Freedom Fades when We Forget What It is and Let Ideology Co-opt It

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on July 10, 2015

As a nation last week, we celebrated the Declaration of Independence, which announced our freedom from Great Britain. But what is freedom, anyway? Our debates aren’t worth a dime without knowing what we’re seeking to protect and nourish in our politics.

Brad Thor, the best-selling novelist whose most recent book is Code of Conduct, tells me: “Freedom is the ability to make the choices that I believe are best for myself and my family without the coercion of the state. It is being able to stand for what I believe in without dreading a knock upon my door in the middle of the night. It is participating in the public square, along with its many competing voices, and competing in the intellectual combat of rigorous debate without fear of reprisal β€” especially when my speech seeks to limit/turn back the growth of government and shine the light on the encroaching darkness of tyranny. It is, in short, my control of my life, my fortune and my destiny.”

George Nash, author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, points us to words spoken by Herbert Hoover on his 74th birthday in 1948:

“The meaning of our word ‘America’ flows from one pure source. Within the soul of America is the freedom of mind and spirit in man. Here alone are the open windows through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit. Here alone is human dignity not a dream, but a major accomplishment. …”

Fr. Thomas Joseph White, a Dominican priest, says: “Freedom has its root in our desire for happiness. It is the amazing capacity we have to seek the truth concerning what is genuinely good for ourselves and others, to distinguish it from what is harmful or evil, and to pursue what will make us happy with wisdom and effectiveness. Freedom is what allows us to love other persons, and to be loved by them, to love the truth above all things, and to broach the mystery of God, with both genuine questioning and joyful reverence.”

Fr. James Schall put a different spin on things. He said that the question implied that freedom “can be a different thing for different people, a matter of opinion. If this is true, freedom can really mean nothing. If your freedom is the opposite of mine, with no objective criterion of truth and principle to resolve differences, then the only relation we can have is war and strife, not rational agreement. Even if we promise not to hurt each other, that presumption deprives the freedom of someone who thinks he has a ‘right’ to hurt us in the name of his freedom. Freedom without truth does not exist.”

So where does this leave us?

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, cautions: “(H)uman beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.”

Freedom fades when we forget what it is and let ideology co-opt it, even with the best of intentions. Freedom fades when we abandon truth and our responsibility to uphold it. Finding this in freedom will keep us free.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Copyright 2015 United Feature Syndicate

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