Western civilization, brought down by slogans

I’ve written of how, following the July 2005 London terrorist bombings, the British people’s automatic response to every problem caused by Muslim jihadists was, “Britain is a tolerant society,” “We must be tolerant.” I then had the terrible realization that all it takes to destroy a society is for it to say that it believes in tolerance. That single idea, or slogan, treated as the society’s highest principle, makes it impossible for the society to protect itself from any threat, no matter how severe (other than outright violence), because the society must practice tolerance toward everyone.

In the same way, all it takes to assure the suicide of a country is for it say that it believes in “freedom,” which is the American version of British “tolerance.” If the belief in freedom defines us, then we must give everyone in the world, including our enemies, the freedom to do all the things that assure our destruction.

This morning I began watching the 22 minute video “Dishonorable Disclosure,” exposing the Obama administration’s leaking of national security secrets for Obama’s political benefit. The first couple of minutes was nothing but patriotic invocations of “freedom.” “We fight for freedom,” “We die for freedom,” all that. Even when terrorists attack us, we don’t say that they are attacking us, we say that they are attacking “freedom.”

This thoughtless and unreal way of speaking is by now so firmly implanted in the American psyche, particularly in the psyche of conservatives, that it seems that nothing short of some unimaginable civilizational catastrophe can remove it. Which means that we are bound to keep empowering aliens and enemies, not to mention our own disordered selves, until they destroy us. One of the key purposes of this site is to lead at least some conservatives away from the quintessentially liberal belief in unqualified freedom to the traditionalist understanding of ordered freedom, of restrained individualism, of liberty under law. And if there is to be ordered freedom and restrained individualism, then there must be something higher than freedom and individualism, which is a society’s shared understanding of the good. And if a society’s shared understanding of the good is higher than freedom, then the good is not just a means toward non-suicidal freedom, it is the end itself.

* * *

By the way, readers often say to me that they think VFR is being secretly read by, and having an influence on, mainstream conservatives. When the day comes that I see a mainstream conservative declare that our ideal is not “freedom,” but rather “ordered freedom” or “the good,” then I’ll believe that VFR is having an influence on the mainstream.

- end of initial entry -

Peter F. writes:

Your statement brings to mind the late philosopher Sir Karl Popper, who said of tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

We can only imagine what the late Popper would say today about the state of Great Britain. Unlike so many of his countrymen, he clearly foresaw the danger to which unlimited tolerance must lead. Of course, he was correct. The British Isles are rapidly Islamizing; once that process is complete, Britain will become a totalitarian theocracy in which no dissent will be allowed, and “tolerance” will be only a memory.

Alan Roebuck writes:

And even if a conservative leader acknowledges that we need to defend ourselves, he is prevented from calling for any effective action by his allegiance to the ideals of “freedom” and “nonjudgmentalism.”

“Freedom” denotes the invalid liberal concept, as distinct from what Western thought has said over the ages about freedom.

Perhaps it would be good to add to the post your important insight that what leaders think or say in private is irrelevant. Even if some conservative leaders privately acknowledge that freedom is not the highest good, and that defending ourselves is more important, their public silence on this topic ensures the continued tyranny of “freedom” and “nonjudgmentalism.”

N. writes:

In the 1960s it was a commonplace among conservatives that “Liberty is not license.” This was a reference to ordered liberty, that grows out of the concept of Christian liberty—the Christian is free from many legalisms and laws, in Christ. He does not need to worry if his animal sacrifice is sufficient, because the ancient sacrificial system was overthrown on Calvary.

As conservatives have become more secularized, they have become more ignorant. Thus it is very difficult to even start a conversation with modern “conservatives” on the difference between liberty and license, or the even more subtle details of “freedom” vs. “liberty.”

Conservatives all too often react to the left-wing hyper-academic approach by eschewing scholarship. Until conservatives can be brought back to something more serious than mindless slogans, many cultural issues will be just a muddle of emotion, with no thought.

I especially like this sentence in the posting:

“And if there is to be ordered freedom, then there must be something higher than freedom, which is a society’s shared understanding of the good.”

There is a great deal of meaning packed into that sentence; from immigration policy to education to prisons to mass media. “Shared understanding of the good” is a topic that I fear would cause most conservatives’ eyes to glaze over.

Thank you for this posting.

Terry Morris writes:

Our forbears preferred liberty to freedom for precisely the reasons you state. The term “freedom” indicates license, whereas liberty implies personal responsibility.

LA replies:

I would say that liberty implies much more than personal responsibility. It implies an entire order of society within which liberty functions.

As far as I can tell, “personal responsibility” is a phrase that came into vogue approximately in the ’80s, when people began to realize that personal responsibility was drastically declining.

August 18

Terry Morris replies to LA:

Thanks for pointing out the inadequacy of my statement in the context of this discussion.

Personal responsibility for me means much more than restraining one’s jouvenile impulses as it were. To me the term means that as a child of God, I have a responsibility to conduct myself in an appropriate manner in my various relationships.

For example, I’m not free to deprive my children of a moral education, because doing so would place both of our souls in jeopardy, and endanger the society. To the extent we’ve done so in this society, we’ve put the country at great risk.

Joseph C. writes:

Regarding your statement:

“And if there is to be ordered freedom, then there must be something higher than freedom, which is a society’s shared understanding of the good.”

There can be “shared understanding of the good” only in a homogenous society. Once a society signs on to the idea of diversity as a strength, it has signed the death warrant for what is a “shared understanding” of anything.

In this regard, conservatives are even more guilty than liberals. The liberal believes there can be no shared understanding of the good. The conservative stupidly believes that people from myriad backgrounds can join a society and not have any impact on what is the society’s shared understanding of the good.

LA replies:

Excellent point.

Terry Morris writes:

I just re-read the entry. Recall GWB’s utterance on the rubble of the WTC: “Freedom will be defended.”

I’m a little ashamed to admit it now, but I actually had a tag on the front of my vehicle which bore that slogan until about two years ago, when I realized how stupid it is for Americans to defend an idea as unAmerican as unbridled freedom.

Webster’s original definition of “patriotism” says, in part, that it’s the passion which aims to maintain one’s country’s laws and institutions in vigor and purity. That is the very essence of traditionalism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 17, 2012 02:46 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):