True and False Freedom

It has been said before but it bears repeating: the progressive ethos of liberation of all, from all, is death. The progressive worldview has at its core but a single guiding principle—libertinism; that man should endure no restraints and suffer no constraints save those that upon himself he enforces. In a word, he should be free, yet as de Tocqueville famously wrote, “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.” The progressive ignores the fact that the sort of freedom so cherished is impossible; everything operates within the confines of its respective natural order.

A tree could no sooner become a rock than a person becomes a beast. Even in the vacuum of space, no object is free from the consequences of previous actions and the confines of physics. If a football were to be ever so gently released, it would not remain; rather, it would begin to spin and rotate according to the force with which it was released and within whatever gravitational field it was caught. Nothing is free; echoing Aquinas’s Quinque Viae, everything is a consequence of a previous action. Nothing can move of itself, but rather needs someone or something to have moved it. Every movement or action is the consequence of a previous movement or action. Again, nothing is free, but is instead restricted to only that which came before.

The progressive mindset, however, says otherwise, namely that man is moored only to those bonds he chooses and thus is free to do as he chooses, that what came before has no import beyond that which he allows to rule his actions. Ensnared by his unbridled lust for freedom, man has been enslaved by the very freedom he so desires. Freedom may be thought of as his One Ring—seemingly subservient but in the end sovereign. Consider the following: despite being home to a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. still consumes 80 percent of the world’s painkillers, and 99 percent of its hydrocodone (Vicodin). Furthermore, as Timothy Lusch points out, suicide rates in the U.S. have reached a 30-year high, with increases across the all demographics save the elderly. These are not moderate increases, either. For example, the rate for girls ages 10-14 have tripled. Society pursues greater freedom, believing freedom to be synonymous with happiness, yet these troubling statistics are not in keeping with a happy society.

How can this be? The answer is simple. The West has bought into the lie that freedom is life without restraint, that such a life is good, and that there can be no negative consequences from something good. With reckless abandon the governments of the West have sought to remove what they view as the shackles that have kept man from his naturally given freedom because by so doing man will have no obstacle to happiness and pleasure but himself. Social, sexual, and ethical mores that have stood for a thousand years have come crashing down around those who still celebrate their truth. Traditional views have been replaced because they are seen as the reason for man’s unhappiness. It is because marriage is confined to one man and one woman; because success requires hard work and ethical behavior; because some people still hold to unenlightened views about things like gender; because of a patriarchal society that tells women what they can and cannot do with the life growing within them—for these and many other reasons man is unhappy. By eliminating such antiquated notions of morality, man will finally be free!

This distorted view of freedom leads to suffering. Open to his freedom, man comes to see that his desire for a libertine life in which meaning is assigned rather than inherent, is empty. He has gazed into the gaping maw and seen that nothingness awaits. Broken by what he has seen, he falls further into their vices, believing the answer is still more freedom. He cannot accept that his desires led to his destruction, and so he pursues them to a greater degree, and a greater degree beyond that in the hopes that one day, surely, he will find the joy of freedom. He has become addicted to his pursuit of freedom, and so has become enslaved by it.

Perhaps one of the most unpopular points one can attempt to make in modern times is that true freedom—freedom that is beautiful, good, and true—requires limits. A child without limits soon becomes spoiled and, if left uncorrected, grows into a reckless, irresponsible, and abusive adult. A field that is left untended soon becomes overgrown with weeds and brambles choking out the wheat. To the extent that man is a natural being, he proceeds according the laws of nature, one such law being that the health of anything requires some sort of maintenance, some manner of regulation.

The brilliant Malcolm Muggeridge has his say on such matters as these. Having looked at the decisions being made by Western society, he began to draw certain conclusions. Let us savor for a moment a clear articulation of how we achieved our own undoing:

So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over—a weary, battered old brontosaurus—and became extinct.

It may feel as if the last exit off the road to ruin has long since passed, but Western Man is not yet abolished. Whilst there is time, there is hope, and for we who call ourselves children of God, there is hope even when there is none. It may be that our role is to offer the Truth to the world as if to a wall or a tree. So be it. We are not called necessarily to be successful. We are only called to proclaim the Kingdom. Noah told his neighbors that a flood was coming, and he was mocked for it, but it was he who heard their cries for mercy from without the Ark as he and his own slowly rose with the waters. Jesus tells his disciples to go from town to town preaching the good word, and should a disciple encounter a home that is unwelcoming to the Truth, not to lament their unbelief or rally the courts to their cause, but rather to kick the dust off of his feet and move on. The Son of Man will come, as he says, like a thief in the night, on a day and at a time that none save the Father knows. There is no time to get bogged down in lament over unbelief. We must celebrate and encourage those people and communities where the Truth has taken root, where it flourishes. The Truth shall set us free, and only in this sense will we ever know true freedom.

I will conclude with the words of our Lord, as it sums up this line of thought rather well.

 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” (Matt. 13:27)

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Jeremy A. Kee

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Jeremy A. Kee writes from Dallas, Texas, where he also serves as a manuscripts editor for a local university. He is, as well, the founder and editor of Further-In.com. His writings have appeared at The Imaginative Conservative, Real Clear Politics, and The Daily Caller, among others.

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