MAY 01, 1959 by EDMUND OPITZ
A man who can ask the right questions, observes Plato somewhere, has thereby obtained nine-tenths of his answer already. Such is certainly the case in this matter of liberty. For centuries men persisted in asking the wrong questions. “Who,” they queried, “will set us free?” Or, “Who will give us freedom?” Invariably they got the wrong answers. Freedom, it is implied by these questions, is a prerogative to be pried away from some earthly sovereign; or, alternatively, freedom is to be established merely be replacing the old authorities with new ones.
It was only with the gradual dawning of the belief that men participate in the divine rationality and are endowed with free will that they began to ask the right questions about liberty. When men believe they have inner freedom, they will demand that it be matched by outer liberty as a natural condition essential to the working out of their salvation. “If God will not override man’s free will, how can it be lawful for any mere man or collective to do so?” The public authority, they concluded, has no other function than to defend the life and liberty of all men alike.
But even a good answer to the right sort of question may become an embalmed impediment to further questioning. Thinking they had the right answer once and for all, men ceased to ask the proper questions—with the result that the old answers lost almost everything but their labels. Look what has happened to “liberalism"!
Thus it is imperative that we start again to ask the right questions; about human nature, about man’s place in the universe as well as in society, about government and the nature of human liberty. This Pierre Goodrich does in his usual trenchant and penetrating way in his Mont Pelerin paper, Why