by Joseph Pearce
Liberty itself must be limited in order to be possessed.- Edmund Burke
Anarchy, Freedom’s own Judas, the vile prodigal License who steals the gold of liberty- Oscar Wilde
In an age that seems to believe that Christianity is an obstacle to liberty, it will prove provocative to insist, contrary to such belief, that Christian faith is essential to liberty’s very existence. Yet, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to disciples of the progressivist zeitgeist, it must be insisted that faith enshrines freedom. Without the shrine that faith erects to freedom the liberties that we take for granted will be eroded and ultimately destroyed. Faith preserves freedom. It protects it. It insists upon it. Where there is faith there is freedom. Where faith falters, so does freedom. This truth, so uncomfortably perplexing for so many of our contemporaries, was encapsulated by G. K. Chesterton when he asserted that “the modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital. It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom.”One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God, it doesn’t matter if people are black or white, healthy or sick, able-bodied or handicapped, or whether babies are inside the womb or out of it. It doesn’t matter that people are different, in terms of race, age or innate abilities; they are all equal in the eyes of God and, therefore, of necessity, in the eyes of Man also. This is the priceless inheritance of Christendom with which our freedoms are established and maintained. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God and Man, everyone must also be equal in the eyes of the law.
If, however, the equality of man is denied, freedom is imperiled. The belief of Nietzsche, adopted by the Nazis, that humanity consists of übermenschen and untermenschen, the “over-men” and the “under-men”, led to people being treated as subhuman, worthy of extermination and victims of genocide. The progressivist belief of Hegel, adopted by Marx and his legion of disciples, that a rationalist dialectic, mechanistically determined, governs the progress of humanity, led to the deterministic inhumanity of communism and the slaughter of those deemed to be enemies of “progress”. The French Revolution, an earlier incarnation of atheistic progressivism and the progenitor of communism, had led to the invention of the guillotine as the efficient and effective instrument of the Great Terror and its rivers of blood. The gas chamber, the Gulag and the guillotine are the direct consequence of the failure to uphold the Christian concept of human equality and the freedom it enshrines. In our own time, the same failure to accept and uphold human equality has led to babies in the womb being declared subhuman, or untermenschen, without any protection in law from their being killed at the whim of their mothers.
Apart from the connection between freedom and equality, the other aspect of freedom enshrined by Christianity is the freedom of the will and the consequences attached to it. If we are free to act and are not merely slaves to instinct as the materialists claim, we have to accept that we are responsible for our choices and for their consequences.
Before proceeding to the paradoxical relationship between freedom and responsibility, let’s return to the philosophical ramifications of materialism, which is to say the removal of God from the picture of reality. Materialists are forced, if they are honest enough to follow the logic of their own first principles, to believe that none of us are free but that we are all slaves to our biologically determined instincts. For all such materialists, commonly known in today’s jargon as the new atheists, there is no such thing as freedom. It is an illusion. Considering the historical record of old atheists, such as the terrorists of the French Revolution, the communist revolution and the Third Reich, it is not likely that these new atheists, with their belief that we are all slaves to our genes, will prove any better in the defence of freedom. Why should they defend something that they don’t believe exists?
In contrast to the atheists’ philosophical acceptance of slavery, the insistence of Christians that we are all equal and that we all possess free will can be seen as truly liberating. Yet the paradoxical reality is that freedom is not free. It comes at a price. As already stated, freedom is inseparable from responsibility. If we want to reap the rewards of our good choices we must be prepared to pay the cost of our bad ones. It is for this reason that Edmund Burke insisted, quite correctly, that liberty must be limited in order to be possessed. If liberty is not limited it will be lost, or, to put the matter another way, the taking of liberties by some leads to the taking of liberties from others. Rapists and murderers and thieves should expect to pay heavily for the abuse of their freedom and for the taking of the freedom of those with whom they took liberties.
This is all very well and may be taken to be self-evident. Yet the whole of contemporary society and the whole of contemporary politics seem to be based on a denial of this fact. On the so-called “left” of the political spectrum the philosophy of the libertine is in the ascendant. This is the belief that we should be able to do what we like with our bodies and the bodies of others and to hell with the consequences. If we become pregnant, we can kill the baby. If children are abused by dysfunctional parents doing their own thing in dysfunctional relationships, so be it. Nothing, least of all children in the womb or in the home, must get in the way of the right of “adults” to do what they want with their lives and their bodies. Children are the new untermenschen. Broken in mind by the broken homes and broken relationships of their libertine parents, they are the forgotten ones. They are voteless and voiceless in a culture of death in which they are increasingly seen as an expensive inconvenience. This was the sense in which Oscar Wilde lamented that anarchy was Freedom’s own Judas, betraying liberty with a lustful kiss.
So much for the libertines of the so-called “left”. On the so-called “right”, as a so-called alternative to left-wing libertines, are the right-wing libertarians, who support the freedom of pornographers to corrupt everyone they touch, the freedom of drug pushers to deal death to vulnerable youngsters, and the freedom of global corporations to rule the world unhampered by political or economic constraint.
The libertines believe in Big Government to ensure that they can continue to take liberties by taking the liberties of others, specifically in recent years by taking the liberties of Christians who wish to live in accordance with their anti-libertine consciences. The libertarians, on the other hand, believe that Big Business should be left free to use the bullying powers of the economies of scale to destroy small businesses. Libertarians believe that huge corporations should be free to take liberties by taking the liberties of small corporations, turning downtown into ghost-town.
Faced with the choice between the libertine and the libertarian we should echo the words of Mercutio and call down a curse upon both their houses. Instead of choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, or Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, we should choose the faith that leads to true and lasting freedom. After all, as an idiot once said in an entirely different context, we have nothing to lose but our chains.
Joseph Pearce, is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and writer in residence at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, is the author of eighteen books. His works include: G.K. Chesterton: Wisdom and Innocence, Literary Converts, Tolkien: Man and Myth, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, The Quest for Shakespeare and Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc. Mr. Pearce has four new books due to be published fall 2013. He is the series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions, which focuses on traditional readings of the classics of world literature; he is also executive director of Catholic Courses, and editor of the St. Austin Review. Mr. Pearce has hosted two thirteen-part television series for EWTN on Shakespeare’s Catholicism, and is in the midst of filming special documentaries for EWTN on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings.