Paradox of Liberty

There is a paradox at the heart of liberty, a tension between our desiring what is good and our willingness to sacrifice true happiness for fleeting satisfaction. “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” abolitionist Wendell Phillips said. Lord Acton echoed the idea, calling liberty, “the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.” The delicacy of freedom cannot be explained without recourse to the realities of good and evil. Freedom is both universally sought and everywhere in jeopardy because of the imperfection of human nature. We are beings who seek what is good, but are tempted by what is evil. Freedom–the capacity to know and choose what is good–is the path to fulfillment, but reason is clouded and the will is compromised by our inclination to pursue what is base. This is why liberty blooms only in a mature civilization, a culture in which the discipline to act virtuously is widespread. It requires a political order in which the proclivity to acquire power is checked by constitutional limits and, more critically, by the moral formation of electorates and officials alike.