There’s been some furor over NBC political news director Chuck Todd’s description of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the other day. You can watch the segment below:
The flak Todd is catching is legitimate: he is expressing the very liberal (and very wrong) concept of government and liberty; to wit, that individual rights and freedoms are granted by the government. The fact is that the Founding Fathers established the Constitution to limit the powers of the government, even going so far as including the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited it by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people“) in the Bill of Rights. It also fits with the very declaration that created the nation to begin with (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“).
If what Chuck Todd was saying – that our rights come from government, and so therefore government can remove those rights as it chooses – was actually considered radical by the media establishment, the outrage be deafening. Sadly, the media establishment is overrun with liberals. Liberal dogma, which depends on the idea that people are subservient to government, fully accepts Todd’s characterization. Indeed, it lionizes it. The outrage response is not to Todd’s remarks, but to articles like this one.
I wasn’t going to bother to commenting on the entire thing. After all, it’s just another illustration of the fundamental divide between conservatives and liberals. You can’t reconcile that basic difference – conservatives know that rights do not come from government and liberals feel that they should. But then, something happened in my own life that brought this problem to the fore.
My brother-in-law works long, hard hours at his job and to help him out, my wife and I have been watching my 13 year old nephew from the time he gets done with school until her brother gets home from work. This also means I get to help him with his homework. The subjects he usually asks for help with are the three I’ve always been comfortable with: math, science and history (or in the modern vernacular, social studies). Yesterday, he asked if he could quiz me on the stuff he learned in history that day. It’s a little game we play – he’s a bright kid and he tries to catch me with trick questions. To my surprise he broke out a pocket Constitution and asked, “What are the rights given by the First Amendment?”.
I told him none. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly – but it doesn’t give them to anyone.
Now, ordinarily I would be ecstatic that the very basics of our government are being taught in our schools. Civics is a subject that is not given nearly enough study by our youth. But his reaction to my answer might have me rethinking that position. You see, he was shocked – astonished, even – by it. Then he said, “But my teacher said our rights come from the Constitution.”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been angered by that. I mean, textbooks are written by liberals, curriculum are designed by liberals, and most of our educators are liberals. But that such drivel is being taught had me seething. To my nephew’s credit, he was able to follow along as I outlined how the Constitution does not grant rights, but was written to ensure the government protects rights. But the fact that I spent 90 minutes deleting the programming the liberal establishment was implanting in one impressionable 13 year old not only angered me, it frightened me.
This is the problem with liberal academics today. Rather than an exploration of ideas, it has become a process of indoctrination into the liberal world view. Even though my nephew’s pocket Constitution included the Declaration of Independence, his class hadn’t covered it. They hadn’t even read it – and in fact, had been told not to. Educators have figured a novel way of turning the Constitution in on itself, in a version of double-speak that would leave even Orwell breathless.
If we are not having our kids explore the very foundations of the government they’ll soon be entrusted with guiding, what are we inviting? The answer to that is also self-evident: a subversion of the very country our forebears worked so hard to create and preserve. The liberal dream realized: the fairest, most equal society in history, with the rights you deserve provided by a benevolent government.
Of course, we’ve seen that movie before, thousands of times. It was the underpinning of the French Revolution, complete with guillotines for those who would not accept the government’s benevolence. It girded the Soviet Union’s gulags, the reeducation camps in Maoist China, the chaos in the streets of Venezuela. It was the result our founders feared – and from what I’m see happening today, the one I’m afraid we’re fast headed towards.
This morning’s post about being a Libertarian raised questions among the readership (thanks for the feedback, by the way) and I thought one in particular needed addressing. It came from a Twitter follower who wanted to know how I, an unabashed Christian and social conservative, can also be an unabashed Libertarian. On first blush, I understand how there is a seeming dichotomy in the two philosophies. The confusion, I think, stems from not understanding how classical liberalism and classic Protestantism influence Libertarian thinking.
As defined today, liberalism invokes the idea that government is the only organization capable of providing social cohesion. Religion, family and community each play a role, but in the end it is the government that must be the glue that keeps society from coming apart. This view – call it modern liberalism – is currently the predominant one in western society. The “enlightened oligarchy” of this model actually isn’t far removed from the “enlightened monarchy” that dominated that dominated European governments in the latter half of the 18th century. It also hews closely to various themes that come to bear in the mid-20th century, in which government control over most or all aspects of social order were encouraged: Socialism, fascism and communism.
However, classical liberalism as practiced in the upper-echelon salons of Western Europe and mainstream American life in the same period held that each institution worked in combination to create a stable society. In this model, government is just another player along with religion, family and community in creating a just and stable society. Classical liberalism, as opposed to modern liberalism (or perhaps, “progressivism” is a more apt term), holds that individual rights outweigh those of the society – provided the individual is a just and moral being. If not, then each of the various factions that comprise a society; the churches, the schools, the community organizations, the family and friends and yes, the government, has a role to play in returning the individual to that place of moral rectitude.
“The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained… While just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords government its surest support.” –George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 20, 1789
Although the nation’s creation included the indispensability of a moral citizenry, the founders further outlined the necessity for religion and governance playing separate yet equal roles in public life by purposely cleaving the two. Government would have no role in determining religious affairs and (other than informing the moral character of the citizenry) religion would have no say in the body politic. They codified the principle in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids the government from establishing a national religion or interfering in any religious activity. Moral character may be important, but it is not so important that the government should decide that which is moral. Rather, the government should be informed of that which is moral by the decisions of plebiscite, which in turn should be informed by the communities’ religious institutions.
This reliance on indirect morality in government is how I can be both a Libertarian and socially conservative. It is not the government’s job to dictate morality; that is best left to me, my personal relationship with Jesus Christ and my spiritual mentorship from my church. The moral and religious beliefs I hold will, by nature, play a part in how I vote and participate in the political theater. But the place to make the arguments for those positions is not in the political arena, but the spiritual: in the pews and pulpits, not the halls of Congress.
To put it more plainly: it is not the role of religion to decide the affairs of government and it is not the role of government to decide the affairs of religion. This principle has been a cornerstone of the American Republic since the founding. As JFK said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” That many of my fellow social conservatives see fit to now overthrow this essential precept of American republicanism speaks more to their insecurity and unwillingness to engage the populace in true debate over morality – rather, they would impose it by means of government impression. That is antithetical to the teachings they claim to uphold. Christ wants a conversion of souls, not an enslaved people. In the same way, we should look to create a nation of free minds, not coerced opinions.
Libertarianism and social conservatism are more than compatible. Since both teach that the best way to a society that can absorb the worst while coming through with our individual best, they are mutually supportive.