“Modern man must be convinced again that he is free.” So declares Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver in a vigorous little talk delivered some weeks ago in Philadelphia. I do not believe I have heard the modern crisis ever put so succinctly and powerfully. The word freedom is nearer to our lips than perhaps any other society of men; and yet we do not believe in it. With every new calamity — every school-shooting or horrific murder, every affront to our honor as a nation, every cynicism, every petty betrayal, every sordid plunder — our instinct is to interpret events in light of material forces, against which man has no power of resistance. “Things are in the saddle,” as a great American wordsmith put it, “and ride mankind.”
“The first requirement,” continues the Archbishop, “in regaining human freedom is to regain human history, to tell the human story as a chronicle of free will.” We are losing a truly human history, submerged under the waves of academic fashion and the technological mania that Chaput also mentions. The loss of this history — a chronicle of human choices and their consequences — deprives us of internal order, of the form and fixity of a historical identity. A man bereft of historical identity is indeed mere flotsam on the waves of vast inanimate forces; his life must only be frustration and despair. He can never perceive the awesome irrefragable contingency of history. He cannot feel the rush of exhilaration when he learns, for instance, that had General Lee heeded the repeated counsel of General Longstreet before sending Pickett on his celebrated Charge, the whole course of American history might have gone quite differently. He cannot discover that on a day in October, 732, a man called the Hammer and his disciplined soldiers made some choices that saved the infant West from probable extinction.
Yes friends, let us recover our history, and we may yet recover our freedom.