Behind all the supposed debate over issues like health care, cap-and-trade and the spending frenzy involved in fueling the freight train to national socialism looms the simple question that pervades them all: Do Americans still care to be free? Of course, I don’t use the word in the narrow sense of doing whatever pleases you at the moment. Whether they were confronting the harsh realities of frontier life, accepting the discipline of working to care for a family, or striving to develop the skills and talents that have been the cutting edge of America’s economic success, that silly libertarian idea of freedom in the licentious sense has never been the object of America’s allegiance.

But when people came together at the frontier settlements to make provision for the defense of their nascent communities; when they gathered to decide who might act as sheriff to deal with local misdemeanors; when they deliberated about building a church or a school; or electing the town’s first mayor, or doing something about the muddy mess on Main Street when the rains came, that was freedom. It meant accepting responsibility for the good of the whole community, rather than expecting some special class of individuals to take on that responsibility in exchange for status and power.

We have now come to a decisive moment in the history of the United States. Some people, represented openly by the Obama faction, and covertly by their crypto-socialist fellow travelers in the leadership of the Republican Party, want to turn back the clock on republican self-government. Grabbing at whatever issues offer the best excuse, they promise to build the future for us – using government money, following plans drawn up by government bureaucrats and administered under the supposedly benevolent auspices of party bosses we should trust to do what’s best for us.

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Of course, the catch is not what they promise to do for us. It’s what they will force us to do, supposedly for our own good. They will force us to buy government-dictated health insurance. They will force us to surrender our personal means of self-defense. They will determine what’s acceptable to call sin in our churches and who it’s acceptable to hire even in our private schools. In the name of “abortion rights” they will force medical personnel to murder helpless children in the womb. In the name of environmental and ecological right they will decide what cars we may drive and what products we can produce.

Of course, so long as we’re willing to accept forced sterilization or abortion in the event of pregnancy, they will let us fornicate with whomever we choose; even making a mockery of marriage if that contributes to our “self-esteem.”

And all the while they will make sure we have every opportunity to work at the jobs they allow, in the workplace they control, under the managers they choose for the salaries and wages they determine. No more bickering over contracts, or fussing about whether the quality of your work and results deserves better pay. No more fruitless pursuit of a better life in entrepreneurial endeavors that have scant chance of succeeding anyway. Life under these benevolent dictators will be very “zen,” so long as we are willing to accept the anxiety-free existence that comes with doing what you’re told by the politicians who have morphed from your representatives into your masters.

Thanks of course to the wondrous advances of modern social science, we need not fear that these new oligarchs and aristocrats will abuse such enormous powers. There will be no pogroms, no purges, no ruthless and vengeful vendettas against their opponents. That’s ancient history, as the sterling record of totalitarianism in the 20th century demonstrates. We have only to say with reverence the name of Mao Zedong in order to be convinced that the national socialist path will care for us as gently as Mother Teresa cared for the broken bodies of the poor on the streets of Calcutta.

I fear that we are prey to these delusions precisely because we live in a time when those who speak of Mao and Mother Teresa in the same breath are treated as serious officials, while those who will not surrender the pairing of God and liberty are cast aside as lunatics. Are we losing our true freedom because we have already lost our moral sanity? Will pretending that our choices have to do only with money and power do anything to treat what really ails us?

Because real freedom (i.e., the liberty that comes with self-government) requires discipline and responsibility, it cannot be sustained by people unwilling to accept either. In our day, that’s the challenge involved in the question: Do you want to be free? It is a moral challenge. For freedom to survive, we need leaders willing to ask the question, and people willing to answer it with more than their words. Do we still have either?

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