In addition to Peggy Noonan and Rod Dreher, Terry Mattingly has weighed in on the allegedly overweening character of GWB’s Second Inaugural. His post prompted an interesting and lengthy discussion in the comments section.
Here’s Rod Dreher:
It seems to me that Americans tend to confuse "all men are created equal" with "all men are pretty much the same." And so, in accord with the Whig view of history, which holds that all events have been progressing through the centuries to culminate in the fabulousness that is Us, so many of us believe that all the world needs is to have a political system just like ours, and their inner liberal democrat will emerge. (I use "liberal democrat" not in the Ted Kennedy sense, but in the sense that all of us in the West are liberal democrats). I think most Americans think that Enlightment assumptions about human nature are true. Thus they cannot imagine that any people, if given the free choice, would choose to live under tyranny. They cannot imagine that to people who have a different metaphysics than ours (say, believing Muslims) might find the way we live to be tyrannical.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating moral equivalence. I’m just saying that our metaphysical naivete leads us into some dangerous blind alleys. To paraphrase someone, "You’ve got to deal with the world you have, not the world you’d like to have."
As I told Peggy earlier today, when I heard Bush’s second inaugural, I wanted to yell, "Hey Icarus, come down from up there before you get hurt!"
And more Dreher:
For traditional society it is the durability of communal norms that lends a sense of immortality to the individual, a life beyond mere physical existence. That is why prayer in the Judeo-Christian sense, the lovers’ exchange between God and the individual soul, does not come into consideration within Muslim theology. Allah is the all-powerful sovereign of the world before whom the individual dissolves; the individual’s submission to the ummah, the community of Islam, is a spiritual experience of an entirely different order.
To this the Americans can only come as destroyers, not saviors. America by its nature disrupts traditional order. It is the usurper of the Old World, the agency of creative destruction, the Spirit that Denies, to whom "everything that arises goes rightly to its ruin" (Goethe) - in short, the Great Satan. America is the existential threat to Islam.
The most interesting response to Mattingly and Dreher is made by Patrick O’Hannigan, who simply asked, "Since when is ending tyranny tantamount to banishing original sin?"
For more of O’Hannigan on the Second Inaugural and on Noonan, go
Fans of her writing may remember that Noonan is the columnist who three months ago told fellow conservatives not to rock the boat over Arlen Specter’s elevation to chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee (even though she’s Catholic and Specter has been hostile to pro-life nominees for positions on the federal bench). Back then, she described "Ssssshhhhhhhh" as both a "wonderful sound" and "good advice for our country" -- something to keep in mind while we breathe deeply and "build a great silence" on issues that matter.
I hate to start thinking of her as Peggy "turn down the volume" Noonan, but her newfound enthusiasm for quietude at any cost would explain her adverse reaction to GWB’s second inaugural. She wants oboes and clarinets. The guy in Air Force One whom she voted for prefers trumpets and cymbals.
As I thought about it, I actually found that Immanuel Kant is a good guide to Bush’s foreign policy pronouncements (probably not a ringing endorsement for most of NLT’s readers). But the Kant I am thinking of (and on whom I have published
here) thinks of "republicanism" as a constitution suited for a "nation of devils" (i.e., no need to overcome original sin) and offers a philosophy of history that combines "idealism" with a sense of human finitude. That Kant enjoins us to be as "wise as serpents" and "harmless as doves" (Mt 10:16), which means that we must both take into account the limitations of human nature (including, of course, our own natures) and have respect for our fellows, never merely as means, but also always as ends in themselves. Our behavior should, in other words, deserve their consent, even if it doesn’t immediately secure it. This is a language of liberalism that is idealistic, flexible, and accessible to religious believers.
For one of the relevant Kantian texts, go here.
Update: For Peter Berkowitzs dissection of WaPo efforts to pick the Inaugural apart, go here. Berkowitz vindicates the point I made in my commentary about the difficulties liberals will have in tackling and attacking the speech and the policies that flow from it.