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What Is Freedom?

by Waclaw Bakierowski

What is freedom? What are its proper limits? What is the end for which we have constituted our state? Most Americans would reply, or at least agree, that freedom is the right to do what one pleases, that an individual's freedom should be limited only by the freedom of other individuals, and that our government exists to protect our rights freely to do what we want. At best, however, these answers are one-sided; most of Western civilization's greatest thinkers would have called them simply wrong.

It is a great good for an individual to be secure in his life, his personal liberty, and his possessions. No one, however, has any absolute right to do that which is morally wrong; no Constitution, no law, no court decision can create such a right. Morality, in turn, is not a matter of utility, feelings, sentiments, or private choices; it is a matter of adherence to the Eternal Law which we know from the Ten Commandments and which every man of good will can find written in his own heart.

The state, no less than other institutions, exists to provide for the common good, which includes, but is not identical with, security in life, liberty, and property. Imposition of limits on government power is a matter of prudence, of moral and political judgement. Most of our Founding Fathers and most of their contemporaries would have agreed.

The majority of Americans are opposed to, or at least uncomfortable with, homosexuality, pornography, flag burning, drug trafficking, and even abortion. Even when they go to the polls, however, they frequently seem not to act on their own views about such matters. A government program supporting obscenity may cause a bit of excitement, a Supreme Court decision giving legal protection to some perversity may cause brief outrage, a politician who gets too chummy with sodomites may be booed by his constituents, but there the matter ends. Of course, we all know politicians who claim, perhaps truthfully, to be opposed to abortion personally, but who explain that they are unwilling to impose their personal views.

While we sit on our hands, our society is turning into a moral sewer. This trend will not and cannot be reversed until we recover and start to act on our civilization's traditional understanding of morality and of freedom and its proper limits. Until we begin to act and argue in a coherent fashion from first principles, we are lost before we begin; we are morally and intellectually disarmed as long as we act and speak as if we were merely expressing conservative personal preferences.

All true rights come from God. God gives us these rights in order to enable us to do our duty toward Him. He does not give us a right to do moral evil. No court, no law, no constitution can create such a right to do moral evil. Unless those who commit abortion and who practice homosexuality effectively repent before they die, God will punish them in hellfire for all eternity no matter what the current courts say.

No man has any right to practice sexual perversions, corrupt his fellow men, insult his country, or murder the unborn. Conversely, every man has a right not to live in a sewer and a duty to protect himself and especially his family from the inevitable corrupting effects of living in a sewer. By the same argument, the state, which is properly ordained to the common good, has a duty to help in this matter or at least to offer no obstacle.

Today, however, our schools teach atheism and moral relativism and undermine the family; our courts invent new "rights" to perverse behavior and find reasons to release criminals to prey on us; our tax dollars go to fund pornography; and our legislators pass "laws" making it a crime to shun or show contempt for degenerates. If we are passive in the face of this, if we consent by our silence, if we are not as active in our opposition as our circumstances permit, we become accomplices and take on our own selves a share of culpability and of ultimate responsibility for the consequences.

Call it a judgement of prudence, call it a matter of simple common sense, but it is about time to start using social — and, yes, legal — pressure against those who flagrantly offend against simple decency. There will have to be adequately severe penalties, applied without qualms about violating the alleged "rights" of those who "do their own thing" or perform "victimless crimes." Positive law cannot eliminate evil from the hearts of men, but there is much to be gained from driving abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and narcotics back underground, where they cease to offend, to tempt, and to dull our moral senses and where no one can claim that immorality is simply part of his own "alternate lifestyle." No one should be allowed to claim that his favorite brand of immorality is permissible merely because it is legal.

This is not a call to trample the Bill of Rights. We must, however, return to the concept of ordered liberty which prevailed until the last generation and under which our real rights flourished through most of our history. Nor am I calling for a sectarian crusade. The Ten Commandments, after all, are the common property, if we may so call them, of our Western civilization and of all men who fear God. We must return to those traditional moral and legal principles which acknowledged, and which were based on, our dependence — and our duty to obey — the Creator of both the natural and the moral order.

Our currency bears the motto "In God We Trust." We pledge allegiance to "one nation under God." If we do not change our ways and continue to make freedom our Golden Calf, how much longer before we as a people cease altogether to be "under God" and to have reason to trust in His mercy and protection?