I know I'm crossing a line in posting this article because the story at the link is behind a subscription pay wall; consequently, you should be a subscriber to view it. But I think this is such a superb item that I really do hope that by sharing it you, dear reader, will find the same wonderful insight I found, enjoy the same sublime gift in Hill's writing style and clarity of thought, and (I hope) find it of sufficient value to actually subscribe the The American Interest. I've had the great pleasure of working with Adam Garfinkle, the Editor at TAI, on a couple of articles and he was always the epitome of what you would expect an editor to be: supportive, encouraging, prodding for completion, sound advice. His blog is here. He does a marvelous job at assembling an array of quality essays for each bi-monthly issue. Please check it out.
As for Hill's article, when you've finished reading it -- and you'll need to set aside some time to do so -- you'll find yourself thinking, "But of course! It all makes so much sense." Hill addresses, and echoes, the concern of George Washington regarding the necessity and challenge of "maintaining the character of the nation amid the temptations of freedom." He walks the reader through the evolution of how society's appreciation of virtuous living is constantly challenged by the opportunities for mischief presented by increasing liberty for the individual and freedom for our society as a whole. He discusses the corrosive aspects of our "Age of Entertainment," the "Great Virtue Shift" of the last few decades where vices have become virtues, and how our government itself has shifted as officials respond "to the changing psychology and national character of the country."
Per Hill, "Throughout most of American history people were preoccupied with how to prevent government from becoming corrupt. In our time, governments have discovered how to corrupt the people. It then follows that the more corrupted the people become, the more numerous the laws must be, thus further aggrandizing government’s indispensability." Hill brings it all together in his concluding paragraphs where he emphasizes and ties together freedom, liberty, and the essential, enabling virtue of self discipline...all rooted in a strong foundation of religious belief.
To the main point of Washington’s Farewell Address...Tocqueville added that in America, uniquely, religion and liberty are compatible: Freedom sees religion as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its rights, while religion is the guardian and guarantee of the laws that preserve liberty. But at the same time...American liberty has been endangered by the American “passion for regulation.” This, Tocqueville predicted, eventually would enable government to extend its arms over society as a whole, to cover its surface “with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way.” [...] ...a lack of self-limitation on individual liberty will produce excess and coarseness; virtue will retreat and, as it does, hypocritical moralizing about society’s deficiencies will increase. Widening irresponsibility coupled with public pressure for behavior modification will mount and be acted upon by government. The consequential loss of liberty scarcely will be noticed by the mass of people now indulging themselves, as Tocqueville predicted, in the “small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.” We will not as a result be ruled by tyrants but by schoolmasters in suits with law degrees, and be consoled in the knowledge that we ourselves elected them. [...]
In short, if we as a people and as individuals cannot exercise self-discipline derived from the virtues provided by our religious convictions, then our "coarseness" as a society will increasingly result in additional layers of government intrusion and regulation upon which we will continue to be increasingly dependent until we finally arrive at a state where all liberty is lost and government power is absolute. A free society is a virtuous society, one that is serious about what it takes to maintain such and is always on guard against those influences that constantly seek to erode its character. It is time for us to once again be a serious people.
From the September/October 2013 issue: