Can You Be Two-Thirds Free & One-Third Slave?

September 2004

The Protestants have been holding National Prayer Breakfasts for government officials in D.C. since 1953. The Evangelicals love this sort of thing because they still believe that America is God’s Chosen Nation. Recently (on April 28), a coterie of Catholics staged its first-ever National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in D.C. Austin Ruse, a member of its Board of Directors, said, “there is no political agenda.” Yeah, right. If you look at the list of sponsors — Linda Chavez, Mary Ann Glendon, Deal Hudson, Fr. Neuhaus, Robert Royal, George Weigel, et al. — it’s clearly just another neoconservative front group.

The keynote speaker was fellow-traveler Avery Cardinal Dulles. And he told its sponsors exactly what they wanted to hear (Origins, May 20). He opened by saying, “There is nothing more central to our life as a nation than the ideal of liberty.” Now, Cardinal Dulles is a more careful political thinker than George Weigel (see the above New Oxford Note), but not that much more.

In his speech, Dulles summarized Alan Wolfe’s book, Moral Freedom (2001), this way: “The 18th century…saw the triumph of economic freedom…. The 19th century witnessed the victory of political freedom…. The 21st century…will be the age of moral freedom…. The advent of the new age of moral freedom…is inevitable. Once people have economic freedom to choose their cars and the political freedom to choose their candidates, they will not long be satisfied with letting others determine for them how they ought to live.” Dulles adds: “As a piece of reporting, Wolfe’s book does not lack merit.”

Indeed. As Wendell Willkie said, “Freedom is an indivisible word.” Or as Abe Lincoln said, putting it a different way, you cannot be “half slave and half free.” It is the nature of freedom to expand. As the libertarian economist Friedrich von Hayek said, “The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom.” He meant political freedom, and his libertarian disciples (and almost everyone else) have expanded that to include moral freedom. Can you have economic and political freedom, but not moral freedom? Can you be two-thirds free and one-third slave? Not for very long.

Dulles goes on: “Consider the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The majority opinion, seeking to support abortion as a right, declared: ‘At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of [the mystery of] human life.’” Dulles adds that this is “truly alarming.” Indeed it is.


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New Oxford Notes: September 2004

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