"Last Call for Liberty" by Os Guinness. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Over the past five or six years I have been puzzled and concerned at a change that has come over American assumptions and actions. That change seems to be a shift from a position of "innocent until proven guilty" to "guilty until proven innocent." Make an accusation and the accused is automatically declared guilty by many media moguls, cyber-gurus, podcast pontificators, as well as every Tammy, Dionne, and Henrietta on social media certain of their own self-assured rightness. The accusation is enough and no amount of provable innocence can be found to overcome the attribution. Then it dawned on me earlier this year: the Reign of Terror in France and the Great Terror in Russia followed similar paths. So, in an odd way, I was glad to read a new 336 page dense hardback, "Last Call for Liberty: How America's Genius for Freedom has Become Its Greatest Threat" penned by accomplished author, founder of the Trinity Forum, and senior fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Os Guinness. Between the covers of this tightly argued manuscript, Guinness affirmed my growing realizations. But he also offers Americans - whether religious, irreligious, secular, or spiritual - a series of ten worked out questions and perceptions to aid us in recovering foundational principles, since "America will always and only be as great as the ideals by which Americans actually live" (17).
"Last Call for Liberty" is not a handbook for soldiers of the culture wars, nor is it a field manual for social justice activists. And it is not deluded by any fairy-tale notions of a golden era of a one-time "Christian America." Rather it is social critique, historical chronicle, ethics lesson and political science exercise all bundled in a single volume, and guided by seeking answers to ten significant questions. Guinness's approach is to see two "revolutions" at work in the United States. There's the war of Independence, the revolution of 1776; and then there is the French revolution of 1789 with it's reign of terror. Both revolutions operate from different presuppositions and ambitions. "America must make clear what it now means by freedom, and which of the two visions it now chooses: 1776 and the classical liberal freedom of its founding, or 1789 and the Left/liberal freedom of today" (7). Both revolutions define freedom in completely distinct ways, which means that "America today is torn between its competing views of freedom, and the two main competitors are approaching their high-noon showdown. They cannot both be right, for 1776 and 1789 are profoundly contradictory and are on a collision course with each other over issues that are decisive for the American future - including the character of freedom itself" (262). This looming crisis was not brought on by the presiding president (nor the previous one), but it created the moment for his rise. According to Guinness, President Trump "is not the cause of the crisis, as his critics assert. Nor will he be the solution, as his defenders hope" (5).
The author sets out "a citizens' checklist of ten questions that are essential for assessing the character and health of freedom, and the requirements for its restoration and renewal" (16). At many points he provides wholesome considerations: "Vital though presidents and governments are, relationships matter more to freedom than regimes. The personal and interpersonal precede the political" (32). And at other places Guinness pulls us up short to examine our approaches: "Presidents, judges, and movement activists who believe they are correct and on "the right side of history" rarely show respect for such notions as checks and balances, encroachment, and the will of the people. Arrogance replaces humility, persuasion is considered a waste of time, scalability becomes a virtue, and coercion becomes the handiest tool to reach for the domination that consistency calls for" (201). He is not afraid to point out the founders' failures, nor is he foolish enough to assume they should have been perfect to have our appreciation and respect.
"Last Call for Liberty" compactly works its way through ideas and consequences. It thoughtfully addresses topics, and interrogates their meaning from two primary angles: 1776 and 1789. It is a book full of cautions and counsels. To read the manuscript well will require pens, markers and lots of notating. This is a volume for any and every American citizen who cares about the country. If you accept the challenge and take it up to read, be prepared to learn, grow, be challenged, corrected, and given better ways to see what "We the People" once were about, and can be about again. I seriously and decidedly recommend the book!
Thanks to IVP who sent the volume used for this review at my request. There were no constraints imposed on me, no demands made, and no bribes given. The review is my honest assessment, freely made and freely given.
A copy may be purchased here: Last Call for Liberty
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