A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (InterVarsity Press) is what the old Puritan divines used to call a jeremiad. Which means that it is a thundering indictment of a congregation—in this case, modern Americans, all 300 million or so of them—for backsliding from their first principles, tinged with glimpses of what horrendous results are likely to follow, but closing with the assurance that because only those who have grace can fall from it, restoration is possible if a specified regimen of repentance is followed.
Surprisingly for author Os Guinness, who wears the mantle of his one-time mentor, Francis Schaeffer, as an evangelical cultural critic, this is not a book about restoring Christianity. (Jesus Christ is actually remarkable for his absence from it.) It is about what Guinness calls sustainable freedom, and restoring the republican political vision of the 18th century. What Guinness means by sustainable is easier to discern than what he means by freedom, since it's not until fully one-third of the book has passed us by that a workable definition of freedom appears. Even then, it's couched simply in terms of the polarity described by Isaiah Berlin, of negative and positive liberty (negative liberty being freedom from restraint, and positive liberty being the freedom for accomplishing what is right). What has created a crisis—a "day of reckoning"—for the American political system has been a falling-away from the intricate balance of negative and positive liberty embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
On the one hand, argues Guinness, the Constitution created a negative framework of laws which was designed largely to prevent massive and threatening ...1