Paul  Kengor

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Paul Kengor’s new book 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. Among the principles is faith. A version of this article first appeared at RealClearReligion.org.

Conservatives constantly talk of freedom.

Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Go to any gathering of conservatives, and you will hear a freedom mantra. They speak of “freedom” almost as if it were a one-word synonym for conservatism, a slogan for the movement. At times, they do so in an almost trite way.

Ronald Reagan likewise spoke constantly of freedom. Mankind, from “the swamps to the stars,” as he said in his seminal October 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech, longed to be free. The global Cold War struggle of Reagan’s life represented the arc of that longing, of that crisis. Obviously, the communist world hungered for freedom. But even the free world didn’t always appreciate it. Free people needed always to be reminded of their freedom and the need to understand and reassert it. That included Americans. Reagan said that freedom is always under assault; every generation must fight to preserve it.

Yet, in truth, as Reagan understood, to invoke freedom alone is a mistake. Freedom by itself, isolated, is libertarianism, not conservatism. For the conservative, freedom requires faith; it should never be decoupled from faith. Freedom not rooted in faith can lead to moral anarchy, which, in turn, creates social and cultural chaos. Freedom without faith is the Las Vegas Strip, not the City of God. Freedom without faith begets license, and invites vice rather than virtue. Faith infuses the soul with a sanctifying grace that allows humans in a free society to love and serve their neighbors, to think about more than themselves. We aspire to our better angels when our faith nurtures and elevates our free will.