Life and Liberty

A State owned church in France

A State owned church in France

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternitie. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Often when we look upon these mottos of two of the three great revolutions, the French and the American (the third of course being the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia), we often feel they are comparable and born of the same mother, the so-called Enlightenment. We certainly have been taught this in school, and it is true to an extent. The desire for man to be free is inherent in us. But how and by what means we attain that freedom is often the deciding factor in whether we really become free, or exchange one slave master for another. That is where the mottos of these revolutions show us why one failed, and descended into unspeakable horror and bloodshed, and the other, with all its imperfections, succeeded and became the greatest democracy in world history.

I think we only need look at the first word of each motto. The leaders of the French Revolution obviously saw Liberty as the first and highest goal. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen states:

“Liberty consists of being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man or woman has no bounds other than those that guarantee other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights.”

This is not true freedom, but merely license. The belief that we should have the ability to do whatever we wish as long, as it does not hurt others, is a fundamental misunderstanding of where our freedom originates. The term “rights” is thrown around liberally these days. We supposedly have a “right” to a job, to health care, and recently a Federal court claimed that a state constitution granted persons of the same sex the right to marry one another. Nevertheless, the American Founding Fathers understood that no real freedom, no true rights, can be understood if we do not understand that the right to Life is the first and most important right. They understood this because they understood that it is only God, the Creator, who has granted us the rights stated in the Constitution. John Adams stated:

“We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.“

Adam and the other member of the Continental Congress, even those engaged in the heinous slave trade, understood that it is not the state that gives us our freedom, by allowing us to do this or that, but that all rights flow from our creation in the image and likeness of God.

Today genuine religious expression and belief is actively pushed from political life. We see the view of our rights shared by Adams and Jefferson being overturned and replaced with something more in common with the French radicals of the 1700’s, rather than with the Founding Fathers, or with what generations of Americans have believed. How else does one explain Barack Obama’s claim that those who attend church are “bitter” or John Edwards’ statement, during one of the numerous primary debates, that his religious views would not influence how he would govern as President? Such statements would have been unimaginable to any generation of American leaders, other than the ’68 Generation and its progeny.

This is why the respect and love of life is replaced by the exaltation of “choice.” No longer is Life the first right. It has been replaced by the Right to Choose, in other words Liberte; the right to do whatever we wish “as long as it does not hurt anyone else.” Since “God is dead” or, if not dead, then loves us “just the way we are,” we decide what is right and wrong. We are “like gods who know what is good and what is bad.” (Genesis 3:5)

In my next post I will talk about the road down which such thinking may lead this nation.

8 Responses to Life and Liberty

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Walter,

    Once you allow the state to issue rights, they can easily take those rights away. Witness the Soviet Union with their gulags, Nazi Germany with their concentration camps, and Revolutionary France with their Committee of Public Safety (Comité de salut public).

    All of them systematically and without jurisprudence took people from their homes and executed them without due process.

    Excellent posting.

    In Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

    Tito

  • rob says:

    When I was teaching Social Studies to middle schoolers, my co-teacher (and technical superior) interrupted my lesson on the French Revolution to tell my class that “it was like two other revolutions, the American and the Russian, because they were all about the have-nots versus the haves”.

    I humored her until she left, and then explained that my boss had perhaps mispoken and that the French and Russian revolutions were nothing like the American Revolution.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Without religion and morality government is a mere struggle for power, and all means, including mass executions, are licit. As Burke brilliantly put it in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.”

  • Zach says:

    Thoughtful post.

    You make a good distinction between freedom and license. The Founders never understood freedom to mean license, hence their insistence on a moral people.

    They did, however, think freedom from government interference was important. This is why they constructed a government that had limited and defined powers.

    But that government I’m describing is long gone. We gave up on a government of limited and defined powers a long ago – turns out it’s not very popular when things get rough.

  • Eric Brown says:

    The reason that we have a radical notion of freedom running rampant is that have made idols of sexual pleasure, material wealth, vanity, excess, addictions, and a host of other vices. We live in a world where God is a dubious assertion and the most fundamental, central reality is denied. Therefore, we’ve reached a point where we can deny anything — even the right-to-life itself. The American “god” as Stanley Hauerwas once claimed is fundamentally our way of life and a notion of limitless freedom. We are relentlessly self-determinate beings, or thats how we’d like it to be. We craft our idea of God, of “rights”, of freedom, of morality in an arbitrary manner with the end goal to protect this notion of freedom.

    Having spent a decade of my life as an atheist and having a wide circle of atheist and agnostic friends, many of them don’t believe that there is such a thing as ‘natural rights.’ They claim that such a reality doesn’t bother them, but I know they’re lying to themselves. No one can truly be a moral relativist. It’s just inconsistent. But this all fundamentally comes back to the question of God. If all we really are animals that ponder, there is no reason for us to believe that our thinking will reveal to us anything ‘true’ about reality — whatever that is, no reason as to why there should be logic, or that we can really know anything outside of ourselves. More importantly, if all we are fundamentally is a collection of atoms, no different in substance than say a table or a chair, then we’re nothing but a complex biochemical phenomenon with no meaning and no purpose with a finite life-span on a tiny dot called earth in a sun-beam in a cold and infinite cosmos. What is the dignity and worth of some mere collection of atoms, if its no different in substance than some inanimate object? The idea of ‘rights’ collapses on itself.

    The problem with “rights” and a sense of moral objectivity cannot exist in a world without God. That’s our fundamental problem.
    How do we solve this? Your guess is as good as mine.

  • Micha Elyi says:

    Eric Brown: “The reason that we have a radical confused notion of freedom running rampant…”

    I corrected your spelling. You may wish to correct your reasoning that followed from that error early in your comments. Zach’s remarks about the fathers of our country recognizing that at the root of freedom is a distinction between liberty and license can guide you. This distinction is at the base of the teaching of the Church that exercising our free will to choose righteousness is the greatest freedom of all (i.e., it’s the rejection of license).

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Thanks Craig.

    We hope to expand our audience exponentially.

    Good postings help get the word out and Walter has posted a fine one.

    Please if you’ve enjoyed this, forward this to your friends and favorite blogs.

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