Paul  Kengor

“Each new generation must be trained to be responsible citizens … to be virtuous and conscientious,” writes Howard in The St. Croix Review. “Once the free society is well-established, the daily life of the family and the society is such that becoming virtuous is not a monstrous chore for the young people.”

Sadly, becoming virtuous has indeed become a monstrous chore in a society not only lacking virtue but eschewing virtue—fleeing virtue like a vampire fleeing a cross. Living life in a good way—what Benedict Groeschel calls The Virtue Driven Life—becomes so alien that the people prefer darkness over light. When virtues are not taught—whether at home, at school, or by America’s educator-in-chief, the TV set—they become unknown and ignored and unfulfilled, desiccated and dead upon the national landscape.

And perhaps saddest of all, as John Howard notes, virtue is something that can be acquired, like learning to speak a culture’s language. Once inculcated, however, it needs to be continuously reinforced by the cultural elements of the society. Virtue needs nourished, like fruitful plants need water and sunlight. Says Howard emphatically: “I want to repeat…. Virtue must be continuously reinforced by the culture.”

We Americans might not think about this much, but we actually sing it fairly often, even if the words don’t sink in. Consider this line from one of our sacred political hymns, America, the Beautiful:

America, America,
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

That’s the ticket: Confirm thy soul in self-control. Our liberty is enshrined in our laws, but liberty should not be license for opportunities for the flesh. Our liberties, protected and permitted as they are, should not be exploited to do anything and everything we want, including things harmful to oneself, to one’s family, to one’s neighbors, to one’s culture, to one’s country. That misunderstanding and abuse of freedom is what Pope Benedict XVI calls a “confused ideology of freedom,” one that can engender “the self-destruction of freedom” for others.

In truth, a genuine freedom requires responsibility. As the song says—and as Washington and Montesquieu intimated—we must successfully govern ourselves in order to successfully govern our nation.

It’s a timeless concept worth remembering this Fourth of July and every day going forward.


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