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A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future Paperback – July 10, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830834656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830834655
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A Free People's Suicide challenges each and every citizen concerned about America's diminishing role as a beacon of liberty not only to comprehend the urgency, but also to participate comprehensively in freedom's preservation." (Albin Sadar, The Washington Times, washingtontimes.com)

"Dr. Guinness' book is rich in its explorations of Lincoln's words and their import for us today. As an expatriate friend of America, Guinness, like de Tocqueville, has a rare gift for helping us see our better selves. He casts a discerning eye at our modern institutions, and habits of the heart—as reflected in the broader culture. He freely concedes that there are worrying signs on the horizon, but then, having thoughtfully set out the challenges we face in our historical moment, he brings us back to the best things the founders gave us. On the whole, it's a fascinating perspective from a British citizen." (Kevin Belmonte, Huffington Post Religion Blog, September 1, 2012)

"Os Guinness enlightens, cheers, chastises and informs with this latest contribution to our civic discourse. Guinness here solidifies his reputation as one of the most nimble voices from the Christian community as he surveys our history and our present with appreciation as well as deep concern. Highly recommended for all interested citizens, whatever their political or faith commitments." (Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, author of Sovereignty: God, State and Self)

"A Free People's Suicide is an inside view from the outside. Os Guinness has a clear eye, a quick mind, a profound grasp of political philosophy and an eloquent pen. His analysis of American freedom, what it has been, now is and is likely to become, is a clarion call for renewal of the founders' vision for a free people." (James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door and Václav Havel: The Intellectual Conscience of International Politics)

"Sometimes a book is so important and so timely that not to have read it is to embarrass oneself. This is such a book. Its message is so crucial and so clear that all Americans are obligated to read it and have a national conversation on its themes. No cultural commentator or politician who has not read this book should ever be taken seriously again. Let this book be the new litmus test. If you are serious about America, be familiar with its themes and expect to discuss them and to be tested on them. Rest assured that you will be, because America is now herself being tested on them. Alas, we will not be graded on a curve. This book's clarion call is both piercing and full of hope. May God help us to hear it and to take action." (Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery)

"With passion and urgency Os Guinness gives a sweeping historical account of America's past and her prospects for the future. He urges us to pay serious attention to a deeper understanding of freedom and makes a compelling case for why freedom requires virtue. Weaving together a wide-ranging knowledge of classical, constitutional and contemporary history, Guinness warns of America's decline but charts a course for America's renewal. It is a straight-shooting and sober volume, yet in the end it is a hopeful book." (Michael Cromartie, vice president, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC)

"In a passionate work that blends historical-cultural analysis with moral exhortation, Os Guinness finds at the heart of America's culture wars something different than what many observers have seen. He identifies a 'freedom war,' a struggle over the very concept of freedom itself. As the Founders well understood, it is not enough for Americans to invoke endlessly the name of 'freedom' when they no longer agree as to what it means or what ends freedom is meant to serve. Guinness warns that freedom cannot long endure unless it is consecrated to purposes beyond itself. It is a warning worth heeding." (Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America)

About the Author

Os Guinness (DPhil, Oxford) is the author or editor of more than thirty books, including Renaissance, The Global Public Square, A Free People's Suicide, Unspeakable, The Call, Time for Truth and The Case for Civility. A frequent speaker and prominent social critic, he has addressed audiences worldwide from the British House of Commons to the U.S. Congress to the St. Petersburg Parliament. He founded the Trinity Forum and served as senior fellow there for fifteen years. Born in China to missionary parents, he is the great-great-great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer. After witnessing the climax of the Chinese revolution in 1949, he was expelled with many other foreigners in 1951 and returned to England where he was educated and served as a freelance reporter with the BBC. Since coming to the U.S. in 1984, he has been a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He was the lead drafter of the Williamsburg Charter, celebrating the First Amendment, and has also been senior fellow at the EastWest Institute in New York, where he drafted the Charter for Religious Freedom. He also co-authored the public school curriculum Living With Our Deepest Differences. Guinness has had a lifelong passion to make sense of our extraordinary modern world and to stand between the worlds of scholarship and ordinary life, helping each to understand the other—particularly when advanced modern life touches on the profound issues of faith. He lives with his wife Jenny in McLean, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

Freedom is a great blessing but what is good has become our enemy.
Without the golden triangle of freedom, virtue, and faith, American's will lose the freedom that we say we cherish.
And this is the very problem that Os Guinness writes about in this book.
A. Morgan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 108 people found the following review helpful By George P. Wood TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got--a Republic or a Monarchy?" To which Franklin replied: "A Republic, if you can keep it." That question and Franklin's reply cut to the heart of Os Guinness's new book, A Free People's Suicide.

According to Guinness, any society that wishes to be free must accomplish three tasks: win its freedom, order is freedom, and sustain its freedom. Americans commemorate the winning of our freedom on July 4, 1776, even though peace with Britain was not formalized until 1783. We commemorate the ordering of our freedom with the adoption (1787) and ratification (1789) of the Constitution. But sustaining our freedom is an unfinished and ongoing task.

Unfortunately, Guinness argues, "freedom has a chronic habit of undermining and destroying itself." He notes three instances:

* "When freedom runs to excess and breeds permissiveness and license."
* "When freedom so longs for its own security that its love of security undermines freedom."
* "When freedom becomes so caught up in its own glory that it justifies anything and everything done in its name, even such things as torture that contradict freedom."

He then notes that "the last decade has displayed clear examples of each of these corruptions writ large in American culture and in American foreign policy."

Now, Guinness is a Brit, so it's easy--too easy--for freedom-loving patriots to dismiss his analysis as so much anti-American twaddle. But Guinness is an America-loving Brit. He doesn't critique America in order to defame it but to improve it.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By E. Ritzema on September 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
We Americans love to talk about freedom.

We call ourselves "the land of the free"; our Declaration of Independence talks about liberty as an "inalienable right"; there are few things that can get an American riled up like the threat of a loss of freedom.

But our freedom is in jeopardy, says Os Guinness. Guinness doesn't find the primary threat to our freedom in an external source, like another nation, or even "big government" or "big business" or special interests. No, the enemy is us. Freedom cannot be won for all time and then left alone; it needs to be sustained. And, Guinness writes, Americans are failing to sustain the freedom our nation's founders worked so hard to win: "The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor. Powerful free people die only by their own hand, and free people have no one to blame but themselves" (37). The vision of freedom we Americans are pursuing is "short-lived and suicidal" (29).

(Side note: The title A Free People's Suicide might seem bombastic, but it comes from a quote from Abraham Lincoln: "If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.")

The problem with our vision of freedom is that the freedom we love to talk about and claim for ourselves focuses exclusively on freedom from external constraints. There are two kinds of freedom: freedom from constraint (negative freedom) and freedom for cultivating virtue and becoming the people we ought to be (positive freedom). Modern Americans are only interested in negative freedom. We claim rights and entitlements for ourselves, but do not care about duty, virtue, character, or pursuing excellence. Negative freedom alone is unsustainable.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Woodard on September 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This short book was the most bracing, insightful and enlightening book that I have read in a long time. Eric Metaxas writes this in a back cover blurb:
"Sometimes a book is so important and timely that not to have read it is to embarrass oneself. This is such a book ... This book's clarion call is both piercing and full of hope. May God help us to hear and to take action."

This book should be read by all Americans who care about our country. Guinness argues that the American experiment at freedom is at risk. He writes that winning freedom is not enough, freedom must be sustained. The book is simply outstanding. One may not agree with all of what Dr. Guinness has to say in this book, but it is worth the effort to work through.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By B. A. Wilkins on December 19, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Os Guinness is obviously an intellectual giant, and in "A Free People's Suicide," he demonstrates some clear, provocative thinking on American culture and ordered liberty. That is, the current world view of Americans, if not renewed, will lead to the demise of the American republic. Particularly, his explication of freedom (winning, ordering and sustaining freedom) was compelling and something he obviously has spent a good deal of time researching and formulating. Within this framework, I found him teasing out ideas and ideals not found in other solid books I've read on American liberty (notably M. Stanton Evans's "The Theme is Freedom" and Matthew Spaulding's "We Still Hold These Truths") - and that gives these analyses great explanatory power. Likewise his sections on the compact between Americans and our government, the interconnection of freedom, virtue, and faith and the recommendations on how it can be recaptured. Frankly, had he stopped there and avoided the ad hominem political generalizations in the later sections, I would have given this book 5 stars.

So, on the negative side, whenever Guinness wanders outside of his philosophical-theological wheelhouse, namely into politics and statecraft, his product suffers. Meaningfully. He takes the apolitical tack... at times... but then frequently meanders back into generic political commentary and prescriptions. The unspecific terms he employs undermine his arguments here. For example, he cries out again and again about how America cannot sanction torture and remain free (agreed), but then fails to define what he means by torture, trying to make the point based on assumptive agreement by his readers (after all, who could be against any kind of torture?).
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More About the Author

OS GUINNESS (DPhil, Oxford University) is an author and social critic. Born in China, he was educated in England at the Universities of London and Oxford. He moved to the United States in 1984, and has been a Guest Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He was the lead drafter of both the Williamsburg Charter and the Global Carter of Conscience, as well as the founder of the Trinity Forum. He has written more than 25 books, including The Call, The American Hour, Time for Truth, Unspeakable, The Case for Civility, A Free People's Suicide, and his latest: The Global Public Square. He lives with his wife Jenny in McLean, Virginia..

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A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future
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