Our declining democracy seems to be dying a slow, certain death. And this death comes not from outside threats and circumstance. It is degenerating from within, dying from the inside out. And the causes are many. Oddly, two of the primary causes are two of democracy’s core values: personal freedom and equality.
Even though our nation was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” our democracy declines for these very reasons. It declines because many of our present political and cultural leaders see the principles of individual freedom and equality so narrowly and childishly that these noble virtues have become vices.
Today, personal freedom has become an insistent, incessant individualism. It is a childish, immature, spoiled view of personal freedom, a freedom without boundaries or judgment. And that view of liberty is not a moral, rational or even a practical vision. It is, by definition, self-indulgent and, by extension, sociopathic. It is, by implication, the doorway to decadence and depravity.
And, like spoiled children, the leadership elite and their complicit followers also demand equality, interpreted to mean mathematical fairness without regard to effort or free will. They want everyone to get the same amount, have the same thing, no matter what. And, to make this happen, they will use governmental authority to enforce equality without regards to morality or justice or even personal freedom.
This is why many politicians and socialistic ideologues enviously vilify the wealthy. This is why their policies undermine the virtue of hard work and commandeer the accrued rewards that derive from effort and enterprise. This is why they no longer strive for equal opportunities, but insist on the equality of outcomes.
Like children, they are envious of those who have achieved a measure of success. And they wrap it in the rhetoric of fairness and compassion. They accuse the wealthy of greed and reveal their own greedy envy by their rapacious rhetoric and their high-handed tactics of big government, rather than properly balancing their rhetoric and tactics in a manner that appeals to the moral obligations inherent in the rewards of effort and enterprise.
These leaders and their followers have lost the necessary integration inherent in all sound morality. For any moral virtue left untethered from other pertinent virtues inevitably becomes a vice. Just think of any person who values honesty over all other moral principles. If honesty is not restrained and tempered by discretion, compassion and love, it becomes a character flaw, a moral vice. Such is the case with equality.
Similarly, freedom is not a virtue unless it is used rightly. Real freedom is always subject to moral review. And all decisions become a matter of morality. But because our culture distorts freedom, denying the essential moral evaluation of all free-will acts, our nation and our culture endorse sins of all types and castigate those who rightly judge freedom’s uses along moral lines.
This is why our leaders and our culture despise any attempt to judge any belief or behavior on moral grounds. Now, personal freedom has become immune to evaluation and judgment. But freedom without moral evaluation is not freedom. It is license, plain and simple.
So, how has this childish philosophy that distorts equality and denies moral judgment caused our democracy to decline? The evidence is all around us.
Familiar examples of the tyranny of untethered equality are evident in the monotonous rhetoric of “race,” “class” and “gender.” While equity of opportunity is a fair, moral goal, the equality of outcome is the product of envy, not justice or compassion, despite their rhetoric.
The distortion of equality is also clear in the relentless surge of socialistic movements and the expanding power the government and its bureaucracies continue to confer. The “Occupy” movement’s envious and destructive disregard for personal achievement and property is just such a socialistic program fueled by envy. The federal government’s ever-expanding regulatory control and the health-care mandates inflicted on private, religious institutions, regardless of the moral imperatives of religious and moral freedom, are some familiar attempts at equality without regard to other moral principles such as religious expression and the morality of life.
And, when it comes to personal freedom, we need look no further than the television screen or the headlines. The homosexual agenda, rampant promiscuity and pornography, violence, abortion, euthanasia, greed, materialism, divorce and profanity are familiar effects of unrestrained individual freedom. This litany of depravity is significant in its ubiquity and in the endorsement and encouragement of many of these sins in law and in culture.
When government and culture become the instruments of deliberate distortions of such beliefs and a great mass of people are complicit in this, democracy dies. The forms may remain, but the substance is lost. For democracy rests on freedom and equality as two of its principles, but not its only two.
Democracy thrives on the moral conviction that right and wrong exist. It thrives on the fact that we are all equally subject to moral imperatives, moral standards, moral judgments. It thrives on the idea that goodness must be sought and lived and that evil must be acknowledged and avoided. It thrives on the love of truth and the truth of love.
So, what must we do as followers of Christ? First, we must meet these challenges with informed and resolute action. For many in our nation no longer seek to build a more righteous, a more moral society founded on reason and on natural law, as our founders intended. And we must persuade them that their beliefs are bereft of real truth and moral rectitude.
Second, we must recover the real purposes of democracy. Democracy’s purpose is not to create a society devoid of differences, a socialistic society where personal achievement, individual stewardship and personal property are anti-social vices. It is not to create an amoral, personally free society where individuals cross all moral boundaries with impunity. It is to create a good society, a noble society, a virtuous society, a loving society. These are the purposes of real democracy, a democracy resting on the truth of goodness, nobility, virtue and love.
And these purposes are the very purposes God intends for human society. For as children of God, we know we are our brothers’ keepers. We are bound to help the less fortunate, the lost, the blind, the sinful. And, as disciples of Christ, we are also bound to the "Great Commission," to make disciples of all nations. And, as we relentlessly bring the full Gospel of love and of truth to our nation and our world, we must bear the suffering, lovingly preaching and embodying the truth, in season and out of season. For even the gates of hell will not prevail against us, as Jesus assures us.
And finally, let us do so “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” And “let us strive on to finish the work we are in,” so help us God.
Frank Cronin writes from eastern Connecticut.