Freedom within the Natural Law

Orestes Brownson portrait

John M. Gist, Professor of Humanities at Western New Mexico University, published an article in The Imaginative Conservative exploring the political thought of Orestes Brownson.


Orestes Brownson and the Limits of Freedom

By John M. Gist
From The Imaginative Conservative

This essay will revisit the age-old concern with the relationship between person and society, as well as this relationship’s impact on democratic governments, particularly that of the United States of America. The focus will be on the nineteenth-century American writer Orestes Brownson, a prominent thinker of that time who is often overlooked in contemporary discourse. For Brownson, it was natural law that rooted freedom in reason to prevent freedom from transmogrifying into license. Freedom uprooted from reason too easily drifts into the Nietzschean abyss, an abyss that gazes back into those who stare into it too long. Brownson’s limits on freedom by way of reason prevents society from running amuck in a realm of irrationality that lacks the moorings of transcendent moral order.

In short, society is not made up of closed-off individuals but, rather, persons who are produced through education. Society is prior to the person. The individual, closed off from greater society by freedom uprooted from natural law, a law in which reason is an essential factor, is not in actuality free. On the contrary, this individual is a prisoner of his or her own making. As John Donne famously put it, “No man is an island,” unless, of course, a man chooses to lock himself into the hell of solitary confinement.

Continue reading at The Imaginative Conservative >>



John Gist photoJohn M. Gist’s poems, creative nonfiction, short stories, and philosophical dialogues have appeared in publications such as Poetry Pacific, Academic Questions, New Oxford Review, Stoneboat, Wilderness House, Galway Review, Dr. T.J Eckleburg Review, Superstition Review, Gravel, Pithead Chapel, New Mexico Magazine, and many others. Dr. Gist is Chair of the Humanities Department at Western New Mexico University.

Learn more about Professor Gist >>



Facebook iconTwitter iconFollow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates about lectures, publications, podcasts, and events related to American political thought, United States history, and the Western tradition!



Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.