Monday, November 26, 2012

Recovering freedom for the American Republic

Orestes Brownson, a convert to Catholicism, wrote what is argued to be his greatest book, The American Republic in 1866. Peter Augustine Lawler, who wrote an introduction to an edition of The American Republic, gave voice to Brownson's view about what Catholicism means to America. He said, "Only the Catholic view of the relationship between political order and religious truth can form the basis of a true and complete understanding of the American Constitution." That relationship presupposes a knowledge about the spiritual and moral incentives upon which freedom rests. But more is needed than just right incentives.

When virtue, risk-taking and the spirit of sacrifice fade through bad habits and ignorance of citizens, conservative or even Christian ideas are not enough to recover freedom; especially, when affections, passions, instincts, and habits of the citizenry are going in the opposite direction. To say it another way: As dependency on the State and the illusion of security that it creates becomes more familiar to Americans, the unfamiliarity with freedom increases. With this, restoring freedom becomes all that much more difficult. The promotion of freedom has to appeal to the affections, passions, instincts, and habits of the American people. Institutions that fill this need are vital for today's American Republic. Below, Brownson spoke to this over a 100 years ago.

Excerpt from The American Republic:

“Men are little moved by mere reasoning, however clear and convincing it may be. They are moved by their affections, passions, instincts, and habits. Routine is more powerful with them than logic. A few are greedy of novelties, and are always trying experiments; but the great body of the people of all nations have an invincible repugnance to abandon what they know for what they know not. They are, to a great extent, the slaves to their own inertia, and will not make the necessary exertion to change their existing mode of life, even for the better. Interest itself is powerless before their indolence, prejudice, habits, and usages…

No reform, no change in the constitution of government or of society, whatever the advantages it may promise, can be successful, if introduced, unless it has its roots in the germ of the past. Man is never a creator; he can only develop and continue, because he himself is only a creature, and only a second cause.

The children of Israel, when they encountered the privations of the wilderness that lay between them and the promised land flowing with milk and honey, fainted in spirit, and begged Moses to lead them back to Egypt, and permit them to return to slavery.”