Liberty vs License.

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The following excerpts from Robert George’s 2003 commencement address provide ideas of perennial value, as treating the critical distinction between liberty and license.* Exposure to his ideas has particular worth for younger Americans, as they reflect a point of view about freedom rather different from, as Dr. George notes, “so many of our opinion-shaping elites in education, entertainment and the media”.

Two quotes of special interest are given first.


Freedom and Its Counterfeit (Liberty vs License)  —  from remarks by Robert P. George


“The so-called freedom celebrated today by so many of our opinion-shaping elites in education, entertainment and the media is simply the license to do whatever one pleases. This false conception of freedom – false because disordered, disordered because detached from moral truth and civic responsibility – shackles those in its grip no less powerfully than did the chattel slavery of old.”


“Counterfeit freedom is worse than fraudulent. It is the mortal enemy of the real thing. Counterfeit freedom can provide no rational account or defense of its own normative claims. It speaks the language of rights, but in abandoning the ground of moral duty it provides no rational basis for anyone to respect the rights of others or to demand of others respect for one’s own rights. Rights without duties are meaningless.”


Freedom, Truth and Virtue

True freedom consists in the liberation of the human person from the shackles of ignorance, oppression and vice. […] What overcomes ignorance is knowledge, and the object of knowledge is truth – empirical, moral, spiritual. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

True freedom, the freedom that liberates, is grounded in truth and ordered to truth and, therefore, to virtue. A free person is enslaved neither to the sheer will of another nor to his own appetites and passions. A free person lives uprightly, fulfilling his obligations to family, community, nation and God. By contrast, a person given over to his appetites and passions, a person who scoffs at truth and chooses to live, whether openly or secretly, in defiance of the moral law is not free. He is simply a different kind of slave.

The counterfeit of freedom consists in the idea of personal and communal liberation from morality, responsibility and truth. It is what our nation’s founders expressly distinguished from liberty and condemned as “license.” The so-called freedom celebrated today by so many of our opinion-shaping elites in education, entertainment and the media is simply the license to do whatever one pleases. This false conception of freedom – false because disordered, disordered because detached from moral truth and civic responsibility – shackles those in its grip no less powerfully than did the chattel slavery of old. Enslavement to one’s own appetites and passions is no less brutal a form of bondage for being a slavery of the soul. It is no less tragic, indeed, it is in certain respects immeasurably more tragic, for being self-imposed. It is ironic, is it not, that people who celebrate slavery to appetite and passion call this bondage “freedom”? [Emphasis added.]

Counterfeit freedom is worse than fraudulent. It is the mortal enemy of the real thing. Counterfeit freedom can provide no rational account or defense of its own normative claims. It speaks the language of rights, but in abandoning the ground of moral duty it provides no rational basis for anyone to respect the rights of others or to demand of others respect for one’s own rights. Rights without duties are meaningless. Where moral truth as the ground of duties is thrown overboard, the language of rights is so much idle chatter fit only for Hollywood cocktail parties and faculty lounges. […]

The Danger of License

But counterfeit freedom poses greater dangers still. As our founders warned, a people given over to license will be incapable of sustaining republican government. For republican government – government by the people – requires a people who are prepared to take responsibility for the common good, including the preservation of the conditions of liberty. [Emphasis added.] […]

* The address was given at Hillsdale College.
(http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/965223/posts)