10 July 2012

Quote for today on responsibility


I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
Robert A. Heinlein
from The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress




Heinlein's quote spells out what our freedom in America is really all about. We are free to do as we choose, because we have to take responsibility for ensuring that our actions are moral and do not infringe on others' rights.

This is in line with the Founding Fathers' thinking on freedom and limited government. In one clear example, John Adams said:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
A longer version of the above passage from Heinlein's book is as follows:
I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
This puts a slightly different spin on the meaning, but it's not a call to lawlessness. Rather, it is in keeping with Adams' point that America's original, small, limited government works because moral, responsible citizens don't need laws to define and regulate their behavior.

That wasn't a unique concept of the Founders, of course. Well over 2,000 years earlier, Plato offered this wisdom:
Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.
In the end, we are all free to act as we see appropriate — we just have to be responsible for the consequences of our actions.

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