Author Archives: Ron Lipsman

The Best One-Term President?

I was working on an essay entitled “Perhaps the Best One-Term President in a Century,” In which I compared Trump favorably to the previous five one-term presidents: Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, Bush I. I think I made a compelling case that Trump’s achievements easily beat those of any of the other five. And then he incites an insurrection!

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. It is tragic that the achievements: a robust economy; significant economic improvement  in America’s working class; massive federal deregulation; peace deals in the Middle East; awakening of the public to the threat posed by China; and fostering of American energy independence; these will be overshadowed by his narcissistic, adolescent, undisciplined and paranoid behavior. He fouled his own nest and his actions led directly to the leftist takeover of the reins of government. Moreover, he has enhanced the possibility of a permanent Democratic/Progressive majority in America. Woe is us – lovers of liberty!

2008 Redux?

The prospect of a Biden presidency and a radical left Democratic administration running the country fills me with dread. But I believe it is instructive to compare my dread to what I felt 12 years ago when I contemplated the imminent Obama administration. At that time (December 2008) I wrote the following words:

“One hundred years of programming have borne fruit. The political heirs of John Dewey, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson have taken almost complete control of the media, the legal profession, foundations, even big business to some extent, but especially the American school system. Their relentless brainwashing and propaganda has had the desired effect—namely, installing into the oval office an unrepentant ultra left winger who shares their view of government as God with little or no respect for the founding principles of the United States of America. Together with his like-minded colleagues in the Congress, the courts and the administrative state, he will lead America further down the road towards a top down enforced equality, a heavily government-regulated economy, a belief that America is no better than any other country, and a vile and pornographic culture that denigrates the traditional family. Concomitantly, he will lead us away from the founding fathers’ concept of individual liberty and responsibility, adherence to moral values and a culture based on traditional religious beliefs, the conviction that America under a new and unique form of Constitutional government should serve as a model to the world, and that democratic capitalism — which can only function in a society comprised of moral individuals —brings the greatest prosperity to the most citizens. Well, Obama and his henchmen now have complete run of the farm. We are in for a heavy dose federal paternalism. If I may paraphrase: The Federal Government is God, and Obama is his prophet. May the real God help America!”

So what happened? According to his own words, Obama planned to bring about radical changes to American society. Here’s a partial list of his intentions:

  • Nationalization of health care.
  • Massive tax increases, sharply indexed.
  • Cap & Trade and other crippling societal maneuvers aimed to avert or ameliorate imminent and severe – but unsubstantiated – climate change calamities.
  • Drastic reduction of the military, an end to overseas deployments and the subjugation of American foreign policy interests to international “opinion.”
  • Legalization of illegal aliens, and policies intended to foster more of them.
  • Massive federal spending to address “societal needs.”
  • Crippling new federal regulations to regulate (i.e., overregulate) American business.
  • Card check and other favored programs to elevate the power of unions.
  • Change of tone involving acknowledgment of enormous crimes committed by the USA against peoples of color, indigenous peoples, and victims of foreign colonization.

Joe, and especially leading figures in the Democratic Party, promise those and much more:

  • If not nationalization of health care, then at least a national health care “option” – which of course will destroy private or employer sponsored insurance.
  • Pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices.
  • Add two new, guaranteed Democratic, states.
  • Abolish the Electoral College.
  • Defund the police, drastically reduce criminal prosecutions and empty the prisons.
  • Gut — if not eliminate – the Second Amendment.
  • Enhance racial polarization in the country with the incessant and misleading recitations of America’s failures in race relations.
  • Demonize “European Americans”, play up so-called “white privilege” and inflame race relations.
  • Ensure the success of the revolution that I wrote about in this journal in The Revolution the US is Experiencing – and What if it Succeeds (Oct 14, 2020) and bring about essentially the end of the United States as the Constitutional Republic it has been for a quarter millennium.

So what happened 12 years ago? What will happen in the next 12 months? Regarding the first question, I think it is fair to say that we dodged the bullets. Obama did not bring about a revolutionary change in the United States. He did preside over a further radicalization of the culture; a furtherance of the brainwashing of the American people – especially the youth—through the continued dominance in the educational establishment and the media of the radical left/socialist/totalitarian viewpoint. But the country was no more corrupted in 2016 than it was in 2008 (perhaps as evidenced by the election of a Republican President that year). His failure can be attributed to his obsession with his effort to nationalize health care and his virtually ignoring all the other items on his agenda. By the time he woke up to his malfeasance, the Tea Party had emerged and the Dems got clobbered in the 2010 elections. He did achieve a partial success with Obamacare – but at the expense of ignoring all the other radical ideas he wanted to implement. Even so, the reaction to Obama was so severe that it installed myriad Republicans in state, county and local legislatures (and executive offices) all over the country – effectively putting the brakes on almost all of his agenda. Regarding that agenda, he completely failed at Cap n Trade, defanging the military, union enhancement and other points. He had some limited success in tax policy, illegal immigration policy and of course in his apology tour. But largely through his incompetence, and because the country indicated clearly that it was not interested in a massive overthrow of the Constitutional system, Obama’s efforts to radicalize and remake America must be judged a failure.

So what will happen this time? Biden is clearly not as radical as Obama. Joe is a more-or-less classic late twentieth century liberal who wants what he has always wanted: more government direction of the economy; checks on the “excesses” of big business; equal opportunity for the underdogs; respect for women and minorities; stronger unions; cooperation with our foreign allies. He doesn’t frighten me at all.

But who will staff his administration? Set his legislative agenda? Influence his foreign policy decisions? Shepherd – or shape — his program in Congress? Alas, those of his ilk may be a minority in today’s Democratic Party. The donkeys have moved much further to the left than in the days of Hubert Humphrey, or Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton and perhaps even of Barack Obama. People like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and yes Kamala Harris pose an existential threat to America and the free people who populate it. They scare the hell out of me. I hate to admit it but I expect to spend the next four years saying prayers for the health of one Joe Biden.

So in summary: Biden is far less scary than Obama was. In fact, some of his early picks for his administration are largely cut from the same cloth that he is, and so not so frightening. But today’s Democratic Party is significantly more terrifying than it was a dozen years ago. Furthermore, the country is more polarized; its people less schooled in the nuances and strengths of our society; and the brainwashing that our citizens are subjected to at the hands of our educators and media has had another decade plus to soften up the body politic. The man at the helm is less frightening. But the ship he will be driving is a much more substantial wrecking ball than that wielded by the previous threat.  So I guess on balance I am about roughly equally fearful for the fate of the US today as I was in 2008.

We survived 2008. Whether our society today is as strong and resilient as it apparently was then is debatable. Will we survive 2020? It remains to be seen!

A slightly different version of this essay appeared in The American Thinker on Dec 2, 2020

The Revolution the US is Experiencing – and What if it Succeeds

The word revolution usually connotes the overthrow of the government of a sovereign entity, and its replacement by a completely different governing structure. Purely a political phenomenon! Successful revolutions are almost always marked by violence, but peaceful political revolutions have been known to occur. Most commonly, political revolutions are accompanied by cultural and economic revolutions. That is, not only is the political system of the country overthrown and replaced, but so are the social/cultural and economic systems.

Such a thorough overhaul of the fundamental nature of a country occurred, for example, in the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Fascist Revolutions in Italy and Germany (in the 1920s and 1930s, resp.), the Sino/Communist Revolution in China in the 1940s, the French Revolution in 1789 and, of course, the American Revolution in 1775. Since 1775, the revolutions – successful and otherwise – in the world surely number in the thousands. Of course, there have also been numerous insurrections, rebellions, and “minor revolutions” across the globe – wherein the goals were perhaps less grandiose than a complete overthrow of a country’s basic systems – e.g., secessions or creations of autonomous zones. In fact, the question posed in the title refers to a full-blown revolution, not some minor adjustment to the basic political and/or cultural and/or economic features of these United States. The title boldly asserts that an attempted comprehensive revolution is underway in America. Let’s explain its nature and predict what will ensue if it succeeds.

It may be difficult to discern that a full-scale revolution is brewing in the United States of America. There are no guerilla bands pouring out of the mountains to attack towns or cities or government installations. Although, recent violence by armed revolutionaries against US courthouses may be a harbinger of things to come. There are no press briefings or published manifestos in which the revolutionaries explain why the current system is rotten and why their proposed new system will herald peace, prosperity and justice for the beleaguered citizenry of our afflicted country. Well, perhaps that is also not so. The utterances and proposals of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and, indeed, of virtually all of the radical left Democratic presidential candidates – as well as those of almost all Democratic Congress persons and Senators, and many radical Democratic city mayors – would seem to qualify.

There are no putsches or cleansings at our leading cultural institutions. We are still free to say, write or publish our opinions on cultural matters. Really? Can you say ‘cancel culture!’ In fact, here are some ideas and practices that have been mainstream American culture for generations: the American family is primarily one male father, one female mother, and their children; you can get ahead in life by going to school, studying hard, working hard, getting married, and developing products/ideas that others want to obtain/follow; America is a beacon of liberty that has saved the world at least twice from totalitarians; and despite its shortcomings (slavery, manifestations of racism and sexism, maltreatment of indigenous peoples), America has corrected much of those failings and is moving ever closer to a just society in which all are equal before the law. In fact, the expression of any of those ideas is now considered a violent aggression worthy of punishment. The people who react thus are revolutionaries.

And there are many of them. Virtually all the opinion molding organs of American society are in the hands of the revolutionaries: the entire educational establishment (from kindergarten to graduate school), the media, the law schools, the libraries, big corporation boards, the entertainment industry and the Democratic Party. Moreover, they are winning. The youth of America have been brainwashed for at least the last 50 years. The average youngster has no idea who John Marshall or Edmund Burke or Adam Smith were or what they said, or how their ideas shaped the political, economic and social systems of our country. But he or she can tell you with certainty that capitalist America has polluted the oceans, fouled the atmosphere, oppressed people of color all over the world, demeaned women and hoarded the wealth so that far too many people – both here and abroad – are in a state of penury. Alas, the cultural revolution these folks have engineered is essentially complete; now we are on the cusp of the completion of its political counterpart.

This eventuality represents the success of an idea that is generally attributed to Antonio Gramsci – that is, politics runs downstream from culture. The Progressive Movement – which goes back a hundred years to Woodrow Wilson (and actually further to Teddy Roosevelt and others in the 1890s) began this ongoing revolution with the express goal of destroying the classic American culture. They have succeeded. But the political revolution has not quite yet come to fruition. There have been times when it looked like it might: the Wilsonian 1910s; the 1930s under Roosevelt’s New Deal; the mid/late 1960s when riots ruled the land and we were catapulted into The Great Society. Now we are apparently in a fourth great upheaval. Will the radicals triumph politically this time?

So let’s consider why the progressive political revolution failed the past three times; and then let’s offer some powerful reasons why it might succeed this time. Indeed, why did the previous three revolutionary periods not usher in the fundamental political change the radical left envisioned (and still envisions)? In fact the original Progressive movement did bring about several revolutionary changes to the American body politic: creation of the federal income tax; direct election of Senators; female right to vote. And the industrial revolution was transforming America from an agrarian society into an industrialized one. But the fundamental character of the American people was strong, resilient and – for the moment – largely impervious to change. Namely, the American people, like their ancestors:

  • Were committed to republican government.
  • Held liberty (as opposed to equality) as its most cherished ideal.
  • Believed in the sanctity of God-given individual rights.
  • Also believed strongly in free enterprise.
  • Prized freedom – for themselves and others around the world.
  • Upheld the rule of law.
  • Believed in US “exceptionalism” – that is, unlike all the other nations, the US was an exceptional land with the moral authority and right to lead the peoples of the world in the fight for freedom, justice and opportunity.
  • Agreed that religion played a key role in developing the morality that allowed government by the people to succeed.
  • And subscribed to the political, cultural and ethical tenets of classic Western Civilization.

The political revolution that the Progressives foresaw replaced the remarkable list above by the following:

  • Desire for an authoritarian and powerful central government.
  • Held equality above liberty.
  • Committed to group rights.
  • Envisioned government control of the economy.
  • Foresaw universal world government over the nation states, with the US no more special or exceptional than any other nation.
  • Denied that religion had any public role to play in the nation’s development, and that it is up to the people to set the moral standards that guide the nation.
  • Believe justification for the law of the land comes not from religion or tradition or the tenets of any ancient civilization, but from the reasoning and natural proclivities of the people themselves.
  • Sees Western Civilization as corrupt, oppressive and racist; and the nation would better prosper if it accorded more respect to the cultures of indigenous people, peoples of color and immigrant groups.
  • Finally, considers the Founders’ Constitution to be outdated, to be replaced by one giving force to the ideas in the previous bullets.

Well in 1920, the American people weren’t having any of that. Nor were they in 1940. Albeit, by 1965, the resolve of the people was weakening. Now, let’s take the periods in order, acknowledging that both lists represent a mix of politics and culture.  In 1920, the advent of the Harding-Coolidge Administration and the roaring twenties reflected the fact that the Progressive list was anathema to the American people.

A similar comment applies to the second upheaval in the 1930s. Indeed the country was in great distress and turmoil throughout the 1930s. But the radical political revolution was thwarted by retained conservative trends in the country. This is perhaps typified by Roosevelt’s failure to pack the Supreme Court. And once the crisis of the Second World War erupted, the country became completely unreceptive to any idea of fundamental political change.

Finally, the reasons that the third great upheaval (in the 1960s) failed to usher in the radical revolution are essentially similar. Certainly the death of JFK and the installation of the uber liberal Johnson Administration provided the opening. But the advent of the Vietnam War and the widespread revulsion at the radical riots and upheavals in American cities again put the kibosh on the completion of Gramsci’s political revolution.

Now all the previous observations reinforce the idea that: The preservation of the classic American culture rendered the Progressive political revolution impossible to implement during these times. However, I note that the decade of the 1960s marked the start of a period in which the Progressive cultural revolution made enormous strides. I leave to another venue a more complete discussion of that 50 year period 1965-2015, which saw a comprehensive and extensive cultural revolution in the United States. Indeed, the classic American culture was overthrown and it was replaced by a new radical culture.

So the prime reason, a la Gramsci, that the Progressive political revolution failed each time was that the cultural revolution was not yet complete – certainly not in 1915 or 1935, and also not yet in 1965 – albeit it was well on the way in the 1960s. Well today, in 2020, the cultural revolution is essentially complete. Here are its components;

  • First of all, Western Civilization is OUT. Roman/Greek/Hebrew history holds no special place for us. The culture of Western Europe is neither celebrated as “enlightened” nor relevant. It is marked by corruption, oppression, bigotry and colonialism. Columbus was a racist, unworthy to be considered a founder or discoverer of anything. Instead we look to the high achievements of indigenous people, people of color, minorities, and immigrants – anyone not tainted by the stain of white privilege.
  • Free enterprise has not turned out to be free or enterprising for most Americans. It concentrates wealth in the hands of white privileged segments of society; holding down the common folk in unsafe, poor paying, ephemeral jobs while a small coterie accumulates vast wealth – which it uses for nefarious purposes.
  • Individual rights are a scam to keep minorities oppressed. Group rights protect the average citizen much better.
  • Fair trade is not fair and not really trade. It sucks the wealth from poor people and enriches the white privileged.
  • Traditional religions reinforce the inequities described above. They represent biased, ignorant and unsympathetic viewpoints.
  • US exceptionalism is nonsense. We are no different than the peoples of any other country. Once recognized, we will join with people around the globe to solve problems in common.

Once again, a common and critical reason that the Progressive political revolution did not succeed in any of the three periods discussed is that the cultural revolution was not complete. Not anywhere close in 1920 or 1940; advanced, but not far enough in 1965; however, by 2020…

The forthcoming triumph of the Democratic Party via a newly elected President and control of both houses of Congress may well herald the arrival of the political revolution toward which the children of Gramsci (from FDR to Biden, from Wilson to Obama, from Johnson to Sanders) have been driving us. It fills me with nausea, horror, sorrow and fear to write that last sentence. The land of the free, the bastion of liberty, whose light the whole world looked to for freedom the last quarter millennium may be overthrown when the revolutionaries take power in 2021. They will:

  • Abolish the Electoral College and guarantee majority leftist rule perpetually.
  • Pack the Supreme Court to guarantee leftist “justice.”
  • Cripple the economy with confiscatory taxes, overwhelmingly burdensome regualtions, banned fossil fuels and profligate government spending.
  • Reinstitute all the absurd federal regulations removed in the last three years and institute myriad new ones, putting the federal foot on the throat of American business.
  • Continue to flood the country with aliens not schooled in Western Civilization or representative government.
  • Persecute those who espouse traditional values, laissez-faire economics, individual rights, American history and exceptionalism, and religious morals.
  • And very possibly, abrogate the Constitution.

They will purposefully destroy the United States of America as we have known it for nearly two hundred and fifty years.

There will remain tens of millions of Americans who will feel bitterly the loss of their liberty. They will bear testimony to Reagan’s warning, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

They will be persecuted and oppressed if they attempt to express misgivings about the new direction the country has taken. Some, perhaps many, will leave the US – voluntarily, or even involuntarily. Many of them will eventually be co-opted. But I predict that a large number will remain a seething sore in the body politic of the new unfree America. What will happen to them? Fortunately (for me) I am of an age that will almost certainly prevent me from finding out.

Two final thoughts. First, even if by some miracle, the Dems do not take control of the Presidency and both Houses of Congress in January, it is just a matter of time until they do. The flood of illegal immigration and the brainwashing – in school and by the media – continue unabated. It is inevitable that conservative America will be reduced to a voting minority. And then the revolution will be unstoppable. I take some solace from the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

On the other hand, perhaps I am underestimating the strength, character and wisdom of the American people. I recall vividly the fear I felt in 1967 and 1968 when American cities were burning, a savage war tore at the very fabric of our society, riots determined the selection of a president, and we seemed on the cusp of revolutionary change. It didn’t happen. The good sense of the American people prevailed as we restored order and proceeded to rely on our traditional beliefs and values to right the ship. Hopefully, we shall again.

An abridged version of this essay appeared in The American Thinker on Oct 14, 2020


The Nature of Freedom

The title suggests that there might be something ambiguous about the definition of freedom. Well according to our old friends Merriam and Webster, it is “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” Sounds about right to me. The freedoms enjoyed by all Americans are – according to our Declaration of Independence – natural rights, inherent to us as human beings, granted to us by Nature or God, and not by the Government, but secured for us by the Government. I’ve emphasized the word to for a reason that will be clear momentarily.

OK what are those rights that I have, my possession of which is characterized by the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint? These are spelled out generally in the Declaration, more specifically in the Constitution – including the Bill of Rights – and in the constitutionally permissible laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. There is no secret here; they include:

  • the right to reside where I choose
  • the right to pursue the vocation I choose
  • the right to marry, and more generally associate with, whomever I choose
  • the right to worship as I wish
  • the right to petition the Government
  • the right to peacefully assemble
  • the right to state my opinion
  • the right to a trial by a jury of my peers if accused of a crime.

There are more of course, but note the common word to. That is not surprising since Webster specifies that a freedom entails a choice or an action – that is, things I choose to do or act uponwhich choice or action is free from necessity, coercion or constraint. And so it has been understood – from the time of the American Revolution.

But beginning in the late 1890s, catching fire in the 1910s, and reigniting strongly in the 1930s, 1960s and 2010s, a substantial minority – and increasingly, looking like a majority – of the American people have settled on an alternate definition of the word freedom. If I may be permitted the liberty, I would state the new definition as follows: “the presence of security, comfort or guarantees in state or being.”

Now let us follow on this new definition with an exact parallel to the discussion above following the classic definition. First, the folks who propound the new definition rarely, explicitly discuss the origin or fount for these rights which are to be accorded to all residents of the USA. They – like Mr. Jefferson – hold them to be self-evident; but they scarcely specify their author, originator, source or justification. Self-evidence seems to be enough – although, alas, what is evident to you may be opaque to me.

Well, what are these rights that I should have that will guarantee my well-being by rendering my state more comfortable and secure? They have been spelled out by the presidential founders of progressivism: Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Obama. They include:

  • freedom from want (i.e., poverty)
  • freedom from fear (i.e., anything that makes me afraid); e.g.
  • freedom from expression of opinions that make me uncomfortable
  • freedom from prejudice
  • freedom from unfair competition (esp. from those more skilled or experienced than me)
  • freedom from violence (e.g., presence of guns)
  • freedom from superstition (i.e., religion)
  • freedom from incarceration
  • freedom from armed government agents (the police, ICE, etc.)
  • freedom from xenophobia (e.g., about undocumented immigrants).

Note now that the common word is from rather than to. That is because these freedoms do not pertain to an action or choice, but to a feeling or emotion or an external force on one’s person. As with ‘freedom to,’ there are more than those delineated above, e.g., freedom from illness or freedom from ignorance. And as with the first set of freedoms, these new freedoms are to be secured or guaranteed by the Government. But unlike the first set of freedoms, these are not granted or accorded to us by Nature or God; they are not natural rights in that sense. They are simply rights that just ought to be accorded to all individuals – or more precisely – to all groups living in an advanced society.

By whose authority? By the people themselves since the rights are self-evidently manifest to any enlightened member of society. Moreover, unlike the natural rights in the Founders’ society, the rights in the modern, enlightened society may evolve and change over time. New rights may be discovered; old rights may be discarded. Finally, the people, via their primary vehicle, the Government, determine what the current set of rights are, and then enforce them also via the Government. Thus, a “Living Constitution!” Which of course implies: Obsolescence of the Declaration and Abrogation of the Constitution.

It’s not my purpose here to compare the relative merits of the two systems. Rather it is to ensure that we understand the fundamental difference between the two definitions of freedom, and to allow the reader to ponder the drastic and overwhelming changes that would ensue if we the people discard the first definition and adopt the second. I will examine some of those changes in a future piece.

This article appeared in Canada Free Press on July 9, 2020

The Role of Religion in Liberty

It seems self-evident that in order for a free society to succeed, the people of that society must be virtuous. How so? Well, if all the citizens of a country are free to choose where to live, what vocation to pursue, with whom to associate and how/whether to worship, then with everyone free to make all those choices, it is inevitable that conflicts, inconsistencies and disputes will naturally arise. Members of the same family may disagree on where to live. Members of the same organization may – nay, will – fail to see eye-to-eye on how to run the organization. Business partners cannot agree on strategy to grow the company. Parents and children often fail to have a meeting of the minds on career path, social entanglements and how to pass leisure time. Co-religionists have different views on methods of worship or acceptable modes of behavior. Johnny and Sally – although married for years – may come to contrary opinions on parenting methods.

It is inescapable that free choice leads to conflicting choices. Thus the success of a free society requires that its people exhibit a tremendous amount of tolerance, patience, empathy, understanding, sympathy, reserve, deference, respect, generosity and a willingness to compromise. These are the qualities that mark a virtuous person. That is, a person of high moral character, who manifests exemplary behavior, is kind and considerate to others, a true “good person,” a paragon of virtue. But note that these are exactly the qualities taught to and urged upon us by the religions to which we ascribe.

Now this observation that for a free society to succeed, its populace must be virtuous, is hardly novel. It was made at the time that the “modern world” began to conclude that a society whose inhabitants are free is a much better way to organize said society than methods heretofore tried. With rare exception, all pre-modern societies were authoritarian, totalitarian, oligarchic, monarchal or otherwise classified, in which the average person was not free to make the choices we treasure (although often take for granted). Where to live, with whom to associate, how to earn a living, even whom (and how) to worship were prescribed for almost all individuals by others. During the Enlightenment, especially in the British Isles, but then spreading to North America and gradually to much of the globe, the notion that human beings ought to be free to organize their lives themselves became widespread. The implementation of the idea has been fitful depending on time and place over the last three centuries. Moreover, in certain places where it has been implemented (even if only partly), the requirement of a virtuous citizenry has been overlooked – with awful consequences. See for example, Russia in the 1990s, or Germany in the 1920s, or perhaps Iran in the 1970s.

I take the following two precepts as given and indisputable. First, human beings have the right to be free. Whether the right is conferred by God, Nature, some cosmic force, or even a group of men who put a few lines on a piece of paper (i.e., Founders writing a Constitution), the right is absolute and indisputable. Second, in order to successfully exercise that right, the free people must be a virtuous people. The success of free societies is directly correlated to the degree of virtuosity exhibited by its people.

Now it is not my purpose here to examine – currently or historically – how virtuous are/were the American people and how well/poorly has our free society succeeded. Perhaps in a future essay. Rather I would like to consider the question: whence the virtuosity? The title of the essay suggests an answer. Certainly the Founders (most, but not all of them) believed the answer was to be found in religion. Every major religion suggests that in practicing its tenets, its adherents will manifest virtuous behavior. Which will then play a fundamental role in the exercise of their rights as free human beings – and which, consequently, will engender a harmonious society.

Thus, according to George Washington, in his famous and oft-quoted farewell address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion, and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.“ [Emphasis mine]

And Benjamin Franklin in a letter written just before the Constitutional Convention:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

But there are countervailing opinions. Many have believed – and many still believe – that it is eminently possible to be virtuous without being at all religious. (Thomas Jefferson was a subscriber to this idea.)  Theories and movements have grown up around the idea (Secular Humanism, e.g.). The evidence for its truth is mixed. Certainly history is full of exemplary characters who did not subscribe to any particular religion. Jefferson himself might be cited as an example – although recent research calls into question his virtuosity.  But without naming names, I suggest that Western Civilization has witnessed a multitude of individuals who aligned with no specific religion, but who led exemplary lives.

So here are two quotes to serve as a counterbalance to Washington’s opinion. The first is due to the late Christopher Hitchens, a well-known author, described in a NY Times obituary as “a slashing polemicist in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell…” and the latter is by Matt Dillahunty, described by Wikipedia as an American atheist activist:

Hitchens: “We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”

Dillahunty: “I get my limits from a rational consideration of the consequences of my actions, that’s how I determine what’s moral. I get it from a foundation that says my actions have an effect on those people around me, and theirs have an effect on me, and if we’re going to live cooperatively and share space, we have to recognize that impact. And my freedom to swing my arm ends at their nose, and that I have no right to impose my will over somebody else’s will in that type of scenario. That’s where I get them from. I get them from an understanding of reality, not an assertion of authority.”

Nasty words from Hitchens, but Dillahunty presents a measured and cogent argument for a rational morality devoid of religion. Nevertheless, I believe that a religious free society has a very good chance of producing a virtuous citizenry. That is, virtue shall follow as a consequence of religious belief, thereby enhancing the chances for a successful free society. Well Hitchens, certainly, and Dillahunty, probably, would not agree. So the question remains: Can an irreligious, but free society generate the requisite virtuosity to succeed?

Perhaps not! Consider the following. Over the last seventy years, most of the countries of Western Europe have been exorcising religion from the lives of their inhabitants. The monumentally beautiful churches of France, Britain and Germany are nearly empty on any given Sunday. Has this resulted in a paucity of virtue? And is liberty in retreat in Western Europe? I cannot answer the first question, but it seems to me that the answer to the second is ‘yes.’ The peoples of Western Europe have been gradually surrendering their freedom to an authoritarian structure in Brussels known as the European Union. By the usual measures: ability to pursue a vocation of one’s choice, etc.; Western Europeans have slowly been losing their freedoms. Thus far the people of America have not made a similar choice. But in their attempt to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that threatens us, we have moved in that direction recently. Perhaps it is temporary. We’ll see.

To summarize, a virtuous citizenry is required to maintain a successful free society. Virtue can come as a consequence of religion. Can an irreligious society generate the requisite virtuosity? The jury is deliberating. What do you think?