I still believe in freedom – personal and national. But we will lose this treasure if we fail to pay its price in personal responsibility and determined fortitude.
I have often wondered who might be the Thomas Paine of our day, one who writes prescient insights to sway a nation. Would it be someone with the wit of the late Christopher Hitchens, or a Sam Harris who gives voice to countless unbelievers?
Is there a Mark Twain, a G. K. Chesterton, a George Orwell in Brooks, Weiss, Sowell, Will, Krugman, Noonan, or (the lates) Wolfe or Krauthammer? Can any of our top-shelf writers – and the list is very long – change our thinking?
Perhaps the better question is, “What can do such a thing?”
And the answer is, always and forever more, ideas. Ideas hold the power.
The world of ideas is where writers, podcasters, teachers, all “influencers” do battle: assessing, insisting, construing, advocating. In 2016 Trump won on an idea, something like: “The political class is entrenched and self-serving. Drain the swamp!” The other side was hapless against that idea: “All opposed, say ‘No!’” And say “No!” they did with inspired vigor.
This revealed again a nation so badly polarized that when we finally have a winner the other side sees doomsday. I was shocked, for example, at the vulgar anti-Obama rhetoric in 2012. It forced me to realize we were losing common ground and I began to wonder, Is there an idea with the power to capture us enough to lay aside polarizing bombs? Are we doomed to the hyper-political every two years, driven to seek solace anywhere – in political newcomers or billionaires (remembering Bloomberg) who attempt to “buy” the election? Might we ever realize the dream of life free of crushing election cycles and endless ads?
Maybe Google / AI will save us by deciding for us, our votes not so free after all.
I’m the arm-chair amateur with an idea about the Idea that held us together and could again if we would hear it. That idea is freedom: freedom to do as one should, not merely as one might wish to do.
Unconstrained freedom is a pipers’ dream with followers, betimes, among all. Life has stubborn constraints, so we painfully learn freedom must be earned. The protester’s sign, “Sworn to fun; loyal to none” leads nowhere fast.
Behind it all is the question of who guarantees such freedom. If we have rights, someone has to be responsible. Policemen must keep the beat, judges must act with integrity, we all must have the strength of will to insist on things like free speech and “innocent until proven guilty.” And we have to defend ourselves against enemies “foreign and domestic.”
This idea of freedom, earned and maintained through responsible, vigilant living – is a treasure worth living and dying for. It is the founding idea of our nation, the jewel the constitution intends to protect.
But we have mission fatigue. We are losing the will to insist on freedom. This is demonstrated not least by our national debt, a mind-numbing amount north of 32,000 billion dollars. If we had 2000 years to repay, interest free, the monthly payment would be well over one billion dollars.
This is alarming in the extreme and undercuts freedom, because debt always does exactly that. Without financial strength and agility we are vulnerable. However, the lack of will that got us here is the deeper problem.
Can we endure through this difficulty? Will there emerge a unifying idea with the power to carry us? I think so, but it may not be freedom. The idea that unites a vulnerable nation may well be security. If our leaders – or God forbid – the leaders of an invading nation can promise security we may take it, a bowl of poor porridge to replace the dying heritage of freedom.
I still believe in freedom – personal and national. But we will lose freedom if we fail to pay its price in personal responsibility and determined fortitude. This means paying our bills, providing for our own, caring for our neighbor. And it means we lay aside our polarizing swords. This last is not entirely possible, for persons with opposing primary ideas can never be agreed. But we have to try, for our political rivals are likely our neighbors.
And so I ask, “What can hold us together?” It is not freedom as some self-created right, but rather it is the very ways of life that are necessary to establish and maintain such a treasure. I want freedom for all of us, but I feel the fatigue. We will lose it if we do not lean in to doing what is right. A few good places to start:
- Speak truth with humility, knowing you do not see all things clearly.
- Refuse to see the world solely through a political grid, but have patience with those who do.
- Strive for self-reliance, in part so you can help those who cannot help themselves.
In all this I find a landing point in the timeless edict of St. Paul in the New Testament: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.” (I Thess. 4:11)
That’s a tall order, a simple way, hard for most of us to accept, but nonetheless a prerequisite for true freedom. I want to learn it, for the good of my family and community, and for the hope of our nation.
I hope you do, too.
Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.