The “war on terror,” brought to you by Lyndon Johnson; and what’s wrong with Bush’s idea that freedom is God’s gift to all
an absorbingly interesting article
in the July 16 New York Times
(which for once I actually purchased and read on paper), the U.S. has a five-year, $750 million program aimed at—get your Digitalis out—raising living standards in the mountainous region of Pakistan bordering on Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda are centered. It is one of the most backward, primitive, dangerous, and Islamo-intensive areas of the world, and we think that spending money on water treatment, hospitals, roads, and schools will make the people in that area more resistant to Islamic extremism. The area is so wild and lawless that the Pakistan government has virtually no sway there, and even the people involved in designing the program fear that most of the money will just go to enriching local warlords. But we’re doing it anyway.
So there’s our “war on terror”: a war on poverty stretching from the Palestinian territories to Pakistan. This is the mad utopianism into which we are led by our belief that terrorism comes from a lack of opportunities instead of from Islam. The same belief prevents us from imagining the possibility that even if we succeeded in our dream of raising the living standard of the Pakistan frontier, the jihadism there might increase, just as jihadism has increased in every country where Muslims are given political freedom. Nope. The plan must work out for the best, because, as President Bush said in an interview with nine conservative journalists at the White House last Friday:
It’s idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.
Richard Lowry expresses his disbelief in what Bush said. He argues that some cultures are far more welcoming to political freedom than others, and that what most people want first and foremost is not freedom but order. Sadly, however, Lowry confines these key Busho-critical statements to a blog entry
at the Corner. In Lowry’s regular article
on the Bush interview, an article that has all the depth of a piece in a college newspaper interviewing the college president, Lowry says nothing critical at all. He merely reports straight Bush’s “upbeat and confident” assessment that we’re on course in Iraq.
All of which backs up Carol Iannone’s point: how can there be any serious national debate on the president’s policies, when the left has nothing useful or rational to say, and the conservatives, desiring above all else to maintain their relationship with Bush, mute their criticisms of him? Given the conservatives’ serf-like loyalty to any Republican president (with rare exceptions on extreme issues, like the immigration bill), a liberal Republican presidency such as Bush’s, or, heaven help us, Giuliani’s, spells the extinction of conservatism.
- end of initial entry -
Ben W. writes:
LBJ: “I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom.”
George W. Bush has uttered the same sentiment.
Where do these people get this idea? Not from the New Testament because the concept of freedom is bound up with the work of the Son (John 8:36):
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
There is not in either the Old Testament or the New Testament any concept of generic freedom tied to one’s being. So where do our political leaders get this idea from—that freedom is a default attribute of being built into our form and essence by God?
This type of loose belief results in a universalism of being and ultimately to a denigration of the specifics of Judaism and Christianity. No wonder Bush honors Ramadan at the White House.
“LBJ: ‘I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom.’”
No, that’s Bush saying that last week, not LBJ.
“So where do our political leaders get this idea from—that freedom is a default attribute of being built into our form and essence by God?”
From Locke and the Declaration of Independence. But, to paraphrase our leaders’ description of jihadist Islam, what our leaders are saying about freedom is a perversion of Locke and the Declaration. The second sentence of the Declaration, echoing and restating core ideas in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, begins:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Locke and the American Founders do not say that God simply gives all men freedom or that freedom is a default attribute of being built into our form and essence by God. Rather, they say that, given the sort of being man is created by God to be, he requires freedom to fulfil his nature as man. But obviously nothing assures that he will actually possess this freedom or fulfil his nature. He has the natural right to freedom, but in order to possess freedom he must exercise that right.
The Lockean-Jeffersonian notion of freedom or liberty is at bottom Aristotelian. When Aristotle speaks of our nature, he doesn’t mean ourselves just as we are. He means the true and complete development of our nature. There is a difference between man as he actually is, and man as he can and should be, i.e., man with his nature properly and fully developed. The right to freedom is exercised only to the extent that a man seeks to fulfill his nature. But a man may very well be content to be a slave in one manner or another. Such a man neither possesses freedom nor is he longing for it. The same goes for an entire society. The Declaration is very clear about what actions a society needs to perform in order to possess actual liberty and not just the abstract right to liberty: “[I]n order to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Therefore it is false to say, as Bush and his followers say, that man simply deserves and possesses freedom by virtue of being human. To say that he does, is to imply that if any persons or societies lack freedom, it must be because it has been taken away from them by external circumstances or oppression, which then requires America, God’s messiah of freedom, to “restore” to them the freedom of which they have been deprived. We end up with the Bushian global democracy crusade to “give” all people their freedom.
This is the crime that Bush and his neocon supporters have committed against the American political tradition: they have perverted the Aristotelian, Lockean, Jeffersonian understanding of liberty into a global welfare state in which all people are “entitled” to have freedom, whether or not they have done anything to secure it.
Another flaw in the Bush view is that it shows such a total lack of respect for the Muslims it purports to be raising up. The Muslims believe in freedom, too: the freedom to choose to submit themselves to Allah, which is the exact opposite of the American idea of freedom. To deny that this is how the Muslims actually wish to exercise their freedom is to ignore and insult them as human beings.
Ben W. writes:
You write that, “And thus we end up with the Bushian global democracy crusade to ‘give’ everyone their freedom.” If Bush believes that God has endowed men with freedom, and his policies are an instrument for ensuring that this gift becomes actualized (or not suppressed), then he is really a proxy for God. He is standing in God’s place determining how and where this divine “gift” is to be distributed. No wonder his Secretary of State continually harkens back to the civil rights days and the “freedom rides” built around churches.
John D. writes:
“And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
How is one to go about even beginning to argue with a man who cannot, in his own words, be convinced out of his belief in the universalism of freedoms that exist for all people without creating the disturbance which would inevitably cause all of the collective dominoes that built this idea, to come tumbling down, taking along with it the Iraq and Palestinian democracy projects that Lowry has been defending since their inception?
As you have said many times, so long as the belief in universal freedoms for all people remains unchallenged, there will be little relevant discourse from either side of the aisle. I do, however, think that this belief is starting to unravel and you may soon see many more questioning it.
An Indian living in the West writes:
While it is fair that Bush should be taken to task for the incompetence and foolishness of his administration, we need to step back a bit and take a longer range view of things.
I am not going to turn this into an orgy of Clinton bashing, but consider this:
Why do I bring all this up? Because while it is of course only right and proper that Bush’s pumping of hundreds of millions in Pakistan and Afghanistan is criticised, we should consider the possibility that with Pakistan, at least, Bush’s hands are tied. Musharraf is a scoundrel and his government is corrput and brutal but there is no alternative. Pakistan has nuclear weapons now and can only be kept in check by bribery and corruption. It is far more dangerous than Iran.
- The Pakistanis got nuclear weapons when Clinton was in charge. It is not as if Clinton knew nothing about what was going on. He was too busy getting homosexuals into the military and er, dealing with Miss Lewinsky
- The whole “peace process” malarkey started under Clinton and we know where that ended up
- Afghanistan fell under effective Taliban control right under Clinton’s nose and again he did absolutely nothing. Pakistan’s hand in propping up the Taliban was also common knowledge at this time. Clinton did nothing.
- Osama bin Laden’s first attacks on American targets were all during Clinton’s presidency. He certainly did not pursue Bin Laden with sufficient alacrity. Bin Laden actually declared war on America during Clinton’s presidency. Attacks included a failed attempt at the World Trade Centre, destruction of a US naval gunship of the coast of Yemen and an attack on the US Embassy in Kenya that killed more than 250 people. [LA comments: The attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993 failed in the sense that it did not cause the buildings to crash, but I would not called it a failed attempt.]
- Terrorism in Israel, India and the Balkans was rampant during Clinton’s years. He lectured the Indians on Kashmir about “human rights” while innocent people were being butchered by Pakistan sponsored fanatics in Kashmir. He bombed the hell out of Serbia to help the Muslims.
I don’t mean to defend Bush but you can only make the most of what you have. Bush inherited problems and he has made them worse. But in some respects, he probably could not have done much better. His choices in Pakistan, at least, are limited.
Alan Levine writes:
Was enthralled by the plan for a war on poverty in the central Asian mountains. Of course, we will probably have to drop cobalt bombs and wipe out all life in the region before the antipoverty warriors can get to work.
Spencer Warren writes:
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32.)
Doesn’t this mean that to be free you have to believe in Christ, and that thus Bush is perverting Christianity as well as our Founding?
The passage I just quoted from the Gospels also parallels your account of Aristotle:
“The Lockean-Jeffersonian notion of freedom or liberty is at bottom Aristotelian. When Aristotle speaks of our nature, he doesn’t mean ourselves just as we are. He means the true and complete development of our nature. There is a difference between man as he actually is, and man as he can and should be, i.e., man with his nature properly and fully developed.”
In the Biblical meaning, man’s true nature is faith in Christ. That is how he “should be,” as you write, “with his nature properly and fully developed.”
Also, this understanding of freedom means that it is understood in substantive terms of what one ought to do, the central difference between the classical and Judeo-Christian understanding of freedom and the contemporary, liberal understanding. Bush joins the left is emptying freedom of substantive content, which is the source of the moral/cultural crisis of our time. It’s just a right to do as one pleases. It is relativistic.
What are the odds Bush has even thought about any of this, or has the slightest understanding of it?
I agree with everything Mr. Warren says. Just as a structural point, I would add that in this discussion the distinction between “ourselves as we are” and “our fulfilled nature” in which we experience true freedom has three levels, which are distinct yet part of a continuum: the Jeffersonian, the Aristotelian-Platonic, and the Christian.
The Jeffersonian level of fulfilled nature and true freedom means that men do not just sit on their behinds talking about the rights they enjoy as the result of their God-given nature, but, as the Declaration puts it, they get together and institute a government designed to secure their rights.
The Aristotelian-Platonic level of fulfilled nature and true freedom means, in the words of Leo Strauss:
A being is good, it is “in order,” if it does its proper work well. Hence man will be good if he does well the proper work of man, the work corresponding to the nature of man and required by it. To determine what is by nature good for man or the natural human good, one must determine what the nature of man, or man’s natural constitution, is. It is the hierarchic order of man’s natural constitution which supplies the basis for natural right as the classics understood it. (Natural Right and History, p. 127.) The Christian level of fulfilled nature and true freedom goes beyond human nature as perceived by philosophy and comprehends life in Christ. To continue from the verse in the Gospel of John that Mr. Warren quoted:
Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:32-36.)
What’s wrong with Bush’s idea of freedom is not just that he deviates from or misinterprets Locke and Jefferson, but that he would rely upon them at all! Political liberty is not a “right” in any sense derived from God. Or do you suppose that God deprived his chosen people of this “right” when he set them under monarchical rule?
Human nature is not essentially good. “Fulfillment” of man’s nature might just as well characterize acts of supreme evil. I cannot believe you suggest otherwise. Why do you presume that the Muslims in the beheading videos (have you not seen them? Do so and you will understand why I reference them here.) are neglecting rather than fulfilling their true nature?
This distinction between Bush and Locke/Jefferson is merely academic. The error is explained much better by the fact that Bush fails to see human nature as it is—fallen, and hopelessly wicked on its own. I would recommend de Tocqueville’s perspective on American liberty, which only works when it rests on a foundation of widespread virtue—Christian virtue.
Well, RWM has equated the fulfillment of any desire with the fulfillment of our true nature. That is the opposite of the philosophical understanding and the Western understanding generally.
RWM incorrectly defines the fulfillment of our nature as the satisfaction of whatever impulses are in us. Aristotle defines the fulfillment of our nature as the proper and balanced development of man’s natural capacities along the lines of excellence. The Christian understanding goes beyond the Aristotelian and says, no matter how balanced and excellent the development of your nature is, you are still living in sin, not realizing true freedom, without Christ.
The Aristotelian understanding is ultimately incomplete, needing something beyond itself. Christ transcends Aristotle, but Western civilization takes in both Aristotle and Christ, Athens and Jerusalem.
RWM rejects this synthesis that is Western culture, he rejects philosophy, he even seems to reject the American Founding, because, he seems to suggest, it rejected the notion of man’s sinful nature.
The truth is that the Classical-Christian understanding, which acknowledges man’s fallen nature, and the Secular-Democratic understanding, which denies it, were both present in the American Founding have both have been present in American life ever since, though the Secular-Democratic has steadily become more dominant.
“Well, RWM has equated the fulfillment of any desire with the fulfillment of our true nature. That is the opposite of the philosophical understanding and the Western understanding generally.”
I did no such thing. By way of example, I was suggesting that your assumption of a “true [human] nature” that is essentially good is without a basis in fact. It is at least equally probable that human nature is essentially evil. In fact, we appreciate the good in part because it is rare. That is why the Greeks, including Aristotle, referred what is ugly in man as “base.” So why do you, contrary to the weight of the evidence, not instead consider that what is base and common in man is his “true” nature, while what is rare is the departure?
“RWM incorrectly defines our nature as whatever impulses are in us.”
1. I did not define human nature. With an example, I challenged you to do so, since you were the one throwing around such lofty yet imprecise words as man’s “true human nature [and “fulfillment” thereof]” without bothering to define them. You are using the words “true human nature” in such a way as to suggest that you believe human nature is essentially good, but you seem reluctant to so state. I challenge you again: define the phrase “true human nature.” 2. You mislead when you characterize the actions in the jihadi beheading videos as the product of “impulses.” Your choice of words obscures the fact that those actions were most settled, cool and deliberate. Seriously, which terms seem a better fit for those actions: “impulse” or “human nature”? Instead of mischaracterizing and dismissing my points, why don’ t you refute them? Tell me why the good!
“Aristotle defines our nature as the proper and balanced development of man’s natural capacities along the lines of excellence. The Christian understanding goes beyond the Aristotelian and says, no matter how balanced and excellent the development of your nature is, you are still living in sin, not realizing true freedom, without Christ.”
You are gravely mistaken in this. Christ does not extend Aristotle. Christ refutes Aristotle. You rightly choose the word “balance” to describe Aristotelian virtues. His description of the magnanimous man—the height of virtue in his philosophy—is a sum of half-measures. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”, Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” [Mt. 18:21-22.] How immoderate! How unbalanced! Aristotle’s magnanimous man would never forgive repeated insults; such conduct would appear unmanly. Jesus drew a sharp distinction between Christian virtues and the world’s virtues, saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles [e.g., Greeks] lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you…”
“RWM rejects this synthesis that is Western culture, he rejects philosophy, he even seems to reject the American Founding, because, he seems to suggest, it rejected the notion of man’s sinful nature.” [LA note: this is the text as I revised it after I initially posted it.]
You slur me. Does a man “reject philosophy,” unqualified and categorically (which is to say he rejects reason), because he disagrees with a philosopher? Frankly, I can’t even see where you’re getting this idea. Is it because I challenge your unspoken but obvious assumption that human nature is good? You seem to suggest that I should venerate and follow Aristotle’s beliefs because he is an icon of Western culture. Can I be said to reject the “American Founding” because I disagree with one (or even some) of the founders? What if I embrace Madison while holding Jefferson in low esteem? What a marvelous statement that to reject one rejects all! I wonder at your sense of history if you believe the founders were in accord. Regarding the “synthesis” in Western culture, which here means Aristotle and Christ, I challenge your glibness. Can you synthesize the teachings of Aristotle and Christ
I am irritated that you addressed none of the substance of my arguments earlier. The major points are:
1. If political liberty is a God-given “right,” how do you explain the fact that God set kings as rulers over His chosen people? Was He depriving the chosen of this “right?”
2. Human nature is not essentially good. Do you disagree? Why? Your entire argument turns on this question.
The main cause of RWM’s annoyance with me is that he thinks I’m saying human nature is good. But the classical ideal I was referring to is an ideal of completed or perfected nature, not a picture of man as he ordinarily is. These ideas were first developed in Plato’s Republic, in which he constructs the true state of man and the city, something from which the Athenians of Plato’s day were very far removed. His motivating impulse came from his horror at the destruction of the Athenian democracy that he had lived through in his youth. Having seen calamitous disorder in the city and in man, he was asking, what would true order be?
Plato in Book IV of The Republic speaks of the three virtues of Wisdom, Courage or Spiritedness, and Temperance, which operate both in the city and in each individual soul. In the well-ordered city, wisdom rules the city, courage defends the city, and temperance is “the concord of the naturally worse and the naturally better as to which should rule in the city or in the indivdiual.” Temperance leads the lower desires to allow themselves be commanded by the higher desires. Finally, the fourth virtue, justice, is the constitutional principle of order by which, in the city, each man does the sort of businsss he is best suited to do, and, in man, each virtue does its right work in its right place, meaning, for example, that the individual is ruled by wisdom, not by spiritedness.
This Platonic idea of a true potential order in man is one of the things I meant by man’s true—i.e., fulfilled—nature.
As for particular disagreements, RWM takes great exception to my statement:
“RWM rejects this synthesis that is Western culture, he rejects philosophy, he even seems to reject the American Founding, because, he seems to suggest, it rejected the notion of man’s sinful nature.”
By “philosophy” I did not mean generic reason, I meant that RWM was rejecting classical philosophy which was my subject. And clearly he does reject classical philosophy.
He says that I “slur” him when I said that he seems to reject the American founding. But here is what he said:
Political liberty is not a “right” in any sense derived from God.I would say that someone who denies that men are endowed by their creator with the right to liberty is someone who rejects what is generally seen as the core idea of the American Founding, the very root of liberty, which is that man is a being who by his God-given nature requires liberty and therefore has a right to liberty, but who, in order to secure his liberty, institutes government in concord with his fellow men. The powers of government derive from the natural rights of the men who constitute that government. Without this belief in a God-given right to liberty by which government is both instituted and limited in its power (necessarily limited because man is a being inclined toward evil and self-aggrandizement, and even without evil per se men will always have conflicting interests, as Madison says in Federalist No. 10), I do not see how anyone gets at anything approaching the American Founding and the American idea of liberty. Maybe RWM has his own version of the Founding, but I’m speaking of the common, shared understanding.
As for RWM’s rejecting the synthesis that is Western culture, I made clear what I meant by that synthesis: Athens and Jerusalem, reason (that is, classical reason that reaches toward a transcendent order of man) and revelation. His hostility and dismissive attitude toward the classic philosophers makes it clear he rejects any such synthesis. Maybe he has his own version of a Western synthesis, but I was speaking of the Western synthesis as commonly understood.
Another statement of mine RWM strongly objects to is that he “incorrectly defines our nature as whatever impulses are in us,” to which he replies that he did not define human nature. But here is what he said:
Human nature is not essentially good. “Fulfillment” of man’s nature might just as well characterize acts of supreme evil….Why do you presume that the Muslims in the beheading videos … are neglecting rather than fulfilling their true nature?Clearly RWM is expressing a view of human nature in which human nature can be “fulfilled” by doing acts of supreme evil. Therefore I think my statement, “RWM incorrectly defines our nature as whatever impulses are in us,” is reasonably correct. I am speaking of human nature in its potential, fulfilled, “higher” form. He is taking human nature to include the satisfaction of any wicked act, so that a savage jihadist murderer is realizing his human nature. What a horrible thing to say. There is no difference for RWM between man’s nature and the most extreme criminality, though in the case of the jihadists, the criminality is sanctioned by their uniquely perverse religion.
RWM asks me:
1. If political liberty is a God-given “right,” how do you explain the fact that God set kings as rulers over His chosen people? Was He depriving the chosen of this “right?”I’m pretty surprised RWM would say this. Of course God did not impose kings over the Israelite tribes. It was the Israelites who wanted to be under a king, so that they would be like other people, and God said this was not a good idea, it was not his plan for them, but if they insisted, ok, but they had to be ready for the consequences.
His other major question is :
“2. Human nature is not essentially good. Do you disagree? Why? Your entire argument turns on this question.”As I’ve said, human nature, as it is, is not ok. Man is created by God and partakes of God’s perfect order, but man himself is not in good order. Man is inclined toward evil, but capable of good. The striving to articulate man’s true order is what gave birth to classical philosophy. Plato said that true order, the Good, is something that lies beyond man, man does not possess it, but he orders himself in reaching toward it. But classical philosophy ran into an impasse, as seen in Aristostle’s idea that the highest good was contemplation, and in the Stoic idea that man just had to adhere to truth in a disorderly world that contained no hope.
The impasse of classical philosophy was broken by Christianity. As Eric Voegelin writes, in the revelation of God and of Jesus Christ, Plato’s Good revealed itself to man as not just an ideal to which man aspired, but as a Person who responded to him.
If man becomes truly free by living through Jesus Christ and ordering himself in that relationship as a son of God, then that is man’s true nature. So, in the sense that man’s true nature is to be a son and follower of God, man’s nature is good. Yet man’s nature is not good, because the principle of good which completes man’s nature lies outside man, in God. The paradox of human-divine existence is that man only realizes his true self by following something outside his self.
But, though man is ultimately not good, because only God is good, at the same time, man as a being created by God possesses a relative degree of good. And it is such a relative degree of good that makes earthly liberty and self-government possible.
This is speculation, but I’m guessing that RWM is coming from a hard-line Calvinist perspective that sees human nature as utterly depraved, with a vast unbridgeable gulf between man and God. By contrast, the orthdox forms of Christianity, meaning Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and the Orthodox Church, have a less stark view of things and see more mediation possible between man and God.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 18, 2007 07:47 AM | Send