We have already seen that Christ is the foundation of every true form of liberty. Civic liberty is an impossibility for a people who are enslaved to their lusts. For such a people, constitutional liberties are nothing but paper liberties — the kind of thin surety that tends to satisfy slaves who need to be flattered by their masters.
Here is Samuel Adams on the subject: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
His cousin John Adams said that our Constitution presupposes a moral and a religious people. It is “wholly unfit” for any other.
This is why Jesus is absolutely necessary to any civic reformation worth having. If you want a nation of potsmoking fornicators to be free you want something that is not going to happen. Before giving speeches in favor of such a proposition, you might want to consider saving your breath for walking uphill. Republics do not exist without republican virtue. And virtue does not exist apart from the grace of God, as offered in the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why, if our freedoms are to return, secularism has to go.
So liberty is the work of the Spirit of God, which brings us to another crucial point. The Spirit moves as He wills. He is like the breeze, which cannot be bottled or contained. This is quite true when it comes to evangelism and the growth of the church, but it remains true when we trace the work of the Spirit through the church in bringing about civic liberty.
At different times in history, the Spirit anoints different men, different movements, different civic currents, different nations, making them the delivery platform of His glorious work. If the Spirit then moves on, the besotted curators of the Ichabod museum will still want to lecture us all on the importance of their dead relics. But liberty — and follow me closely here — liberty itself is free.
Well, I may be an extremist now, but centuries from now I will be a logo for insurance companies.
Liberty cannot be locked up in a cage, whether that cage is a party platform, a national constitution, a bill of rights, or a campaign slogan. Liberty exists, or does not exist, in the hearts of the people. If the people are free, then civic freedom for the people becomes a possibility.
In a previous post on this general topic, a reader from the UK objected to my characterization of the House of Hanover as tyrannical. Britain was the birthplace of constitutional liberties, and so how was it possible for me to characterize the actions of Parliament as tyrannical? The answer is that it is easy — the battle for liberty never ceases, and it never ceases anywhere. Tyrants are always waiting in the wings, looking for an opportunity. When the people become complacent, drifting into sloth and lust, they have that opportunity — and they always take it. What do you have to do in order to have a garden full of weeds? The answer to this trick question is nothing.
A great blow for civic liberty was struck in the establishment of the Magna Carta. Arbitrary taxation was out. That was established as a foundational legal principle in England. But the battle for liberty ebbs and flows. Liberty does not take off like a rocket ship — there are advances, there are setbacks, there is confusion about the setbacks, there is a revival of learning, there are advances, and the cycle starts over again. You don’t banish arbitrary taxation from the world, and then forget about it. And why? Because kings like arbitrary taxation. So the whole mess crept back in again. Royal prerogative courts, like the Star Chamber, came into existence and began to rob the English people of the liberties they were supposed to have, and still did have, on paper anyway.
As part of the long battle for liberty, the English people in the 17th century rose up, and abolished arbitrary government. But like a burglar who finds one window locked, and who moves on to the next one, those with a despotic turn of mind immediately moved on to another device. They had not all been banished to the moon. They were all still here, and people with power soon want more of it. It is “necessary,” they say, with a deeply concerned look. “What about the children?”
So in the 17th century the battle for liberty was between the Crown and Parliament, and Parliament was in the right. In the 18th century, the battle for liberty was between Parliament and the colonies, and the colonies were in the right. No one institution or nation or entity is indefectible. Bad men show up everywhere, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if our final liberties were eventually removed by the Czar of All Fourth of July Celebrations.
In our time, the central threat to our liberties is the administrative state. Among a free people, laws are only binding (i.e. they are only laws) if they are passed and approved by the legislature. The legislature is not authorized to delegate this authority to anyone, and when they attempt to do so it is dereliction of their solemn responsibility. Someone might plead necessity, and say that administrative law is too extensive and too complex for a legislature to understand, still less to pass. The reply to this is simple — if a set of regulations is too burdensome for the legislature to pass, then it is too burdensome for us to live under.
The next question is therefore a practical one. Say that we have come to our senses, and have found that our representatives in Congress have sold us into bondage. What now? There are two aspects of this “what now?” problem. The first has to do with lawfulness. We have to fix it in our minds that the current set-up is deeply and profoundly unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, and immoral. The second has to do with prudence. How may we best resist this massive encroachment?
That may be described as the problem of getting Gideon out of the wine vat and over to the city park where the Baal is. And that discussion we will defer until our next installment.