"Kerry, the Catholic", by the editors of Commonweal
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Sunday, July 04, 2004
In the spirit of the holiday, I'd like to post several musings on the nature of liberty which I came across in my reading this week. The first, on the question of peaceful relations -- and at what price -- from Benson Bobrick's Angel In The Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution (probably the best single-volume history of the subject I've read):
That comes from Abigail Adams, writing to her husband John in 1774, arguing against the colonies' excessive accomodation to the demands of Britain. Smart gal, she.
I'm always impressed by the eloquence of our Founding Fathers and Mothers; there is a style, an elegance to their writing that one just doesn't see these days. Check out this correspondence between Mr. and Mrs. Adams, particularly the humorous exchange of barbs over the "tyranny of the male sex" and the prospective future of colonial women under the new government.
And thus we are witnesses to a bizarre state of affairs: society has freed itself, true, but in some ways it behaves worse than when it was in chains.
This, citation, by the way, from Gertrude Himmelfarb's "Liberty: 'One Very Simple Principle'", an excellent critique of the absolutist notion of freedom in John Stuart Mill's on Liberty contained in the anthology On Looking Into The Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society.
In "Land of the Free" (National Review, Online, July 2, 2002) Dinesh D'Souza examines the writings of Sayyid Qutbe, an Egyptian thinker and Islamicist who is widely recognized for having provided the intellectial inspiration for Bin Ladin's jihad against Western civilization.
An employee of the Egyptian Ministry of Education, Qutbe was sent to America to study education in 1948. His experiences (living in Greeley, Colorado, to be precise) prompted him to write a book, The America That I Saw (laying out the case for the Muslim rejection of Western civilization), and to join the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood upon his return to Egypt in 1951. Qutbe experienced torture and imprisonment for 10 years under Nasser's regime, was released in 1964, rearrested in 1965 (following an assassination attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood), and finally hanged in 1966.
D'Souza to his credit does not dismiss Qutbe but takes his criticisms seriously, "partly because they are taken seriously in the Islamic world, and partly because for all his vehemence, Qutb is raising deep and fundamental questions" -- about freedom, virtue, and the ultimate goal of society. D'Souza concedes that the freedoms we enjoy in America may, indeed, will in some cases, be used badly. Nevertheless, he maintains that it is precisely because we are free that virtue is possible:
By contrast, the theocratic and authoritarian society that Islamic fundamentalists advocate undermines the possibility of virtue. If the supply of virtue of insufficient in free societies, it is almost nonexistent in Islamic societies, because coerced virtues are not virtues at all. Consider the woman in Afghanistan or Iran who is required to wear the veil. There is no real modesty in this, because the woman is being compelled. Compulsion cannot produce virtue; it can only produce the outward semblance of virtue.
Posted by Christopher at 3:54 PM