The fallacy of a Western patriotism that embraces unlimited freedom as the definition of the West

Vivek G. writes:

You wrote:

I thought about that ad while hearing patriotic speakers at the Spencer/Geller demo repeatedly and unqualifiedly praise “freedom” as the thing threatened by Islam. Is the freedom to have ads for “Hung” pasted at bus stops all over the city the “freedom” that we stand for against the “unfreedom” of Islam?

A very pertinent question indeed. We should always be clear that there are three categories: Religion, Bad Religion (e.g., Islam), and Irreligion (e.g. materialism, liberalism). Freedom, including freedom of religion, applies properly only to the first category. Both the second and the third category are evil and destructive; and neither is to be confused as our partner against the other. Bad religions talk about morality but they are against spiritual freedom, while irreligions talk of freedom but are against morality!

Strategies like “partner with Islam against materialism” (Dinesh D’Souza) [LA adds: which is also Pope Benedict’s position] or the fight against “unfreedom” that you have rightly questioned are all suicidal and must be shunned. A conflict between the second (bad religion) and the third (irreligion) is useful, and could be encouraged, since it weakens both evils, but we should never side with either since both are mortally dangerous to us. After all if we are asked to choose between homosexual liberationists and Muslims we must reject both!

Sometimes, I feel apprehensive about Geert Wilders in the same context. He often praises “freedom” in the manner you have criticized. Any comments?

LA replies:

Vivek’s excellent comment stands as a reproof to those deluded individuals who would ally with Islam (because, as they believe, it’s a religion, and therefore good) against godless liberalism, and would thus facilitate the Islamic takeover of the West. Yes, Islam is a religion, but it’s a religion that seeks our destruction, whether we are religious believers or materialists—that seeks our subjugation and destruction as non-Muslims, an undeniable fact that certain Christian conservatives seem incapable of grasping, mainly because they would rather surrender than fight.

Vivek’s point that freedom applies properly only to religion may be in need of some qualification, but points in the right direction. Freedom without truth, freedom without reference to standards, freedom without reference to the good of society, is the very freedom that puts ads for “Hung” in our public spaces and allows Muslims, who seek the destruction of all our freedoms and our very society, to gain power among us.

On the question of true versus false freedom, here I quote from my 1991 talk to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “The Real ‘PC’”:

In earlier generations, Americans spoke not of “democracy” so much as of freedom. But freedom used to have a more complex meaning—it meant ordered freedom, freedom within the constitutional and moral order that makes that freedom possible. Freedom also meant national freedom, sovereignty, and distinctiveness, and the duty to defend it. The motto “Don’t tread on me,” with its sense of proud independence, was once part of our national character. But today freedom has come to mean simply the freedom to do as one pleases. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Commencement address at Harvard in 1978:
[In early democracies, as] in American democracy at its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility… . Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims.

Now in the economic sphere we often think of freedom and equality as trade-offs. But in the moral sphere, radical freedom and equality advance hand in hand. The maximization of freedom means that all values, all “lifestyles,” all “cultures,” must be equally free and there is no way to choose between them. From the degrading music videos of Madonna to the expansion of rights for professional derelicts as they take over our cities, all these things are seen as further extensions of rights and freedoms, and therefore they must be good—or, at least, there is no objective basis on which we can say they are bad. The same holds for the massive influx of foreign peoples and cultures totally incompatible with the existing society. The pursuit of unlimited diversity for its own sake is a necessary consequence of unrestrained democracy and equality, as Plato was the first to observe.

Indeed, everything I’ve been saying here can be found in Book VIII of Plato’s Republic, where he describes the way of life in a society practicing unrestrained democracy. To summarize Plato’s chief points:

  • There is, first of all, unlimited personal freedom; a tremendous diversity of types of people; and love of diversity for its own sake.

  • People only fulfil their civic obligations or obey the law if they feel like it, since obedience smacks of servitude and they will have no master over them.

  • Leaders must constantly appease the people out of fear of being called oligarchs; parents are afraid of their children and are extremely mild with them; the teacher fears and fawns upon the pupil.

  • All desires are equally to be esteemed, with no distinction between noble and base desires.

  • Equality is “granted indiscriminately to equals and unequals alike.”

  • And finally, says Plato, the resident alien and foreigner are regarded as equal to the citizen.

As can be gleaned from Plato’s incomparable analysis, a society’s openness to unlimited diversity is not primarily a question of economics or ideology or class; it is at bottom a moral phenomenon, connected with all the other moral concerns of society.

In the classic and Christian view, man’s moral nature is understood as a hierarchy. Justice means the proper ordering of the parts of man’s nature and of society. The love of the good is higher than the love of pleasure. But the radical democratic morality—which dominates our politics, our popular culture, our schools and even our churches—denies the existence of a moral hierarchy in man and society. In the modern democratic view, the chief moral principle is compassion, Rousseau’s natural virtue of “pity.” As the 1920s literary critic Irving Babbitt pointed out in Democracy and Leadership, Rousseauian pity is not a virtue in the classic sense; it is an expansive instinct, indistinguishable in its essential form from other expansive appetites such as greed and power. Thus, in democratic society, we have the phenomenon of conspicous compassion, whether for the homeless, or immigrants, or whatever. Traditional morality contains our natural impulses and directs them toward the good; it discriminates. But the essence of egalitarian morality is its indiscriminateness. Instead of loving something that represents our highest values or that is most intimate with us personally, egalitarian morality serves the “Other,” and more “other” the Other is, the more “moral” is our service of it.

The point I was making in the above passage is not only that unlimited freedom allows the members of a society to behave in destructive ways, which is bad enough, but that unlimited freedom ends by handing the society over to unassimilated or hostile aliens and placing it under their power.

As for Wilders, I do not offhand remember hearing him use the word freedom in the excessive, unqualified, thoughtless way that I heard from several speakers at the 9/11 rally (though it’s possible that he does speak that way from time to time). As I remember, when Wilders speaks of freedom, he does so in the context of particular freedoms that are indeed intrinsic to our civilization and that are currently threatened both by liberalism and Islam, for example, the freedom to speak, which means, the freedom to describe reality as we see it. This was the freedom that was at risk in his prosecution, where he was charged with the crime of hate speech for accurately describing Islam.

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Ingemar P. writes:

There used to be a thing that the nations of the West considered their raison d’etre, and it was their shared Christian faith.

Christianity speaks of freedom, but it is freedom from sin, death and the power of the Devil.

However, the West has been actively purging its faith whilst keeping the “freedom” part. Only now, without a point of reference to what the freedom is from, there is only “I can do whatever I want, damn the rules!” The Christian faith is the only thing linking disparate people like the Portuguese and Lithuanians. Now that these shared bonds are gone, no wonder the dream of European union is crumbling.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 27, 2011 10:27 AM | Send

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