Phi Beta Cons

Understanding Freedom

One of the most stirring records of a young person’s coming to understand the Declaration of Independence and the meaning of freedom as defined in the American experience comes from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, from her series of children’s books based on her own childhood in the early days of the settlement of the prairie.
Laura and her sister Carrie hear the Declaration recited at the Fourth of July celebration in their prairie town. They knew it by heart, “of course,” we learn (“of course!). But now Laura has a sudden insight into the words as never before:

She thought: Americans won’t obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good. Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. “Our father’s God, author of liberty–” The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.

“Our father’s God, author of liberty” is a line from “America,” by Samuel F. Smith, the patriotic hymn that begins “My country, ’tis of Thee,/Sweet Land of Liberty/Of thee I sing.”
I wonder if even a fraction of young people today possess such a deep understanding of freedom, or, on the other hand, would be able to give their own account of it, if they find they can’t agree with Laura’s God-centered interpretation.

Most Popular

Elections

Trump’s Disgraceful Gambit

The Rudy Giuliani–led press conference at the RNC yesterday was the most outlandish and irresponsible performance ever by a group of lawyers representing a president of the United States. If Giuliani’s charge of a “national conspiracy” to produce fraudulent votes in Democratic cities around the country ... Read More
Elections

Trump’s Disgraceful Gambit

The Rudy Giuliani–led press conference at the RNC yesterday was the most outlandish and irresponsible performance ever by a group of lawyers representing a president of the United States. If Giuliani’s charge of a “national conspiracy” to produce fraudulent votes in Democratic cities around the country ... Read More
Elections

System over Policy, Nation over Faction

One of the more insidious things about President Trump is the way he acts as a kind of gravitational distortion in our political-moral space. His combination of self-serving unscrupulousness and weaponized charisma adds ethical weight to the decisions of more ordinary politicians and pundits. Political ... Read More
Elections

System over Policy, Nation over Faction

One of the more insidious things about President Trump is the way he acts as a kind of gravitational distortion in our political-moral space. His combination of self-serving unscrupulousness and weaponized charisma adds ethical weight to the decisions of more ordinary politicians and pundits. Political ... Read More
Politics & Policy

‘The Dumbest Coup’

Noah Rothman’s excellent piece in Commentary, “The Dumbest of Coups,” deserves to be widely read. I’ve been writing about conspiracy theories for a while now — QAnon, the Flat-Earth gang, etc. — and one of the things you quickly learn about conspiracy theories is that every conspiracy theory is, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

‘The Dumbest Coup’

Noah Rothman’s excellent piece in Commentary, “The Dumbest of Coups,” deserves to be widely read. I’ve been writing about conspiracy theories for a while now — QAnon, the Flat-Earth gang, etc. — and one of the things you quickly learn about conspiracy theories is that every conspiracy theory is, ... Read More
Elections

Election 2020’s Endgame

Today on the menu: States are certifying their votes, and Trump's legal team is in turmoil. The 2020 Election Starts to Wind Down Michigan and Pennsylvania are set to certify their election results today, and Nevada is scheduled to do the same tomorrow. Saturday night, U.S. district judge Matthew W. ... Read More
Elections

Election 2020’s Endgame

Today on the menu: States are certifying their votes, and Trump's legal team is in turmoil. The 2020 Election Starts to Wind Down Michigan and Pennsylvania are set to certify their election results today, and Nevada is scheduled to do the same tomorrow. Saturday night, U.S. district judge Matthew W. ... Read More