Liberty and transcendence

During their CPAC 2014 speeches, both Mike Huckabee and Ralph Reed mentioned the importance of religious faith to the American understanding of liberty.  The ongoing assault against freedom of conscience – and it is an assault, deliberate and strategic – makes it more important than ever to understand this connection between liberty and transcendence.

It would be silly to downplay the importance of specific Judeo-Christian tenets to the development of the American Constitution, but really, no specific religious reference is necessary to grasp the essential concept of transcendence: authority beyond government.  

That’s a very tricky concept, understood by virtually no one on the left side of the political spectrum, and they’ve got plenty of company from the Right.  They don’t believe there can be authority beyond government.  They think the terms are synonymous.

But the American understanding of liberty is rooted in the notion of inalienable rights, which are not a gift from government.  These rights cannot be stripped from a minority of citizens by the vote of the majority.  We’re not even supposed to be able to surrender inalienable rights voluntarily.

It’s quite difficult to fully appreciate this concept unless you express it the way our Founders did, by speaking of God-given rights.  That really hammers home the idea that passing political fancies cannot erode our inalienable rights.  No government agency can take back what God bestowed on us at the moment of our inception.

Some try to cut divinity out of the equation and suggest the ultimate authority rests with the people, who have veto power over government through regular elections.  That doesn’t work, though.  It leaves the people with power to trample each other’s supreme rights by majority vote.  Also, that whole “veto power over government through elections” thing doesn’t work all that well in practice.  Once sovereign rights have been transgressed, they never seem to recover that inalienable luster.

It’s difficult to appreciate transcendence in the total absence of religious faith, the absolute refusal to believe in any sort of divine authority… but it’s not impossible.  Just remember – as so many people seem unable to do these days – that there are some powers no government can ever be authorized to exercise, no matter how commanding any electoral victory might be, or how much good politicians claim they can do.