Book Review: “The Liberty Essays: Restoring a Lost American Principle”

The Liberty Essays: Restoring a Lost American Principle by Pat McGeehan and Ashely Stinnett is a comprehensive reintroduction of traditional American cultural values and a call for reform among the American faithful. The book covers a variety of topics, but what sets it apart is its direct appeal to American Christians.

Both writers hail from West Virginia; McGeehan is a two-term West Virginia state representative, while Ashley C. Stinnett is an author and conservative commentator.

The 32 essays cover well-tread ground here at the Tenth Amendment Center, particularly on nullification, state’s rights, the Fed, and the need for decentralization.

However, unlike other similar works on the same issues, McGeehan and Stinnett make their case to a specific demographic, American Christians.

A central theme that permeates the entire book is that Christianity is inherently anti-state and pro-liberty.

The non-religious may be tempted to skip essays that pertain to Christianity. However, in discussing concepts such as free will, McGeehan and Stinnett delve into the writings of monumental thinkers such as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Even if one does not believe in the faith, it is critical to understand the role Christianity within the broader context of western thought, played in developing the ideas that form the basis for limited government.

As someone who descends from English Puritans, I found their arguments doubly compelling when framed as that of maintaining the traditions of the original American settlers.

“Freedom is the very root of America,” McGeehan writes in “Reflections on the Roots of America.” “The ideal of American freedom is the ability for individuals to live their lives however they choose, accepting the consequences for their own actions, while not interfering with another’s ability to do the same” he continues, “Since freedom is the root of America, then all things after within the setting of this country, must necessarily be derived from freedom—such as the way we lead our private lives, the operations of our government, our economic order, and the aim of our government. Otherwise, if not so derived, one must consent that freedom is not the root of America. Reason again dictates that the former is the case.”

The most powerful religious-themed essay in the book is “The Antithetical Nature Between Christianity and Government.” In it, McGeehan makes the case that “Christianity by its very nature is opposed to government.”

“If the Christian is to be consistent, then government must be opposed,” he writes. “Government can never be harmonized with Christian ethics, for the two conflict in every way.”

Yet, he notes, the faith has been infected with a “religious disease of statism.” As a result, American Christians have begun to view the state as the church itself.

“Sermons and homilies are filled with prayers to the State,” he writes. “Pray for our government leaders, that they may take care of the poor”—or, ‘Pray that the holy war will be won overseas.’”

Ultimately, the writers conclude that Christians must begin voting in accordance with the faith they purport to practice by favoring liberty over personal benefit. And while they point to the Amish as an example of how Christians can separate their society from the state, they must also not withdraw entirely from politics.

“Christians who choose to remove themselves from the political process are surrendering to the power of the state permanently,” Stinnett writes. “Can you imagine if—for one election cycle—Protestants and Catholics could settle on a candidate or a group of candidates who would dramatically decrease the size of government? It would secure religious freedom for a generation of Americans.”

Aside from religion, the two men cover political territory familiar to constitutionalists in an engaging manner. They also employ a great selection of quotes from quality sources such as Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, and Samuel Adams.

The authors arrive at the same conclusion of other writers; the United States as a centralized government is on an inevitable decline.

“The American Republic is dying,” McGeehan writes. “Our nation is bankrupt. This is no longer a Republican or Democrat “issue”—it’s just a “math” issue. Tomorrow, if the entire federal government was eliminated—including the US Military—we could still not afford to service the interest on the national debt, while paying for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. These four bloated items alone, and a budget deficit would still remain. For anyone not yet paying attention, this sobering predicament is your wake up call.”

The cause for this decline is put into historical context. In an essay titled “The Dangers of Centralized Control,” McGeehan recounts the degradation of the Greek city states prior to their conquest by Phillip of Macedonia. He explains that the costly, bloody thirty-year Peloponnesian War between Athens and Spartan hastened their downfall.

With the United States still waging its longest war in Afghanistan after 15 years, the comparison is worth noting.

As later essays in the book make clear (and the Founders explicitly warned) wars destroy localized rule and lead to centralized states, regardless of the victor. Perpetual wars are also the telltale sign of a declining empire.

liberty-essaysTAC readers will appreciate Stinnett’s essay on for state nullification, in which he calls out supposedly constitutional organizations that have come out against it. He also covers jury nullification and recent examples of where juries have successfully employed it.

In an age when a treasure trove of political and economic knowledge is available with a basic web search, it is a tragedy so many Americans are either ignorant or misinformed about these issues.

This is what sets The Liberty Essays apart from other liberty books; all the fundamentals an American should know about these vital topics are fully covered. The overly religious overtones might narrow the book’s appeal, but there are already many books explaining why we should choose freedom. A book explaining why American Christians who vote for larger government and all the ensuing tyrannies betray their forefathers’ legacy was long overdue.

If I were to recommend just one book to someone in the church wanting to learn more about politics and economics, The Liberty Essays would be it.

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