Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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More thoughts on Bush Second Inaugural

Ken Masugi likes it and thinks that, domestically, it responds to FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Address. William Safire rates it very high, as does David Brooks. Brooks: "Bush’s speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day.

With that speech, President Bush’s foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged." William Kristol thinks it will prove to be a historic speech, as it is powerful and subtle, sophisticated, and nuanced. Details of policy aside, Kristol writes, Bush is right on "the fundamental American goal." And Victor Davis Hanson has some smart words for those who are inclined to castigate idealims, either of Bush or Epaminondas.

And, of course, some are critical. Orlando Patterson thinks Bush misunderstands freedom, and the speech will anger the world.
The socialist Eric Hobsbawm argues that the speech is based on a dangerous illusion and Bush will fail.
Bill Buckley thinks the whole speech was confusing. Peter Robinson says that the speech proves that Bush is not really a conservative. (He’s wrong.) Roger Kimball throws out a few paragraphs about Wilson, Fukuyama, and Hegel, and leaves it there. David Kusnet, a speechwriter for Clinton, parises Michael Gerson, the author of the Inaugural, and concludes: "Bush’s critics can and should challenge how he’ll translate his poetry into policy. But meanwhile, they ought to mimic, not mock, his invocations of democratic values. In public debate, those who speak movingly about democracy have seized the high ground. Bush tried to do that yesterday; his critics should try to do that in the days ahead."

Discussions - 5 Comments

Lincoln saw that the Union could not endure half slave and half free.

Grating as it may seem to many, I think Bush has been to the same mountaintop.

He sees that what Lincoln realized of the Union is now true (maybe always was true, but now we see it with special poignancy in the age of portable hell weapons and global jet travel) of the whole world.

The free world, which countries are joining or moving toward all the time (vide Ukraine, a long-supine land where till recently nobody thought much was happening) cannot endure if big chunks of the world (like the parts of it that speak Arabic) are in slavery.

For in the Arab world slavery--in perverse, oblique, yet decidedly traceable ways--is breeding terror and death.

Bush put his finger on the nerve of the matter: The world cannot endure part slave and part free.

This does not mean we have to send paratroopers into every pocket of unfreedom tomorrow--far from it.

But the game is on, whether we like it or not. We owe it to Bush that he has described for us the stakes and with that, adumbrated our goal.

That is huge. To ask for every detail to be filled in is, at this point, silly. He bestrides the age.

Great. I’m glad "Bush put his finger on the nerve of the matter." What concerns me is if he can keep our military out of it this time . . .

He need not keep our military out of it every time. It is most regretable to lose American Military personel. However, if there are no other options available, freedom must spread at just about any cost. By all means, attempt diplomacy, but it might not work in all cases. We are trying it with North Korea, along with China, Russia, and South Korea. These latter three countries, including the US, (at least those four, possibly others) are sortof using "peer pressure" on North Korea to attempt to get them to disarm and dismantle.

Define Freedom:

you say: "freedom must spread at just about any cost."

But Freedom is the ability to weight the costs of actions and chose accordingly.

Freedom exists naturally without regard to political regimes. Just as Marx said the rich man and poor man are alike free to sleep on park benches. In some regimes thought itself is suppressed, speech regulated, and opportunities for advancement limited. Freedom still exists, but the cost of doing what one thinks is rational or best(self-interest) is so high that it seems prohibitive. Freedom could find greater actualization if people in such regimes could unite to throw off the tyrants and change the regime. But unless such people come to the conclusion that it is worth it to them, nothing will happen.

The United States can’t spread Freedom, and it certainly isn’t worth any cost to increase what already exists. After all we could increase Freedom by redistributing wealth to the poor nations. But if these nations have corrupt governments such aid will do little good and even if they have decent governments such aid could do harm to the willingness of the people to gain for themselves. My point is that it is often times the case that the giver places a higher value on the gift than the receiver.

I am concerned that we are overhypeing the word "Freedom", by not paying attention to its costs, how they are distributed, and how the receivers value or understand what is even meant by Freedom.

Consider "freedom" as a good like "wealth". Consider that some people believe wealth leads to freedom because wealth gives security and allows a greater number of opportunities to be feasible. Consider that other people believe that freedom is more valuable than wealth, the freedom to take vacations, relax, spend time with familly and kids. Ironically Freedom is also the choice to spend ones time making money or spending it. To give someone freedom is to give them wealth. To give wealth without regard to the cost, is a good way to go broke.

A crucial question: In what way is giving a man freedom different from giving him wealth? Is Freedom akin to teaching a man to fish? Then who pays the teachers? Is education free?

I guess Socrates was rather broke. But was he rich in other ways? Did he have freedom? Did he have freedom of speech?

Of course we can spread freedom, and we have done so, both by example and by more direct means, up to and including (on rare but important occasions) military force. Read your history. Antietam made the Emancipation Proclamation possible. That spread freedom. In WWII, a lot of Americans died and millions more sacrificed in other ways to beat back fascist tyranny. That spread freedom, even if we had to make a tactical alliance w/ a communist tyranny in order to "shoot the closest wolf first."

Of course spreading freedom (or if you like liberty understood as self-government under a rule of law) isn’t always free or easy. It can have major costs. But it also has benefits--some of the "virtue is its own reward" kind, and others that are more tangible (like a safer world).

Finally, when you say:

"Freedom could find greater actualization if people in such regimes could unite to throw off the tyrants and change the regime. But unless such people come to the conclusion that it is worth it to them, nothing will happen."

I think you are presupposing an overly simple behavioral calculus. Take the Iraqis. They had suffered for decades under a ramified, ruthless, and interlocking Stalino-fascist police state. Some of them tried to throw it off in 91, and we got cold feet and left them hanging (a good argument for toppling Saddam 2nd time around IMHO, BTW). Getting off the dime against a tyrant can be very hard. When an outside force steps in (and certainly Saddam did much to provoke that intervention, from his UN resolutions violated to his shooting at allied aircraft to his persistent refusal to comply w/ WMD inspections) and topples the dictator, people who were too afraid or disorganized to rise up against him may then begin taking chances for freedom when it still has not been fully secured (think of all the Iraqi security men who have died in the last 22 months, or the Iraqi election workers and party activists now risking torture and death to claim aspects of freedom that we take for granted).

So we can’t always (or maybe ever) spread freedom like so much pixie dust, but we can changes the conditions and incentives that exist even in a place like Iraq, to put freedom more within the grasp of local people. And even in Iraq--so long enslaved, in the heart of a region so often and so deeply hostile to freedom--those local people are making sacrifices every day and toughing out the horrors inflicted by a vicious rejectionist minority that hates freedom (check out Zarqawi’s latest flat rejection of democracy as blasphemy). The US invasion didn’t do the whole trick, but it is the premise and groundwork for the progress that’s been made so far, even when you take all the problems and mistakes of the postwar period into account.

Your questions are not without merit, but sometimes things are fairly simple. Just imagine being a Christian (or a Muslim woman) in Saudi Arabia, or just imagine being any North Korean except a regime flunky.

BTW, your argument about being always naturally free if only one will bear the cost has limits. In law, for instance, no court will let an armed robber off on the grounds that his victim never had his freedom taken away b/c in principle he always remained "free" to ignore the robber’s demands, if only the victim would bear the risk of being shot or stabbed! Please! While some people do take huge risks for freedom, this heroic fact has never been understood to obviate the distinction between ordinary liberty and compulsion in either law or fact.

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