Sustainable freedom and the American future…

Free People's Suicide

“Mr. Franklin, what have you wrought?”  “A republic, Madam—if you can keep it.”  Benjamin Franklin gave this reply to a woman who asked what kind of government had been formed by the Constitutional Convention, just concluded in 1787.

Freedom had been won by the American Revolution.  This newly won freedom was then ordered by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  But Franklin’s concern was whether this freedom could be sustained.  Would it last?

This concern is taken up in a recent book by Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide:  Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.  Of the three tasks of establishing a free republic—winning freedom, ordering freedom, sustaining freedom—Guinness argues that sustaining freedom is the most difficult.  He is informed in this assessment by Franklin, James Madison, Edmund Burke and Abraham Lincoln.  A quote from Thomas Paine summarizes the challenge rather succinctly.

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.

But Guinness warns that we’ve not borne the fatigues of freedom well:  “[I]n the end the ultimate threat to the American republic will be Americans. The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor.”

[R]eliance on the Constitution alone and on structures and laws alone is folly. But worse, the forgotten part of the framers’ answer is so central, clear and powerful that to ignore it is either willful or negligent. What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of ordered liberty. Tocqueville called it “the habits of the heart,” and I call it “the golden triangle of freedom”—the cultivation and transmission of the conviction that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, which in turn requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom and so on, like the recycling triangle, ad infinitum.

In short, sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart. Together with the Constitution, these habits of the heart are the real, complete and essential bulwark of American liberty. A republic grounded only in a consensus forged of calculation and competing self-interests can never last.

Hopefully, this brief introduction has whetted your appetite for a close read of A Free People’s Suicide.  Several extended quotes—The Golden Triangle of Freedom, Freedom Requires Virtue, Character Counts—are available on the website of Ravi Zacharias Ministries.

An even better introduction to A Free People’s Suicide is Os Guinness himself.  On September 13, 2012, Dr. Guinness gave an overview of the book at the Socrates in the City forum in New York City.  The video takes a moment to start….

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