Conservatives, Liberals, Libertarians, you name it. Labels are everywhere. But do we always understand their meaning? Let us take a quick look at just Libertarians and Conservatives. Libertarians try to minimize the role of government as much as possible over most areas of life. Following John Locke, they think that government’s purpose is basically to guarantee the safety of persons so they can pursue their interests and secure their property.

For the most part, Conservatives view the government’s first duty exactly as Libertarians do, to provide security and to enforce a rule of law that guards freedom.  However, they also see the law as a source of moral authority, as a teacher of civility. Why?  Because when human law best mirrors divine natural law, we have both a free and a virtuous society. That is why conservatives indeed pursue certain policies such as to encourage marriage over cohabitation, prevent revisionist understandings of marriage such as homosexual and poly-amorous kinds, prevent certain experimentation in biology that hurt human dignity, oppose the killing of the innocent in abortion and euthanasia, etc. In other words, there are a few areas where government can define the good and the wholesome for the good of society.

I think that both poles, freedom and the good, are necessary and in tension to protect society. That is why I do admire and support much of what Libertarians have to say and also understand the Conservative position. I believe that the Founders were successful in balancing both poles, liberty and virtue, without swallowing virtue into choice or killing freedom to pursue virtue.  That is why I called my personal block Ordered Liberty, as that is what I believe in! Thus, I try to stay away from labels, although I will be labeled. There is such balanced position in our history and recapturing it is what makes our work worthwhile. I believe that free choice is the door to freedom but freedom has a moral basis.

That is why they encouraged religion as a value that prepares us well to live in a Republic.  The Christian religion nurtures values that are necessary in the market, as to encourage honesty and integrity. We are not only rational animals with an innate and voracious appetite for self-satisfaction and willing to take every possible advantage over others in the market. We are persons made in God’s image, with the capacity for moral self-realization and choosing the good. In the past, people could even offer a hair from their mustache as collateral for a loan precisely because the Christian virtues were encouraged and nurtured without harm to liberty.  The law reflected the cultural reality by encouraging the strength of institutions such as marriage, etc.

We are not simply amoral beasts with appetites in need of a government with a gun ready to blow us up if we dare to cross the line drawn by the other’s life and property. The cost on each of us to constantly protect ourselves from savage neighbors would undermine the value of free exchange. I do not tell another, “Enemy, I suspect you but let us trade!”  That is not the society envisioned by the Founders. Whenever government encourages and protects the basic institutions that nurture the values feeding and enlightening the market, government serves an important function. It is not that we look to Christian moral law or natural law to substitute human law but that we believe that the Founders were successful in articulating natural law principles in the constitution.

The Libertarian, I surmise, has nothing to fear in a government that limits its interventions to such development of human capital and virtue. As the market is an efficient system, it will offer outputs consistent with inputs. If you feed it crap on one side do not expect it to smell good at the other. Thus, a moral and cultural ethos is the foundation for a free market and a good society. We indeed will value freedom more if the society it produces offers an atmosphere of trust, love, and safety where I can live and raise my children. Besides, how do you really expect for a society not to reflect in its laws a cultural reality? Legislators are not automatons who leave who they are at home. We can place certain limits that respect liberty and encourage virtue all at once. Only by positing that transcendent truth is incompatible with freedom can we argue for a state of affairs where the law cannot reflect any value but that of free choice. Conservatism affirms that we can uphold the true and the good and at the same time offer a society where freedom reigns and choice is maximized.

In convincing others to protect freedom and property the Founders appealed not only to the threat of power from a government insisting in punishing transgressors. They appealed also to concepts of natural law built in man and coming from the mind of God:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The new experiment of freedom the Founders created is not utopian, it attempts to create no heaven on earth. It is in fact, very tradition-focused and reasons from an accepted concept about man and God. By expanding liberty, it secured a set of principles and values about what it means to live in a good society.  Therefore, the proper governmental entity can embody certain values the people hold true and good to secure life and liberty and support the pursuit of happiness.

Conservatism agrees that many areas of life, including the moral life, ought to be reserved to the exertions of mediating institutions. The Federal government has no business in imposing laws outside its competence on the people. But if the local government of a given state wants to reflect in its law he moral north of its people, what is there in the constitution preventing them?

A return to the values of the Founding will indeed require a radical shift of power from the Federal government back to the states and to the people. Conservatives support that shift. We also think that it will require a more prominent place for churches and other basic institutions in the nurturing of Gospel and Market values. We hope, all will salute that shift also. They showed that the duty of man is to seek excellence (virtue) to create prosperity without the coercive power of a state without limits to its power. In insisting to highlight both virtue and freedom they offered to us all the hope of a great future.