A Free People's Suicide

Mark's #45 - A Free People's Suicide by Os Guinness

Os Guinness is an astute social critic, historian, Christian apologist, Irishman born in China and educated in England. Os has also long been an admirer of America's founders and their commitment to ensuring American freedom.  A Free People's Suicide serves as a prophetic warning cry to Americans to take heed, learn from their past, or else be buried in the inevitable decline that has overtaken every other world super power.  Or, as he closed each chapter:

Those who aspire to be like Rome in their beginnings must avoid being like Rome at their ending.  Rome and its republic fell and so too will the American republic - unless...

Guinness argues that "the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom"  (19), meaning that our freedom we enjoy turns out to be a sort of assumed freedom that does not press us to persevere in our freedom.   For example, in the name of 'freedom' we will go to great lengths to remove our private freedoms in a scary and dangerous world, thus justifying increased government intrusion in a wide variety of surveillance and 'safety' measures (see the full body scans at the airport these days).

More concerning than these infractions however, Guinness argues that the greatest threat to American freedom is the loss of a culture of virtue, honesty, and integrity that was present and necessary at our nations founding  (with the exception of obvious blind spots such as slavery).  In other words, a nation may have freedom on the constitutional level (which is necessary), and yet not have these ingredients necessary on the individual level... thus there is increasing legislation to protect us from ourselves because there is no longer an ethos of virtue in America... Unless we recover this ethos, we as free people will commit a type of freedom suicide.

What is necessary to persevering in freedom is what Guinness calls the "golden triangle of freedom"

The cultivation and transmission of the conviction that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, which in turn requires virtue... and so on, like the recycling triangle, ad infinitum."

Thus secularism and postmodernism threatens freedom because concepts such as virtue, truth, and freedom are ultimately meaningless within these worldviews.

And so Guinness critiques modern Amercians,

You have turned to alternative visions of freedom that are seductive but lazy-minded and empty, and are now proving disastrous.  And all the time you are turning yourselves into caricatures of your original freedom in ways that are alternatively fascinating and repellent to the world (204).

However clear the signs of decline are at this point in history, the final nail in the coffin has not yet been driven down.  As Americans we must go forward (which we love) by reviving the past (which we're not so good at).  We must return to virtue and faith.  In our educational systems we must reclaim the essential role of training in virtue and not just skill sets.

Guinness sets forth the steps necessary for American freedom to persevere in the decades and centuries to come:

  1. America must strongly and determinedly restore civic education (192).
  2. America must strongly and determinedly rebuild its civil public square (194).
  3. America must strongly and determinedly reorder the grand spheres that make up American society and its powerful cultural influence in the world (194)
  4. Americans must restore the integrity and credibility of the faiths and ethics of the citizenry (196).


On the night of President Obama's reelection, the big idea of his acceptance speech as captured by most of the news headlines was "The best is yet to come"... this may be true (I hope it is), but let's all hope, pray, and fight that it is more than our dying mantra... Otherwise the dystopian vision of the likes of Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984) or Huxley (Brave New World) may shift from the category of fiction to nonfiction.