In Freedom Limits Liberalism (European, not American meaning of liberalism) I note:
Most likely, freedom survives - with or without the support of the classical liberal - because [in] civil society as it has emerged in some 25 countries or so in the last 300 years [...] we have grown accustomed to practice freedom as method as opposed to relying on her in the form of a monolithic and socially predominant political creed.
A momentous implication of this is that even if there were only one liberalism possible or extant in reality it would still not be the voice of freedom but one of the voices contending to shape our society and the face of liberty within our social order.
We compete with our liberal opponents as well as our non-liberal political rivals (a) to define what liberty means and to try (b) to determine what impact she may exert on us.
At the end of the day, the kind of liberty that proves feasible in the real world will be the result of interaction between many parties holding different views as to what liberty means and which elements of her deserve emphasis and support.
Liberty as method (see my Freedom as Method) is not only
- (1) a disposition to check whether our rivals tend to diminish or violate the robust conditions of liberty, i.e. the arrangements, devices, and rights that make for civil society, and
- (2) an ambition to advertise further, perhaps more specific substantive visions of liberty (for instance a world void of the welfare state),
liberty as method requires also that
- (3) we reflect the tension between our concept of liberty and the latitude that freedom provides for the supporters of alternative views that - in order to uphold the robust conditions of liberty - must be recognised as legitimate (contributions to the process of political competition) even though they deviate from our political ambitions.
Take the issue of marriage licensing, which a liberal may oppose on the grounds that government is not entitled to authenticate a valid marital relationship, leaving such power to individuals and the institutions they form under the right to free association--one of the rights that constitute the robust conditions of freedom.
Under such a provision one may choose to treat marriage as a holy sacrament to be dispensed by a church--a grand tradition that has been formative of social order for hundreds of years.
But even within the Christian tradition, marriage, the features of morally acceptable marital status and behaviour, have left a trail of very different patterns including concubinage, and other arrangements alien to the contemporary Christian. (See Roman Church Pioneer of Liberty and Free Markets.)
Asserting the various rights that constitute the robust conditions of liberty, not only does freedom defend the practice of a diversity of faiths and denominations, she also protects the heterodox and unbelievers, who, incidentally, in some important ways are the upshot of communities embracing greater freedom.
Like Christians themselves or believers of other confessions of faith, non-Christians subscribe to differing concepts of marriage, including secularised variants in which government may take a significant role, perhaps even entirely ousting ecclesiastical institutions from the authentication of marital status.
My point is that while it is perfectly legitimate to champion a Christian understanding of marriage in the Great Western tradition, this can only be done in the context of an open pluralistic competition to which all other exponents of matrimonial concepts are given equal access.
Thus, there may be this or that Christian-and-liberal concept of marriage, but there cannot be a certain concept of marriage uniquely implied by freedom.
One is not entitled to appeal to freedom as the justifying ground for a certain concept of marriage, but one may appeal to her as the justifying ground to take a certain position on the issue and add political weight to it, i.e. to vie for social acceptance of one's conviction in the matter.
Freedom is the framework within which we come to settle - often with considerable latitude - the issue of socially valid features of marriage (and other vitally important social institutions, which is not to deny that marriage may be more than a social institution).
Historically, liberalism has been closely tied to the Christian faith; ultimately, however, the Christian liberal impulses have been the pioneer of freedoms which have served to contest and undermine the Christian faith, and establish rival world views equally protected under the robust conditions of freedom.
So what freedom accomplishes is the subjection of modern society to something like the analogue of creative destruction in the field of morality and social norms.
Freedom defends the rights of our fellows to question what we believe in and persuade the community to tend toward cultural values that conflict with ours.
Freedom is also an environment that ensures open access to the political process and conditions furthering peaceful reconciliation for those at strife. Which is why politics and democracy are inextricably built into the blueprint of freedom.
Freedom has privatised religion. By the same process she has enabled the broader populace to interpret and manage in new ways social institutions once monolithically administered by the ecclesiastical(ly influenced) powers-that-be. The advance of religious freedom has been accompanied by the advance of secular freedoms. In fact, the former could hardly be achieved without giving rise to the latter.
People have come to use the worldly technology of government, whose power has grown with freedom, to define and foster social institutions such as marriage. Therefore, it is likely to be very difficult, even impossible, to cut through the manifold ties between marriage and the social technology called the state. Freedom has empowered people to revolt against oppression by religious authority or at least experience the possibilities of dissent and alternative approaches. Next to the great Christian tradition, freedom has placed a temporal reading of wedlock, which has become a deeply rooted tradition in its own right. Both deserve respect and the dignity of mutual reconciliation.
Any one view of liberty held and pursued by a person or a group is only an input into the process supplying the fleeting frames that make up the film of freedom.