This chapter contains articles from Robert P. George, Jaime B. Achacoso, and C. John McCloskey, III.

Freedom and its counterfeit

Robert P. George

This article is an excerpt of the author’s commencement address to the Hillsdale College Class of 2003. It provides a much needed comparison between true freedom and license, the latter being very much confused with the former in our times. The author is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and the Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

True freedom consists in the liberation of the human person from the shackles of ignorance, oppression and vice. Thus it was that one hundred and fifty years ago this July 4, Edmund B. Fairfield, president of Hillsdale, speaking at a ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of a new college building, declared that education, by lifting a man out of ignorance, “disqualifies him from being a slave.” What overcomes ignorance is knowledge, and the object of knowledge is truth– empirical, moral, spiritual. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

True freedom, the freedom that liberates, is grounded in truth and ordered to truth and, therefore, to virtue. A free person is enslaved neither to the sheer will of another nor to his own appetites and passions. A free person lives uprightly fulfilling his obligations to family, community, nation and God. By contrast, a person given over to his appetites and passions, a person who scoffs at truth and chooses to live, whether openly or secretly, in defiance of the moral law is not free. He is simply a different kind of slave.

The counterfeit of freedom consists in the idea of personal and communal liberation from morality, responsibility and truth. It is what our nation’s founders expressly distinguished from liberty and condemned as “license.” The so-called freedom celebrated today by so many of our opinion-shaping elites in education, entertainment and the media is simply the license to do whatever one pleases. This false conception of freedom – false because disordered, disordered because detached from moral truth and civic responsibility – shackles those in its grip no less powerfully than did the chattel slavery of old. Enslavement to ones own appetites and passions is no less brutal a bondage for being a slavery of the soul. It is no less tragic; indeed, it is in certain respects immeasurably more tragic, for being self-imposed. It is ironic, is it not, that people who celebrate slavery to appetite and passion call this bondage “freedom”?

Counterfeit freedom is worse than fraudulent. It is the mortal enemy of the real thing. Counterfeit freedom can provide no rational account or defense of its own normative claims. It speaks the language of rights, but in abandoning the ground of moral duty it provides no rational basis for anyone to respect the right of others or to demand of others respect of one’s own rights. Rights without duties are meaningless. Where moral truth as the ground of duty is thrown overboard, the language of rights is so much idle chatter fit only for Hollywood cocktail parties and faculty lounges.

Hadley Arkes, a great contemporary theorist of natural rights, has observed in relation to the movement for unfettered abortion that those who demand liberation from moral law have talked among themselves out of the moral premises of their own rights and liberty. If freedom is to be honored and respected, it must be because human freedom is what is required by the laws of nature and nature’s God; it cannot be because there are no laws of nature and there is no God.

The Danger of License


But counterfeit freedom poses greater dangers still. As our founders warned, a people given over to license will be incapable of sustaining republican government by the people- requires a people who are prepared to take responsibility for the common good, including the preservation of the conditions of liberty.

Listen again to President Fairfield, speaking words at that ceremony on July 4, 1853, that are, if anything, still more urgent today:

Unrestrained freedom is anarchy. Restrained only by force or arms, is despotism; self-restrained is Republicanism. Wherever there is wanted the intelligence and virtue requisite for [self-restraint], Republicanism expires.

Slaves to appetite and passion, wanting in the understanding and virtue requisite for self-government, will surely lose it. They will look not to themselves but to government to provide for their satisfaction of desires. Where counterfeit freedom prevails, the republican principle of limited government is inevitably sacrificed as people surrender personal and, ultimately, political liberty to whatever power promises to protect them from predation and supply the appeasement of their appetites. People are reduced from citizens to subjects to slaves. They trade their birthright of freedom for a mess of pottage. Yet, so long as the big-government-provided pottage functions as a suitable narcotic, they imagine themselves free.

At the same time, the want of virtue creates a counterfeit idea of equality that parallels the counterfeit conception of freedom. True equality- equality under the law, equality of opportunity- is displaced by demand for equality of results, as envy, like every other passion, commands requital. Distinctions, grounded in such intrinsically retributive ideas as personal merit, are cast aside.

Ultimately, the counterfeit of freedom is a counterfeit because its view of nature, dignity and destiny of man is a false view. Men and women are not mere bundles of appetites. Our destiny is not to be, as David Hume supposed, slaves of our passions- “rational” only in the purely instrumental sense of being capable of employing our intellectual powers to, in Thomas Hobbes’ words, “range abroad and find the things the way to things desired.” On the contrary: Men and women, made in the very image and likeness of the Divine Ruler of the Universe, are possessors of an intelligence more profound, and correspondingly, a freedom more God- like, than that.

We are, to be sure, creatures, and fallen creatures to boot; dust of the earth; sinners every one. Yet the Divine image- the icon of God himself- is not destroyed. And commensurate with the dignity of creatures fashioned in God’s image, we are indeed, as the Declaration of Independence says, “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Freedom- true freedom- is, as President Bush recently had the occasion to remind us, God’s gift to mankind. The self-government that is the right of free men and women is truly a sacred trust.


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College,

In defense of academic freedom

Jaime B. Achacoso

This article was originally published in Business World in 1994. Having been an alumnus and a junior faculty of the University of the Philippines, the author commented on the often misunderstood concept of freedom in the premier state university. It provides concrete examples on how academic freedom is abused which may apply to other educational institutions.

A communications professor requires her freshmen students to watch “Belle Epoque,” to the consternation and scandal of the more modest- chaste!- among them. A mass communications professor allows the viewing of a pornographic film in class as part of a group report on the topic. After many years of toleration by authorities, a notorious student molester is finally investigated, thanks to the attention of the mass media.

Meanwhile, school authorities turn a blind eye to the indecent exposure of fraternity neophytes who run stark naked through the first floor corridor of the College of Arts and Sciences in the notorious Oblation run (one was announced for Friday morning, Dec. 16). In contrast, a memorandum was issued by the school administration prohibiting any public exercise of religion (not even small group prayer meetings or Bible studies) on campus outside the premises of the respective chapels (Catholic and Protestant) in the name of non-confessionalism.

All these are manifestations of a malaise which has been festering in the State University since my First Quarter Storm college days: a poorly understood academic freedom. I have been resisting the urge to write this article for some time, given the pile of other matters on my desk and out of deference to my alma mater. But the recent murder of yet another student– Dennis Venturina- in the context of yet another fraternity rumble was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: It provided the motive that transferred this projected essay from the important but not urgent category to the important and urgent one.

Understanding Freedom


Perhaps the greatest misfortune of modern man since the French Revolution is the absolutization of human freedom. Put bluntly, the error consists in considering freedom as the capacity to do what I damn please. In its more usual form, it is expressed by a misunderstood freedom of choice: the right to choose freely, regardless of the morality of the choice. This is behind the thinking that- to cite a blatant case- a woman may be wrong in choosing to abort her baby, but society must respect her freedom to make the choice. The same error is at the foundation of the cafeteria approach to family planning means doggedly pursued by the DoH: Regardless of their ethical dimension, all medically safe means should be offered to the citizens, so they can freely choose.

The error lies in the failure to realize that human freedom does not lie in a vacuum. Rather, it is the capacity to ordain oneself to the good perceived free of any coercion, whether external (violence) or internal (vices). The greatness of spiritual creatures (man and angels) lies precisely in their capacity to direct themselves to their end- that which perfects their nature- not by blind forces (physical laws, biological laws and instinctive behavioral laws), but through a deliberate act of the will, based on their intellectual perception of what behavior is in keeping with their nature and the nature of things around them. Non-spiritual beings are directed to their end by the Creator through the immutable laws of nature. Man and the angels direct themselves freely to that end, based on their understanding of the Creator’s immutable laws.

Such freedom, therefore is not absolute- creator of its own object- but is rather relative to an absolute moral norm or standard. To do evil is not a sign of freedom, but of its imperfection (just as to err is not a sign of the perfection of the intellect, but precisely of its imperfection). One is free to the extent that he is able to elect the right path that leads to the good; he is a slave to the extent that he is constrained in his choices (away from the good), either by internal forces (e.g., disorderly passions) or external ones (e.g., wrong social values).

Do not confuse freedom with contingency!

I still remember my Moral Theology professor hammer that affirmation in a becoming English accent. In effect, the absolutization of human freedom has degraded it to absolute contingency- i.e., absolute indeterminism, the human will floating in a sea of possibilities, like the flotsam on the River Pasig.

In effect, when a typical adolescent first claims his newly discovered freedom in defiance of moral standards, he is not really acting freely: He is acting licentiously according to his whims. The very term “adolescent” comes from the Latin adolescere which means “to lack,” alluding to the lack of knowledge of standards and- even more important – the act of self- domination necessary to direct himself to the true end, which is the mark of this period of transition from irresponsible childhood to responsible maturity.

But some adults seem never to have outgrown such adolescence. Thus, we have the sad phenomenon of men who cannot dominate their emotions- lust really- so as to resist extra-marital relationships; women who cannot dominate their emotion- lust really- so as to resist extramarital relationships; women who cannot dominate their moods so as to fulfill their duties as mother and wife; yuppies who do not want to settle down for fear of committing themselves. Freedom precisely is the capacity to commit oneself without coercion; if freedom is not committed, it is absolutely useless, remaining in potency to what it is meant for. It is like having lots of money, but not wanting to spend it; it is like having a BMW, but not wanting to use lest it wears out. Worse still is taking freedom to mean doing whatever. That would be like burning money, just because it is time to burn; like driving my BMW crazily just because it is mine. The first would be indeterminism or absolute contingency; the second is license.

When a Freudian columnist of a national daily belabors the point that lust is natural and unavoidable (and must not be repressed), he does nothing but betray his own lack of virtue and, thus, of freedom. He acknowledges that he is not free to control his sexual appetite- just like the lower animals who go through life directed by physiologically driven behavioral laws. Why do some people generalize their miseries to all mankind? The problem is when such an unfortunate personal condition is foisted on the general public as the normal thing, which brings us to the meat of this article.

What’s academic in academic freedom?


If freedom is the genus, what is the specific difference that defines academic freedom? Obviously the qualifier academic does not refer to the mere location of the exercise of academic freedom- i.e., freedom exercised in campus or in the academe. It should rather refer to the essence of the academe- i.e., what makes the academic as such. And what is the academe?

What essentially characterizes the academe is the pursuit of knowledge – i.e., the truth. Thus, the non- academic personnel and the UP-Ikot drivers are not really involved in academic activity, despite their being in the campus. Academic freedom, therefore, must be understood as that capacity to pursue knowledge- i.e., the truth- without coercion: The freedom to pursue the truth.

With this understood, one easily understands why claims of academic freedom– to justify such activities as watching pornographic movies in campus and allowing gays to flaunt their abnormality and even to teach it in the guise of gay literature (another recent manifestation of the malaise at the UP Diliman campus)– are nothing just but a prostitution of the concept.

How can the Oblation run really help the pursuit of knowledge? For that matter, what is the relevance of watching “Belle Epoque” to the teaching of communications skills to freshmen? Meanwhile, the University is churning out graduates who cannot even write a decent paragraph- much less speak it- in straight English, or straight Filipino (so much for the comm class); yuppies who do not know the essence of being male and being female (thanks to the gay literature class); and potential plunderers and opportunists who seem to have forgotten that they were iskolar ng bayan, who owe it to their countryman to serve them disinterestedly for having heavily subsidized their university education (so much for the fraternity). That the most violent fraternities – those with most rumbles and deaths to their discredit- seem to be precisely those based in the College of Law of the State University is again alarming potent of things to come: What kind of lawyers- for not to say jurists- can come out of such a barbaric medium?

What has happened is a prostitution of the concept of academic freedom into academic license. Under this guise, a UP professor is free to do with his class what he damn pleases: He is free to deform young minds (that’s what the gay literature and some Freudian professors do), waste the students’ (and the people’s) time and money on irrelevant theories (that’s what the former philo-Marxist and pseudo-national professor did teaching “his story” instead of history). And all these are done, more often than not, in lieu of real scholarship.

Come to think of it, “academic license” is too noble a term to apply to what is happening in some classrooms at UP, because no matter how licentious, honest scholarship would still be academic in a sense. But to cover up for true scholarship by foisting such trash as “Belle Epoque” (instead of teaching grammar and literature) is nothing but campus frivolity. It is neither academic nor freedom.

Fortunately, this is far from being a generalized syndrome. UP still counts with many dedicated men and women who are giving their lives for the formation of the youth. I cannot but smile when I remember my dear professors- in botany, in history, in English, in Math and, of course, in my own Chemistry department- who instilled academic excellence despite the material odds. But I also grimace at the recollection of my professor in Western Thought (he taught nothing but Marxism and the muddled theories of a motley crew of immanentist modern philosophers), and the Rizal course (who pretended to teach Rizal’s thought without a clear knowledge of the European historical context in which such thought was formed). It is out of respect for the former that I write this piece- to dramatize the need to protect what they have given their lives for to achieve. And out of abhorrence for the latter- there should be no room for mediocrity in the State University- that I express the urgent need to ferret out the misfits who are undermining the oblation of the true UP Academicians…before it’s too late.


Reprinted by permission from Business World, Quezon City, Philippines.

What is Spiritual Direction?

C. John McCloskey, III

This article was taken from a pamphlet that has been instrumental in helping university students to start renewing their lives. Although primarily addressed to Catholics, it may apply to anyone who wants to take his life seriously and thereby feel the need to seek spiritual guidance. The author was the Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Open up the yellow pages of your local phone directory. There you will find listed attorneys, financial advisors, plumbers, electricians, beauticians, bankers, and even fitness trainers. All of these people know much more about their business than we do. Therefore we pay them a fee to help us in their particular specialty. Some of them become regular consultants and a few even good friends. All of their expert advice is directed towards help in this present life.

In addition you will find dozens of people listed as psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and so on. Although these health professionals can perform a useful function, oftentimes they serve as surrogate spiritual directors, giving erroneous or unfortunate answers for spiritual problems. Their advice depends on their particular training, which in turn is often based on naturalistic theories or ideologies which can do much more harm than good.

The only question truly worth asking is that of the rich young man of the Gospel, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” which leads to other questions such as “How can I achieve holiness in this life?” or “What is God’s will for me?” God answers these questions for us in many ways. Simply to follow the Ten Commandments as they are written in our hearts in natural law and come to us through God’s Word is a good start, as Jesus himself advised the rich young man. We can also look to God’s Revelation to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition- the guidance of the Church through its teaching authority and sacraments. We can then look at our present state in life and our past life experiences for good clues as to what God wants for us in any present moment. However, in order to find answers to these questions, every Catholic should have a spiritual director. As Saint Josemaria Escriva put it, “You wouldn’t think of building a good house to live in here on earth without an architect. How can you ever hope without a director, to build the castle of your sanctification in order to live forever in heaven?” This is true for everybody, not just for the poor, simple, or uneducated but even more for the complacently successful. Escriva goes on to say “You think you are really somebody: your studies- your research, your publications- your social position, your name; your political accomplishments- the offices you hold; your wealth; your age…no longer a child. Precisely because of all this, you- more than others- need a director for your soul.” You may have several or even many during the course of your life. He will provide you the answer to your many questions as our circumstances change and as we grow “in wisdom and grace.” Besides he won’t charge you a dime.

Each of us is unique


Each person is a unique child of God with his particular genetic code, temperament, and life experiences. God has a specific plan for each. To discern this particular should be the continuing goal of any serious Christian. As God normally prefers to work through secondary causes, there arouse right from apostolic times, the practice of seeking personal spiritual direction from a wise and prudent person who could guide one along the path to holiness with all its unexpected twists and turns.

One would search with great difficulty throughout history to find canonized saints who did not receive regular spiritual direction. After all, even our Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception herself, would found her vocation through the words of the Archangel Gabriel. And even she asked how this might come about.

Where do you look?


Where do you search for a spiritual director? We should do what is referred to on Wall Street as using “due diligence.” That is, do careful research before choosing a spiritual consultant, perhaps as much as in searching for a spouse or choosing the right college. After all, you are looking for a person to whom you are, in part at least, entrusting the salvation and sanctification of your immortal soul. Remember that you are the buyer and that it may take several tries to find the right person or organization that fits your needs.

The spiritual director may be a priest or a layperson. One very simple way is to look to your friends who clearly take their interior and apostolic life seriously. One flows from the other. Ask them for referral. If you see a serious striving for holiness in them, there is little doubt they are taking advantage of a good spiritual director.

A second way is look for a person, a priest or a lay person, in whom you see deep piety, wisdom, experience, maturity, zeal for souls and unquestionable faithfulness to all the Church’s teachings. He need not have formal training in spiritual direction. The traits listed above more than make up for class hours or degree. After all, Karol Wotyla’s first spiritual director was a tailor! Then try to get him to free some time up for you. I guarantee he has a long line of clients.

A third way to find a spiritual director increasingly popular and accessible in this age of the laity, is to take advantage of the formation provided for lay people by religious congregations and by the various lay institutions which have their specialty the formation of the lay people. There you may find a well-defined spirituality complete with formation and liturgical activities that are both personal and collective, doctrinal and ascetical, tailor-made to your particular situation. They often also provide the services of both priests and laity steeped in a particular spirituality.


How often?

What about the spiritual direction itself? You should try to make regular, generally no less than monthly and perhaps weekly or biweekly. Although needs are varied, normally a well-prepared session of spiritual direction need not last for more than half an hour. It’s good to jot down concrete resolutions drawn from the normally few words of advice given. These resolutions should be brought to prayer and action and then spoken about if possible in the next meeting. Try never to leave your meeting without setting up the next appointment.

What do you talk about?

Many things or few. Perhaps you want to set the ground rules with the director himself. Certainly the quality and quantity of your prayer and spiritual reading and sacramental life should always be touched on. Your struggle to live as a Christian in marriage and family, work, friendship, and social life should normally be addressed specifically. There should be an effort to address a very particular area of life which needs improvement, that defect or fault that keeps you from making more rapid progress towards holiness. With time, your efforts to share your faith in a natural way with those around you can also be a topic of discussion. These efforts may well result in God’s grace in reconciliation, conversion, and vocations. And, oh yes, from time to time you may simply need to unburden yourself of unexpected joys and sorrows that come on your pilgrimage to the house of God, the Father. If you are seeing a priest for direction, you may also want to avail yourself of the Sacrament of Penance, adding the sacramental grace to the actual graces received from being open and docile in the conversation with your spiritual director.

We Catholics now number more than a billion as we “cross the threshold of hope” into the Jubilee year 2000, but unfortunately how many as Thomas Merton put it, speaking of himself, in The Seven Storey Mountain have “slipped into the ranks of tepid and dull and sluggish, indifferent Christians who live a life that is still half animal, and who barely put up a struggle to keep the breath of grace alive in their soul?” Merton’s response was “I should have sought a constant and complete spiritual direction” Such spiritual direction is an important step in helping us to identify ourselves with Christ so that we can help construct through our prayer and sacrifice the “civilization of love and truth” that Pope John Paul II foresees in the decade ahead.


Reprinted by permission from the author,