Think of the country as an enclosure within which the rule of law provided by our Constitution operates. Now think of the bumper sticker slogan “Freedom Isn’t Free.” Now see if this makes sense: if freedom is what we enjoy within our friendly confines (and thanks to this rule of law), then to say “freedom isn’t free” is to say that, at the very least, sometimes some of us must step outside our friendly confines and take action to preserve the freedom all of us enjoy within them. And in times of serious trouble, to say “freedom isn’t free” may mean that more than some of us—perhaps most of us, or even all of us—must take such a step, in one way or another.

George Washington spent the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, presiding over the deliberations that produced our Constitution. Ever present, yet ever silent, at these laborious proceedings, Washington impressed upon the other delegates the gravity and dignity of their endeavor. Yet would such an endeavor have been possible had this same Washington not taken ruthless but nonetheless necessary action back on Christmas night, 1776? Facing the prospect of all but certain defeat, he had sent his men across the icy Delaware River to dispatch a corps of German mercenaries who he knew would be enjoying a deep, drunken sleep after their celebrations. To contemplate a deed like this may not sit so well with many of us: it violated contemporary conventions of warfare, after all; what is more, I wager it would likely violate the terms of the Geneva Conventions by which we deem ourselves obliged to abide when we fight wars today. But Washington believed in the cause he was fighting for, and so, as a matter of course, he did what he believed had to be done on its behalf. How could he have done otherwise?

Today, slowly but surely, we are being conquered by an enemy who knows full well how seriously we take the libertarian principles of our Constitution and how respectful we are of the rule of law provided by it. He recognizes that these sources of our pride and our prosperity, our Constitution and our rule of law, render us vulnerable to precisely the kind of insidious, slow-but-sure tactics of conquest he employs. To speak concretely: he knows that he can hide among us in plain sight, and he takes full advantage of this opportunity.

Of course, this vulnerability is not uniquely American but common to the entire Western world. It can be traced not only to our own Constitution and to our own rule of law, or to the respect we Americans have for these things, but to the corresponding principles that underlie all Western liberal democracies, and even to the principles of the system of international relations that has developed under centuries of Western leadership.

Our time is thus a time of serious trouble, one that calls for more than some of us—and I mean “us Westerners,” American and otherwise—to step outside our friendly confines and take action to preserve the freedom we enjoy within them. And for the record, to enlist in the armed forces is only the most obvious way to take this “step outside.” Considering the tactics of the enemy we face, civilian vigilance appears as indispensable to our success as military strength. But do we, like Washington, believe enough in our own cause to do whatever may have to be done on its behalf? Our enemy, for his part, has full confidence that we do not. And why shouldn’t he? He can plainly see us Westerners behaving more like old men ready to relinquish life than young men willing to fight for a way of life that we hold dear.