A freedom worth dying for

by Alan Fimister

“[W]e have the hard task of carrying on simultaneously a war on two fronts. We have to oppose, by arms, the aggression of the external enemy, and at the same time to resist the enemy within – the growth in our society of the evil power we are fighting against. And this second war is the more dangerous of the two, since it may be lost by victory as well as by defeat, and the very fact that we are driven to identify the evil with that manifestation of it that threatens our national existence, tends to blind us to the more insidious tendencies in the same direction that are to be found in our own social order.” 

– Christopher Dawson, 1940

Ukraine is being invaded by two powers. To the east she is being invaded by Russia but to the west she is being invaded by the Culture of Death, the tidal wave of nihilistic hedonism that dominates the dying culture that used to be Latin Christendom. On the basis that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” too many good souls in the west, grown desperate under siege, have convinced themselves that Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy is a viable alternative to the post Christian nightmare. It isn’t. For a start, the Culture of Death is part and parcel of the “errors of Russia” of which Our Lady warned in 1917 and is just as entrenched in Moscow as in Los Angeles, if not more. If the contemporary west represents a hideous betrayal of everything it once stood for, Putin’s Russia is just about the antithesis of that fallen ideal. Where we once strove for the perfect synthesis of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, Putin stands for the union of tyranny, oligarchy and populism in a parody of the Byzantine Empire that gave birth to ancient Rus. 

Ukraine is also heroically resisting both of her enemies. Just as she is bleeding and beaten but unbowed on the battlefield to the east, so her soul is beleaguered but still shining amidst the storm from the west. Ukraine is a holy land. Its people are vastly more devout and observant than either the Russians or the Westerners. In neither conflict is victory assured but in both she has shown that she is not so easily swept aside. There is a legend of a mediaeval pilgrim who, passing through a valley, was given spiritual sight of two monasteries that were established on opposite sides of the gorge. One was surrounded by demons and under constant assault; the other was completely unmolested. He said to his guardian angel that the second monastery must be made up entirely of saints. “Quite the contrary,” the angel replied; “that monastery is completely corrupt. It is the first one which is inhabited by saints.” Besieged by kleptocracy and vice, the Ukrainians keep the flame of faith before them in their adversity.

What then is this ideal which Moscow rejects, the west has betrayed, and for which Ukraine is being martyred? Boris Johnson was not wrong recently when he compared the instincts of the Ukrainian people and Britain’s choice of Brexit. If there are two documents that might be said to define the national consciousness of England and Scotland they are Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath. One sees freedom in terms of the restraint of the governing power through the creation of structures reciprocally uniting counsel and aid, while the other sees freedom in terms of national self-determination and the expulsion of the foreign invader. These reflect the two ancient words for democracy: δημοκρατία or rule by the people and ἰσονομία or equality before the law. The two cannot be separated without disaster. If you want to see democratic institutions with no true demos to hold them to account just look at the European Union. If you want to see an elected government unshackled by the rule of law just look at Sturgeon’s Scotland, or Venezuela. For Putin both these aspects of Ukraine are offensive. He fears the example, however imperfect, of a free people choosing the rulers and the laws under which it lives and he denies the very identity of the Ukrainians as a people in their own right. 

But true freedom has a deeper enemy than the tyrant of the Kremlin and that is the prince of this world. As John Paul II warned back in 1995, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” The human will is an intellectual appetite. That is, it is a thirst for the good proper to human nature itself, for happiness. When a law prohibits something inherently incompatible with that good it obstructs us from choosing only something we would have desired out of ignorance. When it requires us to choose something else essential for the attainment of happiness it offers us our heart’s desire. True law thus never obstructs but always enhances freedom. To be sure, there are many questions which have to be determined one way or another but on which there is no right or wrong answer, and that is precisely why we need the institutions that allow a people to determine these for themselves. What is more, there are many questions in which there is no need for the civil power to involve itself at all, and families and individuals should be left in the hand of their own counsel. But if the law of nature and of God is made subject to human choice the result is not freedom, but slavery, the oppression of the weak, the corruption of the young, and the slaughter of the innocent.

And this is what authoritarianism and liberalism, the enemy and the betrayer, offer to the Ukraine: the oppression of the weak, the corruption of the young, and the slaughter of the innocent. The tanks and the abortuaries, the pornography and the oligarchs, all serve one lie: “that freedom consists in doing what we like”. Biden tells us that we must therefore give free rein to sodomy and infanticide; Putin tells us we must therefore give up our freedom. These are two sides of the same falsehood.

Freedom is ours only when we see the good clearly, vice and oppression are twin paths to servitude. “If you continue in my word, you shall be truly my disciples and you shall come to know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”