“It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.”
Our nation needs wise and virtuous leaders who speak and do what is right. We also need wise and virtuous citizens who do what is right. Because America is, for the time being, a constitutional republic, the citizens of our country have the power to elect leaders who will serve with character and competence.
But that means people must untether from self-interest and partisan politics and support the right leaders, not politicians promoted by the establishment machinery. That is one of the great challenge that faces America.
I have been reading Os Guinness’ most recent book, Last Call for Liberty, and it issues a clear warning to every citizen and every leader in America. Guinness is British, and he is a brilliant researcher and sociologist. He is also a deeply committed Christian. The observations and challenges he presents are sobering and grounded in both facts and wisdom.
Keep in mind that Guinness is no alarmist. He is a disciplined student of history as well as a keen observer of American life. Here is an excerpt that summarizes his core message and warning to the people of America:
“Baron de Montesquieu noted in his eighteenth-century classic The Spirit of the Laws that free societies require a combination of the structures of freedom and the spirit of freedom. But these two things rarely travel in tandem for long. The structures of freedom supply the outer framework of freedom and include such things as a wise constitution, good laws, and such foundational notions as the rule of law and the right to personal property. But they are not the heart of freedom, as some who focus on them alone seem to think. They are only the external framework.
When carefully designed and laid down well, these structures of freedom provide an indispensable setting for freedom, and they can be counted on to last for a considerable time. But by themselves they are not enough.
The heart of freedom is what Montesquieu calls “the spirit of freedom.” His great disciple Alexis de Tocqueville famously called it the “habits of the heart.” The spirit of freedom concerns the attitudes and convictions that grow from the foundations of human freedom itself.
First, there must be the foundational faith that grounds and guarantees that we are indeed free. Second, there must be the respect that is prepared to grant similar freedom for others. And third, there must be the responsible self-restraint that issues from self-rule or mastery of the self, which issues in turn to the “obedience to the unenforceable” that true freedom requires. When such a spirit of freedom flourishes, it makes policing and extra levels of law and regulations redundant.
The trouble is that while this spirit of freedom is essential, it is neither easy nor durable. Such a spirit, or such habits of the heart, must be cultivated afresh in every citizen and in every generation. An open fire needs a hearth and a grate, but a hearth and a grate provide no warmth unless the wood in it is lit, logs are added and kept burning, and the fire is constantly stoked.
Like such a fire, the spirit of freedom is not self-fueling. It has to be inspired and passed on from leaders to followers, from parents to children, from teachers to students, and from generation to generation, and it has to be constantly kept alive through a myriad of symbols, celebrations, and reminders.
Unless this spirit of freedom is transmitted successfully, including civic education, the structures of freedom simply cannot keep freedom healthy by themselves.
Americans, take note: It is naive to think that freedom will survive through relying on the U.S. Constitution alone. Unless the spirit of freedom is kept burning brightly in every generation, American freedom will die.
Freedom requires the cultivation of the habits of the heart and the self-control that they empower. Any nation may keep its constitution in place for a long time, may keep its armies in a state of constant readiness, and may multiply laws endlessly in a well-meaning attempt to hedge freedom around in countless ways.
But all that will amount to nothing if freedom’s foundation wears thin, the self-mastery of the citizens slackens and frays, and the habits of their hearts cool off and die. A huge part of America’s present troubles can be illuminated by that single principle alone. The ancient maxim runs “Who is mighty?” Not one who can conquer his enemies but the “one who can conquer himself.” Obedience to the unenforceable and the self-mastery of emotions, thought, and speech are not exactly America’s strongest suit today.”
Powerful insights from Os Guinness! He makes it clear that our nation is fast approaching a crossroad. A defining moment. A point of no return. May the people of God be the agents of change who rekindle and rediscover the spirit of freedom in our nation.
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28)