My good friend, known here as Draagynden, has commissioned me to write an article on the Cult of America, i.e. those things which give America its particular national character. I am still a ways off from completing this task. After all, all the writers here write about facets of this cult, but this article must contain the most concentrated summary of it. In the present article, I should like to write about the central tenet of the cult of America: ordered liberty. This very Christian concept claims that one is free to choose from a variety of good things but not evil things and that freedom is found even in self-control and the performance of duty.
What brought this subject foremost to my mind was a discussion I had on Twitter with a libertarian. (It was the most congenial I have had there and most likely the most congenial I ever will there on the subject of politics.) The libertarian asked to which questions I disagreed on the World’s Smallest Political Quiz. You see, my disagreements placed me right on the line between conservative and libertarian: 1) “Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft”; 2) “There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults”; 3) “Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs”; and 4) “End government barriers to international free trade.” I shall not go into our argument on these issues, but it became apparent to me that libertarianism does not include a civic ethic. The libertarian wishes to maximize individual freedom at the cost of the welfare of the community.
Conservatism holds a place between libertarianism and progressivism in that it wishes to find a balance between individual liberty and duty to community. The libertarian wants a liberty which becomes license, and the progressive wants citizens to completely submit to the state. As a point of fact, both license and this utter submission to the state reduce people to slavery: the first to one’s selfish passions and the second to people who think they can rule your life for you. After all, virtue is located between two vices, either of which deprive one of freedom and happiness.
Aristotle tells us that the primary desire of man is to be happy. Happiness combines enjoying goods and enjoying oneself. The latter expression is mostly used when people are at play, but I mean to say that one must enjoy being oneself. Thus, we have so many programs dedicated to self-improvement. People don’t want to be dumb, so they study; don’t want to be weak, so they exercise; don’t want to be vexatious to others, so they practice politeness; and do not wish to be vicious, so they practice virtue. This focus on creating the best kind of self and enjoying one’s talents is the first part of happiness. It is also essential for the greatest external good: friends. Those who don’t improve on themselves don’t love themselves. When one does not love oneself, one cannot love other people.
And so, the development of virtue is essential to one’s own happiness. From this fact, conservatives draw many of the laws which are unpopular with libertarians. Let’s take the draft, for example. I and many others are disqualified from regular military service because we are too fat and weak. (I’m trying to improve though!) But, in a national emergency where such standards were dropped, we should willingly submit to being drafted and enduring a spartan diet and extra exercise in boot camp until we were not so fat and weak. Then, we should give our all on the battle line. We would do this because we love our country. That someone would not wish to endure suffering and the threat of death for the love of their country strikes us as shocking cowardice and self-absorption.
And so with the other three categories I mentioned above: sexual dissipation ruins the character, so pornography, prostitution, polygamy, and gay marriage ought to be illegal and sexual immorality frowned upon; drug use–even with already legal drugs–has the potential to ruin one’s character and frame, so there ought to be limits on what drugs are available–though their temperate use left to individuals; and certain countries are obnoxious or hostile to us or our allies, therefore certain legitimate barriers to free trade exist. The kinds of laws and limitations expressed above revolve on the idea that fellow citizens are responsible to one another. We are united in the community and stand or fall together.
And so, ordered liberty is also described as liberty under the law. Even though the law cannot legislate complete moral rectitude, it can prescribe certain duties and prohibit certain acts. These laws are among the most formative in creating a strong natural character and enforcing the idea that freedom is found first in virtue. People strive after virtue so that they can resist both the passions–our greatest enemies in enjoying the blessings of life–and the attempts of the federal government to impose tyrannical laws upon us. From this striving, we hope to gain the best blessings of God, the joy of our friends and family, and to leave behind the greatest gift a man can hope to offer posterity: a good character.