On June 9 in Denver, I had the honor to address the Western Conservative Summit, WCS18, attended by thousands of conferees from 40 states. It was the ninth annual rally on the right hosted by Centennial Institute, the public policy arm of Colorado Christian University.
It was a sentimental return to the WCS main stage for me, as I had chaired the conference for its first six years.
My speech repeated the appeal I've made to countless audiences for over a decade: responsibility is the price of freedom. The argument is fully developed in my book Responsibility Reborn (Denali Press, 2011). Here's what I told the Summit:
We’re gathered this weekend for a high purpose. We’re stewards of a sacred trust.
The Western Conservative Summit isn’t just any conference. Centennial Institute isn’t just any think tank. Colorado Christian University isn’t just any college.
CCU stands for truth and right. It doesn’t relativize those like most educational institutions. It honors them and hands them on.
Centennial Institute is that rare think tank challenging us to approach public issues as one nation under God, not a self-seeking gaggle of identity groups.
The Western Conservative Summit rallies thousands of us who love liberty under law because we love our Creator and love our neighbor – and even love our enemies. We link arms to conserve our civilizational heritage for the benefit of all mankind.
I want to talk to you today about the healing of America – and about a new political force that can lead the way – something you are already part of whether you know it or not – a new force called Element R.
I want to encourage you, but not with happy talk. In fact, I must begin with a stark warning. I submit to you that freedom is in grave danger. Not from foreign adversaries or alien ideologies, but from its own hand.
We conservatives have our work cut out. We must rise to the occasion strategically and fiercely.
If freedom were natural in the human condition, our founding fathers such as Washington and Hamilton wouldn’t have called America an experiment.
If government of the people, by the people, and for the people were imperishable, Lincoln at Gettysburg wouldn’t have challenged us never to let it perish.
Today, two and a half centuries after the American Revolution, 500 days into the Donald Trump presidency, why do I say freedom is in danger from its own hand?
Look across the landscape and tell me which of our troubles result from too little liberty.
Look at the divorce epidemic, the illegitimate birth epidemic, the drug epidemic, the incarceration rate, the suicide epidemic, the mass murder epidemic.
Look at the abortion holocaust.
Look at the hostility between the parties, hostility between the races, hostility between the sexes.
Look at millions of men dropping out of the workforce in their prime.
Look at our undefended borders and our sanctuary cities.
Look at the silent inroads of civilizational jihad in our major national institutions.
Look at the millennial generation telling pollsters socialism sounds pretty good, but freedom of speech and the First Amendment, not so good.
Look at the polarization of our mainstream media and the degradation of popular entertainment.
Friends, I cherish freedom as much as you do. But we can’t simply say these pathologies will all turn around with a bumper-sticker prescription of more freedom and less government. We have to think again and ask what more is needed.
What more is needed, I’m convinced, is responsibility.
Freedom is about what may I do.
Responsibility is about what must I do. Not as the subject of any earthly ruler, but as an image of God and accountable to him.
Without freedom, life is drab. Without responsibility, life is impossible.
America is dying, literally dying, for a rebirth of responsibility.
Who better to meet that imperative than conservatives like you and me? What better time to begin it than right now?
Our beloved country is showing some wear and tear. It shows the signs of aging. On the ladder of the rise and decline of nations, where are we?
Great nations, it has been observed, ascend from bondage to faith to courage, next to liberty, and then to abundance.
But after that, unless something counteracts the entropy, nations descend from abundance to complacency, next to apathy, and then to dependence, soon finding themselves back in bondage.
God forbid that becomes America’s fate. But what are we doing about it? Our children and grandchildren want to know.
I once believed freedom is the master value for human flourishing. Life has taught me it’s not that simple.
Freedom as an end in itself, no limits, no standards, no glue, is corrosive to the human soul and self-devouring to the body politic.
Individual freedom is only beneficial and sustainable when we balance it with personal responsibility.
For every right, a duty. For every privilege, an obligation.
For every choice we make, a debt incurred, and other choices foreclosed.
Grownups know that. Infants don’t. Liberty run to license has infantilized much of our culture.
I would have said all of it, until the forgotten Americans of the heartland rose up and chose Trump over Hillary.
But the infantile is still everywhere. Someone has to be the grownups and put responsibility back in balance with freedom. Why not us?
It was back in 2007, before the first Summit, before the Tea Party, before Trump, that I wrote a column calling for a rebirth of responsibility in this country.
I said let’s have a third force not beholden to either party, a responsibility movement called Element R. That was eleven years ago, and today we only need it more.
I invite you to join me in committing yourself as part of Element R. There’s no signup, no dues, no meetings.
It’s a commitment you quietly make to yourself and start following through.
If we don’t rebalance freedom with responsibility, and do it soon, in a big way, in every area of our lives, I honestly fear for our country.
But I am of good cheer, because I believe Americans still have what it takes.
Here’s a to-do list that I proposed for Element R almost a decade ago in my book on responsibility. Notice how apolitical most of it is. Notice how timely it still is.
Ten quick points:
1- Strengthen families
2- Insist on learning
3- Renew a common culture
4- Expand charity
5- Expect more of churches
6- Revive neighborliness and civic duty
7- Rebuild our defenses
8- Resist over-government
9- Guard US sovereignty
10- Protect freedom of conscience
Set these responsibilities against all those pathologies we face, and you see how a grassroots responsibility movement could start to heal our land.
Not just buy us some time. Not just patch us up. But truly heal our land.
Here at the Western Conservative Summit, shouldn’t that be our goal? The healing of America?
Whether you are a Christian devoted to the Gospel, whether you’re Jewish and devoted to the Torah, whether you’re just a patriot devoted to the American miracle, we are called to a higher purpose than merely winning, a higher purpose than security and success.
We are called to be a force for good, a healing force.
As Element R, responsible citizens in a responsible society, we can be that.
Our founders expected this of us. Our children and their children deserve it from us.
What are we waiting for, Summit? What are we waiting for, Element R? Let’s do them proud. Let’s go forth and astonish the world.
Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century by John Andrews (Denali Press, 2011) has much more on America's condition and why we need Element R. Learn More and Order the Book