It may seem that America actually has too much freedom, undermining morality and virtue. Muslim enemies in particular denounce the US as a licentious society. But this reflects too narrow a view of what virtue means. Some Muslim societies obsess over codes of supposed virtue that tell the father of a girl who is raped that he must kill her. In contrast, it is the genius of modern America to see people as individuals whose virtue is premised on finding their own way, being guided from within, rather than obeying some rule book. That was the lesson of Huckleberry Finn: he helped a slave escape, which contravened the rules of his society. But following his heart, instead of a societal code, freed him to be moral in a truer, deeper way.
Americans thusly realize we have the responsibility to figure things out for ourselves. That is harder than just doing what you’re told, but it’s also better. Only where there is real choice can there be authentic virtue; and that’s why, even if America’s freedom means people are free to be bad, and some do act badly, such a society is ultimately more virtuous than one in which everyone just knuckles under to authority.
And what, after all, is the point of virtue? Again, it isn’t because certain rules were handed down from somewhere. It’s to give us good lives. When people are left free to find their own paths, mostly they act well toward each other. And so, among Americans, for all our moral lapses, the bigger picture is one of great decency toward one another. Ours is a society of good lives, and very great virtue indeed.