We can forgive a man who loses his temper, but to lose one’s temperance lock, stock and barrel?

That is a damnable offense.

Without a sense of moderation and prudence, even the most courageous and compassionate man will fail in his quest for justice and may even become that which he wishes to destroy. This is especially true with regard to one’s country, where patriotic fervor can sometimes liberate a man from his wits.

Indeed, “moderation” in American politics has come to be wholly liberated from its classical meaning of temperance and restraint. American beltway ‘moderates’ are always swift to patriotically insist our classically liberal founding somehow requires the prodigal spending of the American people’s wealth as well as bellicose and bloody actions abroad — not only on behalf of the American people but on behalf of all people on the face of the earth.

For example, the now-deceased Senator John McCain (ever a moderate maverick) was the epitome of this humble Beltway mindset. As a critique of Trump’s “realist” approach, Senator McCain wrote with much elegance in 2017 in an op-ed for the New York Times:

Human rights exist above the state and beyond history. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be extinguished.”

That the U.S. must show restraint — and engage in a balance of power approach to foreign policy, especially in regard to Russia and China — Senator McCain considered to be a retreat from American values that would only lead the oppressed peoples of the globe to despair.

Our values are our strength and greatest treasure,” McCain continued in his op-ed, “We are distinguished from other countries because we are not made from a land or tribe or particular race or creed, but from an ideal that liberty is the inalienable right of mankind and in accord with nature and nature’s Creator.”

Yes, America stands for universal human rights and the liberty of all.  We are, indeed, a creedal nation based in the best of the Enlightenment.

But, does this love of liberty require us to threaten and actually wage war as long as there are monsters abroad to destroy? Does our zeal for our libertarian ideals really behoove us to be forever tilting at windmills? Or, could this Quixotic quest actually be counterproductive to spreading the seeds of liberty around the world?

Could the love of power and the regular use of fear and force to advance liberty, in fact, pervert the cause of liberty?

War, even wars prosecuted in the name of liberty, have a way of sowing discord and devastation, both abroad and at home. The loss of life, the waste of wealth, the destruction of social institutions, and the corrosion of the commercial, liberal, limited government spirit — these are only some of the effects of war.

War should be a last resort not only because of its costs in terms of blood and treasure but also because prolonged wars always require the sacrifice of liberty while being prone to sow distrust among the citizenry and ruling elite. For instance, just look at how the American surveillance state has only grown larger in size and scope since 2001 while accusations of “treason!” drip more and more frequently from partisan lips every year.

Furthermore, should the cause of liberty become synonymous with American military intervention and global rule (even under the imprimatur of the “international, rules-based liberal order,”) then the cause of liberty will be sullied with that same global order’s anarchic entanglements and many inevitable failings.

Are we truly prepared to say the military misadventures in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and beyond represent America’s best ideals? Is proxy war flirting with thermonuclear war vis-a-vis revisionist Russia really living up to our calling as a nation conceived in liberty? Or, are these wars really just examples of America's elites exercising their own will to power while dressed up in the noble toga of American ideals — all at the undue expense of the American people?

Too many Americans have forgotten that a free society cannot be built by the storm of war or the central planning of Washington DC, abroad or at home. Liberty has never been something to be imposed by immense global-trotting power. We are fools to think simply cutting the heads off the world’s snakes (or constantly threatening to do so) will usher in a new generation of Hamiltons, Jeffersons, Franklins, and Paines in foreign lands. No, when nations are thrown into the maelstrom of war, they tend not to be incubators for liberty but fertile ground for vengeful and ambitious tyrants in waiting.

Accordingly, we must be patient in our efforts to bring liberty to all if we wish to preserve our liberty at home. A zeal for liberty must first occur in the hearts and minds of foreign peoples themselves before it is then consummated by their own hands and own struggle. America’s role in these global struggles for human liberty must be first and foremost to serve as an example of a free society — a well-wishing friend only rarely serving as a reluctant and prudent protector.

Now, ask and answer yourself: what has the American example been in recent history, say, since victory at the end of the Cold War and the rise of the “unipolar” moment?

I hesitate to answer myself for fear of what I would say.

I’ll put it this way: if the United States government continues to play the part of Colossus on the world stage, we may very well experience an unwanted, illiberal backlash abroad and at home — if we are not already experiencing such a backlash.

The ghost of Senator McCain and his still-living compatriots should be wary. An American Colossus, full of fear and vaunting, does not inspire a love of liberty but a distrust and resentment of America’s power and, most cruelly and unfairly, her glorious founding ideals.

Indeed, we can see this fallen world for what it is and then seek to make it better step-by-step, but we must first keep our temperate wits about us — else our courage and passion for liberty and justice may very well continue to turn us into the monsters we seek to destroy.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback please email newsandviews931@gmail.comThe views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.