Saturday, January 10, 2009

Liberty without virtue?

In the current Weekly Standard Edward Achorn reviews Samuel Adams: A Life, by Ira Stoll, and includes in the review two quotations from Adams about liberty, each of which rings true still today.
“It is not infrequent, to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it than their own liberty—to oppress without control or the restraint of the laws all those who are weaker and poorer than themselves."

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
Samuel Adams was a radical and a revolutionary, but he was also a Christian and, as these quotations—particularly the second—suggest, profoundly conservative. The second quotation reminded me of Edmund Burke:
"But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint."
And, again from Burke's "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly":
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity,—in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption,—in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
For liberty depends on self-restraint. When most people do what is right most of the time because they believe they should, fewer laws and fewer police are required. This inclination toward self-restraint comes primarily from what each of us has learned from custom and tradition and family and faith.

Update 1/4/09: I added the quotation from Burke's "Letter...."

Weekly Standard, January 19, 2009, pp. 33-34

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.