Tuesday, May 11, 2004

On Liberty

Because of time constraints during finals, and as an experiment to see if blog posts are necessarily ephemera, or if some can stand the test of time, I have decided to repost some of what I hope are the better posts from my old blog, Political Outrage. Here is the first from 7/4/2003:

"The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."
-George W. Bush, 2003 State of the Union Address

"America's strength and prosperity are testaments to the enduring power of our founding ideals, among them, that all men are created equal, and that liberty is God's gift to humanity, the birthright of every individual"
-George W. Bush, 2003 Independence Day message

Liberty is God's gift to humanity. The phrase rings so beautifully because it is hollow.

If liberty were a gift, it would be free. If it were a gift to mankind, it would be the birthright of all peoples. If it were from God, it would be enduring, pure, and available to anyone who but asks for it with a sincere heart. It is none of these.

Liberty is not free, only the few and lucky are born to it, and aquisition of it is one of the hardest things a society can accomplish. Liberty cannot be conferred upon individuals, like the absolution of one's sins; it can only be had by a society willing to bear the cost of its getting and the burdens of its keeping. Even then it may only be kept if shared equally among all members of the polity. Denied to one, it abandons all.

Liberty is far from divine. Liberty is the most extravagant, self-indulgent, and unnatural thing that man has yet invented. It is not a precondition for anything. It is not the neccessary means to any ends. It can be troublesome, nettlesome, annoying, and disruptive. It survives, when it does, on sufferage alone. Here it survives by a cultural reverence for the dignity of each person and the inviolablity of the human conscience. Both are recieved from the traditions of our ancestors. Liberty is a fragile patrimony from our Founding Fathers, who were wise enough, and mad enough, to think it a suitable foundation for a new kind of society.

Liberty was never a gift from God; it is a gift we gave ourselves. One we struggled, and bled, to afford. Furthermore, we lease liberty, we do not own it. We pay every day to maintain our liberty: we decide every day that the price is still worth it. As som rather fatuously point out, freedom isn't free. If we lose sight of that, we may let slip this damnable gift which is the is most admirable and bold part of the American experiment.

Bush's phrase, so beautifully hollow, is as dangerous as it is appealing. It gives leave for us to forget that liberty bears a price, and begs us to neglect the payments due. It would have us rely on divine providence to bestow that which we must provide for ourselves.

Liberty bears a resemblence to a genuinely divine gift; the gift of life. However, the similarities should give us warning, not comfort: either may be taken from us against our will, and either may become so burdensome that some will wish to give theirs away. Just as those who despair of life's burdens care little for the lives of others, so those who find liberty too costly will not hesitate to destroy anothers to be shut of their own

Bush's homily on liberty may be pretty, but it is inconsistent with American values, and common sense.

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