The Need of Secure Moral Identities

…Republics of the American type depend upon citizens who maintain a firm understanding of certain foundational ideas – “a frequent recurrence to first principles,” as various of our framers put it. They simultaneously depend upon citizens who maintain a certain rigorous moral character, citizens well aware of things the law permits them to do but which on account of their own moral commitments they will not do: they will not lie, nor betray their friends, nor abandon their stated moral principles, nor shirk their duties. They will try to live worthy of the freedom endowed in their own souls, and entrusted to their own responsibility – inalienably. One of the foundational principles required for the survival of republics is the clear recognition that there is enough good in human beings to allow republics to work, and also enough evil in human beings to make republics necessary. In one dimension, republics depend on the ability of citizens to trust one another to hold firm to moral principles.In another dimension, republics dare not trust in perfect moral probity, for every man sometimes sins against his own principles, and for this basic reason all public powers must be divided, and all exercises of public power in the republic must be checked and balanced by other powers, as well as by other auxiliary methods. “In God we trust,” yes, but for all human beings there must be checks and balances…

By Michael Novak


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