If you were building a free society, how would you go about it? You certainly would prioritize individual liberty but would soon realize a conflict as you created necessary order, like traffic laws. You would realize that individual liberty is only one component of a free society. An equally important component is order. Because individuals live and work together in society, order is essential to maintain peace and facilitate prosperity.
As you began building a free society, your struggle would be to maintain that delicate balance between order and liberty. You would search diligently for an “operating model,” as it were, and you would find that you only have five real options: the individual, the family, the church, the corporation or the state.
What you’re looking for in an operating model is one central concept, one functional mechanism to fairly balance order and liberty. Clearly, you would fail if you chose the state to be the fundamental unit of society. The state is inherently restrictive. Likewise, you would immediately rule out the individual as the fundamental unit of society. Individuals are inherently selfish. In both cases, the delicate balance you seek would be tipped to one extreme or the other.
The church has a transcendent social quality required for order. But you would soon realize that the church model would slide into its own version of forced conformity, inevitably threatening personal liberty.
You might choose the corporation as the fundamental unit of society. The healthy desire for earned success combined with the need to provide the comforts of life seem to be universal human goals. The corporation would maximize individual liberty and, under the necessity of regulating contracts, could provide a stable order. The problem is that the corporation would fail to recognize any person who, for whatever reason, could not compete. The wheelhouse of a corporation is competition if it is anything. Hence, the divide between the haves and the have-nots would become insurmountable and the delicate balance between order and liberty would be disrupted.
You would soon discover that your best choice is the natural family. When family is the fundamental unit of society, the delicate balance between order and liberty is maintained — we create order without force and liberty within reasonable boundaries. Only the natural family perfects other competing institutions. It holds the state in check. It suppresses selfish individualism. It gives practical meaning to the church’s transcendent virtues. And it creates a stable environment for industry and a moral context for free markets. The natural family is the fundamental unit of society because it provides a free society with equal amounts of stability and autonomy — with no more force than the force of culture and familial bonds.
If we, the people, have an interest in citizens avoiding government dependency in a free society, we would look to an institution that effectively focuses and domesticates men, protects and values women and successfully educates and nurtures children into productive adulthood. These are the roles of the natural family and that is why it is the highest state interest in a free society.
There are so many reasons for people to disagree. Everyone interested in a free society won’t agree on everything. But, in humility, I’ll argue that there are some things on which we must agree. There are some things we must understand the same way if freedom is to be protected in Utah.
We must agree that the natural family is the fundamental unit of society. We must understand that the family is the only natural human institution that can adequately maintain the delicate balance between order and liberty.
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We must agree that marriage can be only between a man and a woman. As the cornerstone of family, we must understand that marriage is substantively different from any other kind of human relationship.
And we must agree that freedom is much more than just individual liberty. We must understand that human happiness is our highest purpose and that selfish individualism — on display in Judge Robert Shelby’s decision that overturned Amendment 3 and throughout today’s sexual politics — is the enemy of freedom.
If we can agree on those three things, the cause of freedom has a chance in Utah.
Paul Mero is president of Sutherland Institute.