There is a famous, oft-repeated axiom derived from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government: liberty is not license.

Just because you’re free to do something does not necessarily mean you should. And if you do – allowing yourself to be dictated by your own base desires in the process – you will eventually and inevitably be deprived of your liberty, becoming enslaved to what Plato called the eros or the appetitive soul.

This idea has revolutionized the post-Locke western world. When John Adams said the American system of governance was “wholly inadequate” for anyone but “a moral and religious people,” he meant that freedom must exist within the framework of an objective moral law – the laws of nature – or it would self-destruct.

This is, in essence, the definition of self-governance. Or, more precisely, what self-governance ought to look like in a Constitutionally-limited republic. Americans are not truly free to do whatever they want, and if they were, we wouldn’t actually be free at all.

But there is more to Locke’s distinction between liberty and license than mere self-restraint.

For generations, Americans have understood duty and responsibility to be essential to the future of their self-governing republic. More than just a list of what we shouldn’t do, we must also accept the obligations of what we ought to do.

We have both the duty and responsibility to contribute positively to our communities. To raise and support families. To pass down our values and morals. To be honorable, virtuous citizens.

These behaviors are absolutely vital to our society and yet there is absolutely nothing the government can do to coerce them. As a self-governing people, we must freely embrace these responsibilities.

Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re doing anymore. Instead, we’ve traded true liberty – with its accompanying responsibilities – for license. We’ve surrendered reason and spirit in exchange for mere appetite. We’re attempting to invert Locke’s principles and the results are bound to fail.

Let’s take hookup culture and an overall increase in causal sex as an example.

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No one can deny we’ve come a long way from the era in which Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne was forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ as an emblem of her shame for the crime of adultery. Not all changes since that time have been bad and I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the Puritanical hypocrisy of Hawthorne’s famous novel.

Still, it’s clear that where we once had strong religious reservations against extramarital sex, we have now become grossly indulgent.

According to the American Psychological Association, “sexual behavior outside of traditional committed romantic pair-bonds has become increasingly typical and socially acceptable.”

They reported that a shocking “60 percent [to] 80 percent of North American college students have had some sort of hook-up experience,” while the Los Angeles Times similarly reported that, “more than 90% of [college] students say that their campus is characterized by a hookup culture.”

Perhaps even more shocking is a study from 2003 documenting that “70 percent of sexually active 12- to 21-year-olds reported having had uncommitted sex within the last year.” An equally concerning report from 2006 discovered that “61 percent of sexually experienced teenagers reported a sexual encounter outside a dating relationship.”

Admittedly, Americans are “free” to do this. But that doesn’t mean they should.

And what’s the trade-off? Seemingly, the answer is families.

Statistics are suggesting that a drastic increase in casual sex has closely accompanied an overall decrease in committed marriage relationships as well as a decrease in the desire to have children.

Most Americans are aware that our birth rates have been in rapid decline (in fact, with the exception of 2014, the number of U.S. births has fallen every year since 2008). What’s less clear to many Americans is the exact reason why we’ve witnessed this stark decline in childbirth, but, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center, the answer is shocking.

According to the report, “some 44% of non-parents ages 18 to 49 say it is not too or not at all likely that they will have children someday,” and a shocking “majority (56%) of non-parents younger than 50 who say it’s unlikely they will have children someday say they just don’t want to have kids [emphasis added].”

More than financial reasons; more than medical reasons; more than a concern over age; 56% of adults who won’t have kids say they just don’t want to.

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Clearly, we’ve replaced the responsibilities of committing ourselves to a family with the license to pursue physical gratification. The government can not prevent us from sleeping around nor can it force us to responsibly raise families. As a free, self-governing people we must make these decisions for ourselves, and sadly, we seem to be making the decision that is least conducive to true liberty.

The Apostle Paul summed up this idea, in what could easily be considered a precursor to Locke’s famous adage, when he said “[f]or, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

By comparing “an occasion to the flesh” (which really just means a sinful pursuit of one’s base passions) with an obligation to “serve one another,” Paul was pointing out that true liberty is not the freedom to do whatever we want, but rather the responsibility to do that which is good.

Americans have understood this for generations, and it is no surprise that some of the freest peoples in the history of the world have also been some of the most moral. Today, however, we have lost that distinction between liberty and license and risk losing the society that was built upon it.

To preserve freedom, we must once again reclaim self-governance, in its truest form, embracing both temperance and duty; restraint and responsibility. Liberty itself depends on it.