America is known as the land of the free. Freedom is one of the central planks of the American ideal. But how would the average American today define this ideal of freedom. Let’s say we ask the question: What does it mean to be free in America?
I would suggest that the basic response would be “I am free to do as I want”. And this is the very problem that Os Guinness writes about in this book.
To define Freedom as the ability “To do whatever I want” will eventually cause America to lose the very freedom which it upholds and holds dear.
It is also a complete misunderstanding of what the Founders intended.
Guinness writes that: We are rapidly reaching the point in Western consumer societies where people confuse freedom with choice, as they are dazzled daily by an ever expanding array of external choices in consumer goods and lifestyle options. But the pursuit of freedom has led o a surfeit of choices and a scarcity of meaning and value – a point at which choice itself, rather than the content of any choice has become the heart of freedom. The result is that modern people value choice rather than good choice.
And here is the issue – making GOOD choices.Unconstrained freedom is destructive. This is, for Guinness, the genius of the Founders. The Founders understood history and saw that all empires fell. They wanted to create a free society that would remain free – that would defy history. Reliance on the Constitution alone and on structures and laws alone will not work. In what Guinness calls the ‘golden triangle of freedom’ the Founders understood that the cultivation and transmission of the conviction meant that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom which in turn requires virtue, which requires faith which requires freedom and so on.
In other words, freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike and upon the trust which exists between them. Guinness writes: Leadership without character, business without ethics and science without human values – in short freedom without virtue – will bring he republic to its knees.
The danger for America, in Guinness’ eyes is that it has reached a point where virtue is hardly esteemed at all – or at least not welcomed in the public square. Greed is good, vice is flaunted etc, etc.
Freedom for you and I is the gift of self control, training and discipline – not self indulgence. And this is why to define freedom as “Doing whatever I like” puts the American ideal of freedom in jeopardy today. Those who founded this country always knew that freedom rested in the ability of it’s citizens to act selflessly, not selfishly.Unquestionably the framers knew from history and their own experience that the wrong relationship of faith and virtue to freedom had been and would always be disastrous for both freedom and faith.
This is a very powerful and sobering read – highly recommended.