Skip to comments.Freedom and Its Counterfeit (Liberty vs License)
Posted on 08/16/2003 10:15:52 AM PDT by jimkress
Freedom and Its Counterfeit
It is a great honor to have the opportunity to address you this afternoon and to join the ranks of the honorary alumni of this eminent institution. To those who are graduating today, and to their families, I offer congratulations for all that you have achieved, and best wishes as you grasp the opportunities, and confront the challenges, now before you.
The blessing of a Hillsdale College education a true liberal arts education has prepared you literally to take on the world. And ours is most assuredly a world in need of being taken on by men and women possessed of the intellectual treasures of understanding, knowledge and wisdom. I pray, and I trust, that these gifts, vouchsafed to you by the faculty of this College and its many generous benefactors, will in your hands become powerful instruments of reform and renewal in those many domains of endeavor to which you, the members of the Class of 2003, will dedicate yourselves.
Not one of you needs me to tell you, though I will remind you anyway, that your Hillsdale education is a gift for which you must be ever grateful. It imposes upon you responsibilities of which you must be ever mindful. As to certain of those responsibilities, the alumni here present can assure you that President Arnn will be in touch from time to time with a gentle or not so gentle reminder. And I know you will be generous, just as those who have gone before you have been generous. But the gift of a Hillsdale education imposes yet more profound responsibilities: responsibilities of service.
To whom much is given, the Bible says, much is required. And to each of you, much indeed has been given.
That you are up to the challenge, none of us doubts. Indeed, we are gathered today to celebrate the fact that you have already proven your mettle in important respects. Your education at Hillsdale has been a classically demanding one. It has required of you careful study, deep and sustained reflection and hard work. The degree you will have the honor of receiving in a few minutes is a testament to your achievement in meeting the rigorous academic standards that this college proudly upholds. Bravo to Hillsdale for demanding of you nothing short of excellence! Bravo to each of you for meeting the demand!
From its founding during the struggle over slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, Hillsdale College has stood for freedom and for the basic moral truths and principles of civic life that are at once the foundations of freedom and among the great ends to which freedom is ordered. In the halls of this college, it has always been securely understood that ignorance of these truths and principles places freedom in dire jeopardy. Today, this understanding makes Hillsdale very nearly unique in contemporary higher education, where it is fashionable to deny that there is such a thing as truth and to embrace relativist and subjectivist doctrines that abet the deconstruction of the very concept of freedom and its replacement by a counterfeit.
Freedom, Truth and Virtue
True freedom consists in the liberation of the human person from the shackles of ignorance, oppression and vice. Thus it was that one hundred and fifty years ago this July 4, Edmund B. Fairfield, president of Hillsdale, speaking at a ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of a new college building, declared that education, by lifting a man out of ignorance, disqualifies him from being a slave. What overcomes ignorance is knowledge, and the object of knowledge is truth empirical, moral, spiritual. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
True freedom, the freedom that liberates, is grounded in truth and ordered to truth and, therefore, to virtue. A free person is enslaved neither to the sheer will of another nor to his own appetites and passions. A free person lives uprightly, fulfilling his obligations to family, community, nation and God. By contrast, a person given over to his appetites and passions, a person who scoffs at truth and chooses to live, whether openly or secretly, in defiance of the moral law is not free. He is simply a different kind of slave.
The counterfeit of freedom consists in the idea of personal and communal liberation from morality, responsibility and truth. It is what our nations founders expressly distinguished from liberty and condemned as license. The so-called freedom celebrated today by so many of our opinion-shaping elites in education, entertainment and the media is simply the license to do whatever one pleases. This false conception of freedom false because disordered, disordered because detached from moral truth and civic responsibility shackles those in its grip no less powerfully than did the chattel slavery of old. Enslavement to ones own appetites and passions is no less brutal a form of bondage for being a slavery of the soul. It is no less tragic, indeed, it is in certain respects immeasurably more tragic, for being self-imposed. It is ironic, is it not, that people who celebrate slavery to appetite and passion call this bondage freedom?
Counterfeit freedom is worse than fraudulent. It is the mortal enemy of the real thing. Counterfeit freedom can provide no rational account or defense of its own normative claims. It speaks the language of rights, but in abandoning the ground of moral duty it provides no rational basis for anyone to respect the rights of others or to demand of others respect for ones own rights. Rights without duties are meaningless. Where moral truth as the ground of duties is thrown overboard, the language of rights is so much idle chatter fit only for Hollywood cocktail parties and faculty lounges. Hadley Arkes, the great contemporary theorist of natural rights, has observed in relation to the movement for unfettered abortion that those who demand liberation from the moral law have talked themselves out of the moral premises of their own rights and liberties. If freedom is to be honored and respected, it must be because human freedom is what is required by the laws of nature and natures God; it cannot be because there are no laws of nature and there is no God.
The Danger of License
But counterfeit freedom poses greater dangers still. As our founders warned, a people given over to license will be incapable of sustaining republican government. For republican government government by the people requires a people who are prepared to take responsibility for the common good, including the preservation of the conditions of liberty.
Listen again to President Fairfield, speaking words at that ceremony on July 4, 1853, that are, if anything, still more urgent today:
Unrestrained freedom is anarchy. Restrained only by force and arms, is despotism; self-restrained is Republicanism. Wherever there is wanted the intelligence and virtue requisite for [self-restraint], Republicanism expires.
Slaves to appetite and passion, wanting in the understanding and virtue requisite for self-government, will surely lose it. They will look not to themselves but to government to provide for the satisfaction of their desires. Where counterfeit freedom prevails, the republican principle of limited government is inevitably sacrificed as people surrender personal and, ultimately, political liberty to whatever power promises to protect them from predation and supply the appeasement of their appetites. People are reduced from citizens to subjects to slaves. They trade their birthright of freedom for a mess of pottage. Yet, so long as the big-government-provided pottage functions as a suitable narcotic, they imagine themselves free.
At the same time, the want of virtue creates a counterfeit idea of equality that parallels the counterfeit conception of freedom. True equality equality under the law, equality of opportunity is displaced by the demand for equality of results, as envy, like every other passion, commands requital. Distinctions, grounded in such intrinsically retributive ideas as personal merit, are cast aside.
Ultimately, the counterfeit of freedom is a counterfeit because its view of the nature, dignity and destiny of man is a false view. Men and women are not mere bundles of appetites. Our destiny is not to be, as David Hume supposed, slaves of our passions rational only in the purely instrumental sense of being capable of employing our intellectual powers to, in Thomas Hobbess words, range abroad and find the way to the things desired. On the contrary: Men and women, made in the very image and likeness of the Divine Ruler of the Universe, are possessors of an intelligence more profound, and, correspondingly, a freedom more God-like, than that.
We are, to be sure, creatures, and fallen creatures to boot; dust of the earth; sinners every one. Yet the divine image the icon of God Himself is not destroyed. And commensurate with the dignity of creatures fashioned in Gods image, we are indeed, as the Declaration of Independence says, endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights. Freedom true freedom is, as President Bush recently had occasion to remind us, Gods gift to mankind. The self-government that is the right of free men and women is truly a sacred trust.
President Fairfield said one thing on that day in 1853 that we cannot, alas, say today. Near the end of his address, he declared that our educational establishments ever have been the faithful allies and firm supporters of all that is ennobling in our free institutions. Tragically, the legacy of our educational establishments in the twentieth century has been altogether different, and very much worse.
Yet at some small number of colleges, Hillsdale their leader, the flame has not been extinguished. That flame has been nurtured and guarded with a sleepless vigilance on this campus, as President Fairfield prayed on that day in 1853 that it would be everywhere. You, distinguished graduates, are among the fortunate legatees of that sleepless vigilance on these grounds. It is by that carefully tended flame that your minds have been illumined to understand the nature and foundations of freedom and the responsibilities of republican government.
I say to you today: Keep the flame alive. Hand it on, glowing even more brightly, to your children and your childrens children. March forward with the flame aloft into your chosen fields of business, law, medicine and the sciences, education, government, journalism, music and the arts. Do not hide your light under a bushel. As sons and daughters of Hillsdale, be living Statues of Liberty boldly illuminating the landscape of freedom for all whose lives you touch.
Robert P. George
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and the Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. A graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School, he earned a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford University. He is a member of President Bushs Council on Bioethics and served as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1993-1998. A former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award in 1990. His articles and essays have appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the University of Chicago Law Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, First Things, National Review and the Times Literary Supplement. He is the author or editor of several books, including Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, In Defense of Natural Law, Great Cases in Constitutional Law and, most recently, The Clash of Orthodoxies. Dr. George delivered the following commencement address to the Hillsdale College Class of 2003 on May 10 in the George Roche Health Education and Sports Complex. Following the speech, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science.
Counterfeit freedom is worse than fraudulent. It is the mortal enemy of the real thing.
I agree if the author is talking about REAL "license" such as a true democracy where things are put to a vote. Direct democracy IS the mortal enemy of freedom. Democracy puts rights up to a vote. Rights then become a "license" which can be revoked by a vote.
Counterfeit freedom can provide no rational account or defense of its own normative claims. It speaks the language of rights, but in abandoning the ground of moral duty it provides no rational basis for anyone to respect the rights of others or to demand of others respect for ones own rights.
The moral ground to TRUE freedom IS the recognition of each indivual's natural right to live their life in the manner they see fit as long as the individual's choices and actions do not infringe on another's same right. TRUE freedom is about INDIVIDUAL rights. Freedom becomes license not when each individual operates on the above premise of freedom, but when natural rights are voted away "for the good of the community" or any concept that places the wishes of a group above the rights of the individual.
Freedom is freedom. It can't be redefined to suit the needs of a particular social faction. License is created in the absence of the recognition of freedom.
Good post. "...rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our own will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add within the limits of the law, because law is often but the tyrants will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." - Thomas Jefferson
I love it. The quote doesn't even jive with the stated definition. When rights have been put to a vote, yes, a dictatorship is near. True freedom rejects a dictatorship, rejects democracy and rejects a theocracy.
And lets look at "due restraint". What's due restraint? Restrianing one's wishes based upon what some group wants? No. Its restraining one's desires based upon what the individual wants to accomplish. I the person believes that alcohol will impede them from being a good family person, then they excercise "due restraint" and do not engage in the consumption of alcohol, which is a natural right.
You cannot have Liberty without responsibilities.
And your natural responsibility is to not violate the equal rights of others. This responsibility does not entail not engaging in some activity that does not violate the equal rights of others, just because someone or some group doesn't want you to. Your trying to use the "because I said so" argument.
HM: "Why can't I look at porn"
Licencer: "Because I don't want you to."
HM: "But it violates no one's rights, does it?"
L: "Uh, no, not really, but other people may look at it too, and I don't want people to look at porn"
HM: "Isn't that the indvidual's decision?"
L: "....Um.....well, yes..., but...I dont want people to look at it"
And it goes on and on and on......
One more time, because it needs to repeated as often as possible.
Hm. Maybe I didn't post it. Oh well, this is one of those that ought to be reposted regularly, IMHO. Thanks for posting it!
As adults living in a society, the rest of us will recognize that our rights require we fulfill our responsibilities to the other people living with us. Freedom isn't free. Acting like an adult and talking into account our responsibilities toward the rights of others is one of the prices we adults pay for freedom.
Except that NOW erroniously rejects that a fetus is a human. There are two persons involved in an abortion, and one can't consent to be killed. Its not my fault you erroniously compare my posts concerning individual freedom with NOW's mantra of murder.
Silly response. Shows you have no argument.
As adults living in a society, the rest of us will recognize that our rights require we fulfill our responsibilities to the other people living with us.
And once again, our responsibility is to not violate the equal rights or "people living with us". My responsibility is NOT living my life in a way that makes you or anyone else happy. Where do you get this notion that the "responsibility of freedom" is living how someone else dictates you should?
Acting like an adult and talking into account our responsibilities toward the rights of others is one of the prices we adults pay for freedom.
That's what I have been saying all along. Our responsibility is to not violate other's rights. One of your rights, however, isn't the ability to decide what I read, watch, wear, ingest, say, believe or worship. You have the same rights I do. I can't make these decisions for you either, and any attempt by me to, is a violation of YOUR rights. See, I respect you(your rights), and in return, you are supposed to respect me(my same rights). It seems that you and the author want me, or whoever, to respect your wishes, not your rights. You aren't asking to be treated as an equal with equal rights.
The most important part of freedom is recognizing that others may not make the decisions that you wan them to and respecting their right to make that decision - regardless if you agree or disagree with their decision. Freedom isn't a one way street. Freedom and rights aren't up for debate or a vote. Personal desires and wishes aren't rights and thus do not have to be respected by others.