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March 30, 2006 by AK

Freiheit, schöner Götterfunken?

President Bush has said this:

I believe liberty is a universal thought. It’s not an American thought, it is a universal thought. And if you believe that, then you ought to take great comfort and joy in helping others realize the benefits of liberty. The way I put it is, there is an Almighty God. One of the greatest gifts of that Almighty God is the desire for people to be free, is freedom. And therefore — (applause) — and therefore, this country and the world ought to say, how can we help you remain free? What can we do to help you realize the blessings of liberty?

To which Daniel Larison replies:

Liberty can mean one of a few things: it can be the state of dispassion and freedom from attachment that a virtuous man realises; it can be deliverance from the rule of the passions and demons through the grace of God; it can be a legal guarantee that you will not be arbitrarily detained, your property seized or your home searched without just cause, and that you will be left unmolested by the authorities in the way prescribed by law. It is fundamentally a state, not a “thought.” In the first two senses of moral or spiritual freedom, it is potentially available to all, but in the third sense it is limited to those societies that have developed the habits, institutions and laws that must exist for this state to exist. Many people can imagine or think of an idea of liberty, and many have, which does not mean that the experience of liberty is or will ever be available to all. There is every reason to believe that the idea of liberty on offer from Mr. Bush, which seems to differ scarcely from self-will and indulgence, directly contradicts the moral and spiritual kinds of liberty that should take precedence in any event, and which often directly undermine the restraint and discipline required for the practise of ordered liberty. The desire to be free in the sense that Mr. Bush means likely does not come from God, but from the other alternative source. For a more elaborate explanation, see The Possessed.

There is little I can add or subtract from this, so much am I in agreement, except for the last two sentences perhaps.


3 comments »

  1. W. Shedd says:

    “There is every reason to believe that the idea of liberty on offer from Mr. Bush, which seems to differ scarcely from self-will and indulgence, directly contradicts the moral and spiritual kinds of liberty that should take precedence in any event, and which often directly undermine the restraint and discipline required for the practise of ordered liberty.”

    I have read this sentence several times, and I am afraid it has so many presumptions and prejudices as to be completely undefined to the casual reader … and basically nonsensical. In fact, what I get from it basically reads as occidentalist damning of the west as being indulgent, decadent, and soulless, despite extremely strong proof to the contrary.

    I am not a Bush supporter, but when I read something that suggests his (American) definition of liberty is simply “self-will and indulgence” and contradicts “moral and spiritual kinds of liberty” … I am struck with just how incredibly little foreigners know or understand about George Bush and what he represents.

    Considering he was in Wheeling, West Virginia at the time he said these words, and he was stopped by applause at the mention of the word “God” … one has to wonder how you yourself define “moral and spiritual kinds of liberty”. Is it the freedom to worship, the freedom to define right and wrong based upon your religious beliefs and their extention in laws of the state? If this is the case, then certainly the United States is above reproach, particularly when compared to the Soviet Union or post-Soviet Russia … where morals based upon religious beliefs are a foggy memory. Let’s not even mention the Middle East, where it is apparently a death penalty to convert to Christianity.

    I think your agreement shows just how you underestimate (or are simply unaware of) Bush’s religious beliefs and how those affect his policies, both domestic and international. I would even go so far as to say that those passionate religious beliefs are more closely aligned towards his idea of liberty … than “self-will and indulgence”.

    In fact, I can quickly prove this point with Bush’s position on abortion, and his aggressive attempts to reshape the US Supreme Court into a body that will challenge Roe v Wade. One can easily make the case that the liberty … that allows a woman the freedom to have an abortion without question … is an indulgent one (I believe this indulgent liberty is enjoyed in Russia, is it not?) Bush wishes to reshape this liberty in terms of morale and spiritual ideals and essentially revoke women’s rights to an abortion in the US – state by state.

    If you wish to attack Bush on liberty and his definition of it … you selected the exactly wrong language to do this.

  2. hamesha: says:

    W. Shedd: I think what Larison means by “moral and spiritual” kind of liberty is not exactly religious freedom and freedom of worship. The latter would fall under his third classification of liberty, as legal guarantees that the government would not arbitrarily punish or detain one (for instance on conscientious and religious grounds). Taken properly, this does not become an “occidentalist” damning of the West or America… As for your reference to how it is still a crime in many Muslim countries to convert to Christianity, feel free to read something I wrote recently on this subject on my blog safrang.blogspot.com
    -cheers,

  3. Alex(ei) says:

    W. Shedd: I would suggest that you reread Larison’s post. It is internally consistent and logical. (BTW, what’s “Occidentalist damning of the West”? “Westernist” damning of the West?) The excerpt I quoted contains three definitions of freedom:

    Liberty 1. “The state of dispassion and freedom from attachment that a virtuous man realises.”

    Liberty 2. “Deliverance from the rule of the passions and demons through the grace of God.”

    It is this duo that Larison refers to as “moral and spiritual” liberty. Thus, his “moral and spiritual” liberty is not the freedom of religion that constitutions guarantee. To cover that, Larison adds another definition:

    Liberty 3: “a legal guarantee that you will not be arbitrarily detained, your property seized or your home searched without just cause, and that you will be left unmolested by the authorities in the way prescribed by law.”

    There is a fundamental difference between the first two types, which are internal and fundamental, and the third type, which is external and secondary:

    “In the first two senses of moral or spiritual freedom, it is potentially available to all, but in the third sense it is limited to those societies that have developed the habits, institutions and laws that must exist for this state to exist.”

    Bush’s idea of liberty has never been well articulated but it seems to mostly fall under Liberty 3. However, his belief that liberty can be granted to a society or imposed upon it, is in contradiction to Larison’s “habits, institutions and laws” condition. If it is not met, externally imposed liberty leads to lawlessness, as post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine have shown. Moreover, if the society undergoing “liberation” has too few members who are striving to attain Liberty 1 and Liberty 2 (“moral and spiritual” liberty), or if it chooses to ignore those members’ voice, Liberty 3 is going to degenerate into chaos. When there is not enough “restraint and discipline required for the practice of ordered liberty” in a society, calls for Liberty 3 are in fact calls for the exercise of self-will and indulgence.

    How this correlates to Bush’s religious beliefs, and those of his core constituency, or to the issue of abortion, is a different question. There is no implicit attack on the West as “decadent” in Larison’s remarks. Bush is preaching to his own choir at home, right; but what he is preaching is meant for use in Iraq, Ukraine, Iran, etc.

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