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Dr. Paul Kengor of the Center for Vision and Values is offering up some invaluable advice for those looking to get more out of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday than just a day off work: Confirm thy soul in self-control.

The founders of this remarkable republic often thought and wrote about the practice of virtue generally and self-control specifically, two things long lost in this modern American culture of self. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t avoid a reference to one of the cardinal virtues—prudence—in our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which, incidentally, ought to be a must-read for every American every Fourth of July (it’s only 1,800 words). Our first president and ultimate Founding Father, George Washington, knew the necessity of governing one’s self before a nation’s people were capable of self-governance. As Washington stated in his classic Farewell Address, “’Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” ...

Our liberty is enshrined in our laws, but liberty should not be license for opportunities for the flesh. Our liberties, protected and permitted as they are, should not be exploited to do anything and everything we want, including things harmful to oneself, to one’s family, to one’s neighbors, to one’s culture, to one’s country. That misunderstanding and abuse of freedom is what Pope Benedict XVI calls a “confused ideology of freedom,” one that can engender “the self-destruction of freedom” for others.

In truth, a genuine freedom requires responsibility. As the song says—and as Washington and Montesquieu intimated—we must successfully govern ourselves in order to successfully govern our nation.

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