Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Expiration Date On Liberty

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the HBO movie "John Adams". We've been watching the seven episode treatment of David McCullough's excellent book. Yesterday evening, after a long stretch with no time available to view much of anything, we stayed home for our "date night", cooked steaks, and double-featured the last three hours of the series.

Once again I was struck by how comfortable my life is in 21st Century America. There we sat on our over-sized sofa, eating fillet-mignon with fresh asparagus and garnished baked potatoes that I'd prepared in the modern kitchen we're shortly going to tear out and replace, enjoying air-conditioned comfort in complete security.

As president and first lady, John and Abigail moved into an official residence that was in deplorable condition. They occupied the White House before it was anywhere near completion in the middle of the vast construction site that was to become "Washington City." Transportation involved mud and discomfort and all manner of inconvenience.

Communications were haphazard; there was no national infrastructure to speak of; medical interventions were inexact and frequently brutal; misfortune had no accompanying parachute of insurance or unemployment benefit or welfare.

In short, this nation was carved out of a vast, unmanageable amalgam of disconnected people, doing their best to engineer some kind of connectional republic from a morass of loosely organized farms, villages, cities and states.

The Great Experiment worked, for the most part, because a love for the ideal of liberty drove the founders to work their fingers to the bone, compromise, tolerate, sacrifice, believe... and place the good of the emerging nation ahead of any desire for personal gain.

My fear on May 19, 2009, is that the most compelling ideal driving far too many Americans is the ideal of prosperity, not liberty. And that far too many of us willingly give away our freedom in exchange for consumer goods with an expiration date of just a few months.

There is an expiration date on liberty. It's the day we don't value freedom enough - either for ourselves or for our children - to be willing any more to sacrifice in order to keep it.

No comments: