The Corner

A Theology of Freedom

David Brooks in his column today quotes part of a passage from the Bush interview on Friday that hits on something that has long bothered me–Bush’s theology of freedom. Here are some passages were Bush talked about it on Friday:

–There is such thing as the universality of freedom. I mean, I strongly believe that Muslims desire to be free just like Methodists desire to be free.

–The other debate is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it’s hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It’s idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.

–[Picking up in a riff about the Far East…]…Now Japan is an ally in peace who actually committed troops into — defensive troops into Iraq. And it’s a remarkable development in a part of the world that was a very troubled and dangerous part of the world for U.S. interests. And I ascribe a lot of that to, one, U.S. presence, allowing for the inevitable to happen. And the inevitable is forms of government that are based upon liberty.

Now, they don’t always look like the United States, nor do they advance at the pace that some of would want…

…As I say, it’s an interesting analogy. And of course, this situation in the Middle East will look differently, it will evolve differently, but we’ve got all the same odds of achieving the same result. It may take longer, and it’s certainly very difficult. But America must never lose faith in the capacity of forms of government to transform regions.

Perhaps Methodists and Muslims do equally desire freedom, but Methodism, as a movement that grew out of and thrived in 18th century Anglo-America, would seem to me to be more naturally compatible with an individualistic, liberal democratic order. Culture matters, and that’s something Bush is very reluctant to acknowledge. You can believe freedom is a gift from the Almighty and still recognize that some cultural soil is more or less compatible with supporting political systems that protect liberty. But Bush believes the spread of liberty is “inevitable.” If that is the case, why not spare ourselves all the effort and let the inevitable flowering of liberty take hold? Now, he does say that there will be different expressions of liberty and a different pace–”but we’ve all got the same odds of achieving the same result.” That strikes me as flat-out wrong, an otherwordly leveling of all the culture and history that separates various societies. In my view, people don’t desire freedom first and foremost, but order, and after that probably comes pride (liberty can be an important expression of pride–because people, as a matter of pride, want to govern themselves, and free systems are the most apt to produce the sort of outcomes in which people can take justifiable pride).

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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