What Makes for Liberty

by Michael Auslin

“Liberty does not depend upon the institutions of a country, but upon the spirit in which they are administered. Democracy is not a constitution, but a state of mind.” — J. M. Thompson, European History, 1494-1789.

Play lightly with our democratic institutions, and we risk losing our liberties. Value democracy too little, and our Constitution becomes but words on paper. Those who wish to remake society at a stroke have little understanding of the balance of our representative government and know nothing of the pain caused by such utopians in the past. At some point, faith in the equity of the system erodes, cynicism triumphs, and each looks out only for himself. Then, might rules, not justice, and as Thucydides wrote, the strong do what they will while the weak suffer what they must. Only a prudential respect for limited government and the balance of power can protect individual liberty and nurture a democratic spirit.

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