patriotism, he said, ‘I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.’ This is perhaps the most often misremembered moment in the Nathan Hale story: What did he say moments before he was executed? The line attributed to him – ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country’ – is only a paraphrase of what Nathan actually said, which was reported in the Independent Chronicle on May 17, 1781, as part of an article many believed William Hull narrated to the reporter. But contemporary scholars and historians have said the apocryphal quote was derived from the popular Revolutionary War play Cato. This poetic line fit with the heroism being created around Nathan’s legacy at the time it became popular decades after his death. His peers wanted him to be remembered not as a failed spy, but as a hero who spoke with patriotic self-worth at the moment of his death. In contrast, the Essex Journal, on February 2, 1777, reported Nathan’s final words as ‘You are shedding the blood of the innocent. If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down, if called to do it, in defence of my injured, bleeding country.’

Hale was left to hang for three days, then cut down and buried in a shallow unmarked grave somewhere “near present-day Third Avenue, between Forty-sixth and Sixty-sixth streets,” according to Phelps. His body was never recovered.

Phelps has crafted a story that helps to make Hale’s life remarkable outside of what he is most assuredly known for, his heroic death. His life confidently testifies to devotion to his Savior first, his country, and liberty. Phelps movingly concludes his biography by asserting:

When the British strung Nathan Hale up and hanged him, they did so to end his influence on the American effort. And yet, at the moment Nathan died on the end of that rope, the British gave birth to a national icon of liberty and patriotism. Nathan was, during his life, a captain in the American Continental Army who was willing to risk everything for the greater good of his country, a solider who was certainly, ill-prepared as a spy, but had a heart that led him to fulfill his duty. Sadly, death made him a martyr, a hero, an American solider to – rightly so – celebrate and honor. Yet he was – and could have been – all those things in life, too.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, best known for his masterpiece, Paradise Lost. An essay by Theo Hobson, author of the newly-released Milton’s Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty (Continuum, 2008), well summarizes Milton’s integrated theological, political, and social vision (HT: Arts & Letters Daily).

John Milton (1608-1674): “None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.”

Instead of secularizing a figure that has been deemed important in the history of political philosophy by some sort of post-Enlightenment textual deconstruction, Hobson attempts to show how Milton’s Christian convictions positively informed his perspective on the responsibilities of both state and church. For Milton faith was no vestigial appendage that contemporary observers might feel at liberty to amputate with warranted zeal.

At the same time, notes Hobson, Milton “started working out a coherent account of England’s religious situation. It wasn’t enough to insist that the church should be more ‘Protestant’, for that term was vague. He realised that the Reformation had evaded the whole issue of church-state relations; it allowed for an authoritarian state church. Real religious reform entailed going right back to the time of Constantine, and questioning the idea of a politically empowered church.” Hobson works out this thesis regarding Milton’s contribution to judge that Milton’s influence has been much more positively felt on the American side of the Atlantic rather than in his native land.

To say that the Reformers “evaded” the issue of church and state is perhaps misrepresenting Milton’s criticism a bit (or if it isn’t then Milton’s criticism ill-stated). It’s one thing to say that the Reformers didn’t address the question in the right way, or came up with the right solution, or didn’t go quite far enough in “reforming” the relationship between church and state. But it’s quite another thing (and a patently false one at that) to say that they didn’t directly and rather thoroughly discuss the issue.

What Milton was really concerned to fight, which Hobson accurately articulates, was the influence of a sort of Constantinian Protestantism, communicated to Britain via figures like Martin Bucer (whose De Regno Christi appeared in 1550) and Wolfgang Musculus (whose Common places were published in translation in 1563 and 1578 in Britain). And while there were important varieties of this Constantinian or magisterial Protestantism in the sixteenth century, there was near unanimity among the major first and second generation Reformers on the question of civil enforcement of both tables of the Law.

Both Bucer and Calvin preferred the hypocrite, who only endangered his own salvation, to the open apostate, who could lead many astray.

The distinction between “religious” obligations in the first table and “civil” obligations in the second table is not identical to a distinction between internal motives and external works. The conflation of these two distinctions is what paves the way for a corrosive kind of secularism, the kind that privatizes or internalizes religion and faith. And as Milton clearly saw, the institutional separation between state and church in no way entails the withdrawal of faith from public life. Indeed, since his own religious convictions so profoundly influenced his political views, to say otherwise would have been to render Milton’s own position untenable.