Guinness On Freedom

Freedom is exceedingly important, and the great thinker Os Guinness has much to say on it:

I have written often before about the Chinese-born, English-raised, and American-based Christian thinker Os Guinness. The 80 year old had written many dozens of very important books, of which I have twenty. Some of these I have written full reviews of, such as here: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/11/03/review-impossible-people-os-guinness/

Guinness has long sought to bring biblical truths to bear on current events and share the primacy of the Judeo-Christian worldview in the public square. He is one of the great Christian intellects of our time. And one area he writes about frequently is the nature, importance, perils and future of freedom and democracy.

The importance of liberty, of human rights, and of the rule of law are discussed in numerous volumes. Here I want to focus on just three of them, and offer a number of quotes from each. Those who have read many of his works will find familiar themes and thoughts here. But no matter how often they are stated and expressed, they are always very important indeed.

Here then are some choice quotes from these three very significant volumes:

The Magna Carta of Humanity (IVP, 2021)

“This book is a response to America’s crisis by a firm and longtime admirer of the American experiment. Three major themes run through my argument. First, the American crisis is a crisis of freedom and must be understood as such. . . . Second, the present crisis stems from the fact that over the last fifty years, major spheres of American society have shifted their loyalties and now support ideas that are closer to the French Revolution and its heirs rather than the American Revolution. . . . Third, the time has come for a new global thrust on behalf of freedom and justice for humanity. The inadequacies and failures of the last several centuries in politics have become plain, especially in terms of the hollowness of much traditional liberalism and the horror of much radical leftism. The best way forward for America and the world must be through rediscovery and a fresh examination of what I will call the Sinai Revolution.”

“The English and American Revolutions are decisively different from the French Revolution, and the future of freedom depends on appreciating the differences and choosing between them. The uncomfortable truth for Americans is that the United states may still be the world’s lead society, but the ideas of the American Revolution no longer inspire the world’s pursuit of freedom – even for many of America’s intelligentsia and the younger generation.”

“The great paradox of freedom is that the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom. No one and nothing enslaves free people as much as they enslave themselves. The repeated failure of free societies is a fact of history that can easily be demonstrated. Freedom commonly fails when it runs to excess and breeds permissiveness and license. Or again, freedom fails when people who love freedom so long to be safe and secure that their love of security undermines their freedom.”

“The reminder that liberty is a matter of the heart takes us to the very core of the challenge of freedom and to a challenge that no lover of liberty can afford to fail to appreciate – Freedom is never stronger than its strength in the hearts and minds of each succeeding generation of citizens. There are times when freedom requires guns and tanks, aircraft carriers and jet fighters, but no guns, tanks, aircraft carriers, and jet fighters will ever create, protect, or sustain freedom by themselves. ‘Make America Great Again’ simply cannot and will not succeed through rebuilding the military and the economy alone. Freedom begins and ends in the human heart, in the hearts of citizens and children, and all attempts to find and fulfill it elsewhere are doomed to fail.”

“With the weakening of religion, the marginalizing of morality, and the forgetfulness over history, power is filling the vacuum across American politics as a whole. Witness the recent threats of impeachment as power plays. But the absolute idolatry of power and the devilish exploitation of inequalities and resentments are the perfect expression of both neo-Marxism and postmodernism. They have been at the heart of the revolutionary faith of the left ever since the French Revolution.”

Image of The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai's Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom
The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai's Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom by Guinness, Os (Author) Amazon logo

Last Call for Liberty (IVP, 2018)

“The truth is that many Americans need to be woken up from their slumbers and self-congratulation, and many need to be called back from the chaos of their infighting. They need to recognize the rarity, audacity – and fragility – of what they have achieved, and to see how their present behaviour is threatening to squander their great heritage. Above all, Americans must recognize that two competing views of freedom are locked in a moral struggle. The question is which of the two, 1776 or 1789, is the surest guide to full and lasting personal and political freedom.”

Freedom includes the notion of human responsibility. Freedom means deciding between choices and acting on our choices. Each choice could have been otherwise if we had not chosen as we did. Freedom therefore means shouldering responsibility for the choices we have made. No child, slave, or robot is free in this way. Citizenship is an into adult task. A free people who will to choose freely are answerable for themselves, for their actions, and for the consequences of their actions.

“In an age obsessed with entitlement and rights, the responsibility and duties at the heart of freedom often get selective attention. . . . In sum, freedom and responsibility are inseparable and at the heart of growing into adult life and citizenship.”

“Negative freedom is still only half the story. By itself, negative freedom leads only to license and would end in either chaos or tyranny. No one achieves full and genuine freedom unless they go on to experience positive freedom.”

“First, freedom is not the permission to do what you want, but the power to do what you ought. And second, such freedom is not individual only. Each person’s freedom is free only to the extent that each one respects the equal freedom of all others too.”

“All freedom requires restraint, and the greater the freedom the greater the restraint and the stronger the accountability it requires.”

“America, America. Do you know what time it is? Do you understand the meaning of this moment? Freedom is at stake…”

A Free People’s Suicide (IVP, 2012)

“If the founders were correct, contemporary America’s pursuit of political leadership without character, economic enterprise without ethics and trust, scientific progress without human values, freedom without virtue and negative freedom without positive freedom can only end in disaster. It rings the death knell of sustainable freedom, and as it works itself out socially and politically in countless areas, it makes the decline of America only a matter of time.”

“A nation’s constitution, though decisive for its form of government, is not sufficient by itself to sustain it forever. A constitution rests on a foundation. Or more accurately, it rests on a bedding of customs, traditions and moral standards, from which it grows and by which it is sustained. So the character and health of these customs is crucial, for some customs are positive, healthy and therefore supportive of the constitution, and others are negative, degenerate and hostile.”

“What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of ordered liberty. Tocqueville called it ‘habits of the heart,’ and I call it ‘the golden triangle of freedom’—the cultivation and transmission of the conviction that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, which in turn requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom and so on, like the recycling triangle, ad infinitum.”

In short, sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart. Together with the Constitution, these habits of the heart are the real, complete and essential bulwark of American liberty. A republic grounded only in a consensus forged of calculation and competing self-interests can never last.”

“Quite simply, the Declaration of Independence is the grandest and most influential statement of freedom from interference in history. But unlike many modern citizens, the founders did not stop there. They were equally committed to the complementary importance of freedom for excellence. Their aim, as we saw, was liberty and not just independence.”

“The plain fact is that no free and lasting civilization anywhere in history has so far been built on atheist foundations.”

“If Lord Acton was right that religion is the key to history and Christopher Dawson was correct that every great culture has been empowered by a vital and creative faith, then as your faiths, so will your character, virtues, and culture be. This means that there is probably no chance of reordering society effectively unless there is a reforming and successful reordering of the faiths of the citizens too.”

“You have turned from your founders and their vision of lasting freedom, and from the deeply held Jewish, Christian and classical beliefs that made their vision both necessary and possible. You have turned to alternative visions of freedom that are seductive but lazy-minded and empty, and are now proving disastrous. And all the time you are turning yourselves into caricatures of your original freedom in ways that are alternatively fascinating and repellent to the world. Will you return?”

“Remember that free societies are rare and transient, that the American republic is neither ancient nor stable and that its nature as a great experiment may not survive the abandonment of the foundations of its founders.”

“The Spirit of Liberty is not to be found in courts, laws and constitutions alone. Liberty lives in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to save it. While it lives there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”

[1703 words]

4 Replies to “Guinness On Freedom”

  1. I’ve been a long-time reader of Os Guinness. He has been on the case for quite a while. Both his earlier and later books are very informative. I like his style and fascinating approach to contemporary subjects. He deserves to be highly awarded for his contribution to Christianity and Western culture. He shines a light in the darkness.

  2. I must agree with this “The great paradox of freedom is that the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom. No one and nothing enslaves free people as much as they enslave themselves. The repeated failure of free societies is a fact of history that can easily be demonstrated. Freedom commonly fails when it runs to excess and breeds permissiveness and license.”

    I often put it that they, the leftist etc are using our freedoms to destroy our freedoms.

    “Tocqueville called it ‘habits of the heart,’ and I call it ‘the golden triangle of freedom’—the cultivation and transmission of the conviction that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, which in turn requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom and so on, like the recycling triangle, ad infinitum.”

    I wish most of the Christians are just supposed to save souls people would consider this triangle. If you want to ave souls, through sharing your faith, the fighting for freedom, which requires fighting the culture wars, is a must. A Christian wishing to preach or evangelize should care about the culture he is to preach or evangelize in and wish to create a better culture for preaching or evangelizing.

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