In the spring of 146 B.C., the Roman army advanced on Carthage, a growing economic power in North Africa. This unmatched fighting force was under the command of Consul Scipio Aemilianus Africanus the Younger, one of the brightest warriors of the age. However, Scipio had argued that Rome should show mercy.
He believed that if Rome gave itself free rein to militarily dominate or destroy all competing nation-states, it would overreach and eventually collapse. But his counsel was overruled, and the soldiers breached the walls of Carthage, burning the magnificent city to the ground.
Scipio, in his moment of triumph, began to weep. Then he turned to his friend and tutor Polybius, saying, “O Polybius, it is a grand thing, but, I know not how, I feel a terror and a dread lest someone should one day give the same order about my own native city.”
Os Guinness recounts this poignant story in his new book, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, which we are taking an extended look at here on BreakPoint.
In A Free People’s Suicide, Guinness, founder of the Trinity Forum and the author or editor of more than 25 books, is asking the incredibly important question, “Can freedom — particularly American freedom — last forever?” Let that question sink in for a minute.
Scipio, in the moment of Rome’s victory, clearly foresaw its ultimate defeat. The question for us, just over two millennia later, is whether we in America can do anything to escape the same collapse.
Guinness explains how the founders did a magnificent job creating our liberty, by winning the revolution, and ordering our liberty, by giving us the Constitution, which has provided an ingenious system of checks and balances. But that’s not enough, because freedom has an inexorable tendency to undermine itself, because “the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom.”
We also must consciously work at sustaining our freedom, which is why, although a return to the Constitution is necessary to revitalize our democracy … it is not sufficient. Guinness advocates a return to what he calls a self-reinforcing Golden Triangle of Freedom, which he describes as “the cultivation and transmission of the conviction that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, which in turn requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom and so on.”
To fully appreciate this point, you simply must read the book.
“In short,” Guinness says, “sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them — both of which are far more than a matter of law.”
Anyone looking honestly at American culture today has to admit that trust is in very short supply. Rarely have politicians, people in business, even the church enjoyed — if that’s the word — lower public approval ratings. Our Golden Triangle is badly tarnished, if not broken altogether. Christians are in prime position to help turn things around, of course.
On Friday, I’ll wrap up the final installment of this series on A Free People’s Suicide by Os Guinness. Tomorrow, however, John Stonestreet will be on the air with an important plea: that we all spend the next 40 days praying and fasting for our nation. Please be sure to tune in.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: September 26, 2012