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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Something did not sit right with me when General Petraeus weighed in on the controversy just down the road (in Gainesville) regarding the well publicized Koran burning.  For what it’s worth, I do not like such gestures; I find them atavistic, and I recognize that religion is indeed a sacred thing to those who believe.  For every Muslim who is out there seething and hurling bricks, many more are simply respectful of the religion of their forefathers, scared of western influence in their lands, and are getting from this event the wrong impression of Americans, who have no natural disrespect of other people’s religious practices.

There is no reason for either our government or ordinary Americans to sow conflict with Islam, and the best solution, as I’ve said before, is deliberate separation both at home and in foreign policy with a long run and realistic goal of containment.  This too would be offensive to some, but it’s better than the perpetual conflict we have now as we intermingle both at home and abroad in the name of liberal ideas of universalism.

All the same, it is a storied and treasured right of Americans to express themselves, ridiculously if they choose, and it is quite predictable, quaint even, that an old school fire and brimstone preacher would act in this way. It’s a very American eccentricity at work here.  And it has served an important purpose in showing that Islam, far from being a religion of peace, is filled with people that may, at a moment’s notice, become violent.  Further, it has shown the hypocricy and cowardice of the American politically correct establishment.

General Petraeus has suggested that this Koran burning hurts the war effort.  Isn’t that interesting?  What other things that Americans take for granted hurt the war effort?  Wouldn’t the recent push for same sex marriage or five minutes of MTV or women wearing bikinis at the beach also offend Muslim sensibilities?  Didn’t our protection of the Saudis from Saddam offend Muslim sensibilities, simply by allowing Americans to set foot in an Islamic land?  Doesn’t our presence now in Iraq and Afghanistan deeply offend Muslims, not to mention the numerous civilians killed accidentally (but inevitably) by airstrikes and drones and scared shitless 19 year old American soldiers.  Indeed, much of our country and its practices, some good and some not so good, are deeply offensive to any traditionally religious person.   Nonetheless, none of these things have typically been up for debate as part of a “hearts and minds” campaign halfway around the world.  Recall the Danish cartoons, which were eminently defensible, also caused similar mass Muslim rioting.  While uneasy with Koran burning, I see that there is something valuable in Terry Jones’ provocation simply for revealing so many people’s true colors, and this was, in fact, one of his stated reasons for this event.

As for the General, there is something altogether gratuitous about Petraeus’ words.  He undboutedly knew they’d be looked on kindly by Obama, in a way that a condemnation of equally problematic pacifist protests would not.  Where was General Petraeus when the Abu Ghraib photos were plastered all over Time Magazine and anti-war protests?  And what of the demoralizing “Bush Lied, People Died” canard?  Petraeus is hardly taking a courageous or conistent stand here; he is simply saying what he thinks the boss wants to hear.  And it is a problem when the military pursues its own (or the President’s) anti-democratic agenda in a free society; the military is supposed to be the instrument of the elected, political branches of government, and those branches (and the people to whom they are accountable) have varied opinions and views on what Islam means, how it should be addressed, and how that view should be expressed by private citizens. And, lest I remind the general, he took an oath to the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment.

A just war preserves a people and a way of life.  I have not forgotten that Petraeus, ever the politician, let the cat out of the bag sometime ago when asked by Senator John Warner (R-VA) if the war made the US safe, responding “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”  Indeed.  The current war now has a logic all its own, nearly completely separate from domestic security, which can be easily vouchsafed by capping Islamic immigration and pressuring those here to Americanize or go home.  The idea that to win a war American citizens must be cajoled by uniformed military men to show respect to an alien religion shows the ultimate impossibility of the current nation-building strategy, which aims impossibly and unprecedentedly to reconcile western institutions with an ancient, anti-western religion.   This war, animated by ideological principals of universalist liberalism and multiculturalism, threatens as it drags on to degrade the society it ostensibly is being waged to protect.

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One notable aspect of the defense of the Ground Zero Mosque is the claim that defending the rights of these Muslims it is part and parcel of living in accord with our traditions of property rights, free speech, and religious freedom.  But this is, frankly, the theory of America.  Yes, these are important and hoary legal rights.  But they were instituted by our Founders and still valued for practical reasons:  we value our own right to worship, we do not want our neighbors policing our worship, we do not want to contribute to the worship of others, with which we may disagree, and we do not want the kinds of violent contests over religion that have characterized much of European history.  In our past, and even now, there were practical limits on the range of expression of speech or religious freedom owing to our common heritage.  Likewise, and with similar practicality, we value democratic institutions because we believe it limits government excess, allows our interests to be filtered through the political process, and prevents the concentration of power in a king or oligarchy.  But, we also knew until recently among whom we were living, voting, and choosing representatives and presidents.  These were not third world rabble on the whole.  We were not going to face violent reactions in either politics or religion if the outcome–conversion or a lost election–were not a desired one.  Once again, experience rendered the theory a practical and beneficient one.

But for liberals–whether neoconservative or “out of the closet” left-liberals–the procedures are often valued without regard for their practical outcome.  And among left liberals in particular, negative practical outcomes are embraced in the name of theories because these outcomes undermine traditional power structures, habits, and people.  Such rhetorical appeals use our honor and contempt for hypocricy as the very means by which our collective happiness will be undermined.  Thus, free speech for Muslims is championed while draconian prosecutions for “hate speech” among our peers in Europe and Canada are greeted with indifference.  Democracy that yields a ban on gay marriage is struck down by the courts, even as it is championed in Iraq to accomplish Sharia or in South Africa to expropriate property from farmers.

If I may paraphrase something I wrote earlier on Bush’s policies on Iraq:  he acted on the assumption that we’re winning in Iraq by turning Iraq into a democracy, but he was mistaken insofar as he believeed “democracy” is a substantive policy outcome and not an interim procedure that could lead to any number of substantive results both for us and the Iraqis.

Procedural schemes in government are justified to the extent they lead to some long-run practical benefit. Procedures and rights are inventions to achieve practical and final ends like safety, commerce, and order. In both foreign and domestic policies, there should be no purely idealistic procedures, if they would likely lead to some abhorrent practical outcome, such as a society’s destruction.

With Bush and his inner circle, the supporters of a deontological and idealistic foreign policy deluded themselves into thinking that they’re the good ones and that their opponents simply lack sufficient commitment to the cause, instead of recognizing that they’re thoroughly ideological in outlook and merely hoping that a positive outcome will result from the unknown nature of Iraqi public opinion as expressed through elections. This was dangerous and irresponsible, considering the stakes.

Similarly, blind supporters of free speech and religious freedom for Muslims in America do not recognize that the lack of commitment to free speech and religious freedom among this subgroup renders that expansion of freedom short-sighted, unwise, and self-destructive in the long-run, or, at the very least, carries some countervailing risks.  What good is “religious freedom” that results in subordination to Sharia in the name of a suicidal consistency and unwillingness to look beyond theory to practice and outcomes?

As Burke stated in reference to another self-destructive experiment in consistency, “Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.”  Indeed.  While rights and legalities are of high importance, they are not of supreme importance.  They are means to an end, and if they clearly do not serve that end because of some changed circumstance, they must be modified, amended, or in some other way adjusted to deal with reality.

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One of Bush’s more asinine theories of foreign policy, a theory at the heart of much of neoconservatism, is the idea that everyone everywhere wants American-style freedoms and American-style democracy.  As he said in his 2007 speech on the surge:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region. It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.

But is this really what a great many Iraqis want?  They surely want order, commerce, fair treatment, and the good of their individual tribes.  But freedom? And if they celebrated the fall of Saddam, hasn’t it been clear that for some this was a signal that they now could oppress their erstwhile oppressors?

The sorry history of liberal movements in 19th Century Europe and South America should give some pause to those who believe that people everywhere desire freedom.  That desire has often been fleeting or coexstensive with darker desires of envy, revenge, and license.  We’ve seen this in our own times, particularly in Eastern Europe, where misguided notions of freedom left a great many Russians, Poles, and others with unfortunate disrespect for free markets, borne by the rapidity of the social change and the inclusion of accidental aspects of free societies that could have been disregarded in deference to national cultures and other goods.

I recently read Tocqueville’s excellent work The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution and was struck by the relevance of the following passage:

I see quite clearly that, whenever nations are poorly governed, they are very ready to entertain the desire for governing thesmelves.  But this kind of love for independence, which has its roots only in certain particular and passing evils brought on by despostism, never lasts long; it disppearas along with the accidental circumstnaces which caused it.  They seemed to love freedom; it turns out they simply hated the master.  When nations are ready for freedom, what they hate is the evil of dependency itself.

At home and abroad, a desire for security by the lower classes above all is the main competitor of freedom.  Instead of looking to export this difficult to maintain good overseas by military force, America would be better served to cultivate its own national independence at home.  But instead of the Republican evils of imperial adventures abroad and the false freedom of unproductive financial gimmicks at home, Obama promises humanitarian interventions overseas and crippling debts at home in the name of economic stimulus.  Having replaced the old stawart American people with a newer breed through mass immigration, and having accelerated that old breed’s decadence at home with the welfare state begun in the 1930s, the various effects of liberalism have rendered the old American type that “hate[d] the evil of dependency itself” in short supply to say the least.

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Lawrence Auster has an interesting post today that notes that one of the prime engines of neoconservative folly is this idea that everyone “deserves” liberty and that we, therefore, having the ability, owe it to strange peoples to “give them freedom.”

His post reminded me of something I read long ago in the Liberty Fund’s collection of John C. Calhoun’s works, which is now generously available on line. While often a callous defender of slavery (which had little regard for justice and the interests of the people it was supposedly civilizing), like most free people in slave societies, Calhoun had a very detailed and nuanced sense of what it meant to be free and was, accordingly, a thoughtful defender of freedom at least for his own people.  He writes something here of universal application that shows the inherent folly of the neoconservative utopianism:

[T]he worst form of government, is better than anarchy; and that individual liberty, or freedom, must be subordinate to whatever power may be necessary to protect society against anarchy within or destruction from without; for the safety and well-being of society is as paramount to individual liberty, as the safety and well-being of the race is to that of individuals; and in the same proportion, the power necessary for the safety of society is paramount to individual liberty. On the contrary, government has no right to control individual liberty beyond what is necessary to the safety and well-being of society. Such is the boundary which separates the power of government and the liberty of the citizen or subject in the political state, which, as I have shown, is the natural state of man—the only one in which his race can exist, and the one in which he is born, lives, and dies.

It follows from all this that the quantum of power on the part of the government, and of liberty on that of individuals, instead of being equal in all cases, must necessarily be very unequal among different people, according to their different conditions. For just in proportion as a people are ignorant, stupid, debased, corrupt, exposed to violence within and danger from without, the power necessary for government to possess, in order to preserve society against anarchy and destruction becomes greater and greater, and individual liberty less and less, until the lowest condition is reached, when absolute and despotic power becomes necessary on the part of the government, and individual liberty extinct. So, on the contrary, just as a people rise in the scale of intelligence, virtue, and patriotism, and the more perfectly they become acquainted with the nature of government, the ends for which it was ordered, and how it ought to be administered, and the less the tendency to violence and disorder within, and danger from abroad, the power necessary for government becomes less and less, and individual liberty greater and greater. Instead, then, of all men having the same right to liberty and equality, as is claimed by those who hold that they are all born free and equal, liberty is the noble and highest reward bestowed on mental and moral development, combined with favorable circumstances. Instead, then, of liberty and equality being born with man; instead of all men and all classes and descriptions being equally entitled to them, they are high prizes to be won, and are in their most perfect state, not only the highest reward that can be bestowed on our race, but the most difficult to be won—and when won, the most difficult to be preserved.

They have been made vastly more so by the dangerous error I have attempted to expose, that all men are born free and equal, as if those high qualities belonged to man without effort to acquire them, and to all equally alike, regardless of their intellectual and moral condition. The attempt to carry into practice this, the most dangerous of all political error, and to bestow on all, without regard to their fitness either to acquire or maintain liberty, that unbounded and individual liberty supposed to belong to man in the hypothetical and misnamed state of nature, has done more to retard the cause of liberty and civilization, and is doing more at present, than all other causes combined. While it is powerful to pull down governments, it is still more powerful to prevent their construction on proper principles. It is the leading cause among those which have placed Europe in its present anarchical condition, and which mainly stands in the way of reconstructing good governments in the place of those which have been overthrown, threatening thereby the quarter of the globe most advanced in progress and civilization with hopeless anarchy, to be followed by military despotism.

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