Guest view: Blessings of liberty require moral virtue and knowledge – Stockton Record
To secure the “Blessings of Liberty” is one of the stated purposes in the preamble to our Constitution, and its amendments codify many of the essential ones, such as liberty (freedom) of religious belief and speech.
However, these liberties are not blessings unless their use is guided by moral virtue and knowledge. Without these guides, liberty becomes anarchy, the mere license to believe and act in any way one desires within the confines of the law. Liberty in the form of anarchy is not a blessing, and it has created deep cultural problems for a more enlightened and healthy democracy.
Interestingly, more than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato warned his democratic citizens about the destructive nature of individual liberty. When it is valued above all else as the ultimate good, there is no commitment to the public welfare because private welfare matters most.
Moral virtues are denigrated since everyone is free to act according to their own private standards, and no one is allegedly justified in morally judging others because everyone is allegedly “equal” in their freedom. Plato’s observation in his democratic Athens was that unbridled liberty bred self-centeredness, lack of respect for law, and corruption of morality.
Plato’s analysis captures much of our contemporary culture. For example, stories are increasingly commonplace of people in restaurants, the workplace, or on planes defying what is reasonable for the public good and then rationalizing their actions as in fact true courage.
A recent story in The Record on mask mandates quoted a citizen who made the incredible assertion that “it’s my legal right to be mean to you.” Misinformation and bizarre conspiracy theories and the defiance of empirical scientific evidence come to be considered real wisdom.
So how can the destructive nature of liberty be counteracted? There are no easy remedies, but here are some ideas to consider:
In order to be blessings, our liberties must be guided by moral virtues and knowledge. In their wisdom, and also in their moral imperfection, the founders of our freedom-loving republic realized these facts. As James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, warned, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness, without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical (imaginary) idea.” Amen.
Lou Matz is an aging basketball player and professor of philosophy at University of the Pacific.