Freedom is a big thing these days. For conservatives it’s often about freedom from government – taxation, regulation, gun control – and from liberal mania. For liberals it’s often about freedom from the rich and powerful – low wages, discrimination, incarceration – and from conservative oppression.
Ironically, both sides say they simply want the same thing, those freedoms our forefathers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and sought to institutionalize in the U.S. Constitution – “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
But each side sees those things through different lenses. And each side wants what it wants now and to hades with the other side. This chasm between the two sides subverts the founders’ goals.
Former Attorney General William Barr, bless his heart, accurately described a root of this dilemma in remarks delivered at Notre Dame in 2019.
“The challenge we face is precisely what the Founding Fathers foresaw would be our supreme test as a free society. They never thought the main danger to the republic came from external foes. The central question was whether, over the long haul, we could handle freedom. The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.”
“Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large. No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.”
How to restrain “individual rapacity” in a free society?
Steve Forbes published an interesting perspective of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review in 1997.
“The order of these rights – first life, then freedom, and then the equal opportunity to pursue one’s own happiness – was written with great care and precision, not haphazardly. The Founders understood the need to balance man’s right to be free with man’s responsibility to be honest, just, and fair. For example, if it makes you happy to shoot and kill someone while you rob a bank – well, the law says you’re out of luck. A person’s right to live supersedes your ‘freedom’ to steal and murder. This may seem obvious, but it is profound.
“Switch the order of these fundamental human rights – putting happiness before liberty, or liberty before life – and you end up with moral chaos and social anarchy.”
In other words, your pursuit of happiness should not infringe upon another’s liberty. Nor, should your liberty infringe upon another’s life.
Life first, then.
Conservatives argue such to decry abortion. Liberals argue such to decry the death penalty. Otherwise, concern for life seems to get the back seat behind liberty and pursuit of happiness.
The current yaya over wearing masks depicts this. As the Delta variant to COVID-19 surges and state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs calls for wearing masks, unrestrained “individual rapacity” for liberty and lifestyle (hell no to masks) poses great risks to the lives of others.
Such goes life today with so many on both sides contributing to the moral chaos and social anarchy infecting America.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” – Philippians 2:3.