January 23, 2005

COMPELLING BUT UNPOPULAR?

Freedom's Just Another Word: Bush gave a great speech. But what did it mean? (Chris Suellentrop, Jan. 20, 2005, Slate)

Perhaps no politician since Lincoln has been better at linking the language of the Bible with the language of democracy, America's secular religion, than George W. Bush. In President Bush's second inaugural address, freedom, like God, comes calling in the night. It comes "to every mind and every soul," Bush said, and it "will come to those who love it." If freedom has left you, have no fear, for there will be a Second Coming, Bush assured, a day when freedom rules the earth. "We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom," he said. "We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul." In Bush's telling, freedom is "a fire in the minds of men," an allusion to the "revolutionary faiths" that powered the French and Russian revolutions. "It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of the world." Bush made freedom sound like God's call, a spiritual force that must be heard and answered willingly but that comes to all who have ears. Freedom must be chosen, Bush said, but it is inescapable that some day all will choose it.

In that sense, this was a speech that could have been written by Francis Fukuyama, who theorized in The End of History and the Last Man that worldwide democracy is inevitable because of man's natural striving for dignity and liberty. Fukuyama was derided by many historians for his assertion that history is directional, with a progress and a path that can be discerned, and Fukuyama's thesis took a severe hit when Sept. 11 drove home the realization that in parts of the world Islamic radicalism has become a compelling alternative ideology to American-style democracy. Yet here was Bush proclaiming that God and freedom are on the same side, and that the End of History is in sight. "History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty," he said.


Compelling? Then why are the Islamicists so terrified of elections?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2005 8:35 PM
Comments

As Bush makes himself plainer and plainer with every passing speech, it seems the market is sensing a need for a certain kind of cultural product, the "what-did-he-mean-by-that" article. Frightened by rumors that he's gotten up and claimed we stand for freedom? Don't worry -- here's an article by a writer who's just as confused as you'd like to be! Much better. Thank God for Slate! Because this last one was way too close...

Posted by: joe shropshire at January 23, 2005 8:58 PM
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