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Freedom & Law
Why we need Both
F. Earle Fox
The piece below is a response to a Christian libertarian who
as arguing for a freedom without government.
I think you are wrong about pure
liberty being a good thing -- by pure liberty you mean the "right" to do
whatever you wish - with no moral or legal constraints. Nowhere in
Scripture is it indicated that God authorizes pure, unadulterated liberty.
He clearly "orders" our liberty by His commands, does He not? And the
primary order is that of love, as Jesus tells us in Matt. 22. The command
to care about Him and our neighbors, to work for our neighbors' welfare,
even at great cost to ourselves. We do not typically order ourselves that
way without strong discipline.
First of all, if there is a "right"
to freedom, then others have the obligation
to honor that right, or the right is meaningless. And obligation is an
intrusion into "pure" liberty. Anyone's right presupposes obligations on
others to honor that right. And obligations mean laws.
A friend and I were discussing
yesterday some issues, and the notion came up that unless the First
Amendment is there, the rest of the amendments are meaningless and cannot
exist. They all depend on the prior and therefore higher law and
law-Giver. There followed the notion that that is why the First Commandment
is the first. Unless we are first commanded to honor God, our creator and
sovereign, there can be no principle of lower laws or obligations (i.e., the
other 9 commandments). In other words, without the law of God, there is no
law at all, no obligation, no right to command, no obligation to obey
commands. Life is all a crap shoot, and the devil take the hindmost. It is
all power struggle. Without some "order", we have chaos -- the ability to
choose, with no directive as to what to choose.
The command of God represents
our reason for existence (go to
the definition of the word 'ought' as emerging from our reason for
existence) How can liberty not be dangerous without moral constraint? And
is not moral constraint the foundation of all legitimate government?
Do we not in fact legislate our morality? How can liberty (which you
defend) be distinguished from license (which you reject) if liberty is
not ordered by the law of God -- i.e., reason for existence?
ability to do whatever we want, is a
capacity (not a virtue, as you assert) all of its own, that is the meaning
of freewill. But is not that quite different from the
right to do whatever we want? And is not
the ability rightly constrained
by our obligations to fulfill our
reason for existence, which, I think, is the very meaning of the law?
The desire (not the ability) to do right is the
virtue. Having an ability to do what I want is no guarantee at all
that we will do the right. Our reason for existence can come only from the
creator of our existence, as a logical fact. Without that reason given and
revealed to us, we are totally at sea in dealing with our totalitarian
selves and totalitarian governments. We have no moral principle by which to
call them "wrong".
You echo one of the founding
fathers -- if men were angels, we would need no government. That is not
so. We would still be needing to know what our reason for existence might
be. We cannot (as a logical fact) invent our own. We can get it only from
our Creator, and that is the basis of all legitimate government. Government
is not an optional extra in a world with freewill creatures.
We might not need "civil"
government (which is all about coercive force) -- if we all knew and obeyed
our reason for existence, if we were all obedient angels. But we
would still need the government of God, would we not? And does not His
government over us give the needed order to our freedom?
We are not born angels,
it is by both the law and grace of God that we become angels.
You say: "Libertarians
recognize that government should not be used to inculcate virtue.
Libertarians also recognize that the government cannot inculcate virtue.
This is the Biblical position. The Law condemns. Only Love and Grace
inculcate virtue. Grace is the opposite of the coercive sword.
I disagree that government should not be "used" to
inculcate virtue. The very existence of just laws is a powerful
teaching about virtue. Virtue cannot be forced on people. If that is
what you mean, I agree. But, though law condemns, it also directs
toward the Kingdom. And the highest law is all about grace - i.e.,
love. Only God is capable of uniting law and grace. No human
being and no Godless civil government is capable of doing so. Only
Godly governments can, run by persons who understand and are committed
to the law and grace of God. That would be my idea of a Christian
And then you say, "Thus, liberty
is its own reward. There is no trade-off between liberty and license.
And it’s not merely the ability to do what I ought – because each man is
dictated to, by his conscience, to serve Elohim, some other god, or no
god at all. In every instance, my liberty is someone else’s license, and
vice versa. But so long as my neighbor’s liberty “neither picks my
pocket, nor breaks my leg,” then we agree to permit each other to engage
in license. "
But you take
away what you were giving. "..each man is dictated to by his
conscience..." Is not that God ordering our liberty? And then, "But
so long as my neighbor's liberty....." That is another qualification
on pure freedom -- an order, is it not? You are agreeing to permit each
other to engage in ordered
extended commentary, see also,
The Law & the
Grace of God
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Date Posted - 12/10/2008 - Date
Last Edited -