*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.
A Free People’s Suicide | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Four: The Golden Triangle of Freedom
Two things have consistently surprised me in my years in the United States: that the sole American answer to how freedom can be sustained is the Constitution and its separation of powers and that the rest of the founders’ solution is now almost completely ignored.
It was not always so. Historians point out that the modern elevation of the Constitution as the sole foundation and bulwark of American freedom reached its present height in the 1930s. That was no accident. Significantly, it came right on the heels of a general secularization of American law that has led in turn to a general legislation of American life.
The framers also held that, though the Constitution’s barriers against the abuse of power are indispensable, they were only “parchment barriers” and therefore could never be more than part of the answer. And in some ways they were the secondary part at that.
The U.S. Constitution was never meant to be the sole bulwark of freedom, let alone a self-perpetuating machine that would go by itself. The American founders were not, in Joseph de Maistre’s words, “poor men who imagine that nations can be constituted with ink.”
Many educated people who scorn religious fundamentalism are hard at work creating a constitutional fundamentalism, though with lawyers and judges instead of rabbis, priests and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical. But unlike the better angels of religious fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism has no recourse to a divine spirit to rescue it from power games, casuistry legalism, litigiousness—and, eventually, calcification and death.
Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart.
Together with the Constitution, these habits of the heart are the real, complete and essential bulwark of American liberty. A republic grounded only in a consensus forged of calculation and competing self-interests can never last.
Summer Reading Series
A Free People’s Suicide
IVP Books, 2012
You can also watch Dr. Guinness present on this topic at Socrates in the City.