In a free and open society like ours, what’s to stop someone from doing harm to self and others on a whim? The answer: nothing. Nothing curbs our worst impulses but the interior decision to prefer virtue over vice. What this means is that a free democracy requires morality—and not just any morality, but a morality that everyone shares as universally binding.
If we lose the moral sense, our democracy will fail. Government alone cannot protect us against evil choices. Evil choices invite government regulation of personal freedoms. The regulation of the corporate world is occasioned, not by legitimate profit motive, but by greed. Greed causes corporate executives to lie to shareholders about their profitability and pursue dishonest business dealings. Health industry regulation comes into demand the more health insurance companies dodge their responsibility to cover what their high premiums promise they will cover. Gun rights regulation increases when people commit gun crimes. Taxes increase when we fail to voluntarily share our financial blessings with the needy. We get mired in an overreaching welfare system because too many of our citizens drop out of school, get addicted to drugs, conceive children out of wedlock, become slothful, or commit crimes.
None of these big government measures are conducive of democracy or, for that matter, of basic human rights. However, if we were practicing the Gospel values on which our nation was founded, we would provide no impetus for socialist infringements on our freedoms. Freedom is a responsibility to do what perfects oneself and others—that is, to do what achieves self-evident good. The more we undermine this nation’s moral foundation with hedonism and moral relativism, the more we set the stage for atheist collectivism. If Christ is not our savior, government will be proposed as a substitute.
Political solutions to our national decline will only be as successful as our attempts to reform our faith and morals. Greed, lust, detraction, and selfishness are the seeds of civic decline. These vices cause citizens to borrow and spend more than they make, violate their marriages and break up their families, sue each other at the drop of a dime, lash out violently at others, steal and defraud our neighbors, and use each other as objects. There is no political philosophy, no economic plan, no legal framework that can overcome a nation plagued by vice. Under these conditions, no party and no political platform will succeed.
We may “toss the bums out” come election day, and establish a government more in keeping with our founding principles, but if we don’t simultaneously reform our licentiousness there will be no grounds for good government. We’ve been pining away for the good old days when we enjoyed long-term prosperity and peace, but recovering the good times will require more than a return to more conservative political and economic policies. These would be a welcome change, but if the public is not motivated to use freedom for the good, public policy is not worth the paper it’s written on.