The Price of Liberty: Eternal Vigilance
The dictum of Curran seems appropriate as a theme, that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Freedom is an eternal principle. Heaven disapproves of force, coercion, and intimidation. Only a free people can be truly a happy people. Of all sad things in the world, the saddest is to see a people who have once known liberty and freedom and then lost it.
I have seen the unquenchable yearning of the human heart for liberty on two unforgettable occasions. These experiences are indelibly etched on the memory of my soul.
I saw this yearning spirit in the faces of many European people, in the aftermath of World War II. It fell my lot, under the direction of the president of the Church, to be among the first to go into war-torn European countries and distribute food, clothing, and bedding to the suffering members of our church. I saw firsthand entire nations prostrate, flat on their backs economically. I looked into the face of hunger—the pale, the thin, the many dressed in rags, and some barefoot. I saw the refugees, the poor unwanted souls who were driven from their homes to destinations unknown. They came with all their possessions on their backs. I visited some of their homes—shacks—where as many as twenty-two people were living in one room. I saw men enslaved by habit barter their food and clothing for a cigarette. I saw some who were fortunate to get hold of an American magazine and pore over its pages and wonder if what they saw could possibly be true. I saw the struggles on every hand to get to America—some legal and others illegal—all in an effort to enjoy freedom and liberty. These were a people who had once known freedom, but had let it slip away.
The second unforgettable experience was when I was in Russia in 1959. We had been touring seven European countries as a part of the objective of the government of the United States to develop world markets and create good will.
Mr. Khrushchev had promised me that I would be able to visit a Christian church in Russia. During our stay there, the guides did everything possible to prevent this. On the way to the airport, before leaving Moscow, I insisted that we go to a Baptist Church in Moscow. It was only a few minutes out of the way. Reluctantly, we were taken to the church. Our guides had told us that the churches were empty, that no one attended church any more, and that religion is the “opiate of the people.”
When we arrived at that Baptist Church, we found it full to overflowing. I looked into the faces of the people. Many were middle-aged and older, but a surprising number were young. As we were being ushered to pews, which had been vacated for our unexpected visit, people reached out and grasped for our hands to touch us, “almost,” in the words of one newsman, “as one would reach out for the last final caress of one’s most beloved just before the casket is lowered.” They were in misery and yet a light shone through the misery. They gripped our hands like frightened children.
Later in the service I was asked to address the congregation. I spoke to them about God and Jesus Christ, His Son. I encouraged them to be unafraid and to pray for peace. I witnessed to them the reality of the resurrection and that this life is only a part of eternity. Then, in closing, I told them that truth would endure and that time was on the side of truth.
I don’t recall all I said, but I recall being lifted up and inspired by their rapt faces. When I sat down, the whole congregation broke into a favorite hymn of my childhood, “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.” We walked down the aisle and they waved their handkerchiefs in farewell—it seemed all 1500 were waving. When we finally left, the young lady Russian guide whispered to my wife, “I’m a Christian, too.”
It has been my privilege to speak before many church bodies in all parts of the world, but the impact of that experience is almost indescribable. I shall never forget that evening as long as I live.
Seldom, if ever, have I felt the oneness of mankind and the unquenchable yearning of the human heart for freedom so keenly as at that moment. One correspondent described the experience in these words: “The Communist plan is that when these ‘last believers’ die off, religion will die with them. What the atheists don’t know is that God can’t be stamped out either by legislated atheism or firing squad. This Methodist back-slider who occasionally grumbles about having to go to church, stood crying unashamedly, throat lumped, and chills running from spine to toes. It was the most heart-rending and most inspiring scene I’ve ever witnessed. With heavy hearts we left to rejoin the smug, smart-aleck atheist guides who took us to the church but refused to go in.” (Tom Anderson, Farm and Ranch Magazine.)
Never will I forget this victory of spirit over tyranny, oppression, and ignorance. Never can I doubt the ultimate deliverance of the Russian people.
Freedom from aggression is a justifiable concern. As historians have pointed out, however, great nations do not usually fall by external aggression; they first erode and decay inwardly, so that, like rotten fruit, they fall of themselves.
The history of nations shows that the cycle of the body politic slowly but surely undergoes change. It progresses—
—From bondage to spiritual faith—From spiritual faith to courage—From courage to freedom—From freedom to abundance—From abundance to selfishness—From selfishness to complacency—From complacency to apathy—From apathy to fear—From fear to dependency—From dependency to bondage.
The greatest threat to the freedom of any nation is erosion—not erosion of the soil, but erosion of the national morality and character. What we have to fear is not force from without, but weakness from within.
Every nation yearns for liberty, but too frequently its own self-indulgence precludes the possibility of freedom. I speak of the trend of pleasure without conscience, wealth without work, business without morality, politics without principle, and worship without sacrifice. I believe personally there is a strong relationship between a strong, prosperous nation and the faith and righteousness of its people.
There are indispensable conditions that must be met if a nation is to preserve freedom and prevent its own downfall. May I cite four of these conditions—pillars upon which a nation’s security rests.
1. A faith in God and in the universal brotherhood of all mankind.
I believe with all my heart the words of the American patriot Patrick Henry, who, on the eve of the American Revolution, said, “There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.” Further, it is part of my faith that no people can maintain freedom unless their political institutions are founded on faith in God and belief in the existence of moral law. God has endowed men with certain inalienable rights, and no government may morally limit or destroy these.
The Founding Fathers of the United States seemed to have a clear realization that, to survive, the new nation would need a reliance on the protection of God for their survival In the Declaration of Independence there is an appeal to the “Supreme Judge of the world” and to “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” The document concludes with this affirmation: “And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”
Here we see that the principle of supremacy of the individual over government is rooted in religious precept. The corollary to this recognition and reliance upon God is the belief in the worth of the individual. The two precepts go hand in hand. The truth is very evident and simple. There is a God in heaven who is the sovereign power of the universe, and we are His literal offspring. He has endowed us with inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This He has implanted in the human breast. This is why men cannot be driven indefinitely or led by despotic rulers to intellectual or physical slavery and bondage. Fear and despotism may rule for a generation or two, or three, but in time the human spirit rebels, the spirit of liberty manifests itself, and its tyrannous hand is overthrown. Yes, as the offspring of God, we share a common paternity that makes us literally brothers, and thus a common destiny. When this truth sinks into the human heart, men demand their rights—life, liberty, and happiness. It is as the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17.)
I believe this spirit of liberty is beginning to manifest itself in Soviet Russia today, as evidenced by the testimonial of the Nobel Prize recipient, Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
“We dissidents in the U.S.S.R. don’t have any tanks, we don’t have any weapons, we have no organization. We don’t have anything. Our hands are empty; we have only a heart and what we have lived through in the last half century under this system. When we have found the firmness within ourselves to stand up for our rights, we have done so. It’s only by our firmness of spirit that we have withstood, and I’m standing here before you, not because of the kindness or the good will of Communism, not thanks to detente, but thanks to my own firmness and your firm support.
“The Communists knew that I would not give up one inch, not one hair, and when they couldn’t do more, they themselves fell back. This was taught to me by the difficulties of my own life.” (U.S. News and World Report, July 14, 1975, p. 49.)
In the meantime, we must not forget the source of all our blessings—our prosperity, our wealth, our comforts, our freedom. We must not forget that it is by God’s gracious hand that these blessings are preserved, and not by our own superior wisdom. May we keep alive our faith in God by worshiping Him and keeping His commandments.
2. Strong homes and family ties.
The home is the rock foundation, the cornerstone of civilization. No nation will rise above its homes, and no nation will long endure when the family unit is weakened or destroyed. I need not remind you of the great threat to the family in all nations of the world today. Divorce is epidemic. The father’s place at the head of the home is being challenged, and mothers have, in many instances, left the hearth to join the work force, thus weakening the stability of the home. Children, not growing up with strong parental guidance and spiritual influence, are allowed to roam freely. Not only does this lack of training and permissiveness sponsor indolence, but many of these youth, out of boredom, have also turned to drugs, juvenile delinquency, or crime.
3. A political climate and governmental system that protects man’s inalienable rights.
Every governmental system has a sovereign, one or several who possess all the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. That sovereign may be an individual, a group, or the people themselves. Broadly speaking, there are only two governmental systems in the world today. One system recognizes that the sovereign power is vested in the head of state (a monarchy or dictatorship) or a group of men (an oligarchy). This system is as old as history and rests on the premise that the ruler grants to the people the rights and powers he thinks they should have. It is the basis of Roman or civil law, and all dictatorships of history. The system is wrong regardless of how benevolent the dictator may be, because it denies that which belongs to all men inalienably—their right to life, property, and liberty. Since all men are brothers, it follows that “it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” (D&C 101:79.)
The other system is that which had its historic origin in 1776, the year of the American independence. The Founding Fathers were men who understood the tyranny that can come out of the system of civil law. They had been indoctrinated in a different system of thought, that of common law, which is premised on the idea that true sovereignty rests with the people. Believing this to be in accord with truth, they inserted this imperative in the Declaration of Independence: “That to secure these Rights [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.”
Later, when the young nation had won her independence through the Revolutionary War, a free peoples’ representative drafted a second document, the Constitution of the United States, which opens with this Preamble:
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Here the people were speaking. They recognized their sovereignty, not that of a king, emperor, or oligarchy. All rights and powers not granted specifically to the government were retained by themselves. This is the difference between freedom and despotism!
There are only two possible sources of man’s rights. Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition, and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. As the French political economist, Frederick Bastiat, phrased it so succinctly, “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” (The Law, 1850, p. 6.)
Since God created man with certain inalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around. Even the nonbeliever can appreciate the logic of this relationship. It just isn’t good for government to do for people what they can and should do for themselves. Any country that pursues policies that cause the self-reliance, initiative, and freedom of its people to slowly drain away is a country in danger. Let it be remembered that as government leaders our primary task is to protect the freedom of the people.
4. Elected government officials who are wise and good, and a vigilant, informed citizenry.
You will note that I have qualified what, to me, should epitomize those fit to lead. They must be both good and wise. Some men are good, but too naive to be wise statesmen. Other men possess great intellect, but are not morally good. A nation, to endure, must have leaders at the helm whose mandate is higher than the ballot box.
If a government is really the sum of its people, and they are sovereign, then it follows that they must be watchful, vigilant, and informed lest their liberties become gradually usurped by naive or unscrupulous leaders and they awaken to find their liberty gone. Despotism does not arise on the platform of totalitarianism or anything resembling it. It is voted into office on platitudes of “democracy,” “freedom,” promises of what the government will provide the people, or “something for nothing.” In reality, government should do nothing economically for a people that they can do for themselves. To pursue policies to the contrary weakens national initiative and destroys character, and politicians who prey on the gullibilities of the electorate to stay in public office are unworthy of the trust given to them.
We must keep the people informed that collectivism, another word for socialism, is a part of the communist strategy. Communism is essentially socialism. Alexis de Tocqueville, with unusual insight, was able to foresee and predict the spiritual deterioration that would occur if the people forfeited their rights to a paternalistic welfare state:
“After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd.” (Democracy in America, New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 2:338.)
Wise leaders ought to have, then, as one of their major objectives, the education of citizens to the truth. “Enlighten the people generally,” said Thomas Jefferson, “and tyranny and oppression will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” (Works, 6:592.)
These, then, are the pillars upon which any nation’s national security rests:
- Faith in God and in the universal brotherhood of all mankind.
- Strong homes and family ties.
- A political climate and governmental system that protects man’s inalienable rights.
- Elected government officials who are wise and good, and a vigilant, informed citizenry.
Today we are in a worldwide battle, the first of its kind in history between two opposing systems, freedom and slavery; between the spirit of Christianity and the spirit of the antichrist for the bodies and souls of men. May God grant that we will win the battle by alertness, by determination, by courage, and by an energizing realization of the danger.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Are we willing to pay the price? The days ahead are sobering and challenging and will demand the faith, prayers, and loyalty of all men to the truth. As the ancient apostle declared: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:12.)
May God give us the wisdom to recognize the danger of complacency, the threat to our freedom, and the strength to meet this danger courageously.
(Source: Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, published 1977)