Posts tagged with: liberty

vintage 4th of julyWe Americans will celebrate 238 years of freedom this Friday. In 1776, the 13 colonies unanimously declared:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Freedom was declared; the men and women of the colonies no longer wished to live under a monarchy, but rather sought a free republic, where they could decide their own fates.

Today, it seems as if many Americans respond to this ideal with, “Meh….” (more…)

coolidgebAs we read about the increase of scandal, mismanagement, and corruption within our federal agencies, it is essential once again to revisit the words of Calvin Coolidge. Recent actions at the IRS, Veterans Administration, and the ATF gunwalking scandal all point to systemic problems that come from an entrenched bureaucracy. As more and more of the responsibilities of civil society is passed over to centralized powers in Washington, federal agencies have exploded with power and control, leading to greater opportunities for abuse. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a favorite stump speech line of former presidential candidate George Wallace was, “When I get to Washington, I am going to throw the briefcases of the pointy headed intellectuals into the Potomac.” Wallace was of course speaking about the entrenched bureaucracy in the nation’s capital.

Bureaucracy of some form is necessary under government. But we live in an era where constitutional constraints are eschewed and the bureaucratic machine is becoming more politicized. “Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power,” declared Lord Acton. Bureaucracy, by its nature, is problematic to the notion of self-government.

Bureaucracy is a threat to liberty and it’s not accountable to the people, that is the main point Coolidge is reminding Americans in the excerpt from a speech he gave as president at the College of William & Mary in 1926:

No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic, and being autocratic they resist all development. Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretense of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody.

washington1One of the best books I’ve ever read on American history is Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. I’ve always been an admirer of the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by German American artist Emanuel Leutze. The painting of course has been criticized by commentators for its inaccuracy. Fischer notes in the first chapter of his book:

American iconoclasts made the painting a favorite target. Post-modernists studied it with a skeptical eye and asked, “Is this the way that American history happened? Is it a way that history ever happens? Are any people capable of acting in such a heroic manner?”

One of the interesting things that Fischer notes is that in the 1950s the painting was removed for a time from Metropolitan Museum of Art because “romantic history paintings passed out of fashion among sophisticated New Yorkers.” He also notes that “among the American people the painting has never passed out of fashion.” (more…)

Writing for Canada’s National Post, Acton University lecturer Fr. Raymond de Souza calls our attention to the 25th anniversary this year of the defeat of communism and observes that “there are new questions about the unity of liberties.” In the 1980s, he writes, “when in the Gdansk shipyard the workers began to rattle the cage of communism, they demanded economic liberties (free trade unions), personal liberties (speech, the press), political liberties (democracy), legal liberties (against the police state) and religious liberty (the strikers insisted upon public worship in the shipyard itself).”

In continuity with older revolutions and even older political philosophy, he adds, “the liberties demanded were thought to be all of a piece. Liberty was not divisible, it was thought and often said. Today that question is is up for debate.”

For his National Post column, Fr. de Souza interviewed theologian Michael Novak — also lecturing at Acton U. in Grand Rapids, Mich., this week.

(more…)

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…)

topicAleteia’s Mirko Testa recently interviewed Samuel Gregg about the state’s role in defending religious liberty, the appropriate response of the Church to the growing welfare state, cronyism, and the upcoming conference hosted by the Istituto Acton: ‘Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West.’

What’s John Paul II’s legacy on the connection between limited government, religious liberty, and economic liberty?

[Gregg:] When you live much of your life under Communism, it is bound to accentuate your appreciation of freedom. And religious freedom and economic freedom are essential to limiting the scope and size of the state. Because if the state can take away your religious liberty, it can do anything. Moreover, a government that over-regulates the economy – or even seeks to impose a command economy – effectively undermines people’s freedom in numerous ways. (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.
(more…)