October 24th, 2014 | No Comments
In the opening paragraph to The Social Contract, the author Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself issued forth a provocative statement when he wrote that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
One might wonder if Henry David Thoreau was meditating on Rousseau’s observation when he himself penned these words in his classic work “Walden or Life in the Woods” nearly 1 ½ centuries later: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”
Why is it that these two social critics – one born in the 18th century (Rousseau) and another born in the 19th century (Thoreau) appear to come to the same conclusions about the nature of man amidst the nature of the human condition?
What is it in the human heart that seems to give itself towards slavery (Rousseau’s allusion to “chains”) and desperation (Thoreau).
This writer ponders this question himself and observes that the distinct disciplines of Theology, Philosophy and Natural Science all attempt to answer the aforementioned question in different ways starting with different premises. One can only hope that the practitioners of these respective disciplines are all “asking the right preliminary questions” (C.S. Lewis Miracles).
Perhaps there is very good reason for human beings to feel “desperate” and in “chains.”
When one surveys the globe, one could easily lose much sleep over the threat of “Nuclear annihilation” (North Korea and Iran are quickly developing nuclear capabilities).
One might worry over the recent “Ebola” health crisis. It seems that every day we are treated with a new story concerning a misstep by one of the nation’s health officials
“Radical Political Islam” is alive and well. Just the past few weeks have seen a spike in Jihadist activity – not in the Middle East – but in both the United States (Oklahoma and New York) and Canada (Ottawa).
And, in the United States, the citizenry is treated to political campaign ads that are becoming more and more harsh sounding with regards to the up and coming Mid-Term elections.
Why is there such volatility and volcanic eruptions stirring worldwide?
Why was it that most Americans during Mr. Thoreau’s time – and during our own existence – could be described as living desperate lives?
This journalist is currently reading The Confessions of Saint Augustine and Augustine makes a profound observation in his masterful biography: “You (GOD) have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You!”
Dear Reader, are we looking for “peace,” “safety,” “prosperity,” and “well-being” in all of the wrong places?
For the past 1,500 years we have been guided by great writers like Saint Augustine, Boethius, Saint Anselm, and Juliana of Norwich – and most of all by “The Holy Bible.”
Dear Reader, perhaps in our desire to become autonomously free we have placed ourselves into chains and into our current state of desperation.
In our efforts to gain more and more personal freedom have we forgotten the wisdom articulated by Augustine and many others?
This writer cannot speak with authority to the origins of many other nations, but in the United States, the founders of this republic counted on a “Virtuous public” that would value both “Faith” (most of the Founding Fathers were either Christian or Deist) and “Freedom” over short-term gain and fleeting prosperity.
The citizens of this “virtuous public” would take a long-term view over both issues and things as they would always remember that “Freedom” is a gift from GOD (“Faith”) and that the “gift of Freedom” must be cherished and nourished and passed on anew to each and every generation.
Observers of the American experiment from abroad such as Os Guinness have written extensively that the Founding Fathers believed in an “Iron Triangle” of Freedom, Virtue, and Faith – and that this “Iron Triangle” was imperative to the ongoing future existence and prosperity of the new nation that they founded.
If the United States desires to move away from its self-imposed state of “desperation” and “spiritual malaise,” then it must, it must, it must recover the roots of her “Civic and Moral Virtue” while there is still time to save this great and grand experiment of ordered liberty.