Dear friends and supporters:
Lord Acton’s best-known aphorism is, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But he had another, more momentous saying: “Liberty has not subsisted outside of Christianity.” Christianity alone secures liberty is all areas of life, political included. To lack the Faith is to lack liberty, and to lose the Faith is eventually to lose liberty.
It is a bold claim. It is a true claim. As the West assimilated Christianity it developed economic liberty ( = free markets). By contrast, today’s contra-Christian world is a contra-liberty world. A political virus has paralleled the coronavirus. That political virus was possible (no, inevitable) because of the West’s departure from Christianity.
Liberty, the New Dirty Word
The New York Times’ Charlie Warzel wrote an article titled “Protesting for the Freedom to Catch the Coronavirus.” His point is that the protests to the politically coerced lockdown are spearheaded by serial conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Warzel and others of the commentariat often depict public citizens’ resistance to the virtual lockdown as, in his language, “the modern far-right’s donor-funded, shock jock-led liberty movement” embracing a “perverted liberty ideology [emphases supplied)].” Never mind that Alex Jones as an outrageous self-caricature is the easiest Left-wing target in the nation. Never mind that protesters could have been motivated (some probably were) by the likes of Brit Hume of FOX News and Andrew McCarthy of National Review, hardly rabble-rousing conspiracy theorists. The idea that the much-criticized Michigan lockdown protest was dominated by Confederate-flag-waving racists is simply false, as Rich Lowry proves.
No matter who is to blame, the problem for the commentariat is the “liberty movement,” Americans with the audacity to believe that politics isn’t the first and obvious solution to social problems, even in crises like COVID-19, and that while government has a vital supporting role in free societies, it becomes a Leviathan when it elbows every other institution and individuals off the stage — these Americans are the problem.
Count me as a vocal proponent of the liberty movement. It has plenty of powerful enemies.
The Ruling Class and the Anointed
Opposition to the liberty movement is equally opposition to what Angelo Codevilla has called The Country Class, which resents The Ruling Class. The Ruling Class consists of academically credentialed (not to be confused with well-educated) urban elite who have wormed their way into or been installed in the halls of centralized cultural power (national politics, mainstream media, major foundations) and who are convinced that running the country and its culture is their meritocratic right and calling. Codevilla calls the rest of society — those who don’t assume they possess the gifts and virtue and altruism (all code for: hubris) to dictate what everybody else must believe and how they must behave — as the Country Class. The Ruling Class versus the Country Class.
Thomas Sowell uses the language “The Anointed” to describe the Ruling Class. The Anointed consider the vast citizenry unqualified to decide for themselves and, therefore, assume that “surrogate decision-makers” — the smart, the wise, the altruistic, and above all, the humble, that is, people like themselves — are alone qualified to decide on the vast array of issues confronting a society.
The Warzel NYT article is a textbook example of how committed the Anointed are not to arguing their case, but imposing their agenda. You would think there would be room for considering the liberty movement and not jeering it off the debate stage as some backwater knee-jerk reaction by red-state dumbbells. In fact, it is the commentariat and their unwillingness (inability?) to argue their case without demonizing the liberty movement that smacks more of anti-intellectual fever-swamp bullying.
The reason the Anointed wish to squash all dissent from the unwashed commoners who simply want be left alone is that they are convinced that their virtue, their brilliance, and, most of all, their humility towers over everyone else’s, and as God’s gift to the world, they should be permitted to run it without interference.
There is nothing remotely Christian about the Anointed and the Ruling Class.
Liberty and the Bible
A quick look at a foundational truth in the Bible proves this. Man’s chief earthly calling disclosed to man at creation is the cultural mandate:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26–28)
Man’s primal creational calling is to serve as God’s deputy, stewarding the world for his glory. This is called the cultural mandate because culture is the creative human interaction with creation. Creation was good, but it was not everything God intended it to be. God intended man to bring his creative powers to creation and develop it, bringing greater glory to him. H. Henry Meeter eloquently stated the eschatological dimension of this cultural mandate:
Culture is the execution of this divinely imposed mandate. In his cultural task man is to take the raw materials of this universe and subdue them, make them serve his purpose and bring them to nobler and higher levels, thus bringing out the possibilities which are hidden in nature. When thus developed man is to lay his entire cultural product, the whole of creation, at the feet of Him Who is King of man and of nature, in Whose image man and all things are created.
If you think about it, man needs a great deal of liberty to do this. If the state arbitrarily seizes his property, onerously taxes his income, closely monitors his movements, and continually limits his economic exchanges, he simply cannot obey the cultural mandate. The Anointed wish to impinge on the individual’s liberty in creating their collectivist utopia (as defined by them, of course). They forbid what God requires: for deputized man to cultivate the earth for God’s glory. The liberty movement reflects a biblical stress on the kind of human life necessary to fulfill the cultural mandate.
Liberty, Christianity, and the United States
We should not be surprised that the current liberty movement opposing the lockdown and supporting restoring liberty flies American flags and invokes the Founding principles. Its promoters know, intuitively or discursively, that there is something fundamentally un-American about a national political lockdown. The Founders, part of their own liberty movement, fashioned a free society that, even in times of a lethal crisis contagion, refuses to sacrifice its liberty.
This is because their lives and thinking were shaped by the Faith. Not all the Founders were Christian, nor did they intend to form an explicitly Christian nation. They were not forging a Puritan commonwealth, and a few like Jefferson and Franklin were not orthodox Christians at all. However, all of them were influenced by a basic, establishment sort of Christianity, and their views in casting the Great American Experiment were shaped, to a large degree, by Christian convictions.
They were drenched in liberty because they were driven by a Christian mindest. There were and are several facets of that liberty that the current COVID-19 anti-liberty movement brings into sharp relief.
First, the Founders, as classical liberals, believed that a birthright of individuals, as created in God’s image (Gen. 1), includes not just life, but liberty.
The vast majority of political regimes in history believed that the role of what we call the state is to weld together individuals for a strong imperial or collective purpose. The American Founders turned that idea on its head. In a radical reversal, they believed that the goal of civil government is to secure liberty and rights￼ for the individual:
[T]hey [humans] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men ....
For the American Founders, at least, for governments to abandon this purpose is to abandon any justification for their existence.￼
In the COVID-19 drama, the federal government does have a vested interest in protecting life, but it has an equally vital interest in protecting liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Both the federal and state governments have widely trampled on the liberty of millions in a well-intentioned quest to save the lives of thousands.
This isn’t simply un-American; it’s anti-Christian.
The Founders had firsthand experience with religious persecution or with religious de-privileging by the state, and they framed a nation explicitly devoted to religious liberty.
They knew that the Gospel of Christianity doesn’t require the coerciveness of national politics to survive and thrive. They believed that if left in the free market of ideas, Christianity had nothing to fear. They were tired of the European idea that the state had to be commandeered by one church, which then in turn got special privileges and protections. The Founders believed that genuine faith didn’t need coercive protections. All it needed was the freedom to propagate and proselytize.
Religious liberty in the United States reflects a Christian conviction. Religion is a matter of persuasion, not coercion.
The widespread political response to the COVID-19 crisis has uncovered how far many of today’s politicos have apostatized from the jealously guarded religious liberty movement of the Founders. Many governors’ executive orders make this clear.
Frequenting groceries and pharmacies whose enclosures are often smaller than many churches is permitted as long as occupants practice social distancing. No matter how much social distancing worshipers practice, however, attendance even at churches whose buildings are larger than groceries or pharmacies is not. This is proof that religious, and not health,￼￼ presuppositions are driving government policy.
What gets defined as essential and nonessential springs from one’s worldview, not from health concerns. This is the Anointed worldview. Religious liberty is non-essential.
What conservatives today term “civil society” is the web of institutions that provides a buffer between individuals and the state. The main ones are the family and the church, but businesses and other organizations are also essential contributors to civil society.
In the Bible, the family and church demand the allegiance of individuals much more than the state does. The state is one institution among several, and perhaps the least important, despite the fact that it is God’s minister (Rom. 13:1–7). Statists have always deplored Christianity because it demands the family and church as competitors to the state. Statists want undistracted allegiance from citizens. Christianity refuses this.
Get the hard-hitting Ventrella booklet here.
By the way, this is also why statists sometimes stress individual freedom so loudly that we might be confused: they know that if they can emancipate citizens from the family and church, and tether them only to the state, that the tether will only grow tighter and stronger. Man standing nakedly before the state is no match for that power. But a man meshed in the web of civil society can withstand statist control.
COVID-19 political decisions have marginalized the family and church. The family cannot decide how to keep its members healthy and safe. The state mandates that. The church may not meet, even if observing careful hygienic and distancing practices.
Institutional liberty and civil society have been trampled by the state.
In The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark argues that modern capitalism began in the Italian medieval monasteries. Free markets were not the normal way ancient societies arranged themselves, but were an experiment in liberty bequeathed by Christianity.
But the idea of private (more accurately: family) property was a mainstay of biblical law: “Thou shalt not steal” was a foundational command of God’s moral law to the Jews that the early Christians inherited. Wherever this God-revealed practice of free markets has gone, prosperity has followed. No exceptions. The idea that people should be free to trade without coercion, from either other individuals or from politicians, was the cornerstone of economic liberty. And in fact, there can be no true political liberty without economic liberty.
The expansive COVID-19 quarantine, which should have been limited to the infected, the elderly, and the immunocompromised, dictated the radical curtailment of economic liberty. Employees of restaurants, hospitals, and other high-human-contact jobs requiring tactile proximity lost employment and livelihood and dreams and hopes. They lost part of what it means to be human: economic liberty. This economic liberty is a blessing exclusive to Christianity.
The draconian executive (almost never legislative) COVID-19 political edicts have brought close up and personal the ideology of the Anointed and the Ruling Class. More ominously, they have exhibited a fatal consequence that the loss of the Christian Faith has visited on our culture. The erosion of Christian culture = the decline of liberty.
Restoring the liberty movement at this pivotal time in U.S. history is not just about preserving the American ideals. It is also about championing biblical Faith.
The liberty movement, whether most of its participants know it or not, is the Christian movement. Christianity does not merely foster liberty.
It demands liberty.
Biblical salvation is higher, wider, and deeper, than most Christians know.
Sharon and I just returned from a weekend in Eureka, California, on the northwest coast. We did a lot of reading and some sightseeing, severely limited due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Here are some photos:
Sharon, at Samoa Island
The famous Carson Mansion. Eureka is festooned with Victorian architecture, even if recent.
The lovely Eureka cemetery featured this eminently biblical grave. I know nothing of the young decedent buried here, but I do know that the family and/or friends knew one glorious fact: the truth of the resurrection.
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Next week I plan to address “Unsettling Disclosures of the COVID-19 Drama.”
Yours for the King,
Founder & President