Freedom to Do What You Please

From a helpful article:

An ideology that is only “about human freedom” is inadequate as a governing philosophy…. Responding to the praises that had been sung about the French Revolution because of its supposed establishment of liberty, [Edmund Burke] made the following famous observation: “The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may soon be turned into complaints.” Burke’s point is unavoidable and unassailable: freedom is not a substantive principle. It is a good thing within proper limits, but it is not itself the political good, since any honest mind would have to admit that it can be abused.

This is not just high-toned theory divorced from political reality. Governing inevitably requires regulating human behavior. Nobody could govern a political community simply on the basis of the claim that the governing enterprise is simply “about human freedom.” Securing the good of a community requires making and enforcing numerous rules. Each of these rules must be judged according to its contribution to the common good, which includes a just freedom, but no rule can be debarred simply because it limits freedom.

When American Christians praise freedom—when they say they’d die for their neighbor’s right to do wrong—they ought to stop and think about what exactly they mean.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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