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Liberty secured by right

[Comment on John Stossel’s article “Students for Liberty“, 2/19/2014]

The Constitution nowhere says that the aim of government is to secure liberty. It is the blessings of liberty it refers to, which formulation implies that liberty also has attendant curses. In consonance with this, the Declaration of Independence says that governments are instituted to secure unalienable rights, with liberty listed as one of them. In Federalist 51 Madison says that “justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”

Liberty appears to be an aspect of justice, since it is included among the unalienable rights, which are actions or activities that accord with right as endowed by God in the law that governs human nature as it governs nature as a whole., But while the sphere of justice includes liberty, it extends to other rightful activities as well, with the consequence that uses of liberty that do not respect the right involved in those activities (i.e., abuses of liberty) are not rights but injustices (curses?).

Limited government therefore means government limited by respect for the right, as God gives us (endows us) to see the right, (as Lincoln put it.) Because on all sides either a shallow, incomplete understanding of Declaration principle has prevailed, or its acknowledgement of God’s authority has been rejected, the Constitution based on Declaration principle is failing. The Founders expected as much. It was Adams, I think, who said that the Constitution was framed for a moral and a religious people. and is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Since no other political experiment in human history has ever extended liberty to the general populace so successfully as the U.S. Constitution, people who really care for liberty ought to be thinking about how best to restore respect for its moral premises in the United States. Otherwise, pretending that liberty can survive as an end in itself apart from such respect for right and justice (as some self-styled libertarians do), will lead, or rather is leading, to the very sacrifice of liberty Madison predicted.


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