The political philosopher Leo Strauss spoke of what he called “the always pressing question … the political question par excellence, of how to reconcile order which is not oppression with freedom which is not license.”
Where do we stand today in America with respect to this great question?
The key to the order of our Constitution being non-oppressive is very simple and very basic government by the consent of the governed. To deny citizens votes is to oppress. That denial can be done straightforwardly, as was done to black Americans for so long under Jim Crow laws. That denial can also be done by nullifying the votes of citizens through all the methods old and new of introducing illegitimate ballots — whether resurrecting the dead to vote as has been done in many a city for many elections, or whether using the opportunities opened up by mail-in voting, software manipulation, and hardware hacking, or whatever new trick fraudsters come up with.
No matter which way, if the voting results don’t reliably record one vote for every citizen, the most fundamental protection we have against oppression is removed. There is no reason why we should place greater emphasis on either voter suppression or illegitimate voting. Both undercut the legitimacy of our government at its foundation.
What about the other half of Strauss’ question — “freedom which is not license?” First of all, what does he mean?
This gets to the root of freedom in our biblical tradition. We all know the divine pronouncement to Pharaoh: “Let My people go!” It is as powerful an affirmation of freedom as you can find, and it echoes through the ages. But what often is overlooked is the continuation of the verse, “Let My people go — that they should serve Me!”
If freedom meant merely the dissolution of order, it would lead to chaos — not freedom. If we are not shaped by a sense of needing to take up responsibility, then freedom could not extend beyond ourselves, or even to ourselves — for my unaccountable freedom will inevitably conflict with your unaccountable freedom, and one of us will no longer be free.
In our anger against the injustices that may have been present in this most recent election, we must feel a sense of responsibility to the country now and in the future. We must exert every effort to keep an effective check on hand in the Senate. We cannot simply give in to frustration at all that went wrong and throw up our hands and walk away when by disciplined action we could keep a check on politicians whose flaws we know only too well. The Georgia races could be the reduction of a state Supreme Court to a rubber stamp — a single, all-Democrat city being awarded two Senate seats, along with more changes deeply damaging to democracy.
We only stop being the source of sovereignty when we stop caring for the country whose sovereigns we are. We may be defeated in one race or another, but we only stop being sovereigns when we abdicate responsibility and take freedom as simply the license to be petulant.
Our constitutional institutions may be battered and in crisis. Misuse and abuse have stressed them gravely. But though they may appear to have been reduced to a flickering flame, they can still be brought back to health if we do all we can to save them.
This is of worldwide significance. China has thrown down the gauntlet to the world with its rape of Hong Kong, its high-tech system of oppression, its total monitoring of every life, and the making of all freedoms dependent upon total social compliance with the state. It is confidently pressing its power forward in every way, certain that the democratic West is as rotten and controllable as Hunter Biden. They have found such people everywhere — in business, in academia, and in our politics. They believe that is who we are. They believe we will fold under pressure, that our professed ideals are all show, and that when push comes to shove, we don’t believe in them ourselves.
So this is the moment of testing of our souls. Are we merely the sunshine patriots Tom Paine wrote of back in 1776? Or are we fired by a true faith, a light that only burns brighter when the world gets darker?
The only answer to those who would oppress us is our own indomitable commitment. Just as ordinary American citizens answered the call to put the joys and freedoms of civilian life aside to defeat Nazism and Japanese militarism, so too we realize we are not given the option now to live free of the struggle to defend free government itself. But this is the core of real freedom: Just when the oppressor thinks we are all measured out and mastered, we show them the depths of our commitment to freedom by acts of supreme responsibility, and by our willingness and determination to maintain the fight for all we hold dear.
Each of us will see where we can contribute to the fight for freedom. It is at our own doorsteps. We cannot fail.