November 4, 2014


The Future of the Tradition of Liberty (Peter Lawler, 11/04/14, Intellectual Conservative)

 I'm going to limit myself to some stuff I learned (or remembered) about liberty over the week.

1. The singular (classic) Greek contribution to liberty is freedom of the mind. That means, more or less, the freedom of Socrates.

2. Well, there's also the freedom of the citizen. The freedom to participate in ruling and so be more than a merely material or economic or tribal or familial being.

3. There's also the freedom connected with moral virtue. That's a proud and rational freedom from necessity that's more particular than being philosophic (which requires completely getting over or dying to yourself) and merely being a citizen. This freedom is elevated by the Stoics, and it's displayed by the virtues of courage, generosity, and magnanimity. This virtue found its place in America in Southern Stoicism, in George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and (the fictional) Atticus Finch. But it was also displayed by Lincoln.

4. The Greek view of liberty, from our view, was never personal enough. The tendency of the Greeks is to see particular persons as merely parts, as parts of nature or parts of the city.

5. Christian liberty is found in the being made in the image of the free, loving, and relational logos of the personal Creator. The creature retains his personal identity even in his loving relationship with God; he neither dies to himself (as does the philosopher) nor discovers he is merely part of some divine or natural cosmos. It's from the Christians that we learn that all men and women are equal under God, and that each person has a unique and irreplaceable dignity. It's owing to the Christians that government becomes limited because we are all more than citizens. And this religious freedom is "relational freedom," and so it's displayed in the organized body of thought and action called the church. The Christians criticize the natural and civil theologies of the Greeks and Romans for understanding us as less than who each of us is as a free person. It's also from the Christians that we get the idea of the irreducible personal inwardness called freedom of conscience.

For the reasons we discuss here, I think that gives the Greeks and Romans too little credit and Christians too much. The great contribution of Christianity is to remove the questions of equality and freedom from the political realm and make them moral imperatives. Our republican liberty is simply grounded more firmly than theirs was.  

Posted by at November 4, 2014 7:31 PM

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