Zero Hour America
FEBRUARY 18, 2023
by Os Guinness
Even now when events in America are so often disheartening and at times angering, I remain confident that there are still Americans who will not give up on their great experiment in freedom, citizens for whom the cause of freedom remains unquenchable in their hearts, and leaders who know that the cause of freedom is moral, responsible, collective, and anything but selfish. Are there enough of such Americans? Are there leaders who will give them a voice? Who will be the ones to protect the torch of freedom in the present crisis? Are there still Americans who recognize that facing up to the challenge of America’s decline is not an act of resignation but a call for renewal?
The answers to these questions are not my responsibility as a visitor and outsider, but no one should think that the challenges to freedom in today’s world are easy, self-evident, or even congenial. The challenges are more difficult, arduous, and controversial than ever—and made even harder by the blanket of complacency and clichés with which Americans have smothered freedom. So, freedom’s defense is never done. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” we say, but we must never forget that such vigilance must be internal before it is external. The greatest dangers to freedom always come from within. We, whoever we are, are freedom’s greatest enemy, so courage must always rise hand in hand with realism and humility.
There will be no prediction here of any imminent American collapse. The abandonment of America’s ordered freedom need not mean the immediate fall of America but only of the end of, first, the republic, and then of any meaningful democracy. America may continue powerful and wealthy for a while longer, but the reality is that more and more American ideals are breaking down or being exposed as a sham. And more and more Americans appear intent only on hedonism and the pursuit of their own pleasure and reliance on prosperity and technocracy to deliver dividends that virtue no longer strives for. Americans are either unsure of their distinctive ideals or openly cynical and dismissive about the way they have been set out recently. If this fatal drift runs its course, Americans will have carved into the chronicles of history yet another example of the failure of a free society and how the corruption of the best so easily becomes the worst.
All this raises urgent questions not only for Americans and admirers of the American republic but also for all who appreciate the ideal of ordered freedom. In the nineteenth century Søren Kierkegaard famously announced his ambition to “reintroduce Christianity into Christendom.” Even at this late hour, it is urgent for Americans to reintroduce the first principles of freedom into the land of the free—to proclaim what those first principles are and to join hands with all those around the world who are striving to resist tyranny and to build their own free communities regardless of what happens to freedom in the one-time, self-proclaimed “empire of liberty.”
Socrates famously called for an “examined life” and pronounced the unexamined life not worth living. Is there a national equivalent of the examined life, and is the present generation of Americans ready to face the findings of such a moral and historical testing? History is now presenting an ultimatum to America over freedom as the four questions already asked boil down to one essential question: If Americans wish to continue as the land of the free, will they recognize the intrinsic character of freedom and respond to freedom as freedom itself requires, or will they continue to follow faulty and specious views of freedom and remain satisfied with their distortions and imitations until they suffer irreversible decline? The period America is now entering represents zero hour for the American republic and its freedom. It calls for a grand historical decision and then a decisive reset and a starting all over that are not merely current fashionable slogans but genuine national repentance and about-face. Such decisive about-faces are rare in history, especially for a superpower still at the height of its dominance. But if America is not to decline as other nations have at a similar point, nothing less than the highest resolve and the wisest, most farsighted, and determined response will be required. The normal run and rules of history are clear, but for people who know and respect freedom, freedom is never fate. For free people tomorrow can be different from yesterday and today. The future is open, not fixed, and America’s choice between restoring America’s freedom and continuing America’s decline is now.