Saturday, August 23, 2008

Freedom, Justice, and Order

This gets us into the prickly question of freedom. With the sole exception of anarchic libertarians, Conservative and Libertarians do agree on this premise. The primary function of government is to keep the peace, defend against foreign enemies and powers and maintaining justice. When the State goes beyond these, it falls into quickly difficulty, because not only it was not “designed” to cover the many facets of life, it is incompetent when it tries to do so. In fact, the more the State tries to shepherd, the less well it performs in its primary functions. So far, so good. Yet even here, our agreement is only on the surface.
History shows that Libertarians and Conservatives mean different things when speaking of peace, defense and justice. This is no small thing in itself—worth a book or two at least. It goes, however, even deeper than that. Toward what end are these tasks aimed? Assume our hypothetical government did its duty in keeping the peace, defending the realm, and upholding justice, exactly what is this State doing these for?
The Libertarian has no doubts what the answer is. The chief function of government should be to defend and protect his liberty. In fact, this is pretty much what the Libertarian believes is what the Constitution’s aim is all about.1
But, if one optimistically follows this notion to its logical ends, does it produce for a good and humane society? To put it somewhat sentimentally, what kind of world does it leave for our children and those who come after us?
Libertarian literature is paradoxical on this point. Many will respond to effect that it is not their burden to worry and be concerned for a good society nor should it be. Freedom is its own blessing and inheritance to our descendents. As we have flourished, our children will follow to their own maturity and harvest of their endeavors. A country of free men will in turn produce its own “good society” secured by the superior virtue of liberty.
This is certainly attractive; but it has something uneasy about it. At least to a Conservatives ears, to say that a good society strictly speaking is not a Libertarian’s obligation strikes of ingratitude at its worst or gullibility its at best. To ingratitude, what is it to depend of the blessings of one’s society or one’s government and then turn to say you owe it nothing? To gullibility, where in human history do we see this transmission of “Libertarian” liberty into a good, humane culture?
Libertarians typically return that this is where Conservatives misunderstand the Founding. What Conservatives consider abuse in fact is the very liberty the founders risked their lives and treasure. It is freedom’s privilege that the only morally valid obligations are those one choose’s for himself and by no other. The Libertarian believes the Constitution and the Founders were Libertarian in heart and soul—and to the extent their original intentions were carried out demonstrates liberty’s “invisible hand” in building “that most excellent empire”.
To say the least, Conservatives could not disagree more.
The assertion that the “Constitution and the Founders were Libertarian in heart and soul” is one Conservatives dismiss out of hand. If the Founders singular concern was liberty, the Articles of Confederation would have served quite well. Under its terms, America would indeed have a weak central government. But the Founders found the Articles deficient and the Philadelphia Convention (constitutional convention) was called. More was needed. In addition, Conservatives maintain that every individual is born with obligations and that the Founders could scarcely be thought to believe otherwise.
As one might expect, Conservatives object and counter that the Constitution was written and born of Conservative2 structure. It is not that Libertarians are totally wrong. It is that they do not see the Constitution and its conventions in full.
The first item to consider is the Preamble. The Preamble, the Constitution's r'aison d'etre, holds in its words the hopes and dreams of the delegates to the convention, a justification for what they had done:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility3, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare4, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity5, do ordain6 and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Founders had much more in mind that the single pursuit of liberty. The Constitution was written by several committees over the summer of 1787, but the committee most responsible for the final form we know today is the "Committee of Stile and Arrangement". This Committee was tasked with getting all of the articles and clauses agreed to by the Convention and putting them into a logical order. On September 10, 1787, the Committee of Style set to work, and two days later, it presented the Convention with its final draft. The members were Alexander Hamilton, William Johnson, Rufus King, James Madison, and Gouverneur Morris—men who had fundamental differences. The actual text of the Preamble and of much of the rest of this final draft is usually attributed to Gouverneur Morris.
Of these James Madison is commonly claimed to be a Libertarian. Even if for the sake of argument we stipulate this were true, Madison’s role as the “Father of the Constitution” is somewhat exaggerated7. Thomas Jefferson is also one claimed to be one of Libertarian’s own. Again, if for the sake of argument we stipulate this were true, Jefferson was not a Framer. He was not there at the Philadelphia Convention. Instead, he was out of the country serving as minister to France. While both Jefferson and Madison had a great affinity with one another, in must be noted that they worked in opposition to Hamilton and Washington—two men who were also prominent at the Philadelphia Convention.
But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. We will have more to say about the Founding later. But here I wish to return to our main subject of freedom, justice and order.
Be that as it may, a society must have three elements to be good, humane, and a nourishing of life. Those constituents are justice, order and freedom. Without each, no home can be called good. But among these three, order is the most important. This is so because without an endurable order justice and freedom soon will not exist. Without order, it can be said one can have the freedom of a fugitive or a savage can be said to have freedom. The fugitive always lives with the threat of discovery and the savage, while he hunts, always fears being the hunted. In either case, nothing is predictable or secure. To some, this is the epitome of adventure, but it counts as no freedom to those who wish to live in the open. Such “freedom” would truly be reduced to the Hobbesian “all against all” making life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".
It is reliability certain that Benjamin Franklin is to have said “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. We can quibble about what the modifiers “essential” and “temporary” mean, but in the limited sense Franklin was quite correct. But in the main, it was one of the more foolish things he ever said. To make “freedom” the solitary absolute principle in our lives together undermines both justice and order. If we make “freedom” the whole end of our civil social order events will undo freedom itself. Indeed, to maintain such a “neat” “organizing” principle that determines all else does not describe men as they are and certainly is too inept to govern them.
Libertarians answer in kind stating that the Conservative insistence on “order” in fact opens the door for all sorts of mischief by the State. It may even serve as an open door for governmental sponsorship of Conservative mischief. Such a notion has been expressed to me in several ways without bringing Conservative nuisances into it. Some Libertarians have stated:
“By making freedom, justice and order important in deliberations it makes it so that none of them will determine anything.”8
It my limited experience, nothing will drive a libertarian to ire or drink (and sometimes both) as when it is said that the need for order may necessarily trim freedom’s sails in many instances. Part of the problem is with the word “order”. As it often appears, the word has a vaguely “Nazi” odor. In any event, for Libertarians, “order” doesn’t sound anything like minimal government.
It is not that there isn’t something to the Libertarians’ concern. “Order” without justice and freedom isn’t anything that recommends anything to anybody9. The Conservative answer is that it is by the collected wisdom, experience, and moral imagination that we keep order, justice and freedom in balance. Order, justice and freedom provide a three-point contact to which they may be balanced. Catholicism maintains that, in the realm of Christianity, three elements called revealed truth, reason and tradition form the basis for the rule of faith such as the three legs of a level and steady stool. Each in their measure supports the other. Don’t get caught up the citation from Catholic theology involved in the illustration. It is a mere example of the form of thought of what makes for a humane society. In balancing order, justice and freedom, freedom can be exercised at its fullest.
-Written by Crabby Apple Mike Lee
1 Although, it must be pointed out, nowhere in the actual text of the Constitution does it make any such claim.
2 The word “conservative” itself did not come into use until well into the 19th century.
3 One of the concerns of the Framers was that the government prior to that under the Constitution was unable, by force or persuasion, to quell rebellion or quarrels amongst the states. The government watched in horror as Shay's Rebellion transpired just before the Convention, and some states had very nearly gone to war with each other over territory (such as between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over Wilkes-Barre). One of the main goals of the Convention, then, was to ensure the federal government had powers to squash rebellion and to smooth tensions between states. The Anti-Federalists opposed the adoption of the Constitution precisely because they had sympathy for such revolts as the Whiskey Rebellion for which Washington would crush with disproportionate force with the army.
4 Welfare in today's context also means organized efforts on the part of public or private organizations to benefit the poor, or simply public assistance. Despite Liberal insistence, this is not the meaning of the word as used in the Constitution. By “general welfare” the Constitution was referring to the “commonweal”—the common good of all. Indeed, the “general welfare” was the culmination of everything that came before it - the whole point of having tranquility, justice, and defense was to promote the general welfare - to allow every state and every citizen of those states to benefit from what the government could provide. The framers looked forward to the expansion of land holdings, industry, and investment, and they knew that a strong national government would be the beginning of that.
5 By this, the Founders meant future generations.
6 To order by or as if by decree, from the Latin; ordinaire, to organize
7 Even the “Bill of Rights” owes more to George Mason’s “Virginia Declaration of Rights” as well as the original “English Bill of Rights” than to James Madison. No small part is owed to Patrick Henry and his insistence that he would not sign the Constitution unless a “bill of right” was included.
8 From personal correspondence with self-identified libertarian
9 According to C.S.Lewis, in the human world of “masters” and “slaves”, some men are indeed only fit to be slaves. But no man is fit to be a master to another.
See for a Constitutional directory.

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