When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
America is at a crossroads. What happens politically and culturally the next four years may determine whether this land conceived in liberty will remain a free nation.
Not only is evidence of decay visible in our leaders, economy and institutions, but history itself bears witness to the fact that regimes have a paltry record of establishing and maintaining freedom. Consider that a billion people are now under the authoritarian control of a Communist regime in the People’s Republic of China. And that is only one country. What makes Americans believe that this country could never slip into totalitarianism? Is it because we are more modern and enlightened than others around the world or those who came before us? Is it because we have a marvelous Constitution?
It would be prudent for us to consider how a piece of paper can protect us if our leaders choose not to follow that instrument or to reinterpret it in a new parlance. The U.S. Constitution can only function to the degree that the American people understand how it is supposed to work and vote for leaders who uphold its design.
Putting together the Constitution was a miraculous endeavor. After the War of Independence, the American Founders had the perplexing and complicated task of setting up a new form of government that would protect liberty. On the one hand, too little government could result in anarchy. On the other, too much government power could lead back to tyranny.
Federalist #51 described the challenge:
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
This perspective is consistent with the Christian understanding of human nature, which identifies the human condition as inherently sinful and prone to corruption. To mitigate the dangers of this reality, the Founders constructed a representative form of government — divided in executive, judicial and legislative powers — with the legislative branch apportioned to the power of the popular vote in the House of Representatives and equality of state influence (with slower movement) to the Senate. The idea was that each branch of government would have its own interest and would check and balance the self interest of the others. Meanwhile, the Bill of Rights endeavored to take back power from the federal government and return as much as possible back to the states and to the people. Ensuring the greatest degree of freedom in the new republic would require that government power be enumerated and limited.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence stated, “Government big enough to give you everything you need is government big enough to take away everything you have.” And so with careful consideration to historical experience, and having the right understanding of human nature, the American Founders set forth to establish for posterity what can be referred to as “Ordered Liberty.”
Perhaps it can be better illustrated with a visual equation, and to do that, we can ask ourselves what variables might contribute to having freedom. Does an increase in taxation result in more or less personal freedom? In general, when government imposes more laws and regulations do we acquire more or less freedom? The answers to these questions should be obvious, yet we seldom think about the consequences of adding another tax or regulation to the books. Each one, little by little, chips away at the amount of liberty we have.
Meanwhile, another variable appears. As Federalist #51 points out, government itself would not be necessary if “men were angels.” America’s second president, John Adams explained that “we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The people themselves must have a certain amount of self restraint. Therefore, public virtue is also a critical element. Not only does a society with more virtue require less laws, cops on the streets and judges in courtrooms to protect life and property, but virtue enables more self-governance by meeting human needs through strong families, churches, civic organizations, charities and other private associations. Virtue is absolutely foundational to self-government and freedom.
The main variables which affect freedom can be expressed visually in the following equation:
Freedom (Ordered Liberty) = Public Virtue – (Taxes + Regulations)
As taxes and regulations go up, the amount of freedom goes down. As the amount of public virtue goes up, the amount of charity and ethical behavior also goes up, positively affecting freedom and our ability to enjoy it.
But public virtue, in this sense, was informed by the Judeo-Christian understanding — which was the overwhelming view held by the American Founders at the time the Constitution was drafted. Neither licentiousness, nor political correctness, would have even been imagined as substitutes for The Ten Commandments. In fact, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, the very justification and legitimacy of the American separation came from the point of view that King George of England was violating the natural and “unalienable” rights which were endowed by the “Creator.” Secularism, as some today might have you believe, did not give birth to America!
While the object of good government is liberty to those with this traditional understanding, progressives have defined it another way. To them it is:
Public Good (Utopian Vision) = Politically Correct Attitudes x (Taxes + Regulations)
Taxes and regulations are not looked upon by progressives as variables that neglect freedom, but rather as levers that help produce the utopian society they are trying to create. Their unbiblical and flawed view of human nature (as inherently good and progressively getting better — no God, original sin, etc.) leads them to believe that their utopian end is achievable, and can be justified by any means. Eliminating constitutional checks and balances through executive orders, international treaties, reinterpreting the U.S. Constitution in the courts, and crafting state constitutional changes (all while engaging in class warfare, intimidation and marginalizing points of view that are not deemed politically correct) are among the many tactics they scheme to help bring about the utopian society they pursue.
Sadly, an ignorance of American Founding Principles has allowed many to be swept up in the current of “change” that is at odds with — and threatens to destroy — the republic for which the Founders, and countless veterans since, have sacrificed their lives. The American system is organized around very different principles than the ones progressives (Socialists/Communists) subscribe to. Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer warned decades ago that a shift in thinking from a God-centered view of reality to a man-centered view of reality was at the heart of America’s troubles, and that this shift would produce a litany of unfortunate consequences with mathematical results. He was right.
Former Nixon White House operative and transformed Christian Chuck Colson wrote, “If people are not governed by internal values, they must be governed by external force. Take away the Bibles that direct a nation’s soul, and the government will bring out the bayonets.” (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 1994) Colson also reminded us that given the choice between freedom and order, people will always choose order. In our current predicament, Americans may need to be reminded of Ben Franklin’s admonition, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” (Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755.)
Given the frail economic conditions and decay of public virtue in America today, we are ripe for various potential events (either natural or contrived) to trigger a constitutional suspension by those that have no regard for the traditional understanding of the U.S. Constitution and of our 236-year-long tradition of freedom.
Whether or not the electorate realizes it or not, the results of the 2012 presidential election put a leader and an evolved political party in power of the presidency that aims to make the progressive agenda a reality. Progressive forces and philosophy now dominate the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court (and lower courts), most major news outlets, America’s teachers unions and public schools, most colleges and universities, the film industry, music and pop culture. About the only thing holding off “full speed ahead” on the progressive finishing agenda are their margins of representation in Congress — especially the current occupants of the U.S. House of Representatives, who will obviously become targets for replacement in only two years. The progressive standing with important future demographic groups like Hispanics and youth also make their future checkmate almost certain unless sufficient work to alter this course takes place.
Take a close look at the two equations and visions of government. What is missing from the second (progressive) equation? Put simply, Freedom.
It is urgent that those with a Biblical worldview know what is orthodox and have the competency to articulate it to those with a progressive worldview (both inside and outside the church) in a hurry. We must be alert to anything that would diminish the effectiveness and advance of the true Gospel–absent the infiltration of Secular Humanism and Marxism. For faith in man to have its dominion in society it must dispose of its adversary–true faith in God. Well-instructed children, strong families, churches and private organizations lay the foundation for a free America. But it is also imperative for freedom-loving Americans of all persuasions to wake up, see the smoke and get busy helping friends, neighbors and relatives see the looming threat of totalitarianism. Otherwise, the smoldering has the potential to burn up our country as it has already done in so many other places around the world throughout history.
Ordered Liberty depends on limited government and biblical virtues. The scripture, 2 Cor. 3:17 gives us the secret of a happy and prosperous people: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.