The 2002 republication of Russell Kirk’s classic, The American Cause, proposes an accessible template to the success of the United States during the past two and a half centuries. Kirk concisely describes the underpinnings of the United States’ philosophy as freedom in areas of moral, political and economic matters. He believes this freedom is what allows the United States citizenry’s quality of life to excel while states of similar size lag in success. He further argues the inability of other states to provide ample environment for quality of life has created an atmosphere ripe for revolutionaries to push collectivist policies and ultimately overthrow once democratic institutions. While I do find the United States freedom to still be un-parallel in the world, one wonders if Kirk’s vision of American freedom would still hold true today?
While unstated, each of Kirk’s arguments seems to be a predicate to Saint Augustine’s view on evil. Augustine prophesized in his work, The Confessions, that evil held two forms which ultimately promoted God’s will. The first form of evil was a natural disaster such as a tornado or hurricane. While the cause of this evil cannot be explained, there is a beneficial outcome that God will be eventually reviled to the recipient of this ill. The other type of evil is an interpersonal injurious action such as stealing or a precipitated attack. While this evil is bad for the two actor, the ultimate cause of the indignity is good because the injurious act could not have been committed if both actors did not have “free will”. Augustine places “free will” as the most important of God’s gifts to man and therefore any injury caused by that gift is acceptable with some reparations. In both instances, evil is the constant which is protected by the sanctity of God.
Kirk’s equivalent to “free will” is “freedom”. Kirk believes without proper protection of natural rights through a “Filtered Democracy” (Chapter 6, p 67), freedom is not available to humans. He believes too much intervention by government causes tyranny and no freedom to individuals because their lives are micromanaged by a government entity. He believes too little government intervention creates anarchy which precipitates random loss of freedom to the whole. Ultimately, Kirk believes no “freedom” is constant in the world and that consistent “freedom” is best protected by a government that instills “Justice”, “Order” and “Freedom”. In this scenario, lack of “freedom” is the constant which is protected by the veil of government.
Some may question this interpretation of a conservative doctrine like The American Cause as blasphemy. How can a small government conservative equate government to the likeness of God? How can a libertarian believe the only way to protect human freedom is through a government entity? The answer is simple. God is an infinite creature in and infinite universe. Humans are finite creatures in a finite universe under the umbrella of a world created by God. While humans do not have untethered knowledge because they are finite beings, they do have experiential knowledge and apriori emotional knowledge. These two knowledge sets can be used to create a bottom up government using a social contract much like the knowledge use to create the positive law that governs the United States.
Back to the question of if Kirk’s vision of American freedom would still hold true in the eyes of today’s citizenry, I believe Kirk would say yes. He would preface this statement, however, and say that the bottom of the government triangle looks much slimmer and the top of the government triangle carries much more regulatory power than originally designed.