Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Liberty and Prudence

Terrence Moore wrote a long and very good essay on Bush’s rhetoric, using Bush’s Second Inaugural speech. We have published it as an Ashbrook Dialogue so that you can use it at will, including for classroom pruposes. The title is revealing: "A Lot of ’Liberty,’ Not a Lot of ’Prudence’?:
President Bush and the Western Rhetorical Tradition" It is about ten pages in PDF format. A sample:

As Americans, we have inherited our rhetorical tradition from two different sources, two cities that demand particular kinds of citizenship: Athens and Jerusalem. All great speeches or public utterances in American history have been inspired by one or both of these rhetorical traditions. President Bush’s Second Inaugural is arguably a great speech because he has combined these two traditions in order to define the American mission not only for his second term, but for this coming century. The question remains whether he has left unspoken a part of this tradition that would prevent us from a fatal overreaching.

Discussions - 2 Comments

Has anyone seen this pre-9/11 Osama Bin Laden quote?:

"What is necessary is cruel and strong reactions. We need precision in time, place, and casualties...we must strike mercilessly, women and children included. Otherwise, the reaction is inefficient. At the place of action, there is no need to distinguish between guilty and innocent."

This was very well written, as was the president’s Inaugural. But Rhetoric no matter what it invokes, needs to be examined for its assumptions. In fact good Rhetoric could be defined as: That form of speech that mosts easily gets us to forget to question the assumptions made in the arguments snuck in. The great assumption made by Bush is that terrorism anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. (this may or may not be true) I don’t think a nation is required on Lockeian grounds to eliminate terrorism everywhere, even if it is justified in doing so. Obviously Bush understands this as he is not really suggesting moving into North Korea or Iran. The important distinction thus comes in the aftermath: destruction of our enemies vs. nation building. We could question if the end result of Iraq will be freedom for the Iraqi people. That is once we are dealing with nationbuilding: are we really doing this in such a way that will lead to this "freedom" which is the best defense against tyrants striking us here?

When you look at the nuts and bolts of the Bush assumptions doesn’t it just boil down to: a poor repressed country breeds terrorism, therefore the best defense against terrorism is to enrich these nations, so that the people there will concentrate on selling widgets, and not suicide bombing?

The best way to enrich a nation is to establish the rule of law and allow greater freedom: in other words democracy.

Yet by the time you get this far the reality of what is hailled liberty and freedom in Iraq, is something much more plastic than what is assumed by even a mix of various rhetoric/philosophies.

After all if Iraq becomes a theocracy, the United States becomes less safe than before Saddam, and it becomes clear that somewhere we erred in our understanding of the "duty" to free a people, by simply allowing them to tyranize themselves theologically. In this case we are hamstrung by a prudence which means that we will simply legitamize the very thing which could be most dangerous to us, and in fact no longer has anything to do with the premises that justified it in the first place.

Note: I don’t mean the premise that we would find weapons of mass destruction. I mean the premise that liberating a people would in the end have a positive spread effect upon that nation and its neihbors, and that we had a duty or calling to do this.

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