If we're to discuss liberty, we must come first to an understanding of man — what is good for man, what is the ought that expresses itself in a clear view of man's being. I'd like to follow the line of thinking from the Fathers, through Thomas Aquinas, Dante, and such Renaissance Christian humanists as Spenser and Milton, as opposed to the fundamental nihilism of Hobbes and almost all social-contract theorists. Liberty, for Dante, is not so much a formal freedom of the will, and certainly not a guarantee of certain kinds of political action, but a freedom of judgment that orients man toward his fulfillment, a fulfillment which is the same for all men, because we all share the same nature. That is, I am truly free not simply by virtue of my will, and not because I suffer no undue constraints upon the political expression of my will, but because my judgment is trained toward God and the City of God. Sin is a self-shackling, a binding of the soul to what is base, futile, alienating, and empty. That is why, when the pilgrim Dante has been scoured clean of the effects of all seven of the deadly sins, climbing the rest of Purgatory Mountain is not difficult for him: "I felt my feathers growing for the flight," says he. His liberty comes to full flower in the joys of faith, hope, and love, and — it is crucial to keep this in mind — it is what makes it possible for him to be a citizen, as Beatrice says, "where Christ is Roman, in that Rome above." One of the sweetest things about the freedom-making mountain is that it reunites people with one another, singing, praying, conversing, assisting one another in penance, rejoicing for one another's victories. In exitu Israel de Aegypto, sing the blessed souls in the boat on its way to the island, and they sing not as discrete Israelites, but as Israel, foreshadowing their membership in the New Jerusalem.
If we believe, with Thomas, that grace perfects nature, then man's orientation toward the bliss of heaven — a bliss that the maiden of Pearl says is enjoyed all the more, the more there are to enjoy it — then what here on earth corresponds to that bliss? It is our life together with one another, as we pursue the common good here, and the greater good of eternal life, which is in its essence, says Dante's Piccarda, "to live in loving." That is the freedom we long for. Such a vision in its richness and its human depth makes utilitarianism look like the scheme of a smart-aleck adolescent with too much time on his soft little hands. For utilitarianism seeks some quantitatively conceivable "greatest good" for numerable people; but all the premises upon which it is based are faulty. People are not for, from, and with themselves — they are not, or they ought not to be, Narcissi gazing into ponds of their own making. They are for, from, and with one another. Then they cannot simply be numbered, just as parts of a living creature cannot be numbered. The good that they receive — beyond those things necessary for life and some small measure of comfort — is good just to the extent that it is shared; meaning that the sharing itself is fundamental to the good in question. You cannot enjoy a part of a friendship. You cannot be a friend alone.
Collectivism and liberalism make the same basic mistake, which is to submerge the true human individual — that is, the human being made in the image of God, and therefore made to enjoy his liberty in acts of love for God and for his fellows – under the sludge of an ideology that abstracts man from love. So we end up with a leviathan State that is loveless, and that compels the ants in its charge to do their duty, while leaving the ants "free" to do those things that the State cares nothing about, or that end up feeding the State. For instance, the ants may be "free" to pursue individual pleasures, for that demotion of love is all to the benefit of the State that can, nay must, intervene ever so benignly to manage the chaos that must erupt. The ants are "free" to ogle nude formic thoraxes, which is just another way to keep them really apart from one another and therefore of less threat to the State. Each "freedom" that the State concedes is a limited license, bearing no relation to what the ants are supposed by nature to become, since no nature is acknowledged. Nor are we ever to recall that devotion alone unites us. We are to distrust our very Savior; we demote him to an individual's pursuit, like backgammon or squash. Instead we have the great Substitute, the liberal State, or the collectivist State.
I do very much want to strangle the Leviathan, but not to establish a bare and godless individualism as the law of the land. That would be but to invite a second Leviathan to come and set up his throne in the north. It is precisely because I believe in communities and families and the common good that I want the great all-competent State to die the death it so richly deserves. All of which compels the question, what would a decent community look like?