Individual Freedom: A Tenet of Christian Prudence
Posted by Tony Listi on April 21, 2008
Within limits, human beings should respect the individual freedom other human beings because this freedom, our free will, is a gift of God. I believe our freedom is also a reflection of the freedom of God, a reflection of his image and likeness perhaps.
However, we live in a fallen world such that people do not always use this gift responsibly. Human beings must endeavor to order themselves correctly as best they can, though knowing all the while that everyone, even our leaders, are fallen and prone to the disorder of sin. So for the sake of ordered society, we cannot tolerate the abuse of that freedom in certain circumstances, especially when they cause harm to others. And because human beings are dependent on each other for learning and practicing good order, widespread abuse of freedom could ultimately destroy a community or a nation. In such cases, power and coercion (i.e. government) must be brought to bear to curb individual freedom.
Therefore, the social and political life of human beings is characterized by the tension between order and liberty (which is a key insight of conservatism). Theoretically, if the state could in fact order human beings’ lives and society well (totalitarianism), would Christians have any reason not to support state intervention into all aspects of their lives? Yes, because such a fact would deny the value of human freedom. There would be no value in a hypothetically all-benevolent state controlling each and every citizen like a remote controlled robot. Individual freedom does have value in and of itself.
Also, for all the imperfections of the human soul and the free market, more often than not, government intervention in the market and the lives of individuals does more harm than good. The concentration of power necessary for a supposedly benevolent government to totally order society, that concentration of power is itself corrupting and thus a cause of disorder.
Therefore, individual freedom, for the Christian and conservative, is not a matter of absolute principle but rather one of prudence (as is requiring obedience to human authorities). And thus the exercise of reason is required too. Harm to others must be weighed against individual freedom.
Thus the conservative certainly believes that prudence dictates much more economic freedom than we have currently in the US. The conservative, though, may struggle on a variety of issues relating to personal freedom (gay marriage, prostitution, drugs, etc.). The struggle arises because the harm to others may be less apparent or immediate and little to no coercion is involved.
This entry was posted on April 21, 2008 at 5:45 pm and is filed under Christianity and Politics, Economics, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Written by Me. Tagged: Christian, Christian prudence, Christianity, disorder, economic freedom, freedom, God, harm, harm principle, individual freedom, order, ordered liberty, personal freedom, prudence, social issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.