I’ve been thinking a good bit about Liberal Ideology. My purpose in this article will be modest: I want (1) to establish a few dominant features of historic liberal ideology, (2) discuss how it transformed from its historic form into its present authoritarian form and (3) discuss the nature of freedom as it relates to authoritarianism, morality, and God. Firstly, then, liberal ideology as it exists today is bent towards authoritarianism. This is strikingly different then historic “liberalism” that understood its main task to be holding big corporations and government accountable. In this sense, that libertarianism is the natural extension of historic liberalism makes sense.
Liberalism has long been framing ‘freedom’ vs. ‘morality.’ What I’ve said often is that only what society sees as morally allowable will be legislatively possible. We know, with few exceptions, that society has grown more and more immoral evinced in the legislation that now protects what was once deemed too immoral. The picture, of course, is more complex than this since America has a well-known shadow government, the Administrative State that is largely unaccountable to the People because they are appointed, not elected. Liberalism has historically aimed to question authority and to act as a check on that authority. Morality is such an authority, especially since the Church accrued the status morality supplied. The framing of this was “you do you” but don’t tell “me how to do me.” This resulted in the imperative of ‘freedom’ overtaking and often defeating the boundaries that morality set. We thus had a very free society in America crafted in this morality vs. freedom process while the historic boundaries set by morality loosely stabilized most of the country.
As time passed, it became increasing evident that how ‘freedom’ was defined was terribly flawed. The Founders defined ‘pursuit of happiness’ as ‘the attainment of virtue.’ Through the 20th century, the Church’s influence waned in America and, at some point, the great rights of the United States, “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” became redefined. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ was redefined from ‘attainment of virtue’ to ‘satisfaction of one’s preferences and tastes.’ ‘Liberty’ was redefined from ‘behaviors that enhance our freedom’ to ‘freedom to do as one wishes.’ The development of thought on what the phrase “pursuit of happiness” means traces back to ancient Greek philosophy, the Bible, and then is given renewed articulation leading up to its use in the Declaration of Independence by John Locke. Locke states in his work An Essay on Human Understanding:
“The Necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action ….”John Locke
It may not be immediately evident that the pursuit of happiness always already presumes a morality. What morality to use for the pursuit is the optimal question. To set out to attain happiness means that we have determined what is the highest good because we mean to attain it. Locke takes a very narrow view on what “pursuit of happiness” means while admitting that there is an “imaginary happiness” we can confuse with genuine happiness. Simply put, the enhancement of one’s freedom is the achievement of happiness, which “is our greatest good.”
It takes no genius and very little life experience to know that some behaviors eliminate our freedom: the use of freedom robs us of acting freely in the future. With time, what was a free choice is now a compelled slavery. There is precisely no one who thinks becoming more and more a slave is one’s greatest good. Even in the biblical texts of the New Testament in which believers are called “slaves of God” or “slaves belonging to God,” this ‘slave’ status is grouped together with being eminently free.
“But now having been freed from sin [you] have become slaves of God.”Romans 6:22
The New Testament’s definition of freedom is to be free from sin.
Jesus states, “… you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free … everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”Jesus the Christ, John 10:32 – 35
Such a behavior state means these “slaves of God” are free to do righteousness (Romans 6:18), which is the highest form of satisfaction, communal good among humanity, and reconstitutes the Imago Dei (image of God) to iteratively enhance ever greater degrees of freedom. The argument here is simple: virtuous behavior equals greater freedom which equals happiness. God is radically the freest Entity imaginable; His freedom is fundamentally different from our freedom. Nevertheless, the more fully the Imago Dei in us is realized, the growth in our ability to act freely continues.
We are ready now to come full circle. As historic liberalism took “freedom” to mean simply “doing as one pleased” and understood “pursuit of happiness” as a hedonist quest of satisfying one’s desire, the morality subtly shifted. Formerly, both ‘freedom’ and ‘pursuit of happiness’ meant engaging in behaviors that enhanced one’s ability to act more freely in the future, which implied doing “good” or “virtuous” acts. This is so because using one’s freewill to enact evil results in lesser and lesser degrees of freedom — we know this because we have all engaged in behaviors that become increasingly compelled over time (which is an evil itself, since deprivation of freedom is evil).
What is the natural extrapolation of historic liberalism? Since being free to do what one pleases will invariably result in doing some actions that extinguish one’s freewill, there will come a time where much of the society is enslaved to their desires. The conflict in Western society is now born out of a host of citizens enslaved to their desire, unable to break those patterns of life, while yet another large segment of society remains set on preserving their freedom by doing good. Here we are again, the “Freedom vs. morality” conflict. What is missed is that it is more like “compelled-self-slavery vs. morality.” The implication is that those who remain moral are also those who remain free. Morality enhances one’s ability to freely choose. The conflict really lies on a big segment of society, both on the Right and the Left, who are self-enslaved vs. the moral-&-free.
Because self-enslavement is experiencing authoritarianism, the desire to compel others to act like the one who is enslaved is nothing more than eliminating the same freedom in others that one has already extinguished in oneself. Here is where evil looks tangible. We Christians call is Satan, but you can all it what you will. The point is that the evil that enslaves someone looks and feels more and more like an external force. The self-enslaved person might really be horribly enslaved to this external force, making this self-tortured slave an agent of a power that consumes and destroys freedom.
We have now returned to the present where liberalism has transformed into autocratic liberalism. What I have sought to do in the forgoing paragraphs is demonstrate that using freedom to engage in depraved behaviors leads inexorably to self-slavery that wants to extend that slavery outward to others. There is an appetite not only in the depraved behavior but in the consumption of the freedom itself. When the freedom in oneself is lost, one must go outside oneself to consume others’ freedom. One’s way of life becomes a droning enactment of slavish habits; this, over time, begins to be a new normal. Acting in a way that excludes freedom seems ever more natural, and so likewise should all others be compelled. Authoritarianism is given birth. It came from an unlikely place. A movement, historic liberalism, that sought to put checks on authority and advance freedom has now become autocratic in the extreme. This historic liberalism went astray when it failed to remember than “freedom” is a fundamentally moral feature of human existence. Said differently, hedonism without moral guidance leads to self-slavery. When this self-slavery is experienced, it bespeaks loss of self-determination, which implies that something, someone is compelling the enslaved person. Through the practice of consuming and destroying their own freedom, they extend this practice onto others. I introduce to you authoritarian liberalism which is only satisfied when the freedom to do differently from them is destroyed. Enter critical race theory, enter wokeism, enter grooming kids, and say hello to depravity, a moral system with enslavement as its end goal, which is why we would call this an immoral system rather than a moral one.
We might, in close, ask further questions. Is the desire to control others born out of not being able to control oneself? Is being an agent of darkness, eliminating freedom, a kind of worship of the darkness one advances? Can there be freedom in darkness or only in the Light? Blind leading the blind seems to hit the nail on the head, no? Is all this “destroying and consuming” the freedom of others really just irrational? Is perhaps the act of self-enslavement so contrary to human reason that it generates tyranny, despotism, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism, as a kind of nihilism, a ritual of destruction that must be performed over and over again to satiate dark masters?