Prager, Thatcher, And The Morality And The Magic Of Freedom
On his Friday radio program, Dennis Prager looked back to a speech in the 1990’s at Hillsdale College by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that is available online. It was the concluding presentation of a series on the Judeo-Christian tradition and the necessity of morality in democracy and Thatcher noted America’s uniqueness, of course as the current Prime Minister of the nation from which we separated. Reading the first few paragraphs, Prager said he felt like weeping and I identified, and posted them here:
The Moral Foundations of the American Founding
History has taught us that freedom cannot long survive unless it is based on moral foundations. The American founding bears ample witness to this fact. America has become the most powerful nation in history, yet she uses her power not for territorial expansion but to perpetuate freedom and justice throughout the world.
For over two centuries, Americans have held fast to their belief in freedom for all men—a belief that springs from their spiritual heritage. John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote in 1789, “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” That was an astonishing thing to say, but it was true.
What kind of people built America and thus prompted Adams to make such a statement? Sadly, too many people, especially young people, have a hard time answering that question. They know little of their own history (This is also true in Great Britain.) But America’s is a very distinguished history, nonetheless, and it has important lessons to teach us regarding the necessity of moral foundations.
John Winthrop, who led the Great Migration to America in the early 17th century and who helped found the Massachusetts Bay Colony, declared, “We shall be as a City upon a Hill.” On the voyage to the New World, he told the members of his company that they must rise to their responsibilities and learn to live as God intended men should live: in charity, love, and cooperation with one another. Most of the early founders affirmed the colonists were infused with the same spirit, and they tried to live in accord with a Biblical ethic. They felt they weren’t able to do so in Great Britain or elsewhere in Europe. Some of them were Protestant, and some were Catholic; it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they did not feel they had the liberty to worship freely and, therefore, to live freely, at home. With enormous courage, the first American colonists set out on a perilous journey to an unknown land—without government subsidies and not in order to amass fortunes but to fulfill their faith.
Christianity is based on the belief in a single God as evolved from Judaism. Most important of all, the faith of America’s founders affirmed the sanctity of each individual. Every human life—man or woman, child or adult, commoner or aristocrat, rich or poor—was equal in the eyes of the Lord. It also affirmed the responsibility of each individual.
Of course, many critics see nearly the opposite in the exercise of both American power and freedom. They in fact see power exercised in the pursuit of dominion and treasure, usually notwithstanding the cost to lives and taxpayers. And domestically, they see economic freedom as the exploitation of the many for the sake of the few.
To me it seems that in this perspective there is a lack of respect for both defending freedom for others and for the power of freedom as I believe designed by God, to both prosper all who seek prosperity and to sanction poor or purely selfish ambition. Though surely men seek reward in every situation, there is not much to say about the cynicism that sees American leaders acting only to sacrifice the efforts and lives of American heroes for the sake of padding their own usually quite adequate wealth.
But the lack of understanding of how liberty both rewards and sanctions in free markets has been the siren call of the left for over a century. Recently, I have contended directly with a traditional blue collar perspective that “the rich” prey on the poor (and rich leaders just live and work to “make their rich buddies richer”) and we see Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi for instance, continuing to press the necessity of maintaining higher taxes on “the wealthy” ostensibly to help the less fortunate. Pelosi and company in Congress most sickeningly refer to maintenance of current tax rates for higher earners as “a giveaway” that we cannot afford for those who don’t need it. Not taking earned wealth is a “giveaway.” I understand that regardless of election results and cultural winds, Democrats must press onward with the class warfare, telling the masses that they are exploited by the most prosperous. There is a basic human envy that this has always appealed to, and there is no other strategy for them. The Democratic Party is largely a one-trick pony: make people feel deprived and cheated, whether by bigotry or by greed.
Now, I’m not hungry, and I’m perfectly warm and dry. But I’m not especially wealthy, and I have a few friends but no “rich buddies.” If I did, I expect they could take care of themselves as I imagine most people do. If you have nothing better to do than look out for rich buddies, you need to get a life. But I and conservatives don’t defend the wealthy, we defend freedom. When applied with a few fundamental moral constraints like the punishment of fraud or concealed potential harm, freedom is self-regulating and the most productive force in human history. And the (I think divine) magic of the market is that one entity can only better him or her self by offering a product or service that another entity will VOLUNTARILY pay for. In doing so, they create work for people. No business, no jobs; not even government jobs. Those are paid by the taxes of businesses and employees. And, if the market is not pleased, that entity will either adjust its activities to please a market, or be beaten and fail. And they must produce at a cost or quality that will prevail over any competition. Most businesses do fail and people must adapt to successfully please some market.
This self-regulating and society-benefittingfunction of a free market is what Adam Smith referred to as “the invisible hand” of the market over 250 years ago. Talk of exploitation and transfers of wealth to the upper classes is nonsense. Wealthy people don’t “take” wealth, they “create” it. I have referred below to Milton Friedman and his Chicago School of economics, which taught free markets and monetary integrity. Friedman was a great respecter of Adam Smith. For anyone who is really interested, I recommend watching videos of Friedman that are available on the web, including from his “Free To Choose” television series, a follow-up on his book of the same name. Friedman presents his case not in parochial academic jargon, but in straightforward language and examples. But in particular, his perspective is presented in very digestible form in a couple of interviews he did in 1979 and 1980 on the popular television show of liberal Phil Donahue. Below, I have posted the 1st of 5 videos of each interview.
What I find very interesting is that though Friedman directly and clearly responded to all of Donahues questions, even to where Donahue began to follow and suggest the logic himself. But 25 years later, Donahue was still as fierce an interventionist liberal as ever. This is just one more demonstration of what has become increasingly clear to me in the past decade; that in most debates over the great questions of human thinking, predispositions are established at a very low-level in a belief system and do not change easily and rarely at all. That’s why in most debates te disputants seem to be talking past each other: THEY ARE! When people do change on the great questions, it is a momentous and life-altering event. Big reasons that I listen to Prager’s program are two of his axioms and operating principles. 1) He judges people not on their opinions but on their morality. And 2) In debating issues, he declares his preference for clarity over agreement: let’s pin down and be clear on exactly what it is we disagree about. Early in the 20th century, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein described the philosopher’s task as that of clarifying the ambiguities in the questions of an argument. It seems the same objective.